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To The Flag, Richard J. Ellis

To The Flag
Richard J. Ellis
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Just finished To The Flag by Richard Ellis. This is a history of the Pledge of Allegiance, the ritual saying of which is familiar to many. Having attended a fundamentalist Christian school in my youth, I certainly am. In my old age though I became deeply skeptical of the rote repetition of patriotic fervor.

From reading the book, it's apparent that Mr. Ellis is also skeptical. Certainly those who have been proponents of the pledge come across as jingoistic rather than heartfelt, while those who have objected appear to fight the good fight as underdogs in his retellings. The only proponent of the pledge who doesn't come away looking scared of dissent is Francis Bellamy, the writer of the pledge. He worked at Youth's Companion which created a celebration of the flag for the Columbian Exposition and got the Congress and the President to endorse it. Through good P.R. work, the celebration took place across the nation in many of its public schools.

Those who came afterward fair more poorly, mostly because they were efforts to ward off disloyalty that some feared was rampant among immigrants or left-wingers and radicals. Ellis describes the efforts to change the pledge to refer explicitly to the United States, as well as the addition of the phrase under God. None of these efforts received much opposition, nor did attempts to compel obedient recitation. It wasn't until the 1960s that opposition became more than the occasional instance. At it wasn't until the 1988 presidential race between Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush that one party (the Republicans) attempted to co-opt political ownership, which they've done successfully.

Most interesting to me was the older history, as well as the early court cases. Later court cases, such as Newdow I am pretty familiar with, and the passages in the book covering them seem to add little to understanding. But knowing who created the pledge, which organizations supported it. Why and when it was pushed to ever greater use in indoctrinating the youth of American. These are the things I wanted to know. And Ellis covers them pretty well, even if he doesn't give much depth to some of the people behind the efforts.

Ellis, Richard (Richard J.)
To the flag: the unlikely history of the Pledge of Allegiance / Richard J. Ellis
ISBN 0-7006-1372-2
1. Bellamy Francis. Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag—History.
2. Allegiance—United States—History.
3. Patriotism—United States—History.
4. United States—Social conditions
JK1759.E37 2004
323.6'5'0973—dc22
2004023110

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