Thinking out loud

I watched some of the Veteran’s Day ceremonies on C-Span yesterday. President Bush gave a speech, everyone pledged allegiance to the flag, they played God Bless America, etc etc.
And I realized that it all felt really weird. I remember when I used to pledge allegiance to the flag in elementary school. At that point I didn’t question it, it was just something we said. I didn’t really even think about what it meant. And when we’d have Veteran’s Day ceremonies in the gym, etc, I remember thinking how fortunate I am to live in the U.S. – the greatest country on earth!
But that happy feeling is gone now. It slowly started to trickle away when I began questioning why I had to say “one nation under god” when I didn’t believe in god. And then later I wondered– just why are we pledging allegiance to the flag anyway? We’re not in the military, so just what exactly am I pledging here? And why? And why are we singing “God Bless America” when I don’t believe in god?
The last little bits of my uncritical happiness have now dwindled away. Listening to President Bush talk about how great our country is, and what an amazing thing democracy is, all I could think about is that I bet this is exactly what was said at similar events in China, and the former Soviet Union. I don’t mean that as a comparison between our regime and theirs, but rather – if all we know is our own system, how can we truly know that ours is the best?
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I feel as if I’ve been so indoctrinated with the idea that the U.S. governmental system is the best that I’m completely blind to any other possible systems being any good at all. But our society is so screwed up right now – surely there are changes we can make to improve our country, surely there are other systems that work well in particular circumstances?
Perhaps we don’t need to make changes to the fundamental democratic rules, but we should consider that serious changes to our political system might need to be made to ensure that we survive the NEXT 200 years.
Then it occurs to me that perhaps the reason we’re all forced to say the pledge of allegiance in school, is so we won’t question these issues?
Advocating our form of democracy as the be-all end-all solution to your woes, as we have been doing with Afghanistan and Iraq, and not considering that perhaps there are instances in which other systems are more appropriate, is extremely single-minded, unthinking, inconsiderate behavior. We’re the proverbial “one-trick pony”. Democracy in Iraq sure doesn’t seem to be going so well!
Today, Blair said, regarding the viability of a Palestinian state after Arafat’s passing: “The important thing is that, first of all, there’s got to be an agreement as to what a viable Palestinian state means, and what we’re really saying this morning is that that viable state has to be a democratic state.”
Here we go again. I blew a gasket when I heard him say that. Wasn’t Arafat elected by his people in 1996? Yes. For that matter, wasn’t Aristide? Wasn’t Chavez?
When we say “democracy”, that’s not really what we mean. There’s a shorthand there – when we in the U.S. read “democracy”, we think our leaders are talking about one thing, but in reality they appear to mean something else entirely. Seems to be something more about “playing nice with the U.S.” I’m still trying to sort that out, but I feel like at last I’ve got my blinders off, at the least.