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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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Jim Vesely
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Lee Moriwaki
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Eric Devericks
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Lance Dickie
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Bruce Ramsey
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Kate Riley
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Lynne Varner
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Ryan Blethen
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June 15, 2005

The stiff-arm flag salute

Several readers have responded to my book review of “To the Flag,” a history of the Pledge of Allegiance, with comments on the salute that was used before the hand-over-heart. A reader in Port Townsend writes:

Enjoyed your article today but I don't intend to buy the book so I'm hoping that you can fill me in on whether or not he described the change in the way we saluted the flag. Up through the third grade we saluted the flag beginning with a hand over our heart and, on the words "to the flag", we extended the arm to point to the flag with the palm up. (At least that's how we did it in Everett but I'm quite sure that it was nationwide.) Because the Nazi salute was so hated and the extended arm was similar to the Nazi salute (except for the palm of the hand) the extension was dropped, probably in 1942.

Did the author mention that at all?


Yes, the author did. There were several salutes. The original one was the military karate-chop-at-eyebrow, then extending the arm to point to the flag with the palm up.

Rex Curry, a libertarian lawyer from Florida who has a web page about all this, and who praises the book on the Amazon website, writes that the Nazis took their salute from the American one:

1. The original Pledge of Allegiance to the USA's flag used a straight-armed salute and it was the source of the salute of the monstrous National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis)…

2. The Pledge began with a military salute that then extended outward toward the flag. Due to the way that Francis Bellamy (the Pledge's creator) used the gestures, the military salute led to the Nazi salute.

3. Bellamy was a self-proclaimed socialist in the nationalism movement and his dogma influenced socialists in Germany, and his pledge was the origin of their salute. Many people forget that "Nazi" means "National Socialist German Workers' Party." A mnemonic device is the swastika (Hakenkreuz in German). Although the swastika was an ancient symbol, it was also used sometimes to represent "S" letters joined for "socialism" under the German National Socialists.

My reply:

What is the evidence that the Nazis got their salute from Americans, or any doctrine from Bellamy? The book clearly says Bellamy was a Christian socialist and a member of the Nationalist Club, an organization spawned by fans of his cousin's book, "Looking Backward." But there are all kinds of socialists, from Harold Wilson to Pol Pot, and all sorts of nationalists. Their doctrines may be wrong, but most of them do not engage in genocide or start world wars.

And even if the National Socialist German Workers Party got an idea for a salute from the American public schools, so what? If they got their hooked cross from the Indian swastika, does that compromise the Hindus? I don't think so. I read a book a few years ago trying to link Henry Ford to the Nazis. One of the arguments was that Hitler admired Ford and had a picture of him in his office. That's interesting, but it isn't the same as Ford having a picture of Hitler in his office.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at June 15, 2005 10:57 AM



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