by Glenn Reed
(Swans - June 17, 2013) I was thinking about the American Pledge of Allegiance just the other day. It was brought to mind at a fundraising event held in a local community building.
Even before I was an avowed progressive, way back in elementary and high school, that pledge made me squirm. It just seemed, well, militaristic? And when I began to question my spiritual beliefs in high school, that line "one nation, under God..." bothered me. Why should I recite lines and allegiance to things in which I did not necessarily believe?
Being non-confrontational and conservative at that age, my solution was not to refuse to stand up, put my hand over my heart, and facing forward to recite the pledge like my classmates. I simply began mouthing the words and kept my hand about an inch off of my heart. That felt safe and didn't draw attention to me. It felt I could still respect my own evolving belief system while not being reprimanded or punished. I didn't want to be a hypocrite but neither did I want to take an uncomfortable, principled stand as well.
In later years, I developed a similar solution. For instance, while attending city council meetings in Eureka, California, years ago, I would wait until after the pledge and the invocation to enter the council meeting room. As I was representing my agency at the time, I didn't want any stands on personal beliefs to distract from what I was there to talk about. However, I did believe in the separation of church and state and thought the prayer to be inappropriate in that setting. And yes, the pledge for things I knew to be untrue was even more unsettling.
So back to that pledge. I guess what bothers me in particular these days is the line claiming "...and liberty and justice for all."
Really? Does anyone in the United States buy that anymore except for far-right, tea-drinking, flag-wavers who live in a black and white universe? Think about how "...liberty and justice for all" has played out in the U.S. just recently.
Today I read that the US Supreme Court decided that Donald Rumsfeld and his ilk are forever immune from prosecution for giving the thumbs-up to torture. Meanwhile two whistleblowers are in fights for their lives because they decided to do the right thing for the country, for democracy, for the right to privacy, for all of us, for the future.
Bradley Manning has been languishing in isolation in a prison cell for over a year and subject to some of the very torture that the Rumsfeld types have advocated. This is because he exposed some of the atrocities conducted in the US War in Iraq. Now he's in a fight for his life in a court system that has already labeled him as treasonous.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Hong Kong, ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden has been forced into hiding and seeking asylum because he chose to expose details of the federal National Security Agency's surveillance program.
Or let's go back a few months to April in our search for "liberty and justice for all."
One of the news items back then was the dedication of ex-president George W. Bush's Disneyland, Presidential Library in Texas. I have this image of President Obama and all the living ex-presidents smiling and winking at each other, playing the game as only the elites know how, exchanging pleasantries and jokes while knowing full-well what a debacle the Dubya years were. George Jr., meanwhile, pranced about like a five-year-old at his birthday party waiting to open his presents and happy to be the center of attention. The facility whitewashes the deliberate deceit and utter incompetence of the Bush administration that sent the country to war in Iraq. The conflict resulted in trillions of dollars of crippling debt, over 5,000 soldiers dead, and hundreds of thousands wounded, hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, and the country in shambles.
Rumsfeld was at the library dedication too. And Dick Cheney. I'm sure they all pledged allegiance at the start of the event and spouted the usual slogans about American "exceptionalism" and "liberty and justice for all."
No one at this event mentioned an Iraq War veteran by the name of Tomas Young, who had volunteered for service right after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I'd bet that few, if any, present would even recognize that name.
Young is dying a painful death now as a result of wounds received after being shot just five days after arriving in Iraq. He recently wrote a letter to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that will most likely never pass their eyes.
Or worse, if it did it wouldn't affect them in the least. They're too busy enjoying the rewards of retirement. And delivering to their oil company friends. And Young has no illusions about Bush or Cheney giving a damn about people like him. Nor does he have any illusions about justice.
The last couple of months also saw two other little items flit through the news cycles with little notice. They were more indicators of the true state of "liberty and justice for all."
It was announced in early April that former Enron CEO, Jeffrey Skilling, will likely be released early from prison after serving a whopping 6 of the 24 years for which he was sentenced back in 2006. At that time he was convicted on 19 criminal counts including fraud and insider trading. Billions of dollars were lost by his energy corporation and thousands of employees and stakeholders lost their retirement savings.
Six years in the slammer, paying his victims some pocket change in a convenient bargain, and Mr. Skilling gets out. I'm sure some big corporation will snatch him up when he's not out on the speaking circuit or signing a book deal. But hey, Skilling set the bar high for later corporate scandals and new levels of hand-slapping by our government (wink, wink to the 1%) when dealing with the banking industry after the economic meltdown of 2008.
In stark contrast, consider the case of Sister Megan White. This 83-year-old nun was convicted in early May in a Tennessee court and may serve time in prison. Her crime? Breaking into a nuclear plant that makes parts for nuclear warheads and "interfering with national security." How did she and two others cause this oh-so-dangerous breach and lead us to near catastrophe? By spray-painting blood on the exterior of the facility involved in what? The manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.
Yes, that's a conviction for a symbolic protest against death within months of immunity for others actually being responsible for spilling the blood of thousands.
So consider the scorecard for "liberty and justice for all" in the last few months. Torturers are deemed free from prosecution by the US Supreme Court. War criminals get library dedications and praise as well. A corporate crook who ruined the lives of thousands by bilking them out of billions of dollars gets to serve just a quarter of his sentence.
Meanwhile, for the rest of us, this is the reality. If you whistle-blow, your life could be destroyed, you could end up tortured in prison, you could be banished from the country. If you engage in a direct action against the war machine or corporations that are destroying the planet, you can expect much the same. If you fight the good fight in pursuit of true liberty and justice for all, you're a threat.
Guess it's all just business as usual in the "land of the free and home of the brave."
So go ahead with that pledge if you really believe in those words. Just don't ever expect that justice part if you ever decide to challenge the status quo.
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About the Author
Glenn Reed Glenn Reed is a writer and activist from Fair Haven, Vermont, who works in the non-profit world. (back)