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:
For spacious skies!
For amber ways of grain!
For purple mountains' majesty
Above the fruited plain!
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 -
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?