Why can't anyone disagree if this is Land of the Free?

June 06, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

LARRY OF BALTIMORE didn't like my support of young MaryKait Durkee's stance on the Pledge of Allegiance, which she refused to perform out in California. And that may be an understatement.

"Let that girl or you other 'victims' sit down in Libya when they play their national anthem and see what happens!" Larry huffed.

For the record, I've met Larry. We had lunch in Northwest Baltimore one afternoon. He's an interesting man with fascinating ideas. And as for being very opinionated, you've read that for yourself.

"P.S.," Larry concluded his fax. "If Hitler had won World War II instead of us lousy white males you would be in a big jackpot today!"

Nourishing food for thought, no? Larry raises a number of points that we, as Americans who pride ourselves on our freedom, are compelled to debate.

The issue here is the Pledge of Allegiance, not the national anthem, as Larry implies. But Larry's thinking we've heard before: If you disagree as much as an iota about anything that goes on in America, get the hell out of the country. This is the land of the free, but dissent will not be tolerated.

The appropriate response is that Durkee doesn't live in Libya. She lives in the United States. Her elders tried to coerce her into reciting what amounts to a loyalty oath that asserted this was a land of "liberty and justice." She called her elders on it and, lo and behold, found them lacking in their commitment to liberty, a vexatious concept that best works on paper and in pledges, not out here in the real world.

Larry's P.S. suggested that black Americans "would be in a big jackpot" if Hitler had won World War II. Painful as it is to say, black Americans were already "in a big jackpot" when the war started. Segregation prevailed in the North as well as the South. There were certain things Southern blacks dared not do for fear of being lynched: register to vote, speak out against segregation, thumb their noses at the mores of Jim Crow society. Black newspapers spoke out against this outrageous state of affairs. This nation, whose Pledge of Allegiance says we were so committed to "liberty and justice," responded by having the Justice Department consider closing down every black newspaper in the country.

As for Larry's other assertion, that white males won World War II all by their lonesomes: not exactly. Americans of every ethnic and racial group helped win the war. Mexican-Americans have a service record unparalleled by any other group. Japanese-Americans had a highly decorated unit that served in Europe. Black Americans participated in the war, though their combat role was limited. But even the support units blacks were mostly relegated to helped in the war effort. Could the war have been shortened if government leaders had employed black troops in a more widespread capacity? Probably. But the war's goal was not equal rights for black Americans but protecting the status quo. The status quo of the day was segregation.

But European nations with colonies in Africa and Asia did provide black combat troops to the war effort. I urge Larry and the others to read the book "Soldiers of Misfortune," an account of how France used black troops from its African colonies in War World II. A white man's war, indeed.

Returning to the Pledge of Allegiance itself: Aren't we all, as MaryKait Durkee apparently did, after uttering the words "I pledge allegiance," supposed to ask ourselves, "Just who is questioning my allegiance that I have to pledge it in the first place?"

A "pledge of allegiance" sounds like something that, if required at all, should be required of immigrants when they become naturalized American citizens. The allegiance of everyone born an American citizen should be assumed until they have done something flagrantly disloyal.

A pledge of allegiance sounds like something despots and dictators need to assure themselves their popularity doesn't wane. An Adolf Hitler or a Josef Stalin would have been perfectly comfortable with one. In fact, that's the main problem with our Pledge of Allegiance: it appeals to the Josef Stalin in us. That is not a good thing.

Our Pledge of Allegiance is a crock. We should stop compelling our students to rotely mumble it at the beginning of each school day and use that time to teach them how to think, not what to think.

Pub Date: 6/06/98

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