Innocent Children

The year is 1940. A group of American schoolchildren stands in neat rows in their classroom. In front of them is an American flag. The teacher starts to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Nothing too out of the ordinary there, right? But, as their little mouths start moving, something disturbing happens. They enthusiastically extend their right arm towards the flag, palm down, Nazi-style.

“What the (expletive deleted)?” you think to yourself. Have you traveled through some kind of wormhole to another dimension where Nazi Germany and the US are allies?

No, you have not. This actually happened in every classroom in every state all across the US. It’s something that no one ever speaks of anymore. Most people don’t know about it. The dirty little secret quickly came to a halt in the early days of World War II.

Allow me to explain.

American children salute the flag while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, circa 1939-40. Image credit: marottaonmoney.com
American children salute the flag while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, circa 1939-40. Image credit: marottaonmoney.com

What we are looking at is not a screenshot from the Amazon TV series The Man in the High Castle.” In case you weren’t aware, the show takes place in an alternative universe where Germany won WWII. I suggest checking it out sometime if you are a history/fiction buff.

No, ladies and gentlemen, this is not fiction. This photograph was taken in 1940 in a classroom right here in the good old US of A. It shows schoolchildren giving what was known as the “flag salute” or “Bellamy salute” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Christian Socialist

Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892 to support a campaign to sell and raise US flags above public schools. Image credit: sonomanews.com
Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892 to support a campaign to sell and raise US flags above public schools. Image credit: sonomanews.com

The man in the photograph above is Reverend Francis Bellamy, who wrote the American Pledge of Allegiance. Actually, Bellamy re-wrote his Pledge from an earlier version, but he is given credit for having authored the modern Pledge. Confused yet?

Here is something that I didn’t know, and chances are you didn’t either. The man who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance was a Christian Socialist. Just what is a Christian Socialist? I was wondering that myself.

“Christian Socialism is a religious and political philosophy that blends Christianity and socialism, endorsing left-wing economics on the basis of the Holy Bible and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Many Christian socialists believe capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in the sin of greed.”

Bellamy’s Version of the Pledge

Bellamy’s 1892 version of the Pledge read as follows:

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

It was concise and made its point but just couldn’t be left well enough alone.
Based on a 1962 book by Philip K. Dick. The premise is disturbing, but the series is pretty good. Image courtesy of realnerd.com.br

Bellamy created his salute to be given as the Pledge of Allegiance was read. It was supposedly patterned after an ancient Roman gesture. The movement started with the right hand (palm down), and arm raised while outstretched toward the flag. It concluded with the palm facing up.

This motion was quite similar to what was adopted by the Nazis as their salute (without the little flip at the end).

Yet another pic to prove I’m not making this stuff up. More all-American kids. Image credit: ricochet.com

The Change

This flag salute, of course, had to be changed. So, on June 22, 1942, Congress passed Public Law 77–623, which explained what actions were to be taken during the Pledge.

The new salute during the Pledge was to:

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“be rendered by standing with the right hand over the heart; extending the right hand, palm upward, toward the flag at the words ‘to the flag’ and holding this position until the end, when the hand drops to the side.”

This proved to be a bit too complicated and awkward looking. Another revision was in the works.

On December 22, 1942, Congress simplified things a little bit when they passed Public Law 77–829, stating that the Pledge:

“be rendered by standing with the right hand over the heart.”

Since the Nazis managed to make the Bellamy salute a part of their brand, it was dropped in US classrooms during the war while the pledge was recited. With the end of WWII and the rise of Soviet Communism in Europe, the pledge of allegiance to the government came under criticism itself.  The Catholic Knights of Columbus raised objections to then-President Eisenhower that the pledge as written was an oath taken to the government by its citizens and oaths were serious things.  They expressed the notion that Christians owed their first oath of allegiance to God, not the state, and that the pledge smacked of the kind of authoritarian statism that the USSR and Nazi Germany had engaged in.

The Knights said that Catholics could not serve two masters equally and that Catholics would not be reciting an oath to the state that violated their religious beliefs by placing their loyalty to the state before their loyalty to God.  In a nod to the First Amendment and its Free Exercise Clause, the pledge of allegiance was rewritten to include the phrase “under God,” following “One Nation,” so that it now read,

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,

And to the Republic for which it stands,

One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we put our hands over our hearts when we say the Pledge of Allegiance and why some of our grandparents, at least for a while, didn’t.