Point of View: All Kneel

“. . . one nation, indivisible, with equality and fraternity for all”

I read that Francis Bellamy, the Baptist minister, and socialist, who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance, which first was recited in 1892, had wanted it to read “. . . one nation, indivisible, with equality and fraternity for all” before thinking better of it, given the weight of anti-woman and anti-black sentiment at the time. 

Thus “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

“Under God” was added in 1954.

There have been advances since Bellamy wrote the Pledge (to accompany a Columbus Day celebration and to promote the sale of flags to schools), but the body politic in this country remains far from perfect, and to demand somehow that people, when facing the flag or reciting the Pledge, effectively ignore this fact is to exert an unreasonable constraint upon conscience. 

Not everyone believes we are one nation under God, not everyone believes we are indivisible — to do so, in these days, would be risible. And not everyone believes that the flag embodies all that is pure, equable, and just. 

Presumably we aspire to those things, and, yes, many have died (African-Americans disproportionately so in Vietnam) to keep that flag waving, yet to wish for a better union is not to demean the sacrifices of the dead.

Maybe if we all knelt — not just professional football players, many of whom risk brain damage as we violence-addicted fans cheer them on — when the national anthem is played, it would be better. Since not so many go to church anymore, where kneeling is de rigueur (an anti-clerical protest, I suppose, would involve standing), maybe universal kneeling — and genuine reflection rather than rote obeisance — would promote the healing that this country needs.

To demand, as our superpatriot leader (who reportedly avoided military service because of a heel spur) has, that all stand when the anthem is played is to treat the players, most of whom are African-Americans, as minions — millionaire minions albeit, but minions nevertheless.

A nation devoted to individuation, and those who play a team sport in which singular, eye-catching performances are celebrated in particular, ought not to be hectored into lockstep. We live in a republic, not in a dictatorship. (That’s obvious, right?)

Linking arms and kneeling, in all-for-one, one-for-all fashion, is, come to think of it, an exemplary way to celebrate this country’s strengths and to protest its failures.