Last week’s post on the history of our Pledge of Allegiance (What Do You Know About our Pledge of Allegiance?) brought me new information. It also got me chewing on something I’d not spent much time with before.

Just what is this thing we have our school children do, and
why has it become such a fixture in our landscape?
How important is the pledge to how we see ourselves as Americans?
And, given that, how DO we see ourselves (us Americans)?

It probably won’t come as a surprise to discover that the pledge itself was conceived as a marketing ploy to help the Youth Companion magazine sell flags. I can’t quite wrap my hands around WHY they wanted to sell flags back then, but sell flags they did.

I never really thought much about flags until my Kazakh colleague Gulzhahan noticed them during her visit in 2007.

“You have so many flags,” she proclaimed on our drive to Ohio. “Why do you have so many flags?”  And, in asking other foreign-based friends over the years, it turns out that yes, the US seems unique in the number of flags we proudly display. In her country as in other countries I’ve visited and asked about, flags are generally for government buildings.

My exhaustive research earlier this evening revealed that flags on private homes became prevalent during the Civil War, in the North. It was a way to show support for the Union cause.  Why it continued after the war ended escapes me.

A local newspaper in Gilroy California — where I first got wind of the flag selling motive — The Gilroy Dispatch (June 12, 2012), noted at the end of their article that

On Flag Day, let’s remember that the banner of red, white and blue is an icon symbolizing our American republic and our shared values. In creating the Pledge of Allegiance, Bellamy in no way intended for American children to vow fidelity to a piece of cloth. Instead, he wanted citizens to see the flag as an emblem of America’s spirit of unity.

“America’s spirit of unity,” they said, calling the flag “an icon symbolizing … our shared values.”

It’s stirring to see our red, white, and blue flying majestically against a clear, blue sky.


July 4th: The histories of all 27 U.S. flags for Independence Day


So here are my questions for today. Why does it stir us? What are those shared values? Are there truly core values that might unite our polarized society?

You see, I’m not convinced that we share core values anymore. And I’d like you to convince me.


8 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I find the flag inspiring, even in these times of dissidence. The naysayer’s voices are extra loud this year and get noticed in the news. Do we share core values? That’s up for discussion, I suppose. But I want America to succeed in pulling together to find a vaccine for the virus, helping each other through the fires and horrible storms, cooperating. (Our city typically sends their electric service trucks to the Gulf Coast when hurricanes threaten.) Valuing each human life regardless of skin color or political persuasion, using social media in a civil way. . . .

    My neighbor next door flies a flag. He is a military man with civil service experience, very patriotic. Maybe I should ask him.

    Again, a thoughtful post, Janet.
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Grandpa Sam’s 80th Birthday PartyMy Profile

  2. Clive Pilcher
    | Reply

    As one of those foreigners who doesn’t understand why there are flags everywhere, I’d just like to say that I find it puzzling. The same goes for your insistence on having your national anthem played and sung before seemingly almost every sporting event – even school sports. Why? Has anyone ever stopped to think what is the point? I get the shared values bit, and now more than ever it seems many need to be reminded of that, but is a flag or a song what is really needed? We’re just as patriotic here, but we don’t feel the need for that kind of reassurance. Anyone flying the Union Jack in their garden would be considered odd!
    Clive Pilcher recently posted…A Year In HistoryMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I always appreciate hearing from “the other side” so I thank you very much for sharing your perspective from across the pond, Clive. What’s puzzling to me is that it’s not more puzzling to others. But then that’s culture for you; one’s culture teaches what (one’s) normal is. Ta ta. (Is that two words or one?)
      Janet Givens recently posted…The Pledge REVISITEDMy Profile

  3. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    The American Flag flying in rural towns, villages and cities from coast to coast is a reminder that we are all Americans and should be working together to help our nation reach its ideals. We still have a long way to go. I love to see the flag fluttering in the breeze reminding me that I still have work to do… Here in Maine, Old Glory proudly waves her message across the land (in every town and village) from early May to late September. God bless America!
    Bette Stevens recently posted…Liars and Thieves (Book 1 in new fantasy series) by D.W. Peach—#Blogtour Book LaunchMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Bette. I’m glad you joined in. You reflect what is, I think, the most common American position on our flag.

      But what I’m still curious about is just what those ideals would be. Would your list of ideals look like my list? Or even your neighbor’s list? My list includes diversity, justice, truth, innovation, and freedom. Yet I fear there is another list that is headed by an unregulated free market, unfettered by health concerns or workers’ rights. Even the value of freedom too often has different definitions. (Am I free to do what I want or am I free only from certain restrictions?) These are conversations I wish we as a country could have. Do we all still believe in the Statute of Liberty or not? This troubles me.
      Janet Givens recently posted…The Pledge REVISITEDMy Profile

  4. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Hey Janet. Interesting questions you pose. I wonder how much of our patriotic obsession/insistence stems straight from the early days of the revolution, when determining who was “in” and who wasn’t was of tantamount importance to the patriot movement. We often forget that the majority of people were neither revolutionaries nor loyalists to the crown, but were often forced to choose. There was an intense “PR” battle for the hearts and minds of the citizenry, which was often intimidating and sometimes brutal. Regardless, flag indoctrination was pretty prevalent in the time and place I grew up in, like, I suspect, many others here. As for core values, it’s an interesting question, and it does appear we, as a nation, are far from on the same page in certain key respects. I’m reminded of work I’ve done with nonprofits assessing mission, vision, and values. Perhaps we need a strategic planning session, lol (although, I’d actually be afraid to even re-open that can of worms right now. We might end up with a Constitutional re-write)!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Fascinating, Tim. Your comment caused me to look back at early school history lessons and yes, I was taught only about those early American revolutionaries, so brave and true, and nothing about how they might actually have been a minority. Then, in later years, finding Charles Beards’ An Economic History of the US captivating. The almighty dollar rules! So much for love of liberty, per se. It’s the love of liberty-to-make-money that governs us.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Patriotism RevisitedMy Profile

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