You are walking in the hallway of your job, the sun’s rays shine bright through the windows of the offices that line the walls and you adjust your tie as you make your way to your desk. Just then a co-worker calls your name and you find yourself behind a closed-door and a paper is flashed before you. She says to you that we all have to sign it, everyone from the company president to the janitors has to do this – it is an oath of loyalty. Are you a Communist, or an American?
It is the Cold War and McCarthy can daily be seen on your television screen, his slightly frazzled comb over is such that a strand of hair lands carelessly just across his forehead. He slams his fist on the desk and his hair becomes slightly more frazzled as he proclaims, “You are not a true American if you do not pledge your allegiance and disavow yourself from your Communist ties.”
Aside from being a journalist, I have a lifelong love of science and recently I was offered a chance to share this love with grade school students through teaching. I was also asked if I would be interested in helping transport students from the schools to science events. Of course, I said yes. What I did not expect however, was to be transported myself, back to the era of loyalty oaths.
For those of us who were not alive during the 1950s, these stories of Communist fears and loyalty oaths are nothing more that images on film, or text in a history book. We never lived this dark era of our past and as far as we know, the Cold War is over. Communism is irrelevant, and we have bigger issues to worry about like terrorists and other people who do not look or act, typically “American.”
There are two application processes for this particular job. The teaching application is through the actual science school and the driving application is through the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The reason behind this is because the science program’s vans are provided through this particular department. So in order to drive one of these vehicles, one must fill out the generic city application.
The application itself is exceedingly long. Having worked for many employers in my young career I have never seen an application so thick. I began to wonder what sort of information I was going to be required to print on the 15 or so pages. I thought, “all this to drive kids around town?”
Finally I began digging through the paperwork. After completing the first laborious set of questions, I turned the pages a few times until I came across the next form that needed to be filled. And then, I saw it. It stared at me through its copy machined print, and I began to imagine that perhaps I had traveled through a worm hole. Carl Sagan once said about these intergalactic transporters, “you might emerge somewhere else in space, some-when else in time.”
I checked my surroundings and being a journalist I thought perhaps I was Edward R. Murrow, or at least someone on his staff (just a helping of modesty, please) who was working at CBS during the height of the McCarthy era and was suddenly hearing that everyone was going to have to sign a loyalty oath, or else it was goodbye job.
Wait a minute. I am sitting at my desk and I have space age technology lying all around my room: a beautiful flat screen TV mounted on my wall, an e-book reader, a smart phone, and a state of the art computer. I was not in the 1950s, my mother is not a housewife who makes us microwaved dinners every night (Editors note: I am so young that I did not know that tv dinners were still popped in ovens and not microwaves at this time. Thank you Dr. Richard Shope for pointing this out); it has been decades since the Feminine Mystique was written, John Lennon is definitely long gone, and hell, even Steve Jobs is dead. Furthermore, I am living in the age of Obama. An African American President is leading my nation.
In evolutionary biology, when we examine the organs and bone structures of animals, and compare them to each other, we often find parts that still exist but no longer have any use. In the human body, some researchers have hypothesized the appendix is one such organ. In whales we see thumbs in fins. Scientists call this vestigial structures. A kind of biological documentation of what came before.
Still, lying in front of me was a piece of paper that had printed words that are now a relic of a shameful past. Like the vestigial structures of our evolutionary history, there was this 86 word paragraph, with a line for my name and signature, requiring I sign a loyalty oath that was put there for no other reason than to weed out Communists from the application pool. It no longer served a purpose.
In today’s America, the only person crazy enough to try to bring back that era was Glenn Beck, and while he successfully took down the likes of people like Van Jones, he managed to cross the line, going far beyond what even the grocery tabloids could do, with their cover stories of “Bat Boy Meets Elvis!” Or, “Osama Has Affair With Alien”. Beck, the brightest star at Fox News, had gone cold. Anti-Communist fervor no longer meant that much to Americans, it was just history.
This oath, however, still stared back at me. At first, I was furious. How dare anyone require me to sign an oath. I am an American, born and raised. I pay taxes and I drive an American car. And while I dream of being more fluent in other languages, I still only feel naturally at home with my native tongue, English. The language of our founders.
But this goes beyond the superficial qualities of what makes anyone American. The fact is that while the State of California opted to remove the second paragraph of this oath, which specifically referenced renouncing the Communist Party, it is still an act of intimidation and fear. It still represents an old way of thinking, a way of thinking that my school teachers and history books taught to be backward, not conducive to today’s society’s advances in social thought.
(continued on next page)