I Pledge…I Guess

By John Gascoyne

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.

Confession time: yes, I frequent Facebook. In fact, it’s become more than just a habit – it is, however mild, an embarrassing addiction.

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

I recently responded to one of those frequent and superficial Facebook polls. The question for this one: “Should children recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily in our public schools?”

A raft of responses was unanimous-zip in favor of pledging – until I started typing.

In somewhat snarky words, I asked if all schoolchildren should be required to pledge and if that should also hold true for middle and high school kids, and what about college students? Now I was on a roll: what about adults? What about those apparently unpatriotic miscreants, students and older, who would rather not feel forced to declare their allegiance – can their property be confiscated? Can they otherwise be forced into compliance?

Some context: we live in a time of oughts and ought-nots. We ought to feel just fine about the new regime; we ought to manifest our patriotic righteousness in manifest ways; we ought to assume that there will be elections in 2018; we ought to cheerfully pay our taxes while the elite evade theirs; we ought to be okay with critical classified information being peddled as a blue light special on Aisle 3, etc.

So…we ought to force our children to have their voices daily ring with the Pledge of Allegiance; we adults ought to recite it daily; we ought to think about placing our hands over our exposed hearts and reciting it in the bedroom with our lovers just before we…the possibilities are endless.

Before we get too far down the patriotic road, however, let’s learn a bit about the Pledge and student participation in it and with it.

The first known recital of the Pledge by students was on Columbus Day in 1892. Although it soon became something of a cultural hit, there were some who objected to reciting it in school and elsewhere – some extremist groups for religious reasons, some extremist individuals for a myriad of personal reasons.

Francis Bellamy was the author of the first version of the Pledge and wrote it in 1892. Three different sources describe Francis in three somewhat different ways:

  • According to one, he was the son of a Baptist preacher and a socialist, wanting to criticize, via the Pledge, the excessive greed and extreme individualism of the time.
  • In a Smithsonian-released 2003 article, Bellamy is described as an ordained minister – with no mention of socialist inclinations.
  • In something of a tie-breaker, the Huffington Post identifies the author as a Christian Socialist.

Whether to pledge or not to pledge became an issue that roiled through our society for many years. In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students do not have to participate in the Pledge. The ensuing legal history of the issue seemed to settle corollary issues:

  • Students do not have to stand while their comrades recite the Pledge.
  • Students cannot be compelled to leave the room during the Pledge.
  • Teachers cannot single out a non-complying student nor can they comment upon an individual’s decision to exercise their choice.

Whether these laws of the land are actually respected is, of course, a different question, one to be determined by tracking individual schools and classrooms.

The wording of the Pledge has some elasticity and has seen modifications over the years. The most recent, and likely the most controversial change, was finalized in 1954. Consider the historical context of the time: we were hotly engaged in the Cold War and “godless communism” was the enemy du jour. What to do, what to do?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was President at the time and not a member of any particular religion when he entered office. Assumedly influenced by his wife, Mamie, he was baptized into her church and became a serious Presbyterian.

Many groups had begun advocating to insert “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps most prominent was the Knights of Columbus, an activist group of laymen Catholics. (My dad was a member of the Coral Gables, Fla., branch at the time; don’t recall any discussions on point.) The Knights are generally found at the head of the line when credit for the added two words is accorded.

Eisenhower, then, with overwhelming support, effected the introduction of the two words “under God into the Pledge of Allegiance. Despite occasional efforts to go back to the older phrasing, the two words have been there ever since. There is little reason to believe that things will change in the foreseeable future. (“In God We Trust” replaced E Pluribus Unum as our national motto, also during Eisenhower’s reign. We’ll reserve comment for a subsequent rant.)

In trying to assess my personal feelings about the Pledge, particularly the “new” Pledge, and by inference how I feel about the Flag, I’m all over the board:

  • December, 1958, my 19-year-old brother Peter is lowered into the ground at Denver’s Fort Logan National Cemetery. My last memory of him is the U.S. flag covering his coffin, giving him more accord and honor than might have otherwise been true.
  • November, 1962, in Hong Kong harbor, aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Topeka. The Cuban Missile Crisis erupts, my tour of duty is extended a year but I was okay with being there—serving under my country’s flag.
  • May 8, 1970: Four days after Kent State, the University of New Mexico is one of the many schools shut down amid the national chaos. The nation’s flag has been flying at half-mast in honor of the students murdered at Kent State. After four days, the flag is scheduled to be returned to full-staff and a group of veterans has gathered to ensure that this happens. I’m at the flag now, totally adrenalized and needing to act. The paradox manifests: I’m a student striker and feel the flag should remain lowered; I’m also a veteran and sympathetic to the other vets and their ambition to raise the flag. I’m not able to choose; I wander away and soon joined and began to lead the student marshals – student strikers dedicated to seeking peaceful resolutions on campus. A few days later, the New Mexico National Guard storms the campus and bayonets a dozen people, including three of my young marshals. The flag was flying at the top of its mast as this took place.
  • When I see tired old white politicos sporting Chinese-made flag pins on their lapels, I bristle and resent this supposed support of the flag. I see it as a sacrilege and resent their smug misstatement of patriotism.
  • When I’m standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, I go silent when we get to the words “under God,” then I pick it up on the flip side. My belief is that this “God” of the Pledge is not a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Moslem god. No, I can’t get past the conviction that those two words are a Christian invention and that most everyone knows, even while vehemently denying reality, that this is an homage to Jesus Christ and that we are pledging our fealty to a particular god – the god of white Christian America.
  • There’s an old and somewhat stained U.S. flag in my hall closet. When the occasion warrants, I take it down from the shelf and fly it from my front porch. Any reservations are put aside: this always feels like the right thing to do.

I don’t know if we truly need pledges or if other people need to hear us making them. Nonetheless, I’ve drafted one that would work for me:

I Pledge Allegiance to the Constitution of the occasionally United States of America and to the Democracy for which it may or may not stand (depending upon situational considerations), one Nation which recognizes the separation of church and State, indivisible (other than gerrymandering for the benefit of Nazi wannabees) with liberty (after the end of the reign of King Donald and his gang of anti-American sycophants) and justice for all – not just for those who can buy it. 


SOZUTI – My Last Chance To Get It Right

By John Gascoyne

Mnemonics, those memory-tickling acronyms and phrases, have been around for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. Without these clever reminders, scores of students would have to settle for lower test scores and artists would struggle to remember the essential colors of their palette.

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Why, then, approach the telling of my own concocted mnemonic—SOZUTI—with trepidation bordering on embarrassment? I’d like to think that the need for these reminders is not a function of the aging process. I’d also like to think that my hair is not thinning and that I don’t resort to hearing loss denial.

SOZUTI, in large high-liter letters, is posted on a note card next to the inside of my front door—the last thing I see before leaving home. The last thing, of course, if I remember to look at it. The good news is that, on occasion, I do notice the combination of coded admonitions and, on occasion, am saved from a red face or possibly more serious problems.

Simply put, SOZUTI stands for: Stove Off, Zip Up, Teeth In. Seemingly simple, yes, but let’s take it in parts:

STOVE OFF is fairly straight forward—have any burners been left burning; is the oven off? Inside of this question is another, equally serious, question—is there anything in the oven, on the burners?

My dad began having cognitive difficulties in the last few years of his wonderful 90-year span. My mom, also elderly, was as patient and caring as she could be. The incidents, however, increased in number and seriousness. One day Pop left a wooden cutting board on the burner and walked away. That was it, the final incident. Pop spent his last few years in a rest home serving life with no hope for parole.

I have two wooden cutting boards in my own home. The smaller one, suggesting that even family history repeats itself, is scarred with concentric black rings. I’ve thought about sanding the rings off and, in effect, starting over. So far, however, it serves as a good reminder: turn the damn stove off, now; you might not glance at the front door.

ZIP UP, contrary to what you are probably thinking, does not refer to winter jackets. Those are fairly easy to work with—if it’s cold enough, Nature will offer sufficient clues. No, the reminder has to do with that most feared of male sartorial oversights, the unzipped pants zipper. I’ve done fairly extensive research and believe there are only two categories of men in our society: those who are willing to admit that they’ve walked around with an unzipped pants zipper, and those who insist on lying about it.

So, if it’s a near universal, hopefully infrequent, omission, what’s the big deal? Well, duh, it’s downright embarrassing, that’s what—for more reasons than we’ll discuss here. Okay, here’s a couple of points: no matter how well-acquitted a man may be, e.g. by putting on an expensive three-piece suit in preparation for a public appearance, the unzipped zipper totally destroys the attempted image, and his audience, whether in church, lecture hall, or social gathering simply can’t focus on the intended man-in-charge-of-the-world persona.

Second, and of more concern to me personally, the man with the too-frequently unzipped zipper may be seen as a candidate for relocation to a less-desired environment. In this regard, refer to Stove Off, supra.

TEETH IN—as with the other pointers, this should be more or less self-explanatory. Some words of explanation, nevertheless, seem to be in order:

I was having some fairly major dental work done in the recent past and it served two legitimate purposes: first, the work was needed and, second, my dentist had two kids in college. To resort to the trite phrase, it was a win-win situation. The remaking of my smile required a single false tooth (to the left of the two big ones in front, as I am looking at you). Before the work could be made permanent, however, there was a period of many weeks when I had to wear a flesh-colored insert that held a single temporary false tooth in the correct place. Okay, maybe I’m a bit wimpy, but I didn’t enjoy or appreciate the apparatus. So, in the privacy of my home, there seemed to be no reason to keep the tooth, and its intrusive anchoring plate, in my beleaguered mouth.

The gap in my thinking, of course, was those few occasions when I left home with a serious gap in my toothy smile. The worst episode took place in Lyons, Colo., when I met up with some companions for coffee and rolls prior to a mountain hike. These were not very forgiving people and the missing tooth was a source of rowdy amusement—for some of those present at least. (A historical note: the dental fix is now permanent and the “TI” in SOZUTI is not really needed these days; I leave it in because “SOZU,” short the TI, does not seem to flow as mellifluously as the original creation. And, yes, it may yet again gain some practical utility.)

I never use the word “old” to describe myself or any of my colleagues who are geriatrically inclined. The word “older,” however, seems sufficiently vague to be acceptable.

So, to my older friends, I say make your own mnemonic version of SOZUTI; I neither hold nor wish for a copyright on the word and certainly make no claim on the nearly infinite number of variations that might fit one’s personal situation and needs.

As for myself, SOZUTI is not the end; no, it is merely the beginning of a word that will grow in size and import as I move down life’s road. That is, of course, if I can only remember to look at the word—and, of course, if I can only remember what the letters stand for.

A postscript of sorts: this work-in-progress began a while ago. Since the beginning of the piece, I’ve shelled out $6,000 for a matched brace of hearing aids—by my estimation, about $400 for the technology and $5,600 for the good folks who hold the medical gun to our heads. And, yes, I frequently neglect to stuff these concessions to aging into my head while I’m remembering to turn off the stove and bring the zipper tab toward the ceiling.

So—how does SOZUTI-HA work? Sounds a bit elaborate, but maybe it will help.

John Edgar and me – Who knew?

By John Gascoyne

November, 1962, aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Topeka, CLG8, anchored off of Hong Kong on a rest and rec stop. The XO comes on the squawk box to inform ship’s crew that JFK had just made a speech about what soon became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The XO adds that the ship’s journalist is preparing a short version of the speech for the ship paper.

John Gascoyne started his career in journalism, but then became a lawyer. He retired in 2000 after a long, successful career. Following the 2016 election, he re-activated his license to to defend clients in cases involving civil rights, civil liberties, immigration, and other areas now threatened in America. Learn more about him.

John Gascoyne started his career in journalism, but then became a lawyer. He retired in 2000 after a long, successful career. Following the 2016 election, he re-activated his license to to defend clients in cases involving civil rights, civil liberties, immigration, and other areas now threatened in America. Learn more about him.

At that moment, the ship’s journalist, me, was polishing his shoes for an evening of wanton liberty. I ran to the radio room and pulled the speech off the teletype, wrote and passed out the short version. (I still have the full version—about eight feet long on aging yellow paper.)

Next morning, after a night of intentional debauchery—a function of not knowing when we would next go ashore—we were herded into company formation. Our crusty officer in charge said that some of us were about to receive our first campaign medals. In the last row, I restrained myself from saying: “Hey, college drop-out over here; don’t need to get into anything heavy.”

Bottom line: in the Navy, I went along just to get along. If I had any political or social inclinations they were centrist at best, better described as undeveloped and unexplored.

Fast forward one year: I’m an English major at Colorado State University and, after the Navy, really enjoying the coed existence. A friend of the family, Brendan Walsh, career FBI agent, talked to me about coming to Washington D.C. and working for the Bureau. Fantasies almost bowled me over: going to work in a three-piece suit with a .38 caliber revolver under my arm sounded as good as it could get.

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A few months pass; I was now a trained FBI fingerprint technician and a part-time student at The George Washington University. Life was good then—lots of partying but, according to the rule, only with other FBI employees. I was still managing to not explore a more complex world, one where I might have to be positional.

Things change. On March 11, 1965, Unitarian Universalist and civil rights worker Rev. James Reeb died. Two days earlier, he had come to Selma, Alabama, to participate in a civil rights march. On March 9, Reeb and two other ministers were attacked with clubs and severely beaten by a group of white men.

Late that afternoon our carpool of FBI employees drove by the White House, as we always did, on our way to the late shift with the Bureau. I’m guessing there were close to 3,000 people marching in front of the White House and protesting the assassination. Things became heated in our car. One woman, daughter of the police chief in a small Ohio town, argued that Rev. Reeb shouldn’t have been in Selma in the first place.

Just past midnight, our shift was over and we were in front of the White House again, having picked up the argument as if there had been no interruption. I told the driver to let me out.

Enthusiasm contagious: I walked across the street where the crowd, now about 300 people, was picketing and yelling. A police officer, not unkindly, told me to either pick up a sign and march or go back across the street. Not having the courage of my emerging convictions, I crossed the street to Lafayette Square and began aimlessly walking.

A young black couple was just in front of me, excited about having protested at the White House. Their enthusiasm and certitude were contagious; I crossed the street again, picked up a sign and began yelling at the President. By about 3 a.m., our army was down to a few dozen marchers. Someone yelled out that we should move on to the Justice Department. I yelled back that I worked for the Department and couldn’t join them. A few dark looks and then I was considered okay again.

Another young student and I decided it was time to pack it in. As we walked away, three thugs stepped out of the bushes and wanted to know what we n—- lovers thought we were doing. My friend wanted to duke it out with them. I did the math and suggested we just move along.

That’s pretty much it. Less than three months later my contract with the Bureau expired and I moved back to Colorado. Since then, I’ve participated in numerous marches and civil and political campaigns. I’d like to say that I’ve become seasoned; no longer likely to feel weakness in the knees, roiling of the stomach when it’s time to engage.

That would be a lie. Part of my being is timorousness—I’ve come to accept that. I’ve also accepted that my feelings cannot outweigh the need to keep on doing what seems right. Especially now; especially now.