The Germans at the Service Club Meeting

Pledge of Allegiance

Five visitors from Germany were guests of an international service club recently where my friend Steve Shoemaker is a member.After the meeting, they asked Steve some questions.

Why ask Steve?

For starters, he’s 6’8″ and he’s up for Club President soon…unless he’s impeached before taking office for his Letter to the Editor.

Dear Editor,

Five folks from Germany recently visited central Illinois as part of a local service club program to improve international understanding.

At one point they asked me about something they did not understand:  why do Americans begin so many gatherings with a ‘”patriotic” song, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer?

As foreign visitors, of course, they felt excluded from at least the first two–often at events designed supposedly to welcome them…  And if from a non-Christian religious tradition, they felt excluded from all three.

Perhaps especially because they were from Germany, remembering the horrors of two world wars begun partly from excessive beliefs in the superiority of their nation and religion, they were sensitive to expressions of exceptionalism at U.S.A. sports events and service club meetings.

Can we welcome others better by showing the American virtue of hospitality, finding rituals that affirm the equality of all, and treating others the way we wish to be treated?

Steve’s an affable chap and hard not to like. At the next meeting Steve and some of the members had a nice chat. There’d been some conversation, they had a different opinion, they said, and the good thing was they were all free to disagree.

Hmmm.

Click HERE for a quick history lesson on the evolving text of the Pledge of Allegiance.

What do YOU think? Chime in with a comment to expand the discussion. I’ll send them to Steve for the next meeting.

8 thoughts on “The Germans at the Service Club Meeting

  1. The Flag is displayed backwards. The union should be in the upper left corner when viewing (in the Flag’s upper right corner). This should be corrected as soon as possible. I just saw this on November 18, 2012.

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    • Larry, thanks for bringing this to our attention. It makes me wonder whether the photographer had something similar to the “Views from the Edge” post in mind when s/he decided to show the union in the upper right corner, instead of the left. The photo is a work of art meant to provoke critical thought. In viewing the photo again, it occurs to me that if you are standing on the other side of the flag (behind it in the picture), the flag would be displayed as it should be. Could it be that the photographer was saying that there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to love one’s country, and that when love of the country becomes absolute, that patriotic love is easily manipulated, as the Germans knew all too well?

      It’s also interesting now, all these months since posting this piece, that a number of states have petitioned for secession coincident with the re-election of America’s first Black President. I wonder what, if anything, the union means to those who are petitioning for separation. Are they desecrating the flag or honoring it?

      Thanks, Larry, for coming by. Hope you’ll chime in again.

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  2. As a non-American what puzzles me most about the pledge is why do you pledge allegience to the flag itself? Flags are a symbol of allegience to a country, ruler or military force, not something you owe allegience to in their own right. If you are a history nerd, you can get fascinated by the complex codes of interchangeable “jacks” that were used in the 19th century to demonstrate subtle differences in military and state allegience (especially in Great Britain).

    So I have never really got a good answer on this question in discussions with Americans.

    The differing views of the status of the flag are important because they affect how we interpret events such as flag burning. For one side it is destroying the symbols of power and domination (an act of rebellion); for the other it is act of hatred against the very people of the nation. A significant difference in communication!

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  3. Speaking of German opinion, which was brought to the Chaska Community Center last week, I have come to understand that modern Germany is one of the most anti-fascist countries in the world. German center conservatives seem to most closely match up with American left of center liberals.

    It was the early 1950s when “under God” was added to our pledge. It was a response to fear and hate of all things… “communist.” I don’t like it, and I don’t speak the added words. However… one must stand and recite, unless making a scene is what you want. When I see a room full of citizens snap to their feet to recite… with hand on heart… I can’t help but think of the fascist salute, and maybe even a heel click. Then there is the national anthem. Even though our anthem is not exactly a lovely vision… the bombs bursting and all, it does pass my anti-fascism smell test. I love the anthem, and I hate to miss it at sporting events. I was in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War and I felt qualified to not stand for the anthem when, after leaving the Air Force, but during that long war, I attended Symphony Orchestra concerts. I did not like the use of the anthem as a wartime patriotic demonstration in favor of the war. A better description of it would be that it was intended to make concert goers feel that they were putting the war protestors on the streets in their place. Now, use of the anthem is less connected to a single mindset… but it remains flawed. We should have patriotic demonstrations that do NOT include military references. “America the Beautiful” is kind of nice on that front. But… I would like to see the flag brought to the baseball field by maybe a few teachers, or perhaps some doctors, or nurses, police officers, or city council persons, … and give the military a day off. The military is not our most wonderful attribute.

    I still love the Star Spangled Banner and I have a mental collection of some thousands of versions. I am angry that TV sports broadcasts have recently decided that commercials are better than including the anthem. It is getting more and more rare, unless there is a military fly-over. A pure Canadian sports broadcast will always include the anthem of Canada and the opposing team. And, the Canadian mounties who carry the flag are police rather than military. It is a hobby for me to listen to international anthems and look up the words. Canada’s anthem is great, especially with a segment in French. The new Russian anthem words to the old Soviet music are quite pleasant. Well, I liked the old Soviet anthem too… except for the verse that glorifies Stalin. It is easy to listen to Paul Robson singing it on YouTube in English. You will have to endure the military aspect. But, it was 1945. Most Americans have no idea that this is how Soviet people thought of themselves.

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  4. Oh yes. I remember when “under God” was added. In addition to all the other implications, I don’t like what it did to the smoothness of the language. Just try saying it with and without the “under God.”

    And thanks, I wasn’t aware that it originally was allegiance to “my” flag. Wow!

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  5. I have been afraid of signs of what you so kindly call American exceptionalism ever since I was in Germany as a young woman shortly after WWII. One of our German guides said in all seriousness, “This will come to your country.” As a psychologist in a period when we were all involved in trying to understand the development of the horrors of Nazi Germany, I became alert to the signs — an alertness that prevails. I doubt that we’d ever reach the extreme horrors of the Third Reich, but I do fear moving away from the freedom and community that I have always optimistically thought of as characteristic of my country. I fear the scapegoating of certain groups. I fear the “Reich” piece of the Third Reich as we seem to feel an obligation to police the world and as we seem to prefer violence in our national budget over caring for our people and our infrastructure.

    Yes, I think common courtesy would go a long way when we are visited by folks from outside our country, or even different groups within our country.

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    • This is an important reflection. These stories need to be told. Social pyschology may be nuanced by culture, hemisphere, language, etc., but the basic human needs that can attach themselves to authority when under threat are universal. Or so it seems to me. One of the dimensions of exceptionalism is that one assumes it can never happen to me or to us. And that is the first giant step into the darkness. American exceptionalism is different in tone because, in theory, the individual is the measure of democracy. But use the right language about “freedom” and we become like lemmings marching to the cliff. We’re no less vulnerable.

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