The Problem With the Military’s Oath

  • by Gitabushi

I think this blog is growing into a Speculative Fiction blog.  I started with writing about Guitars.  I took inspiration from PCBushi’s exhortation on Twitter once to Alienate All the Readers with some of my harder-core socio-political views.  But I think the three of us have some distinctive and valuable talent when it comes Speculative Fiction, whether games, movies, books, or original work.

However, I’m going to break with that momentarily and go back to Alienating Readers with Socio-Political Views.  The reason is I want to explore an issue that really isn’t appropriate for the piecemeal nature of Twitter, and where else do I have to talk about such issues?  Nowhere.  So whether you agree or disagree, let’s discuss.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, there has been a national discussion on gun ownership and the evils and virtues thereof.  Some are merely pushing to ban the civilian (restricted to semi-automatic) versions of the M-16 and M-4 (labeled loosely as AR-15 rifles).  The Right assumes that is just the first step, and justifications will be found to continue further bans, re-accomplishing all the gun control gains lost in the Heller ruling, and attempting to overturn the wild success of Shall Issue open and concealed carry that has been so successful in reducing violence, crime, and homicide in recent years. Others have justified that view by openly stating they want to confiscate all guns.

Scary-looking rifle. Photo by Motohide Miwa:

And from there, the issue always comes to the US military: will they fire on citizens who are refusing to allow their guns to be confiscated?  Or will they honor their oath the support and defend the US Constitution, specifically the Second Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms?

Obviously, this is a complex issue, and I can’t cover all the aspects. If the Left actually succeeds in Amending the Constitution to weaken or eliminate the Second Amendment, then the US military would have to shoot violators to uphold the Constitution, no?  But the US military is also more conservative than the citizenry at large, and many understand the importance of the Second Amendment in resisting tyranny. Moreover, the Left is unlikely to succeed in overturning the Second Amendment.  The Assault Weapon Ban hasn’t been renewed because the Left doesn’t have the political power to do so.  So amending the Constitution is probably a non-starter.  The Left’s best hope is probably to use their power in the Judiciary (read Glenn Reynolds’ The Judiciary Class War to understand how this would work) to re-interpret the Second Amendment.

The Right insists the US military wouldn’t fire on citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights. The Left, particularly those on the Left with military experience, says they would.

The reality is enforcement of gun confiscation, if it ever happened, would be done by the armed and militarized federal bureaucracy, like BATF, IRS, EPA, FBI, Department of Education (no, I’m not kidding. They have SWAT teams).

However, I want to explore the notion of the US military supporting and defending the US Constitution.

See, the military has some inherent conflicts in its culture.  The main one I’m thinking of is this contradictory pair:

Rule 1: Always Follow Orders
Rule 2: I was just Following Orders is no defense for war crimes

There’s also the cultural conflict of Top-Down hierarchy against bottom-up initiative.  The US military is one of the best in the world *because* we encourage individual thinking and autonomy at the lowest level possible.

However, the lower the rank, the younger and less experienced the troop.

And the whole point of Basic Training is to teach you to follow orders, without thinking, even to your personal detriment.


Because there are times where a series of squads or fire teams have to be sent against an entrenched enemy position, and many of them will die.  But a consequence of the assault that will claim many of their lives is the taking of the objective and the accomplishment of the mission.

You can’t have young soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines questioning whether it is a Lawful Order to charge the machine gun emplacement. So we train obedience to orders.

The military spends hours every year discussing ethical issues, including the ticking time bomb scenario, where your team leader wants to torture an enemy captive to get information that will help you save the lives of your squadmates, what do you do?

But although we take the Oath to Support and Defend the US Constitution, we rarely, if ever, discuss what that means.

Obama violated the US Constitution. He did so many times. Obama has more 9-0 SCOTUS rulings against him than any other POTUS in modern history.  Should the US military have risen up to depose him from office?  We didn’t.  Did the US military violate its oath?

Well, those rulings mean the system worked: the Judiciary struck his rules down.

But what about the exceptions?

  1. After Justice Scalia died (previous error: “Scalito”), if the Progressive side of SCOTUS ignored the US Constitution to rule (as it often does…don’t want to get into all the details now) in Obama’s favor, then his Constitutional violations don’t get overturned. What then?
  2. Obama lost several rulings on immigration, then proceeded to ignore the court orders.  What then?
  3. Obama sued to keep Arizona from enforcing federal immigration laws, and won. What then?
  4. In more than one aspect of law, including immigration and Obamacare, the appeals court wouldn’t let plaintiffs make argument of unConstitutionality, because they lacked standing.  Yes, the arguments that Obama’s policy violated the US Constitution were sound and probably would have prevailed, but if the people that SCOTUS feels would be hurt don’t sue, you can’t do anything to stop it!  So: Unconstitutional + SCOTUS *thinks* it is helpful = Constitutional!  Examples of this include Sandra O’Connor ruling that racial discrimination is WRONG, but okay if the govt does it for another, say 25 years.  Or the Obergefell ruling.  Or the California state ruling that an Amendment to the Constitution can be UnConstitutional, so you have no hope of stopping me from using my own ruling to benefit myself personally.  What then?

Should someone in the military have taken a sniper rifle and killed Obama?

Of course not.

Should the military have risen up to depose the Obama administration?

Of course not.

What is the threshold?  What is the trigger?

I don’t think anyone knows.

The problem with the oath is the disparity between Policy as Written and Policy as Enforced.  Once you get to the O-6 level, particularly when you get to the 2-star General/Flag Officer and higher level, promotions are political.  The President only promotes those who agree with them politically.

Remember the Front Row Kid concept?  Well, Front Row Kids make up most of the instructors at the military academies, so Academy Graduates absorb that viewpoint.  Moreover, the military academies *are* the Ivy League for military service, so they have a vested interest in preserving their Elite status, tending to promote each other, and tending to be set up for promotion by the Front Row Kids that form the civilian oversight of the military.

So there won’t be orders to overthrow any POTUS for even fairly blatant violations of the US Constitution.

…and yet, I think that is a good thing.  One of the best things about the US political system is its elasticity.  There are violations, but there are peaceful means of redress, and if you wait long enough, the Wisdom of Crowds effect swings the pendulum back toward the other direction, so there isn’t really a need to take the drastic and damaging action of a military coup.

However, I also think it isn’t purely a good thing.  Individuals respond to incentives.  There is little incentive for any one person to decide to defend the US Constitution via assassination.  In fact, they’d be vilified and jailed as a traitor.

I know, personally, that I don’t want to murder anyone.  But if even half the things Eric Holder seems to have done are true, assassinating him would have been the patriotic thing to do.  He was held in contempt for his dishonesty in front of the US Congress, and his dishonesty was to avoid confessing to several material crimes against US citizens, but the contempt never resulted in any punishment at all.

A military that took its Oath the US Constitution seriously would have done something to ensure Eric Holder faced punishment of some sort (even if not capital punishment) to ensure that partisan hack Attorney Generals will not dare to violate the Constitution in the future. But as of now, Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Lois Lerner, Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Susan Rice, Susan Powers, Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, and yes, Barack Obama, have faced no threat of punishment for what seem to be significant crimes against the US Constitution and the US citizenry.  The only one who has been punished at all is Andrew McCabe, and Democrats are doing what they can to restore his pension and take the teeth out of even that minor penalty.

Again, I don’t advocate assassinating people like Eric Holder. I don’t even want to play footsie with the idea.

But if even half the allegations are true, the US military did nothing to fulfill its oath to Protect and Defend the US Constitution.

I’ve been told, and used to believe, that the beauty of the US military’s oath is it was to the Constitution, rather than to a man.  But at this point, that no longer seems to be true.  The US military’s oath isn’t to defend one man for life, but it does seem to have been re-interpreted to be allegiance to the President, whomever he shall be at one time, and his subordinates, regardless of illegal orders and criminal activity.

I honestly don’t know what to do.  It clearly isn’t the place of an individual of any rank to decide on their own that someone in the civilian government has violated the US Constitution.  It clearly would be treason for a small cabal of US military of any rank to decide, as a group, that someone in the civilian government has violated the US Constitution, and take action.  It clearly would be treason for a single General Officer, or even a few General Officers, to begin preparing their subordinates to execute a coup against civilian leadership.

But it also is clear that the US military wouldn’t “just follow orders” to attack and kill US citizens exercising their rights, to attack and kill US citizens for purely political reasons, or to just stand by while Executive Branch agencies attack and kill US citizens for the aforementioned reasons.

I just can’t, at this time, figure out what the tipping point might be.  Or even how to discuss the tipping point in broad terms.  On one side, clearly wrong to take action. On the other side, clearly wrong to not take action.  When/where does the flip happen?

I don’t know.


12 thoughts on “The Problem With the Military’s Oath

  1. Wow what a post. You raise many important philosophical questions with no easy answers. Mostly.

    I say that because I disagree with one point: I DO think there may come a time where a coup could be the best possible outcome for the future of the nation. Scary, yes, but with leaders as lawless as we’ve had, and the lack of consequences for any of it, I have close to zero faith in the ability of our institutions to self-regulate and correct.

    When is this point? Honestly, we may have passed it years ago.

    Like you wrote, no easy answers. Interesting times…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

      It’s possible that we’ve reached the point of no return and that we are headed for collapse or decline as so many empires have before us.

      Honestly as a new father, my concern is more “can I raise my child(ren) in this country the way I want (for the most part) and as a follower of Christ? Preserving the greatness of the country would be a wonderful thing, but it would take a lot for me to support open war in our backyard that could take the lives of my children and family.

      If we really cared about just cause for overthrow of the government, though, you don’t have to look much further than the state-sponsored killing of millions of children. What an abomination.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Word.
        Just touched on this in a twitter conversation.
        Conservatives *are* conservatives because our goal is the peace and safety of our family, and the chance to raise our children so they can obtain peace and safety for *their* family, and so on.

        War, especially a Civil War, destroys that.

        …but if the Left is going to spark one anyway?

        Dunno. There is always a tipping point, but I’m not sure we are there yet.

        In some ways, I think the Left is so shrill *because* they are running on fumes. They have a bunch of people willing to believe, heed, and follow through, but the facts are on conservative’s side about how an armed populace is safer, how supply-side economics work, how de-regulation helps, and the damage of over-spending (and corresponding lack of effect for all the money spent).

        The only thing keeping the Left going is their dominance of the information medium, and they *still* are losing elections.

        So maybe there will be a preference cascade soon for conservative governance.

        Hope so. Maybe even think so. But I can’t guarantee it. And if I’m wrong, I think there *will* be war.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Right on Bushi. I thin my we need to focus on preserving what we can for future generations in the hopes that they’ll succeed where we failed. In the end, God and family are what matter. Everything else grows from those.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Good post. For me, I’m not worried about the US Army shooting down my door and confiscating my guns. I’m worried about the Townies and Sheriff departments. Those are the kind of people who WILL follow orders without any thought.

    The whole tipping point idea. That is a big thing full of complications. For me, it will be when things are so bad that actively fighting against other Americans is no worse than NOT fighting against them. Until that point, I practice with my Sig-p938 and pray we never have another Civil War.

    I know that I sometimes want to take quick, decisive action but that kind of behavior will not lead to the results I want. It also helps that I believe in a final judgement and the destruction of evil itself. That gives me some internal fortitude to bear under circumstances that aren’t right. It also scares me that I’ll simply not take action when I should.

    What a horrible dichotomy to bear. When to act and when to simply stay put. I feel your uncomfortableness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it’s no longer my official problem, since I retired a few years back.

      But I still feel the loyalty to the oath, and do still feel the conflict, even though it isn’t actually my problem anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

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