The Oath II

The image above is a remarkable document posted yesterday, the 12th of January 2021. The document was written in response to the events we all witnessed in Washington DC on the 6th of January, 2021. It reminds members of the DoD about the oath they willingly took when they joined the ranks.

It struck me that this was a fine time to repost a dissection of the basic oath of enlistment that I originally posted on the 8th of June, 2020.

Here goes.

I want to discuss this oath, this basic step, because a lot of people misunderstand the role of the US Military in society. So here goes.

First, the oath of enlistment in its present day form.

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

Now I’m going to tear it apart and reveal exactly why a lot of military leaders this week have been hesitant to summon the Regular military to US cities to suppress lawful demonstrations.

First, “I will support and defend…” This refers to the obligation, freely assumed by members of the military, to defend the entire US Constitution against those who would seek to deny its specific rights to fellow citizens or attempt to conquer from without. Some examples would be lawful conflict against Nazis in World War Two, or suppression of the Klu Klux Klan during Reconstruction. The Nazis because they sought to overthrow our system of government, the KKK because they sought to deny the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens.

“I will bear true faith…” This means that you follow the Constitution to the letter and the spirit, and that you are loyal to the Constitution before all else. It’s why this clause is written before the following clause, which authorizes lawful authority to command.

“That I will obey the orders of the President… officers…” A military member is required to follow the orders of the President and officers, commissioned and non-commissioned. The clause means what it says. However, there is an important caveat; and this is raised in the next clause.

“According to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice…” This body of written regulation and law is first subject to the Constitution. A military member may not circumvent the Constitution. After the Constitution follows regulations and the UCMJ, which are partially subject to international treaties (ex: the Geneva Convention). This clause, within regulation, recognizes the difference between illegal and legal orders. This is a concept which was fleshed out by the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-47; i.e. it is why it is never a sufficient defense to say “I was just following orders” in the course of atrocities, etc.

“So help me God.” The capping clause that acknowledges the supremacy of a deity over the laws and actions of man.

There you go. A nutshell class in why every service member in the United States serves as a guarantor of the freedoms enumerated in the US Constitution, and why they must follow orders, but only legal orders given in the spirit of the US Constitution.

By the way, National Guard personnel have a slightly different oath in which they recognize the command authority of a given state’s governor. Look it up, it’s much the same; also, National Guard personnel are frequently summoned to active duty and they function under Title 10 exactly like regulars. Sometimes people get confused by this, but it’s really simple.

So there you have it, the reason why every US trooper is obligated by law to uphold the Constitution.

If a servicemember acts to deny his or her fellow citizen their Constitutional rights, then they have gone against the base principle that they committed themselves to on their first day of service.

The US oath of enlistment.

It is specifically designed to ensure and lawfully oblige each member of the armed services to protect the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens; with their lives if necessary.

No matter who is in charge.

Moral vs. Physical Courage

OK, why am I posting an image of yet another medal today?

There’s a reason for this. One is that military medals are important symbols for those who know how to read them; they signal a service member’s complete record if you know what you’re looking at. In many cases, they also serve to illustrate the history and choices a nation makes.

The medal above is the United States World War Two Victory Medal; anyone who honorably served in the US military between December 7, 1941 and December 31st, 1946 is entitled to wear it.

This medal represents the moral courage of an entire nation and government; it was issued at the cost of trillions in treasure, hundreds of thousands of young deaths; and millions maimed and traumatized.

Some definitions.

Moral courage is the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences. (Wikipedia)

Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, even death or threat of death. (Wikipedia)

I’ve been up against situations that required both types of courage, and I believe that the harder of the two is moral courage.

The World War Two medal above required both types of courage from its participants, although physical courage was the one most frequently praised and acknowledged.

Some examples.

For physical courage, you don’t have to look far or think hard. This can be divorced from the moral aspects and frequently is. For example, the qualifications for valor decorations amongst the German, Soviet, US, British, etc. militaries is similar. The moral aspects behind the causes was worlds apart.

There is nothing to admire about the German cause in World War Two. Nothing. But it took real moral courage to oppose Nazism and fascism at the time.

These days, eighty odd years later, one may think that this is no longer relevant.

Allow me to explain how the moral courage of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill still matter.

Both had to deal with isolationist sentiment, as well as large blocs of the population that were sympathetic to fascism. It is a myth that the British Empire and the United States went into World War Two united and motivated. Not true at all, and this reluctance to engage ascendant fascism is easily perceived upon any type of study whatsoever.

In terms of the subject, moral courage, President Roosevelt had to make a clear policy stand to prepare the US for war; he had to define an enemy that many Americans didn’t see as a threat. It is well known that isolationist sentiment in the US opposed Roosevelt’s proposed military buildup; celebrities such as Charles Lindbergh were staunch proponents of the America First movement. He was an open admirer of Adolph Hitler; many Americans shared his views.

These days this may be inconceivable for many of us. But it was true. Millions across the United States and Europe thought that the Fascists had the solution to the economic woes of the Depression; millions also could have cared less about the plight of the Jews and other oppressed minorities.

Sad but true.

Roosevelt had to use every tool at his disposal to get the US to prepare for war; in the end it was only the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s ill-advised declaration of war on the US that really got the “arsenal of democracy” turning.

The stress and strain of his prewar stand and the conduct of the war killed President Roosevelt on the job.

Roosevelt was a real, no kidding profile in moral courage.

Brought back to the personal level, I don’t have many opportunities these days to exercise physical courage. This is a good thing. Physical courage implies danger either to me or my family. I don’t think many of us have to confront real enemies at the gate.

But all of us have to make choices that require moral courage.

Moral courage is hard. Draining. It’s the constant drive to do the right thing; in the service we would have called this “living by the Army values.” I know I constantly put things into the paradigm of what I did in the past. It can be a problem. But the past applies here, in this discussion.

Let me show you the Army Values, and you will understand.

Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Selfless Service. Honor. Integrity. Personal Courage.

I guess this still means something to me, even after seven years of retirement. These values aren’t just hot air, and they aren’t just for soldiers. This is moral courage in a nutshell; and trying, and occasionally failing, to live up to these values has cost me. I am certain that I am not alone in this; all of us face difficult life choices. It’s the decisions we make that represent something else of importance; character.

Moral Courage.

It’s what sets nations and individuals apart.

Try to live a life of courage.

The Bugle

Oh Lord Jesus

Johnny stood on the serried line, to his right and left were seemingly endless soldiers in blue, with light blue trousers. His regiment stood, the Rebs were coming. He could hear them scream; it was the Rebel Yell that echoed over this accursed field of green.

The scream said “we are here, and we are coming for you.”

The Napoleons opened up, BOOM, BOOM. He gripped his Springfield, he waited for the command. As he had been trained, as he was told. He watched as the Johnny Rebs closed on his regiment; they grew closer. Closer.

He had to piss in the worst way. His hands rested upon the steel and walnut of his rifle; in it rested a Minie Ball; nearly three-quarters of an inch of dying nestled in his barrel.

Waiting. Like he did. Like he did with his regiment; thousands of young men strong. Men sound of body and mind; they waited for the axe to fall. For the Rebs to come. To close with them, to kill them.

His grip was sweaty upon his piece. His mouth was dry; the sun beat down upon his dark blue coat. He swore he could feel the sun build heat in the brass bugle upon his bummer cap; he was a man of line; an infantryman.

His mission; to close with and kill the enemy on this accursed field.

“Thou shalt not kill;” the preacherman said.

But today he would.

He’d kill Rebs just like him; children of the same God. How could he figure that right? How could he ever be clean?

ROAR. They screamed. They trilled; it was the Rebel Yell.

They meant to leave him cold and splayed-legged upon the field. With the bayonet that pierced, the ball that killed. Grapeshot to smear him across the bright green grass.

The hell with that. His mouth was dry; his vision narrowed into a tunnel. He saw the running Rebs in their butternut and gray. Oh Lord, he thought.

His Lieutenant screamed.

“Hold, Boys! Hold!”

The man held his sword along the line of troopers; straight-across as if to hold them back. 

Zip. Phweet. Snap!

“Uh,” said the man next to him. Ephraim. He fell as if his strings were cut.

Johnny pissed himself. He would hold. On the grave of his father, on the spirits of his ancestors, he would hold.

WHUMP.

The Rebs had their own artillery; a gap formed in the line of blue.

“Close ranks! Close ranks!”

Johnny moved. It was automatic. The Rebs closed upon the hill. They were close. Close!

“Present, Arms!”

Johnny brought his rifle to his shoulder. 

“Full cock and aim low!”

Johnny ran his hammer all the way back and sighted on a shouting man with a dirty blonde beard.

“First rank, fire!”

Johnny smashed his trigger. The yelling man, the bearded man, disappeared behind a dirty puff of smoke. Had he just killed a man? He was too busy to care.

Johnny automatically kneeled, he pulled a paper cartridge out, bit off the end and dumped it in his barrel. He rammed the ball into his barrel, ran the hammer to half-cock and placed a cap upon the nipple. He was ready.

Right by his ear, the second rank fired.

The Reb’s advance faltered. So many of them fell.

The third rank fired.

The Rebs screamed, their charge fell to pieces. 

Johnny stood.

“Full cock!”

Johnny’s heart hammered away. The rebels fell. His heart pounded hard; he screamed. Something squeezed his chest; it was as if a great weight pressed upon him. He fought to breathe. He couldn’t. For the love of God, he couldn’t.

Johnny fired. The Rebel’s charge stopped. Johnny sagged to his knees. They got me, he thought.

On the 21st of August, 1931, Private John Buckmaster fell at last. His daughter found him; he looked peaceful.

They listed “heart failure” on his death certificate.

But Sharpsburg killed him.

No one would ever know.