For a brief period after first arriving in the United States, I participated in a regional corporate 5 km race. At the opening ceremony, after an opening address by the event promoter, the national anthem began to play. At once, and without being prompted by anyone, the other participants removed their hats, stood up straight and placed their right hands over the left side of their chests. The simple act of having a national anthem when there was no particular national holiday or special occasion was certainly new to me, but the national custom of paying respect to the anthem by placing a hand on one’s own heart... for a 30-something year old Japanese man who had never been to the US before, that was quite a new sight.
Patriotism is a very familiar concept in this country, and the “Pledge of Allegiance”, which is the topic of this article, is certainly an example of this. The “Pledge of Allegiance” that I am referring to is a pledge of loyalty to the United States of America, and it goes as follows: “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.”
When reciting the pledge, you are expected to stand facing the flag with your right hand placed over your heart and your hat removed. Also, according to some of my acquaintances whose children attend public primary schools here in the US, the pledge is even recited each day before class starts.
The current Pledge of Allegiance is based on an 1892 draft by a Christian socialist minister called Francis Bellamy. The current version however, strays from Bellamy’s original draft in two notable places. The first is that the original states “I pledge allegiance to my Flag” as opposed to “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America”, and the second is that Bellamy did not include the words “under God” in his version. Bellamy had originally intended for his pledge to be usable in other countries as well, however it became uniquely American when the words “United States” and “America” were later added in. Additionally, during the Cold War in 1954, the words “under God” were also included partly to differentiate the United States from the Soviet Union which professed itself to be an atheist state.