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THE IMPORTANCE OF SWEARING 8 Sep. 2017 PDF  | Print |  E-mail


8 Sep. 2017

Dear Friends and Patriots,

          Remember when you were a little kid and your parents would caution you against swearing?  They’d used various explanations to try to impress upon you that swearing just wasn’t a thing you should ever do.  It was either against your religious principles, something nice people just didn’t do, or simply “Jesus doesn’t like that.”  Maybe some of you weren’t raised that way, but I was, and all my friends growing up were.  I just never took to swearing as a youth, but all that was to change on 28 September 1970.

          Yes, I remember the day I first swore in a willing and meaningful way.  I’ll remember it forever, and even remember the exact words I used.  This was them:

“I, Steve Alton Stone, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

I was surrounded by about 80 other young men when I raised my right hand and repeated the oath as it was read by an Army Lieutenant Colonel.  I doubt any of us concentrated on the words or their meaning.  I doubt any of us reflected at all on the history of the oath and its implications. We just raised our hands as directed and followed along after instructed to “Repeat after me.”

          Millions of American citizens have taken the Oath of Enlistment cited above.  We swore.  Well, most of us swore.  Some are so offended by the notion of swearing that they used the one variation of the oath that replaces “swear” with “affirm” and eliminates the last sentence, “So help me God.”  Yes, the military does allow committed atheists to serve, and unlike us God-fearing types, they don’t have to swear to do it.

          I swore that very same oath at least seven times in my uniformed career.  Maybe more; I really don’t know.  It seemed like the Navy and Coast Guard were provoking me to swear at every opportunity.  It must be like a vaccine or something, used to prevent enlisted soldiers and sailors from straying from the true path of patriotism.  I know officers have to swear, too, though it’s a different oath, and usually they have to swear less frequently.  Maybe that’s why we tend to think of military officers in more genteel terms.   I’ll admit something to you, too.  I had to swear that oath a couple of times, too.  This was my first utterance of the officer’s oath:

"I, Steve Alton Stone, having been appointed an officer in the Navy of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of Ensign do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God."

As you can see, there’s a bit of difference between the two oaths.  The enlisted oath binds one to obey the orders of the President and officers who are above, which is . . . every darned one of them.  The officers’ oath binds them to faithfully discharge the duties of their office.  That’s a bit of an oddity, isn’t it?

          Regardless of the difference, you’ll note that both oaths require military members to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  That’s yet another oddity.  How exactly does one do that?  Does the oath refer to the actual pieces of paper that are housed in our National Archives building on the Washington mall?  That makes no sense, does it?  Does it mean to support and defend the government defined by the Constitution?  If it did, wouldn’t it be more specific and say something else, like “support and defend the government of the United States of America . . . ?”  But it doesn’t.   It says “the Constitution.”  That curiosity leads one to conclude the Constitution is far more than mere words on paper, and the oaths actually refer to the embodiment of the principles and ideals the Constitution represents more than its paper and ink physical reality.

What a military member swears to protect and defend are the principles of freedom and liberty described by our Declaration of Independence and specified by the Constitution; principles embodied in our government’s form.  In other words, the military swears to uphold our Constitutional republic and ensure it is protected from harm from within and without.  If you think about it, that’s a mighty tall order.  The “without” part is actually the easier to grasp.  If any foreign entity were to assault our nation and attempt to defeat it and take it over, our military is sworn to fight with all its might to prevent it.  How hard is that to understand?  It’s that other part, the “within” that’s a bit problematic. 

Obviously if there’s some form of domestic unrest that grows to the level of a general insurrection the military can be activated to assume a domestic role by a Congressional declaration and imposition of martial law.  That scenario is almost precisely what happened in 1861, when the secessionist states were declared to be “states in rebellion” and the battles that took place were declared to be due to a general insurrection.  Congress did not declare a state of war, as is generally assumed.  To do so it would first have to acknowledge the Confederate States of America as a free and sovereign nation, which it refused to do.  Instead, Congress declared a state of insurrection existed in the south and imposed martial law, which for the greater part of the conflict was in full effect only in the north.  In the Confederacy the city of New Orleans was governed under US martial law for almost the entire duration of the war, but it was generally non-existent in any other place in the south.

If you examine the Civil War from the standpoint of the Constitution and the oaths under discussion it becomes a bit easier to comprehend the notion of protecting and defending the embodied principles.  The southern states had effectively rejected the Constitution and its principles and went off to create and live according to their own charter, with a different expression of principles.  Once Congress declared martial law, the US military’s “domestic” role was to ensure the reinstatement of Constitutional rule in the rebelling territories; to re-impose by force the ideals of the Constitution those states in rebellion had abandoned.  There are competing theories of the legality of that entire undertaking, but the purpose here isn’t to justify or refute justification for the war, but to explain better what the military oaths mean in the context of actual events.

          Assuming you’ve kept up with this discussion I will now take it to a different place.  I’ll reveal why I brought this entire subject up.  It has to do with education and basic knowledge of the Constitution; what it is and what it represents.

          Very few schools in America today teach children anything useful about the Constitution.  If they teach anything at all it’s usually an overview of the articles of the Constitution and the basics of how it defines the structure of our federal government.  They will have brief discussions of the amendments, with some concentration on the Bill of Rights, then dwell on the 13th and the 16th through 27th.   It’s safe to assume most high school students who do get this kind of exposure to the Constitution will forget almost everything they heard and read sometime in the week that follows the class.  The vast majority of those students will never again pick up a copy of the Constitution to read it, much less spend real quality time studying it and trying to understand its fuller meanings.

          Some percentage of those high school students will eventually find their way to the US military and either enlist or accept commissions as officers.  They will be administered their oaths and you should be certain not one in a thousand will ever wonder what the words of those oaths actually mean.  In their military experience they will never be compelled to read or study the Constitution, and will most likely only gain useful knowledge of it by self-study.  The Constitution is taught at military academies much like it is in the few high schools that teach it.  The effects of that instruction are almost the same.  Today if you ask a military academy graduate if he or she took a course dedicated to the Constitution most will either answer in the negative or state they don’t actually remember.

          Just what does our government teach the military regarding any aspect of US law?  It teaches military law and military justice, almost entirely related to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  My purpose here is not to discuss the UCMJ or to compare it to US law, but to point out as clearly as possible that our military members are not taught the fundamentals of the very basis of US law, and are largely ignorant of it.  And, yet, there are those “protect and defend” words in the oaths, and every single commissioned officer and enlisted person in our military forces swears to them.

          Here are a few questions for you which I certainly cannot answer:  How can the people of our nation reasonably expect our military forces to faithfully execute their oaths of office or enlistment if they cannot reasonably be expected to understand what they mean?  Going a bit further, if our nation finds itself in the near future in a situation of general chaos and Congress decides to invoke a declaration of martial law to restore order, what expectations can we reasonably have of our military?  Is it reasonable to think our military has any comprehension of the principles and ideals embodied in the Constitution?  Is it reasonable to assume they have any comprehension of how to properly “protect and defend?”

          I have no personal fear of our military.  I’ve lived within that system-within-a-system since 1970.  I understand our military forces as a great and stabilizing presence in our society.  But, even so, it is bothersome to think we may one day turn to this group of people to protect us from domestic enemies of the Constitution.  How exactly are we to trust them to know who the enemies are?  If they have almost zero knowledge of those principles and ideals mentioned previously, what will guide them in the formulation and execution of their orders?  What is it that can assure the average American that our military will recognize we are their actual commanders and everyone in Washington works for us, just as they do?  How do we assure ourselves that we will never be looked upon by our military as their adversary?

          Those oaths of office and enlistment deserve a lot of thought, consideration, and explanation.  I believe I understand them, but also believe I’m part of a very tiny minority of Americans who truly do.

          How long can America continue as a nation with such ignorance of why it even exists?  How can our military forces ever be expected to protect us from “enemies within” if almost no one among them comprehends what such enemies might look like?  How safe are we, really?

          I encourage you all to think about these things.  Maybe next time you run across someone in uniform you’ll think to pose some of these same questions and concerns to them.  Just be prepared to receive blank stares when you do.  But, take heart!  If you get blank stares, consider it a sign that you can make a difference in someone’s life.  Take the time to teach a young person something valuable.  Teach them the true meaning of their oath and what exactly they signed up for.  Teach them the truth that they’re not out there just to protect the nation, but the very ideals the nation was founded upon.  Protecting the land and people is a hard job, but protecting principles and ideals is far harder.  They all deserve to understand that.

In Liberty,