American school children rendering the Bellamy Salute as they say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Do Croton parents know that the ceremonious Pledge of Allegiance with which school activities are opened each day in Croton has shady beginnings? Do Croton’s village board members who open each public meeting with this same 115-year-old children’s pledge know that the author of that pledge was a spiritual godfather to Hitler’s Nazi party and the straight-arm Nazi salute?
In addition to the eyebrow-raising revelations about Croton’s salary giveaways for management employees by interplanetary space traveler Klaatu, he drew on his encyclopedic knowledge of American mores and morals to raise the above questions. Klaatu’s home, you may recall, is an undiscovered planet 250 million miles away (which would place it somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn). During his brief sojourn here, twice each month he would watch Croton’s village board meetings with great interest and perplexity.
Klaatu wondered why village board members open each meeting with an archaic ceremony in which everybody stands and earnestly proclaims their patriotism by reciting the children’s Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Until our visitor revealed its history, Crotonblog had not been familiar with the origins of this children’s school pledge. Nor did we know why it was a fixture at Croton’s village board meetings dedicated to the transaction of municipal business. The sight of five male and female officials ceremoniously proclaiming their patriotism was a source of amusement for the space visitor.
“Surely, no one doubts the loyalty, patriotism or Americanism of Croton’s village board members,” Klaatu suggested, “so why do they feel compelled to publicly pledge allegiance to a mere emblem?” He suggested that it would make more sense if village board members were to affirm their intention to respect the Constitution, or at least the Bill of Rights, as well as to obey state and local laws. He said, “I am reminded of the legend of William Tell, a Swiss patriot, who refused to show deference to another symbol—the hat of Austrian tyrant Gessler on a pole—and was forced to shoot an apple atop his son’s head as punishment.”
Klaatu pointed out that in every sense, this outdated ritual is meaningless. He called it more appropriate to the kind of circus staged a half-century ago by the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities headed by seven-term New Jersey Congressman J. Parnell Thomas. Thomas sent dozens of writers, actors and entertainers to prison or caused them to be blacklisted and unable to find work in the entertainment industry for exercising their constitutional rights and refusing to answer questions. Shortly after the Congressional hearings, Thomas himself was accused of embezzling government funds, and ironically refused to answer questions posed by a grand jury. Convicted of fraud, Thomas resigned his seat and was ignominiously sentenced to prison. There, oddly enough, he met some of the screenwriters who were serving time for refusing to answer his questions. “A strange period, and a travesty of patriotism,” Klaatu observed.
That this vestigial pledging rite, originally intended to indoctrinate the school children of immigrant foreign-born parents into the culture and customs of their new land should persist and still be used to commence village board meetings was puzzling to him. “Obviously, they are not aware of this ritual’s unsavory history,” he pointed out. Moreover, Klaatu noted that such a ceremonious observance is not part of the ritual of other Croton village boards. “Does that make their deliberations and decisions any the less patriotic or binding?” he asked.
Croton educators and the village board members who regularly participate in this rite will be surprised, as Crotonblog was, to learn the history of the oath. They may be embarrassed to discover its disturbing lineage. It was written in 1892 by a practicing socialist named Francis Bellamy, who was also a Baptist minister. He was the first cousin of socialist author Edward Bellamy, best known for his 1888 utopian novel, Looking Backward.
The Bellamys advocated “National Socialism,” which was a precursor of and the model for a more infamous system, the national socialism of Adolf Hitler. The Bellamys’ system also foreshadowed the genocidal national socialist regimes of the Soviet Union and China. Francis Bellamy eventually began to preach socialism so rabidly from Boston’s Bethany Baptist Church pulpit that contributions from wealthy parishioners dropped off, and he eventually left the church to take a job with a magazine for young people.
Chinese school children saluting at the swearing-in of Republic of China officials.
In the decade following its publication, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward became a best seller and the third most popular fictional work in the 19th century, ranking after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur. Its intellectual and emotional influence was enormous. In 1935, philosopher John Dewey and historian Charles Beard placed Looking Backward among the most significant books published during the previous hundred years. Some economists positioned it close behind Karl Marx’s Das Kapital as the most influential book on economics published in the 19th century. Mark Twain was fascinated by the book and invited Edward Bellamy to visit him. Legendary Atlantic Monthly editor William Dean Howells said the book had moved the nation more than any other American work.
Looking Backward tells the story of Julian West, who falls into a deep trance-like sleep in 1887 and awakens 113 years later in a glorious new Boston. He finds that the United States by the year 2000 has become a giant corporation utilizing every conceivable laborsaving device in order to increase productivity and consumer happiness. Each citizen is a shareholder in this giant enterprise, and all have equal incomes. The male citizens, all draftees, join the country’s “industrial army” at the age of 21 and serve until they are 45, when they may retire. As in every army, the government assigns all jobs according to the country’s needs. Those assigned to the most arduous jobs work the shortest hours and vice versa.
Women could join the workforce and escape the drudgery of housekeeping, a concept Victorian conservatives found to be radical. There are no wars, no political parties, no politicians, and no paper money. Citizens are issued credit cards that are used to draw goods from public storehouses, which look much like today’s shopping malls. Everyone receives the same amount of credit yearly.
Bellamy pictured the transition to a secure and happy utopia as taking place by natural stages, moving from an economy dominated by capitalistic monopolies to one owned not by the people but by the government. Unlike Marxists, Bellamy did not see violent proletarian revolution as the means to move from capitalism to socialism. His utopian world was to be achieved through peaceful and gradual transition, not through class warfare. Although Looking Backward foreshadowed scientific discoveries, such as radio and credit cards, it was chiefly concerned with the social values and spiritual gains that universal economic security and equality might bring to a modern society.
Certainly, this vision would have appealed to 19th century readers who were tired of continual financial and political strife caused by the inept leadership of public officials. The 20th century’s solution was fascism—a political system eerily anticipated by Bellamy. He described National Socialism as “a Fatherland that cares for its people,” and wrote: “The organization of the industry of the nation under a single control, so that all its processes interlock, has multiplied the total product over the utmost that could be done under the former system. It may be compared with that of a disciplined army under one general—such as a fighting machine, for example, the German army in the time of Prussian general von Moltke.”
Cousin Francis Bellamy’s Pledge of Allegiance was incorporated into the 1892 campaign by the National Education Association (NEA) celebrating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus. The phrase “liberty and justice for all” that figures prominently in the Pledge of Allegiance was actually a compromise. Bellamy had wanted to include the word “equality” in his pledge, but omitted it because he knew the all-powerful segregationist NEA, which was not in favor of equality for women or blacks, would never have promulgated the use of his pledge in schools with that word in it. In fact, the NEA did not integrate African-American and white membership until 1966; not until the late 1960’s did the NEA begin to support the concept of equality in most state educational systems.
As first written by Bellamy, who was then in the employ of the Boston children’s magazine titled The Youth’s Companion, children originally pledged allegiance to “my flag.” Because sponsors feared immigrant children would associate the phrase with the flag of their home country, this wording was changed in 1924 to “the flag of the United States of America.” In 1954, at the behest of the Knights of Columbus, the phrase “under God” was added despite protests that it violated the intended separation of church and state.
Along with the pledge, Bellamy invented the unusual Bellamy Salute. To perform this, children stood, clicked their heels together, gave a military salute and then extended their uplifted arms in the direction of the flag, all the while reciting the pledge in unison. The initial military salute to the forehead was later replaced with the gesture of the right hand over the heart, followed by the straight-arm extension of the arm.
In the 1920s, National Socialism was coopted by the Nationalsocialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party)—the Nazis—whose leader was Adolf Hitler. After Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933, when newsreels in American movie theaters showed jackbooted Nazi storm troopers giving the straight-armed Bellamy Salute, the U.S. scrambled frantically to modify the original salute accompanying the Pledge of Allegiance and concluded it with placement of the right hand over the heart.
Reichstag members stand and give the Nazi Salute, formerly the Bellamy Salute.
For more than a century, children in schools across the country have saluted and recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day to mark the opening of classes. Parents and educators, plus Croton village officials who regularly salute and repeat this same children’s Pledge of Allegiance to commence meetings, are probably unaware of its tainted associations. Now that our friendly space visitor has made these facts known, the question remains for us: What is Croton going to do about this disquieting information?
Klaatu suggested that if the five adult members of the village board in this history-conscious village insist on continuing to recite this children’s pledge at ceremonies, they should consider returning to the original Bellamy Salute to give the ceremony more authenticity and pageantry. Should the idea of repeating a pledge and a salute now closely associated with the Nazi party be repugnant to them, he urged, at the very least, that they consider modifying the pledge to bring it into the 21st century, pointing out that it had already been altered twice since its inception.
With a twinkle in his eye, Klaatu suggested that the Republican-controlled Croton village board could make the pledge less dated and in keeping with today’s political reality by repeating a more modern version closer to the Bush administration’s expectations the attack on Iraq. His suggested text would go something like this: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republicanism for which it stands, one notion indescribable, with liberty and justice for oil.”