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From WB APO the radio station of the State University of New York at Buffalo. It is one hundred ninety three years since the United States achieved independence from Britain. The symbol of this independence and of the values either good or bad for which this country stands is a three color piece of cloth combining alternating red and white stripes and in the upper right a field of blue with white stars on it. Men have died for this piece of cloth and have profited from this piece of cloth. The songs have been written about it and it has been destroyed out of contempt. Just it means freedom and justice to others. Oppression and imperialism every day school children pledge their allegiance to this piece of cloth. If you citizens stop to consider what allegiance to a flag means. You know why they give it. Is it a convenient propaganda device to promote unthinking obedience to a government. Or is it a god inspired symbol of brotherhood justice and prosperity. On this program we propose to explore the meaning and function of the American flag. We will
consider what it means when we say I pledge allegiance. February 1 1950 the editor of The New York Times from. Count them up going to a few days ago of the undersigned was in the vicinity of the city hall sometime after 2:00 pm. And observing a crowd were waiting around the park. I inquired of an officer and was informed that a regiment was about to pass through the city. Never having seen a military parade in this country I decided to wait and review the soldiers. I was delighted with the military appearance and marching of the troops especially of the Second Regiment. But I thought to grin at all the thousands of people who were watching the soldiers did not display the slightest respect or emotion. The
fly which all these young men had sworn to give their last drop of blood. Will you kindly let me know. Is this the usual procedure. Is there any special reason why the people have no respect for their national symbol. Or is it due to the fact of having the flag around every day. I was just taken away from the citizens the high idea of their colors. There was a time when my ancestors and I agree with the time fly valiantly for the flag. That flag now. The answer is no because what it means to me is repression and reaction. Large scale slaughter. Barbarism Bergdahl the United States flag has done it. While I've been brought up traditionally in someways patriotically in some ways and I have certain emotional associations with the flag Dr. Martin Zimmerman Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. It can bring
tears to my eyes and drums rolling and so on I was a veteran of World War 2 and so I have these associations. I try to overcome these feelings because I think there's something fundamentally irrational about identifying oneself with a certain symbol in an emotional manner. I have to kind of a sort of a negative attitude towards ritualism rituals in general. I think they somehow become a substitute for thinking. And although I can understand their use in certain situations for emotional purposes for our emotional it was to satisfy certain feelings. I find that too often they're used in the context in which they become exceptionally emotional and so they're not really supplementing thinking but they become substitutes for it and bothers me. So I tend to take a negative attitude to others and tend to wear the right head and try to
discourage this kind of saying the functions of the flag would be first quick and easy recognition. Dr. Claude Welch professor of political science at the State University of New York at Buffalo. If you flashed a picture of Spiro Agnew on the TV screen I doubt whether half the United States would recognize it but I'm sure that 98 percent of people above the age of let's say 15 months know what the American flag is. It's all around us. Secondly it's you know it's visually rather attractive I think the American flag is 0 1 of perhaps 10 that I would personally pick out as being nice to look at. It has a bit of history written in with the 13 stripes in the blood of some of the stars for the various states so that you can take pride in what you learned about the flag or most of those are myths but history is often myths. And you know you need a myth to propagate nationalism says nationalism itself is a myth a myth of unity. The fly then is
attractive. It flies it's easy to recognize it if it is widespread. What more do you need. And if you have a pride in the country or been trained to have a pride in the country then I think this would spill over naturally into an affection for the flag. And when we talk about allegiance though I pledge allegiance to the flag exactly what does that allegiance do you think entail. Well it's means that. Let me think on this for a moment if you don't pledge allegiance to the flag you are pledging Leigh's to the United States the flag is the symbol you pledge allegiance to both I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands. And it's the standing it's the surrogate you say it is something that is clearly visible that you can focus upon that will fly a full master occasionally at half mast. This allegiance implies first of all an acceptance of national legislation. But there is a government that will pass laws that you will largely a day from internal volition.
There is no functioning political system that is not based upon at least tacit consent pledging allegiance to the US means that you are not involved in an active resistance to a particular way of life and form of government. But in tacit acceptance of it. Secondly if there is a certain symbolic recognition and a heartthrob perhaps that will come upon seeing the flag or the crowd or whatever if you are in and outside of the country they are good feelings on days when the wind blows. It unfurls going beyond this recognition. I would think allegiance implies a willingness to. Agree with other people within the state as to what would be the generally the appropriate language way of life. But I take this with some hesitation. Too much of a conformity is really narrow nationalism or xenophobia.
The bourgeois class now is coming into a period of decadence of crisis and strife. Therefore I fight now as my ancestors did for those qualities truth justice freedom. I find it the in fighting for them. I come into conflict with that flag in a country like the United States. The allegiance of the flag to me extraordinary. I have been in a large number of foreign countries. Never have I seen any state with the possible exception of France where there is such hoopla and at times of banality attached to the national colors. I don't know whether other states for example have laws about the way in which the flag should be handled how it should be destroyed or damaged taken down at night things of this sort. But I think the extraordinary amount of American legislation betokens the fact that the flag here and perhaps the Constitution stands for the combination of the throne in Great Britain or bleak in the best steel in the few other factors and friends or the whole panoply of national
desires for the find elsewhere. What does American flag mean to you. My country it represents you catch so lightly and I get awfully disgusted with these people who are trying to get down the American flag represents to me. A symbol of American ideals traditions and free institutions. John Michael's American isn't chairman of the Erie County Committee of the American Legion that represents the land of opportunity the American way of life that we enjoy today. The greatest form of government that has stood the test of time and will continue if we live up to the principles that this great country was founded on. I look at the American flag in terms of history. There was a time when my ancestors and I agree with the time fly valiantly for the flag. When I fight for that flag now the answer is no because what it means to me is repression. Reaction. Large scale slaughter. Barbarism brutality you name it The flag has done it.
From an editorial August 2nd 1915 New York Times the love of the flag is as little to be analyzed and as proof against argument as the love for a mother. Do you associate this attitude towards a flag with extreme nationalism. No that's extreme nationalism to me would be. A desire to say incorporate people of the same nationality or language living outside your front tiers that would be a sort of xenophobia. It's a desire for expansion or a narrow nationalism that would be precluding any minority group from retaining any of its own ways. Customs and the like. So I think that by having something focused upon the fly as a symbol you have a nationalism that is not necessarily overly intense and there I think that we're living in an age where nationalism I think is in many ways obsolete.
Dr. Zimmerman and where I might have understood this being more valuable at other times I think if there's anything we need nowadays in this period the nuclear age is a de-emphasis of nationalism and attempting to identify more with humanity on a world scale. This is my humanism coming out. But I think in a nuclear age that it's the most realistic thing and I think flags get in the way of the sort of thing. What do you think constitutes nationalism. Well more often than not it becomes identification with a certain system of values that have been cultivated in the people and they tend to fire in terms of protection protection against enemies. And it's a kind of brainwashing as a kind of indoctrination. Now milder forms of national may be good in that it makes the individual identify himself with a larger good get overcome as
egoism in the selfishness. But it can become another form of legalism on a larger scale and a national character an extreme can become egoism of a violent nature against other groups and the nuclear age come back to this point that I think very important. This extreme form National can be suicidal for mankind from an editorial in The New York Times June 12th 1915. These are the days when fly mean or should mean a good deal to everybody. To civilians as well as soldiers certain very advanced folks like to think of themselves citizens of the world rather than of a particular country on it. But instinct and experience alike declare that they are legion. Those seemingly straight enough is somehow wrong. Silly uses and wicked uses can be made of flying wise and fine uses are also practicable. However and it is not for nothing that always and everywhere there has been in most parts a capacity to thrill at the
sight of specially ordered bits of cloth. Dr. Welch we think that by having something focussed upon the flag as a symbol you have a nationalism that is not necessarily overly intense in there but. If a person is tossed into jail because the custom that he is wearing is alleged to be a cut up American flag then you have something rather extreme. It seems to me so where Abbie Hoffman I gather who is in jail for this has run afoul of what might be conceived of as intense nationalism. New York Penal Law Section 1 4 2 5 subdivision 16. Any person who may in any manner for exhibit or display show place or cause to be placed any word figure mark picture design drawing or any advertisement of any nature upon any flag standard colors shield or ensign of the United States of America or New York Times January 4th 1969 the public viewing if the Mexican government censors shears today to the Broadway play their infant excised the scene in which the US flag as a traveller next anyone argues Delhi The
director said it would be bad taste to say the least to mutilate a US flag in a foreign country manufactured actually going to LA for a visit. Anyway having the New York Times February 5th 1069 a blank as to Pennsylvania means being out of Franklin and Marshall College student today was accused of cutting up a number of American flags and then sewing them together to make a mattress cover and bed sheet while the student was charged with defacing the American flag. New York Times March 17 1969 in Decatur Illinois it was full of an American flag and chains the heart of an exhibit which was taken down by the police today went to Art Center officials were charged with flag desecration any blank charge a misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of a $100 fine. I'm 30 days in jail or full use and it's like in chains by Mark morale had consisted of two flags held together by a zipper and filled with foam rubber from the wall by a chain. Face to followed it is illegal to display all flag with something or a picture or a pendant there. On my going to county States Attorney's shutter and or f shall publicly carry or display any
such emblem placard or flag which casts contempt either by word or act upon the flag of the United States of America or G publically use or cause any such flag standard color shield and soon to be publicly used as a receptacle for the placing depositing our collecting of money or any other article or thing shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall forfeit a penalty of fifty dollars for each such offense to be recovered would cost in a civil action or suit in any court having jurisdiction the flag stands for truth liberty justice equality and people are raised to respect its likeness tertio truth justice and if you find a flag going abroad and in the United States of things that are done in the name of it or under its colors and America's post-office. Patriotism is justified but I have certainly a very different sense of patriotism than. People who are concerned with the flag. Would you say that you respect the American flag or disagree with what's happening now. I certainly I certainly respect. The land. America. The country of my birth. But.
I think that a whole lot of changes have to be made very deeply before. Before the flag can gain any sort of respect at all again. Honor. New York Times April 22nd 1969. The Supreme Court ruled today that the Constitution protects those who denounce the American flag and words. But the Court ducked the issue of whether people could be punished for burning already facing it. The decision by a 5 to 4 vote reversed the conviction of Sidney street a Brooklyn negro who burned an American flag an outrage in 1986 after he learned that James Meredith the civil rights activist had been shot from ambush. The wording of the New York state law on which street was convicted proved crucial today as the court held the First Amendment's free speech clause for bids the punishment of a person for merely saying as Mr. Street did. We don't need no damn flag. The four dissenting justices asserted that the court had strained to make a free speech case out of what was a
flag burning conviction which they said would have been upheld by the court the court has never ruled on a flag burning case but it has ruled the draft card burning is not symbolic speech. Dr. Welch I think it's quite obvious from the fact you have legislation about the way that you destroy a flag that any trapping it under foot would be given some very severe sanctions within the country as a whole. Something that apparently seems so minor to a piece of cloth. What is this. But obviously then you can choose it for its shock value. It's a lot more spectacular to burn a flag than even to burn a draft card records just tiny you can hide in the palm of your hand as you may often notice in the press reports what was alleged to be a draft card was burned. But it's hard to mistake an American flag that is burning. I think good to go back to a point I made earlier. The American reverence for the flag is truly extraordinary many countries of the world and I suspect that students abroad and they haul down the flag outside the United States may she serves at the embassy probably do not fully
realize what a shock spreads through this country when this act is performed because in most countries abroad particularly helping states the flag is has very little symbolic significance. January 19 1969 New York Times Berlin extrema students tore down an American flag and burned West German and West Berlin two times March 2nd 1969 Paris France several hundred French leftist students burned an American flag in the plaster Republic today in protest against President Nixon's visit to Paris. The demonstrators marched around the plaza chanting Nixon assassin and waving blue and red Vietcong flags. Then they raised about two dozen U.S. flags and set them on fire. New York Times January 20th 1969 Washington the anti-war and anti-Nixon left sent thousands of North young marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to. Symbolically they marched in reverse from west to east. In a counter inaugural parade about 18 people were arrested.
Some of the arrest for disorderly conduct were made at the end of the demonstration after a dispute between activists and more restrained elements of the march over whether to hold down the U.S. flag in front of the Department of Health Education and Welfare. I do feel that people who don't respect the American Way kill kill kill kill kill. Do we raise the question about the flag I can't help but think of the some of the responses that occurred recently Dr. Zimmerman. The flag has become a kind of an attempt to get back at the those who have attacked our foreign policy our government and I think the response here is more of an extreme type of showing a hostile reaction very much like those who attack the flag have recently shown a hostile reaction toward our government and therefore I'm identifying the use of the flag or the abuse of the flag with a kind of hostility which I think is for a somewhat irrational. How do you feel about people who insult or deface the American flag. My own personal feeling here is that they're dishonoring the flag of our country.
They're dishonoring our country and therefore they show their dislike for this country and enjoying it just like they have an alternative. And if they feel that this country has done them an injustice that is certainly having an opportunity to go wherever they wish. Certainly other people in other particular areas would only be too glad to come back to this area and the United States government of America which is the land of freedom irregardless of what any other any other people say there are many many more people that want to come to America and I don't know of any that are willing to leave. Let's say it the flag doesn't represent we're used to it still represents the pushrod class in the United States as it always has represented them. There was a time as I say before my assets were fighting for that class but that class represented progress that represented really the things that they claim to represent you know truth equality justice they were fighting for those virtues but the bourgeois class now is coming into a period of decadence of crisis of strife it no longer represents those things that puts them down. Therefore I
fight now as my ancestors did for those qualities truth justice freedom. I find it the in fighting for them. I come into conflict with that flag. The forces that bear that why is the flag and the American flag in any particular meaning to you or is it just a piece of cloth like that country. It supports our country. You think but it would you say represents. Everything we've done to now the years seem to think it has positive connotations now to me to have any negative connotations. Yeah sometimes to some people I think about you know I think it still means same he says. Didn't Montana for the poem. I am an American by Saul Spitz. C said my father pointing to the flag that fluttered near that flag of stars and stripes as yours it is the emblem of the promised land. It means my son the hope of humanity live for it die for it under the open sky of my new country I
swore to do so and every drop of blood in me will keep that vow. I am proud of my future. I am an American. The American planes exists today. Represents. The Russian and US imperialism and. I feel that. At one time like. I say. More. Patriotic implacable terms I guess than than most students in other words I always sang the national anthem. Really. Heard a lot about the flag. But it's been the previously stated that the flag to me today represents you know well U.S. military forces abroad and at home and what they do. And they you know this is why. I feel that. Perhaps we need some type of new
flag. To symbolize. Those ideas towards liberty justice of law it is the emblem of the greatest nation in the world. So if it's a clock and the country Yeah I did you know I think maybe it stands for the constitution they all think America stands for that though you know I think the flag has become more symbol of oppression paralyse anything that we can accomplish nothing. So I just don't think about nothing any line just because I just got no sense of time I've read a lot of stuff but I don't know how they came to me and they just all of her past morning weltering war didn't mean anything. No nothing or no. One in and come out and I was glad I got out without any trouble and I think this is a union you know. Kind of says how 50 days this mean the virtually Yeah I mean how many. Would you say that you respected.
Yeah Is it all good or do you have some misgivings about being this good. What is the American flag mean to you. Probably absolutely nothing. So. Occasionally I guess in Europe as a. Symbol of both aggression. Fogarty. Americans are highly regarded in Europe. I think. Because of it. War. Is going on on. The pretty universally. Despised the fact you know they. It's almost unsafe to be an American to be over the age of 35 and I don't know if I can flag symbolize tears or. A lot of sweet memories and the good feelings on days when the wind blows. And unfurled. The American flag symbolized to me what was the tradition in the foundations of our country's FARs. Ideas were supposed
to symbolize. Were supposed to stand for those that still represent those things to you. Well I think in the past few years the American people have shown that they're very concerned about certain issues but I think the way things are going now is getting a lot of effort not of time before that's going to be really achieved. They still basically symbolize the same things here. YES BUT GUYS I'M GOING TO COLLEGE I've realized now that they can stand for certain things and not be put into practice. Like I kind of you know the words we stand for these things but yet they're not really. Initiated and I would take care of within the. System itself. Would you say that you respect the Americans. Yes I still respect the flag and the country and I think as an American citizen I try my hardest as a concerned citizen to help in the scene and reality and I think this way the only way it's going to take care of my people. Working within the system for this eventual change. After 100 to 93 years of independence United States is faced with this ominous and ever widening dichotomy.
Do you feel any sort of allegiance to the American flag now known as it exists today. It's not my flight. I don't really. Intellectually feel any allegiance to any flag in particular as a piece of it's a piece of luck. But the ideas that are behind the American flag. I find it I find it difficult to relate to. And it you know I side with those people all around the world. That are fighting against the flag where represents. And I feel that sometimes the blind emotionalism that. A large percentage of the population feels in this country. Is a real reaction and a fear. Of their own social conditions and they're afraid to face up to that and and to admit that perhaps things are. I mean this is. As good as they really think they are in the United States and it's you know if they if they realize that they would have to fight it. I'd like to mention a few simple oris the thing that's in the
brains of schoolchildren through the years are ethical. He writes every American patriot whenever Old Glory of fear and courage for we must win or ours is just. This motto In God We Trust. They have a better way to live the dream of the Fairy Land of the free holder of the free land of the free. Or look at. A look at. You. And E.R.. Thanks WB APPO the radio station of the State University
of New York at Buffalo for this documentary. This is and you are the national education already or not.
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I Pledge Allegiance
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Chicago: “I Pledge Allegiance,” 1970-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 8, 2023,
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APA: I Pledge Allegiance. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from