Friday, August 8, 2008

The Pledge

The other day at a campaign rally, Barack Obama was interrupted midstream by a man in the audience. The man complained that Obama had not recited the pledge of allegiance. Senator Obama, showing himself to be a skilled politician to say the least, invited the man to lead the audience in saying the pledge. And so they did. To the man, Obama said, "Thank you, sir, appreciate it."

This story of the encounter between Obama and the plaintive heckler reminded me of perhaps the most glorious moment of my high school career. I was not particularly cognizant of my own politic beliefs at the time, but even in those early years, I had an instinctive appreciation for our country and our way of life. Accordingly, even before I understood the broader implications of saying or not saying the pledge, I never resented the fact that every day in school we would express our commitment to this wonderful nation in a simple little pledge.

It struck me as odd, then, that in my senior year, a few of the 'rebels' would not stand with us while we all said the pledge. Not coincidently, but not apparent to me at the time, these students were all self-identified liberals. And, as it were, they were the ones who identified themselves as the 'intellectuals' in our little home room.

At first I wasn't too disturbed by their not taking part in the pledge. Their loss. But as the year went on, I began to realize the irony of their gesture. Their motivations were probably varied, but I'm pretty certain that these defiant homeroom protesters were trying to show their disapproval of the fact that the pledge included the phrase, 'One nation under God,' or they were just carrying on in the same knee-jerk anti-authoritarian tradition that their parents -products of the 60's and 70's - passed on to them. Likely, they were united in some way or another by an antipathy or outright hatred for the United States, a feeling not uncommon among those on the left.

One day, right before the end of senior year, the daily routine dissolved. One of the girls in the room said to one of our homeroom rebels, "Why do you have to be different than everyone else? Can't you just say the pledge like the rest of us? What's your problem?"

As the leader of the anti-pledge gang began to utter his retort, citing 'freedom of speech', I cut him off.

I said, "Ben, I know you all think you're being very cool by not standing for the pledge, and you think you're showing us how much you disapprove of the pledge and the country it represents, but do realize that by staying seated while the rest of us stand, you're actually doing the most American thing you can possibly do: you're exercising a right to not speak against your will, a right that is quintessentially American. Do you think you'd be shown the same kind of tolerance for your defiance in the countries you and your group openly admire? So, although it is your right to not stand for the pledge, you have to laugh at the fact that at the same time that you are trying to express your contempt for our country, you're actually exemplifying it's unparalleled goodness and freedom. Good job!"

I didn't mean to say any of this, but my disgust with this group had built up for so many months that I had to say something. And I was not alone in feeling this way. Almost like a scene from out of a teen movie, I received the applause from the whole class, including my teacher. I had no clue I'd get that kind of response, but that was probably one of the most memorable moments of my high school career. I hope my classmates understood my message, and that for them, the moment was equally memorable.

No comments: