Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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February 16, 2006
loyalty oaths

"The Editors," at this site, recently contributed something to a discussion about civic duty in the U.S.A., as follows:

The loyalty “owed” a President, or any government official, or any policy of the same, by a private citizen, is this much loyalty: zero.

. . .

But Democracy gets even worse. The President and the President’s policies owe me loyalty. The President and his policies are supposed to be working for the good of the country and her people. That’s how the loyalty flows.

However, "the Editors" are incorrect. They have it completely backwards.

That is, one might argue, they have it backwards if you assume that each member of society in the USA is deemed to have taken the following oath:

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.
The above is the oath taken by "each person enlisting in an armed force" in the U.S.A.

I suppose one could argue or unconsiously absorb the idea that the universal applicability of the Oath of Enlistment, or on oath quite like it, is a logical implication of the concept put forth, for example, by a Hawaiian newspaper shortly after 9/11/01:

We are all soldiers in the war on terror.
I guess that if you heard the slogan enough times, in the media and in your own head, after a while it could ossify into the belief that the slogan is somehow to be taken literally.

The belief would be consistent with an oberservation made in 1943 by one Edwin M. Lemert in his article on "Social Participation and Totalitarian War":

In many respects the whole nation must present a defense in depth to the enemy and thereby fall under a militaristic system of social control.

How is it that a whole nation would sign on to the oath? I am not sure.

Maybe it works like it does when the place where you wash your laundry puts up a "Rules of the Laundromat" sign, or when you walk by the posted rules at the entrance to a campground, or like the mini billboards on the roadside that list in small print the highway regulations, that you see for half a second after you've paid your toll, crossed the state line and are trying to merge lanes with several large, fast-moving trucks. In this case, the boundary crossed would be a temporal and not a spatial one. By hanging around in the U.S.A. after 9/11/01, or by coming in, you would by your behavior be deemed to have demonstrated constructive knowledge of the terms of the oath, and to have tacitly agreed to be bound by them.

On the other hand, here is an essay by Sean T. Lewis, who took the Oath of Enlistment, who offers his opinion on what someone like him does if one element of the multi-part oath (to support the Constitution) conflicts with another element (to obey the Prez).

[update 1/27/07: Gary Wills in today's NYT makes some of the same point from a diff direction, in his "At Ease, Mr. President"]