The Pledge of Allegiance and the Hitler-Salute

From my Writing Room

Copyright © 2019 by Uwe Bahr

If one wants to scrutinize history, the background story encompassing this famous, (almost) all-American pledge really turns into quite some remarkable fun. Not too many people seem aware of it.

According to American historians, the pledge in its origin – and (again: almost) the way it is used today – was truly written by a Socialist in 1892 named Francis Bellamy:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Not to worry, for Francis Bellamy was a Baptist minister, and yet he called himself a “Christian Socialist”, thereby advocating the idea of strict separation between church and state. As an aside, I feverishly believe that a Socialist is not too remote from Christianity away, for both incorporate the idea of common good and love of neighbor, they both call their adherents and the rest among themselves “brothers and sisters” at the last, and they both teach to share. If each of these confessions of creed would only be practiced and experienced in a more pure form than man has done at all times and more than likely will continue to do so – how great would that be.

Everything is possible, as we can see. By reading the original text of the Pledge of Allegiance one will not escape the fact that the phrases “the flag of the United States of America” and “under God” were not implied yet, and how could they:

For a convinced Socialist, the pledge was not only intended to relate to the United States but rather to all countries in the world. Mr. Bellamy was thinking big and fraternally aligned his transnational creed with the ideas of the International Socialist Labor Movement, which was in full swing at the time of his writings.

It is eminently notable that a pledge written by an outspoken Socialist serves as a serious endorsement and confession today for the United States of America. It may also elicit a little smile, at least in me.

It is not over yet: The clause “under God” in this pledge, implemented at the urging of President Eisenhower in 1954 and, among others, used in public schools is unconstitutional. At least the Baptist minister once seemed sufficiently acquainted with history to silence any vague suspicion of religious tenor from the outset. For the framers of the Constitution in their First Amendment’s Establishment Clause explicitly excluded any endorsement of any specific religion over another as well as the preference of religion over non-religion on the side of the polity. For the same reason, the US-Constitution lacks each and any reference to God, thereby establishing the American Republic de facto as the first secular state in the modern Western world.

That’s still not the whole story. Bellamy’s pledge was accompanied with an eponymous salute: the right hand lifted and outstretched to the height of the eyes, palm downward, elsewhere also commonly known as Hitler-salute. Will wonders never cease: American schoolchildren effectively and proudly performed this salute in their classrooms for fifty years until 1942 – my father and mother at the other side of the Atlantic, admittedly under different circumstances, even a bit longer until 1945.