The Pledge and a Failed State

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

All of the questions and policies of the federal government and many state and local governments have moved to the right and it is pretty much impossible to criticize US militarism in any meaningful way. The mass media have become unashamed cheerleaders for war. If elections mean anything, then the debacle of the 2000 presidential election may have been the last event that sealed the extreme rightward move in US politics. The political climate has only worsened since that election. Citizens United(2010) did the rest with unlimited cash flowing into candidates’ coffers.

With war as the hallmark of the only superpower left standing after the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991, the foreign policy of the US comes right out of the Pentagon and the weapons industry playbooks.

Infrequently, there is an almost humorous and weak attempt to prove who is more patriotic among those who govern. This grandstanding in a rightwing environment recently took place in the US House of Representatives when Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) (who resigned from Congress in May 2023) introduced an amendment to a bill that would have modified the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of business in the House. Cicilline’s amendment would have barred any House member from reciting the Pledge if that member supported the insurrection at the Capitol that took place on January 6, 2021. Here is a recording of the proceeding that ended with the acceptance of the recitation of the Pledge and Cicilline’s amendment defeated.

The shenanigans of the right seem pretty much unstoppable. Enough Democrats combine with far-right Republicans to push the questions of what kind of society this is so far rightward that policies have moved over a cliff.

Israel, the tail that wags the US policy dog, has made proportionality in war a murderous joke, while the Ukraine war goes on and on and on. Wars are truly endless. The New York Times reports that the US attacked Iranian troops in Syria as a means of hindering those troops from acting against US troops and interests in the Mideast and in Syria while Israel continues its murderous military campaign in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Although Israel is the tail that wags the dog, none of this could have happened without a wink and a nod from US policy makers. The symbolism of a dog and its tail is somewhat accepting of the sole superpower’s role in the world within militarism. The symbol also allows its sycophants to get away with murder. Biden has become, in this equation of war, a bona fide warmonger!

The connections between war and environmental ruin are apparent. War uses up copious amounts of fossil fuels. War makes money. It fuels greed.

My own history of refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance related in “The US Way of Miseducation,” (CounterPunch,  July 16, 2023) seems like ancient history now. “Step out of line, the man come [sic] and take [sic] you away,” (Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth,” 1967). I haven’t recited the Pledge since the Vietnam War.

A dozen years ago or so, two friends and I went to a basketball game in which our alma mater played in Providence, Rhode Island. Of the three friends, not one recited the Pledge. One friend got up during the Pledge and Star Spangled Banner and briefly left the auditorium. The other friend remained seated, a risky behavior at sports events where the so-called patriotism of American Exceptionalism is valued. I did what I’ve been doing for years. I stood and said nothing.

Domestically, another mass shooting took place, this time in Lewiston, Maine. Some of those in power  say that an occasional mass shooting is a price of liberty. The mirror this society needs to hold high and see ourselves could reveal some connections between war and mass shootings. There are a lot of present and past soldiers involved in mass shootings, but many shooters are not active military members or veterans. In Lewiston, mental health issues were present, but it’s always the issues and never the guns. Bullying, domestic violence, grudges, racism, politics, etc., etc., on toward infinity with the guns of a battlefield in people’s hands. It’s always disaffected males who turn to guns to settle scores either real or imagined and they have the frontier ethos behind them. The discovery of the body of the shooter, Robert Card, in Maine, now makes the way clear for the insanity that surrounds each mass shooting in the US with figure pointing and the stage set awaiting the next gun horror. A nation that allows its children to be slaughtered by guns is past the era of its eclipse. Income inequality and mass incarceration follow close behind the insanity of guns in the US. At what point does this society and its governments acknowledge that we’ve reached the status of a failed state?

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).