Deadly Oaths

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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. ~ U.S. Military Enlistment Oath (U.S. Code, Title 10, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 31, 502).

Okay (so I have been told), perhaps the war in Iraq is an unconstitutional, unjust, illegal, immoral, and unnecessary war of aggression. But what’s a soldier to do? He can’t just walk away. It’s too far to swim across the Atlantic. And besides, there is no draft. Every soldier joined the military of his own free will. He committed himself to serve for a certain number of years. He just can’t quit. He isn’t allowed to change his job. It doesn’t matter what his opinion of the war is now, he took an oath to obey the president and his officers.

Shall we do evil [continue to fight this war] that good [keep an oath] may come (Romans 3:8)?

Some Christians would say yes, and then try to justify their decision with Scripture:

“If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2).

But is vowing a vow to God the same as vowing a vow to obey the president? Is swearing an oath to the Lord the same as swearing an oath to obey U.S. military officers? Obviously not. The president is not God, except in the mind of some Christian warmongers. And neither is the U.S. military, except to these Christian warmongers.

Taking an oath to obey one’s commander in chief and officers can result in the death of innocents. There are two examples of deadly oaths in the Bible.

In the Old Testament, there is the case of Jephthah, who hastily sacrificed his daughter:

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.

So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.

And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.

And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.

And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.

And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,

That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year (Judges 10:30—40).

In the New Testament, there is the case of Herod, who rashly had John the Baptist executed:

But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.

For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her.

For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.

Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not:

For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;

And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.

And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.

And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.

And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.

And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.

And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison,

And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother (Mark 6:16—28).

So what should a soldier do once he realizes that the war in Iraq is an unconstitutional, unjust, illegal, immoral, and unnecessary war of aggression? Should he continue to fight and bleed and die for a lie because he swore to obey his commander in chief and officers?

One option available to soldiers is to seek conscientious objector status. According to Department of Defense Directive 1300.6, a conscientious objector has “a firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and belief.” But this directive goes on to define “religious training and belief” as:

Belief in an external power or being or deeply held moral or ethical belief, to which all else is subordinate or upon which all else is ultimately dependent, and which has the power or force to affect moral-well-being. The external power or being need not be of an orthodox deity, but may be a sincere and meaningful belief that occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of another, or, in the case of deeply held moral or ethical beliefs, a belief held with the strength and devotion of traditional religious conviction. The term “religious training and belief” may include solely moral or ethical beliefs even though the applicant himself may not characterize these beliefs as “religious” in the traditional sense, or may expressly characterize them as not religious.

The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors has a guide to military discharges and GI rights. The Center on Conscience & War works to defend and extend the rights of conscientious objectors. Iraq Veterans Against the War supports all those resisting the war, including conscientious objectors and others facing prosecution for refusing to fight. Contact information for veterans who have firsthand experience with the conscientious objection process, and have volunteered to give advice and support to soldiers seeking conscientious objector status, can be seen here.

Something akin to conscientious objector status was granted to Jews in the Old Testament. When it was time for the people of Israel to go out to battle against their enemies (Deuteronomy 20:1), exceptions were made for those who just “planted a vineyard” (Deuteronomy 20:6), those who just “betrothed a wife” (Deuteronomy 20:7), and those who were “fearful and fainthearted” (Deuteronomy 20:8).

But there is another part of the U.S. military enlistment oath that is being overlooked — the part that reads: “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.”

Months before the invasion of Iraq, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) pointed out on the House floor the unconstitutional nature of the upcoming war. So what will it be Mr. Patriotic, Constitution-Loving American? Bush and Rumsfeld or the Constitution?

Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, recently wrote in Harper’s Magazine about his conflict of loyalties:

In 1964 it never even occurred to me to break the many secrecy agreements I had signed, in the Marines, at the Rand Corporation, in the Pentagon. Although I already knew the Vietnam War was a mistake and based on lies, my loyalties then were to the secretary of defense and the president (and to my promises of secrecy, on which my own career as a president’s man depended). I’m not proud that it took me years of war to awaken to the higher loyalties owed by every government official to the rule of law, to our soldiers in harm’s way, to our fellow citizens, and, explicitly, to the Constitution, which every one of us had sworn an oath “to support and uphold.”

It took me that long to recognize that the secrecy agreements we had signed frequently conflicted with our oath to uphold the Constitution. That conflict arose almost daily, unnoticed by me or other officials, whenever we were secretly aware that the president or other executive officers were lying to or misleading Congress. In giving priority, in effect, to my promise of secrecy — ignoring my constitutional obligation — I was no worse or better than any of my Vietnam-era colleagues, or those who later saw the Iraq war approaching and failed to warn anyone outside the executive branch.

There are several groups of people that would be better off if fewer American soldiers sought to uphold their deadly oath.

The latest report on the number of Iraqis killed since the U.S. invasion claims that the number of dead Iraqis is now around 655,000. Naturally, President Bush doesn’t believe the report to be credible. Well, then how about the very conservative estimate by the Iraq Body Count research group that puts the number of Iraqi civilian deaths between 44,661 and 49,610? And then there are the thousands of deaths in Afghanistan. It really doesn’t matter what the actual numbers are. To many Americans the dead Iraqis and Afghans are just terrorists and ragheads. More sophisticated defenders of the war will dismiss the dead Iraqis and Afghans as just collateral damage.

And what about the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Americans?

  • 100,000 veterans of these wars are receiving disability compensation of some kind.
  • 30,000 veterans of these wars have received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 3,144 veterans of these wars never made it home to receive either of the above.

How many more American soldiers must die for a lie before the insanity that is the Global War on Terrorism is ended?

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