Thursday, March 16, 2006

Rising Sun Spangled Banner? Indoctrination and loathing in America

The Indescribablyboring reports today that Japan is in a tizzy because its schoolchildren are failing to stand for the singing of the Kimigao, their national anthem.

Which reminds me of life in the United States of God Bless America.

At the age of six-and-three-quarters, I went to East School, New Canaan, Connecticut, an American public school (state school, in British terms).

On the wall of our classroom was a large star-spangled banner. Every morning, in class, we had to sing the national anthem. Oh say can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed... You know the one. Good tune, actually. Works well at baseball games.

And several other 'patriotic songs'. You're a Grand Old Flag was one. From memory, it said something like this:

You're a grand old flag
You're a high-flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love
The home of the free and the brave.
Every heart beats true
Under red, white and blue
Where there's never a boast or a brag.
[Can you believe this drivel?]
Let old acquaintance be forgot -
Keep your eye on the grand old flag!

On my first day at school, my teacher, Mrs Janiga, took me aside, little English boy that I was, all six-and-three-quarter years of me, and explained that this applied to me especially, that I should forget my "old acquaintance" with England, because it was now my destiny to be an all-American kid, and all I had to do was to keep an eye on that flag.

And then we had to sing America the Beautiful, which, again from memory (going back more than 20 years), went:

O beautiful
For spacious skies!
For amber ways of grain!
For purple mountains' majesty
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee!
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

And then, to the tune of God Save the Queen:

My country 'tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing!
Land of the Pilgrims' pride,
Land where my fathers died,
[or it may have been my fathers' pride and where the pilgrims died]
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!

And then we had to say the Pledge of Allegiance, which, if my memory serves me rightly, which it rarely does, went like this:

I pledge allegiance
To the flag
Of the United States of America,
And to the republic for which it stands -
One Nation
Under God,
With Liberty and Justice for all.

The good thing about this was that none of us had the first clue what it meant - especially since, as is the way with things, we usually came in on the second syllable, and had to hurry to catch up. Which meant that the first line became:


And for a long time (until June last year, in fact) I thought that a plejileajant was some kind of small furry animal, of the sort that would stick to a flag if you threw it at one.

Now, a commentary is scarcely needed, but -

Restored now to my original state, an all-British kid, I look back and think Am I imagining this? Was that really possible? That level of intensive indoctrination just seems out-of-this-world, unfathomable, straight-out-of-the-Democratic-People's-Republic-of-Korea. Of course at the time it seemed perfectly normal, but, from a British perspective, it is not far short of shocking. It explains a lot, I suppose, about America as we see it from this side of la charca (the ocean formerly known as The Pond).

I assume (somebody will correct me if I am wrong) that this pattern was standard in all American public (state) schools at the time, and so far as I know still is.

And - notice - at least two references to God, before the day's classes had even begun. How did that ever square with the Constitution?


  1. Ooh I love a rant.

    But, to avoid extraordinary rendition, I would like to disassociate myself completely from the grassy knowl's comments...

  2. Even though the grassy knowl was ranting he made the percentages add up to 100! So a rant with a bit of mathematics behind it.

  3. HUH! GO USA! HUH!

    Ford F150


  4. Epilogue...

    After two years of this, my parents had had enough of this nonsense, and packed me off to boarding school in England - where we sang sensible songs like Jerusalem and I vow to thee, my country. But not every day - and no-one ever suggested we might mean it....

  5. And finally...

    In case you happen to land here after Googling "East School New Canaan" or "Mrs Janiga" (or was it Mrs Rhett?) - here's my shot at turning 2wheels into Friends Reunited.

    Jim Hubbard? Are you out there?

    Or Lindsay, my first true love (Monday), or Beth (Tuesday)?

  6. This just in from C.H. of New Yoik, New Yoik:

    first off: you didn't make any of it up. i had a similar waking at some point in my adult life when it occurred to me that i'd been made to put my hand on my heart and pledge and sing propaganda every morning until i was...i dunno when it stopped. my memory ofcatholic high school is more consumed with absurd religious indoctrination than patriotic absurdity. i'm thinking the pledge must have stopped in elementary school, but i'm just not sure. strange. gonna go poll the friends on this one. will get back to you.

    and regarding grassy knowl: yes, i laugh because it's funny due to it's being--as good humor
    must--tragically true and heartily told. of course, in real life, the way we americans go about identifying with and fetishizing our ethnic percentages is both tedious and special. a generation or two ago, everyone was trying to assimilate, now we're splintering in every direction trying to figure out our national identity. which is uniquely american and (even!) not all bad. living in new york, which was always and still is one of the biggest gateways to the country, it's a colorful reality: we're all from somewhere else, whether it's another US state or another country or a cultural enclave in Queens or Brooklyn that lives further back in the old country's time (say cold war Russia) than the modern-day version of that country.

    so asking someone where his or her family is "from" is just part of getting to know a person here. but it's rife with bs. i once had a friend who was half Bolivian and half Colombian, and grew up in the northeast american suburbs and was utterly american. she had tan skin, dark curly hair, blue eyes, a predilection for hair metal, and made a point, as we got to know each other, of telling me that her family was "spain spanish, not latin spanish"...until she found out that i was intriguing myself with native american culture studies at the time. sometime after which, she told me that she was actually part native
    south american indian. and on one saint patrick's day, she proudly and proprietarily told me that the blue eyes in her family came from an irish ancestor. she was also becoming a born-again christian. a true american.

    what are dukes of bilge waters?

    i just so happened to be watching Monty Python earlier tonight...laughing but not always knowing why as the humor is both dated and british.

  7. "The Duke of Bilge Water" is from the Mark Twain novel Tom Sawyer.

    Most of his books have some really nice underlying social commentary considering it was written ages ago.

    On Americans in general
    There's nothing wrong with social indentity and a wish for wanting to belong or have a past. The snag comes when past and present get mixed up, merged and so forever altered. Your neither fish nore foul at that point lost in the constant shifting truths you tell yourself and others about what you are.

    "By the people for the people!" what a brilliant statement, then why is your media is not free nor does it report the truth. Your education system churns out more damaged goods than walmarts has to collect after the christmas holidays. America has a problem with violence on different levels. It is seen as a form of expression a language almost a type of statement (i'm tuff). In britain we see the effects of as we now copy all your excessess it shows up in gun crime, fashion, language, drugs, youth culture whatever problem the US has it exports. To bring all the other places down to the level of the US in global harmony. There is no integration in the US that I've seen and so voids between races, colours and social groups get wider not smaller. If I wanted to stir things up I would urge the disenfranchised youth to revolt against it's leaders. You already have this with kids taking guns to school and shooting each other over trivial matters such as a coloured hankerchiefs. (a form of tribalism wanting to belong to a community)

    On american foreign policies, well what can i say it's like cluedo only for the mentally defective. Clinton nice enough bloke when I met him. While he was having his ego massaged in the oval office. The american machine is stuffing multiple 20 million dollar missiles into mud huts looking to get rid of Public Enemy No. 1 (who you trained and supported when he was kicking the commies about in the 80's)

    Perhaps if you chose your friends better or made nicer enemies you'd avoid all the body bags.

    Fast forward to present day now we have to pay the price for all this insanity. Don't get me wrong there's nothing wrong with sharp practises, as this is what it's all about "Business". It's trying to get something for nothing build the empire, buy manhattan island for a few taiwanese rolex perpetuals. This is America's final push to send it's franchised, homogonised, pre-packed, fast food, Micky Mouse idea of happiness out onto the global stage.

    Can't we just have home grown happiness, natural unspoilt happiness? As I don't want mine from a tin with added sugar, supersized fries with a 60oz of soda (that's the like a 2 litre bottle of 7up with a straw in the top) no wonder your all fat.

    Thrown in for an extra 60 cents.

    please discuss amongst yourself as I'm busy building a bunker and a boat. Incase I need to stay or leave in a hurry.

  8. Grassy,

    now that Ed has characterized your former rant as a masterpeice, i ask you to please do better!

    i.e., know your audience!: fat? loud? violent? stupid? my mind is numb with familiar contempt. we in new yoik tend to read the reviews, you know. (yes, i wrote READ). you can't blame the americans for commandeering your insight and manners. or can you?

    anyway, rant on and thanks for reminding me that i need to reread Tom Sawyer...when i'm done parking my SUV, stuffing my face, lining my pockets, and shooting at my neighbors.

  9. I wish to announce my retirement! My sniping days are over, the legacy of the grassy knowl will stand long enough. I've come to the conclusion that one day Americans as will all other nations, races, social groups who have faults will wake up. Look in the mirror and see themselves, for what they are. Lets hope it not too late for all of us, our children and our children's children. Global warming is real, the fossil fuel will run out and the ozone layer is getting thinner.

    We're all human beings, and have to get on with one another. I'm sure there's enough confused people wondering where it's all going to end.

    So it's best if it does here

    The End.

  10. Others wishing to emulate the grassy knowl's efforts might pick up some helpful hints from The Register's article on How to write a Flame of the Week.

  11. In case your wondering I'm in happy valley retirement for mental nutjobs, taking my medication, shouting swear words, pulling facial distortions at visitor, spitting and if they won't give me chocolate pudding throwing no. 2's at the window. That always gets a result. Have not resorted to wanking in public yet, but on reading the hints sheet will keep that in reserve as I want double helpings of the finest choco desert on next Sunday.

    Have noticed that they've cleared a cell next door for teflon tony and "vermin" aka John Prescott, hope they'll be very happy together!

  12. i went to East School and had Mrs. Janiga. I played a narrator in our play Peter Rabbit. Total B.S., I should of had the lead as Peter Rabbit