Oath Taking

I sometimes wonder if keeping one’s word is falling into disrepute in the modern era. Promises are made lightly and integrity is matter of convenience. There was a time in America where someone’s reputation depended on their reliability and integrity.  
In the Marine Corps oath taking is serious business. We hold reenlistment formations where we retake our oaths in front of our fellow Marines. This marks the reenlistment as an important milestone for those recommitting to something other than themselves in a time when lesser men promote self oriented entitlement and a morality akin to an alley cat. To illustrate the concept of fidelity I always tell Marines if their spouse can’t trust them then there is no reason the Marine to their left or right can either.
Today we’ll examine the Oath of Enlistment. The Oath is taken by members of the Armed Forces when they enlist and particularly resonates when they reenlist. 
Before we get into the Oath itself  let’s look at the definition of the word.
Oath: A solemn, formal calling to witness the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says.
So, upon deciding to take the Oath of Enlistment you are inviting others to observe and take note of what you are about to do. The reason we call on others to witness something is for proper accountability of what is happening. Essentially you are saying I intend to do the following and you all are here to see if it is true or not.

I, ____________, 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.

So let’s review this vow: “I, do solemnly swear…”
Solemn: marked by the observance of established form or ceremony, marked by grave sedateness and earnest sobriety. Synonym – serious.
Swear: to assert or promise emphatically, to bind by an oath.
In other words the oath taker is saying he is: “…formally and with great thoughtfulness, seriousness, and clear headedness, bind myself…” to the following course of action. The idea of binding yourself to something implies you are tied to it and cannot let go. It is an illustration of the dedication and commitment one is making.
“…I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States…”
Support: to endure bravely, to uphold as valid or right, to pay the cost of.
Defend: to drive danger or attack away from.
Constitution: established law or custom, the structure, composition, make up, or nature of something.
So this part of the Oath could be read as: “…I will bravely endure and uphold as right the very nature and customs of the United States and drive away any danger which threatens it.” Cool.
…against all enemies foreign and domestic;…
Enemy: one that is antagonistic to another, one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound, something harmful or deadly, a hostile force.
Foreign: situated outside one’s own country, characteristic of some other place, alien in character.
Domestic: of or relating to, or originating within one’s own country.
 Identifying who are our nation’s enemies and who are not is a much debated subject. I tend to take a simple view of the matter. If they threaten our people, society, and our way of life then they probably need be dealt with. With that in mind this sentence might read:
“…against all those who seek to do it harm, whether their origin is unfamiliar and strange or from within our own country…”
Let us continue…
…that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;…
Bear: to carry, to move while holding up and supporting.
True: steadfast, loyal, without deviation.
Faith: allegiance to duty (loyalty), fidelity to one’s promises, sincerity of intentions.
Allegiance: fidelity owed by a citizen to a sovereign or government, devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause.
Notice how often the words fidelity and loyalty keep popping up? Interesting. For instructional purposes we turn to author Robert A. Heinlein:
“The two highest achievements of the human mind are the twin concepts of “loyalty” and “duty”. Whenever these twin concepts fall into disrepute, get out of there fast! You may possibly save yourself, but it is too late to save that society. It is doomed.”
Continuing on: “…that I will carry out these intentions, without deviation, in support of this cause…”
…that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me,…
Obey: to follow the commands or guidance of, to conform or comply with, to behave obediently.
We have a saying: “You joined the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps didn’t join you.” It is a shocking revelation to many young people they no longer get to do whatever they want to. Welcome to the really real world! You agree to conform to our way of life.
Officer: one who holds an office of trust, authority, or command.
Appointed: to set officially.
Despite rumors to the contrary, rarely is anything of substance accomplished by committee. Someone has to lead and make decisions. In the military we have those officially tasked to do just that. 
“…I will comply with the commands of the President and the guidance of those lawfully in authority or command…”
…according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Regulation: rule or order issued by executive authority.

Uniform Code of Military Justice: federal law enacted by Congress to establish a standard set of procedural and substantive criminal laws for all the U.S. military services.

There are those who probably think these concepts are all just a load of romantic excrement as are concepts like fidelity and honor. They are only so much dung if we allow them to be. Here at the Camp of the Praetorians we will continue to strive to embody those ideals. Sometimes we may fail, but if it were easy or inherent they probably wouldn’t be worth striving for.
Now raise your right hand and repeat after me:
“I, [state your full name], do formally and with great thoughtfulness, seriousness, and clear headedness, bind myself to bravely endure and uphold as right the very nature and customs of the United States and drive away any danger which threatens it; I will stand against all those who seek to do it harm, whether their origin is unfamiliar and strange or from within our own country; that I will carry out these intentions, without deviation, in support of this cause; I will comply with the commands of the President and the guidance of those lawfully in authority or command, according to rules and orders issued by executive authority. So help me God.”
Now, go out and hunt some Taliban!
Semper Fidelis!
Amierca’s 1stSgt
/ / / /

13 comments

  1. Well done, sir. (notice I didn’t cap the sir. So, no slur intended. Simple respect, not saying you don’t work for a living.)

    Seriously. If the elementary and middle school/ jr. highs of this country could be loaded up with people such as yourself, a lot of bad could be undone.

    Semper Fi

    -Grimmy

  2. I’ve had the honor of taking the Oath of Enlistment twice now… no regrets. I enjoy having a job that means something (plus it’s fun.)

    Taliban hunting will commence at 0500!

  3. Top,
    I have taken that oath a few times…and even though I’ve “retired” I didn’t un-swear that oath.

    When the PD hired me back part time, the new Chief said:”Well, I guess I have to swear you in.”

    I told him: “I never un-did my oath and never will.”

  4. First Sergeant:

    I am with you 100% on this. I too have taken this oath several times, and didn’t place any use by or experation date on it.

    My only question is: What does one do when the President of the United States is one of the domestic enemies?

    Paul L. Quandt

  5. I haven’t had the honor of taking such an oath, however I’m furious at how the current generation blatantly throws empty promises around. My kids NEVER use the word promise unless they seriously mean business. I have taught them that you’re as good as your word, and if your word is worthless then so are you.

  6. I suspect that the most important part of the oath is the “so help me God” part.

    I’ve spent years as a lawyer listening to people take the following oath: “Q: Raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? A: I do.”

    In the old days, of course, you placed your right hand on a Bible, and the oath ended with the phrase “so help you God.”

    When you took the old oath, you put your immortal soul on the line. Nowadays, you’re just agreeing that, all things being equal, you’re more likely than not to tell the truth. But if you lie, you’re still good, so long as no one catches you.

    I’m a minimally religious person myself, but even I would think twice about taking a false oath if the soul I might actually possess was on the line.

  7. Grimmy, I’m afraid my whole philosophy of personal accountability wouldn’t go well with parents. But thanks!

    Saker, good hunting!

    Lin, CI Roller, and Paul, for us the Oath is a verbal confirmation of a personal commitment we as warriors have already made and continue to abide by. Semper Fi!

    Kristina, good for you and your kids! Yes should mean yes and no mean no. That’s all there is.

    Book, the Bible specifically states all liars are going to hell. This is probably why Scripture advises against taking oaths or swearing in the first place. People being the fallible creatures they are shouldn’t run around making promises as eventually they are going to fail to keep them all at some point.

  8. A1S:

    Here’s where I disagree with you on your take on personal responsibility re: teaching youngin’s.

    I was just reminded last night, while doing my annual re-read of Starship Troopers…

    There is no such thing as a juvenile delinquent. There are juvenile criminals and delinquent parents.

    Sooo… the parents that would raise a fuss would also tend to be the same parents that belong along side their kid at the whipping post.

    -Grimmy

    PS. My own parents should be most very glad that the punishment concepts of Starship Troopers wasn’t in play while I was growing up. But hey, it is what it is.

  9. Grimmy, I don’t think you and I are in disagreement at all. I fully support administrative punishment as depicted in Starship Troopers.

    For those not in the know, read the book if you want a glimpse into the mind of a military man.

  10. First Sergeant,

    I had the honor of taking the oath of enlistment twice and then later the commissioning oath. I have always taken the words to heart. I was always honored to be asked to swear someone in at a reenlistment ceremony or a commissioning.

    But let me posit a point regarding a common attitude on this page which I use to make an argument in my teaching life.

    I also agree that my oath binds me for life. So what about those men who swore commissioning oaths to the United States prior to April 1861 who resigned and then served in the Confederate military?

    I consider them traitors…it is illuminating the number of perople who violently disagree with me…most of whom have never raised their right hand in the air.

  11. John, one could argue technically the oath is only binding until the enlistment contract is up or commision resigned. This is indeed an interesting discussion point and one I think I will bring up when I teach this at PME. I would tend to brand Confederate troops as traitors too, although I doubt they saw themselves in that light. The same could be said for Colonial forces during the Revolution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *