Friday, March 10, 2017

LOYALTY

As a public school teacher, I was required to take a loyalty oath to the U.S. and California Constitutions. I didn't think much about it. I was used to saying the Pledge of Allegiance, the Girl Scout oath, and other symbolic words about honor. Other people have not been so quick to gloss over words that become superficial in their repetition. In 2008, a teacher in the Cal State University system was fired because she refused to take the oath for religious reasons. She was a Quaker and agreed to sign the oath if she could insert "non-violently" before the word support in the statement. (Read the statement below.) With media attention, she was rehired, but others who had similar religious objections have not been so fortunate.

I think about the oath now and realize that it was instituted during the McCarthy era in the 1950s to eliminate teachers who belonged to the Communist Party. (The oath, because of court decisions, has been revised to exclude firing because of membership in any club or organization.) I am part of the white privileged group in the U.S. who doesn't often experience the fear that can erupt when questions about our thinking, our origins, our family history, and/or our political positions arise.

Before I was born both my parents worked for Disney Studios until shortly after my dad's cartoon students joined striking artists at Disney in 1941. Disney thought my dad encouraged his students to strike. My parents left the studio and moved to Vermont where he worked as a freelance cartoonist and as an engineer in a New York company. When they returned to California, he began working for Western Publishing Company, which contracted with Warner Bros. to create the Bugs Bunny comic strip and books.




A cartoon that appeared in the company newsletter where
my dad worked as an engineer for a short time during WWII.

Many people involved in the entertainment industry were denounced, even without proof, to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s. My dad was a widely-published comic strip artist by then. He knew of one artist who couldn't find work because of suspicions about his loyalty. My parents worried about the threat of being accused of being members of the Communist Party, even though they were not politically active. I remember as a child feeling that fear from my parents.

One Saturday my family climbed into the car and drove to Alhambra to shop. My dad, as he usually did, left the car unlocked with windows open. When we returned, a flier had been thrown on the front passenger seat. My mother picked up the paper, which was an invitation to a Communist Party gathering, and hid it under her purse. At home, she put the flier on the entry desk with the intent of disposing of it later. Before she had a chance to do that, a friend came over. The flier was still on the table though no one mentioned it.

When the friend left, I remember the look of fear that crossed my parents' faces when my mother picked up the flier off the table. If the friend reported seeing the invitation, my dad could lose his job. Luckily for them, the friend either didn't see the flier or didn't care. The incident was soon erased when the paper was torn up and put in the garbage. But that sense of fear has never left me. I had an inkling of what some people live with every day and I haven't forgotten that.


My dad loved to draw horses and the freedom they represented.



"I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter."

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In 2013, two artists from Britain went to Normandy to commemorate International Peace Day by marking the beach in honor of the men who were killed during D-Day of World War II. 
Their blog, reached by clicking on the link below, describes what they did: a beautiful example of caring about sacrifice, loyalty and honor.


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4 comments:

  1. What an blog entry and family history you shared! The loyalty oaths seem so senseless to me because if a person meant harm to our country they wouldn't mind lying about signing or taking the oath.

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    1. Thank you, Jean. Since I wrote this, I've talked with several other people whose families were connected with the entertainment industry. They had the same feelings of fear. And I agree. I don't think loyalty oaths make a difference to someone who had harmful intentions.

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  2. When will they ever learn? When will they (we) ever learn? The video was very powerful.

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    1. Jan, that phrase is so potent.

      A friend sent me the link to the video. I hadn't seen any publicity about the event before that. It is powerful, isn't it?

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Thank you for commenting! I love hearing from readers, and I answer each one.