JR'S Free Thought Pages
On National Anthems, Loyalty Oaths and other patriotic drivel
Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons. – Bertrand Russell
If you were a terrorist wouldn’t you be the biggest flag waver and the most patriotic person in the room?
Blind allegiance is stupid and a stupid Nation that enables the Power Hungry will never change.
Eleventh Commandment: thou shalt possess no view not endorsed by Big Brother
A few thoughts on the matter
I’ve never felt comfortable with singing the national anthem, mindlessly parroting pledges of allegiance and other mantras designed to keep the hoi polloi docile and pliable in order to serve those in positions of privilege and power. It’s been extremely useful throughout history especially in times of wars that are invariably started by the rich and powerful and fought by the working classes.
As a youngster I never fully understood my discomfort with these tedious rituals. Now I surely do and my aversion to such inanities is stronger than ever. I saw the fundamental contradiction between being required to recite the Lord’s Prayer, listen to the boring Bible readings and singing Oh Canada while claiming to be a “free country” way back in grade school. To observe people follow lock step like androids singing national anthems, thanking God for their contingent biological accident or uttering pledges of acquiescence to some power structure is a creepy experience. When I joined the boy scouts as an 11 or 12 year old at the urging of a school chum, I lasted only two weeks. The silly embarrassing oaths to serving God, the state and the Queen I found loathsome and demeaning but at the time could not fully understand exactly why I did. But now I understand only too well. The level of indoctrination in so-called democratic societies is daunting. Noam Chomsky and Michael Parenti have written extensively about indoctrination and mind control within democratic societies and their analyses and arguments for why it is so pervasive are very compelling. As a case in point, recall the conspiracy of lies and deceptions surrounding the prelude to the War in Iraq by the US government and its lap dog partner the corporate media.
My near death experience
Back in the mid-sixties when I was in my early twenties my future wife and I went to visit her parents so I could meet them for the first time. They lived on the Sechelt Peninsula and at the time logging was the primary economic activity. The first night upon my arrival I went to the Canadian Legion with my future brother in law who was, you guessed it – a logger. When the evening of drinking was over and the place was about to be shut down, “God Save the Queen “came blaring out of the speakers. Everyone stood up like robots except little old iconoclast me. Several extremely inebriated rednecks told me to stand up but I refused, claiming that I didn’t believe in either God or the Queen. I suppose I’m still alive because my brother in law was Popeye and came to my defense.
“God Save the Queen” is the most ridiculous song ever written and Oh Canada is a close second. “Oh Canada we stand on guard for thee. God save our land” Have you ever heard anything so incredibly STUPID? It’s an insult to the intellect of a chimp. Why not sing “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath?– it makes as much sense.
Consider Matthew 7:15-23 from the Sermon on the Mount: (one of the few gems of wisdom in the Holy Babble)
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Jesus, if he arrived on the scene today, would be deemed an anarchist by our right wing plutocrats who presently hold power. He would likely be arrested for sedition or civil disobedience – maybe even labeled a “terrorist”. It’s my view that anarchism is the purest form of genuine democracy. Mention the word anarchism to a million people and you would be lucky to find a hundred that would understand the genuine true concept, a concept that has been distorted and defamed by those in positions of power for centuries.
Below are two recent articles germane to my discussion that I gleaned from the internet, articles that would be verboten in our corporate controlled right wing media:
Loyalty Oaths Fail the Test of Democracy
by Geoffrey R. Stone
Last week, the state of California avoided a possible constitutional confrontation over its requirement that all public employees sign an oath affirming that they will “support and defend” the United States and California constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
A mathematics teacher named Marianne Kearney-Brown, who is a Quaker and a pacifist, declined to sign the oath because she felt that it might later be construed as committing her to take up arms to defend the nation, which would violate her religious beliefs. The state finessed the situation by agreeing that the oath would not be interpreted in that manner.
But the real question is why California requires public employees to sign an anachronistic and relatively meaningless loyalty oath at all.
Certainly, a truly disloyal employee could pose risks to the government. She might (if she were doing something other than teaching remedial math) disclose secret information to an enemy, destroy important government files, make decisions intended to harm the public interest and recruit other employees to engage in subversive activities.
But just how does a loyalty oath guard against such dangers? After all, anyone who is truly disloyal will simply take the oath falsely. No dangerous subversive will be deterred by the requirement of an oath.
The origins of the California loyalty oath, which all state, city, county, public school, community college and public university employees are required to sign, can be found in the McCarthy era. It was added to the state Constitution in 1952 and was designed, like so many other legal measures of that sorrowful era, not to protect the nation against real subversion but to frighten, intimidate and punish individual citizens for exercising their constitutional right to question and criticize the government.
Worse yet, it was designed to punish them for having exercised those rights decades earlier. In the 1930s, during the Depression, many Americans on urban bread lines and devastated farms had asked hard questions about the need for economic and political reform. Among the many organizations to which they turned was the Communist Party, which was then a legal political party that regularly ran candidates for public office.
By the end of World War II, with the beginning of the Cold War, most Americans who still had ties to the Communist Party or to organizations with connections to it quickly severed them. But by then it was too late. The most infamous question of the next two decades — “Are you now or have you ever been … ?” — had entered the American lexicon.
Political leaders such as Sens. Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy quickly seized on the opportunity to leverage fear to their political advantage. As Americans worried about the prospect of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and accusations of Soviet espionage spread throughout the nation, right-wing ideologues launched a campaign charging that thousands of communists had secretly infiltrated the government, the military, the unions, the schools and the media.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce demanded concerted action to drive subversives out of these and other positions of influence. Francis Cardinal Spellman warned that communists were “digging deep inroads into our nation” and “trying to grind into dust the blessed freedoms for which our sons have fought, sacrificed and died.”
President Harry Truman charged that such “scaremongers” had “created such a wave of fear and uncertainty that … people are growing frightened — and frightened people don’t protest.”
But McCarthy persisted. “I say one communist in a defense plant is one communist too many,” he said in 1952. “One communist on the faculty of one university is one communist too many.”
Within a few years, a plague of loyalty oaths had spread across the nation. By 1956, 42 states, including California, and more than 2,000 county or city governments had enacted loyalty oaths for public employees.
As Truman had warned, a cancer of fear had swept the nation.
The very concept of “loyalty” is painfully elusive. It is defined entirely by a state of mind. Does it mean “my country, right or wrong”? Can a citizen oppose government policies — including a war — and still be “loyal”? Can a citizen be a pacifist and still be “loyal”?
Loyalty oaths reverse the essential relationship between the citizen and the state in a democratic society. As the framers of our Constitution understood, the citizens of a self-governing society must be free to think and talk openly and critically about issues of governance.
In a regime of loyalty oaths, it is the government that defines which thoughts and which ideas are permitted. Dissenting views and nonconforming views are deemed “disloyal.” The very existence of such oaths reflects an utter lack of confidence in the American people. Nothing so dangerously corrupts the integrity of a democracy as a lack of faith in its own citizens.
Loyalty oaths serve no legitimate function. The government can and should investigate and punish unlawful conduct. But it should not attempt to intimidate U.S. citizens who express “disloyal” beliefs.
It is time for California to recognize that its requirement that public employees swear an oath of fealty to their government is a relic of shameful past and, quite simply, un-American.
Geoffrey R. Stone is a professor of law at the University of Chicago.
The smaller the mind,
Quaker Teacher Fired For Changing Loyalty Oath
by Nanette Asimov
Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.
“I don’t think it was fair at all,” said Kearney-Brown. “All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don’t care if I meant it, and it didn’t seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn’t matter. Nothing.”
A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before - but had modified it each time.
She signed the oath 15 years ago, when she taught eighth-grade math in Sonoma. And she signed it again when she began a 12-year stint in Vallejo high schools.
Each time, when asked to “swear (or affirm)” that she would “support and defend” the U.S. and state Constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote “nonviolently” in front of the word “support,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.” All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said.
The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said.
But Cal State East Bay wouldn’t, and she was fired on Thursday.
Modifying the oath “is very clearly not permissible,” the university’s attorney, Eunice Chan, said, citing various laws. “It’s an unfortunate situation. If she’d just signed the oath, the campus would have been more than willing to continue her employment.”
Modifying oaths is open to different legal interpretations. Without commenting on the specific situation, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown said that “as a general matter, oaths may be modified to conform with individual values.” For example, court oaths may be modified so that atheists don’t have to refer to a deity, said spokesman Gareth Lacy.
Kearney-Brown said she could not sign an oath that, to her, suggested she was agreeing to take up arms in defense of the country.
“I honor the Constitution, and I support the Constitution,” she said. “But I want it on record that I defend it nonviolently.”
The trouble began Jan. 17, a little more than a week after she started teaching at the Hayward campus. Filling out her paperwork, she drew an asterisk on the oath next to the word “defend.” She wrote: “As long as it doesn’t require violence.”
The secretary showed the amended oath to a supervisor, who said it was unacceptable, Kearney-Brown recalled.
Shortly after receiving her first paycheck, Kearney-Brown was told to come back and sign the oath.
This time, Kearney-Brown inserted “nonviolently,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.”
That’s when the university sought legal advice.
“Based on the advice of counsel, we cannot permit attachments or addenda that are incompatible and inconsistent with the oath,” the campus’ human resources manager, JoAnne Hill, wrote to Kearney-Brown.
She cited a 1968 case called Smith vs. County Engineer of San Diego. In that suit, a state appellate court ruled that a man being considered for public employment could not amend the oath to declare: his “supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ Whom Almighty God has appointed ruler of Nations, and expressing my dissent from the failure of the Constitution to recognize Christ and to acknowledge the Divine institution of civil government.”
The court called it “a gratuitous injection of the applicant’s religious beliefs into the governmental process.”
But Hill said Kearney-Brown could sign the oath and add a separate note to her personal file that expressed her views.
Kearney-Brown declined. “To me it just wasn’t the same. I take the oath seriously, and if I’m going to sign it, I’m going to do it nonviolently.”
Then came the warning.
“Please understand that this issue needs to be resolved no later than Friday, Feb. 22, 2008, or you will not be allowed to continue to work for the university,” Hill wrote.
The deadline was then extended to Wednesday and she was fired on Thursday.
“I was kind of stunned,” said Kearney-Brown, who is pursuing her master’s degree in math to earn the credentials to do exactly the job she is being fired from.
“I was born to do this,” she said. “I teach developmental math, the lowest level. The kids who are conditionally accepted to the university. Give me the kids who hate math - that’s what I want.”