OPINION COLUMNS

Who are our enemies, foreign and domestic?

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, July 8, 2017
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I went to the Rangers game on July 4th. Before the game, more than 100 Air Force recruits were sworn in.

Here is the oath they took: “I, [name], 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.”

Joy Carrico

I’ve heard that before, but I started wondering. What, exactly, are they swearing (or affirming) to do?

1. They will support the Constitution.

2. They will defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

3. They will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution.

4. They will obey the orders of the President and their superior officers, according to regulation.

Obeying the orders of their superior officers and the President make sense to me. That’s something tangible to agree to do. “Airman, do this.” “Sir, yes sir.” That’s simple and straight-forward.

But, having sworn (or affirmed) to support and defend the Constitution, and to bear true faith and allegiance to it, how does one implement that? What does it look like to support and defend, bear true faith and allegiance to such a complex and ever-evolving document?

At the very least, I hope that supporting, defending, bearing true faith and allegiance includes at least reading the Constitution. I wonder if any of those recruits have read the document they just swore (or affirmed) to support, defend, etc.

Understanding the Constitution is so complex that people have been arguing about it, changing it, reinterpreting it and reinterpreting their reinterpretations since it was written.

The Constitution is a document that allows itself to be changed, although it’s a lengthy and difficult process. In fact it has been amended 27 times, with one amendment being a retraction of an earlier amendment because it turned out that Prohibition was a really bad idea.

There have been many “we were wrong about that” changes to both the Constitution itself and how we’ve officially interpreted it. I’m thinking specifically about the Supreme Court’s approval of the concept of “separate but equal” in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 and its reversal in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Were African Americans in the armed services during that time swearing to uphold separate but equal? It was constitutional at the time. Were those working for civil liberties enemies of the Constitution? Was Thurgood Marshall, the plaintiff’s attorney in Brown v. Board of Education, and later a Supreme Court justice, an enemy of the Constitution because he was fighting against what the Supreme Court had said the Constitution meant?

The answer must be no. Thurgood Marshall was not an enemy of the Constitution.

We the people have rights under the Constitution and one of those rights is to peacefully assemble and to seek to change the Constitution if we believe the change is warranted. Someone who does that, no matter what it is they wish to change, is not an enemy of the Constitution just because they seek to change it.

So who are the enemies of the Constitution?

I think the answer stems back to the Civil War. Before the Civil War, oaths seem to have been shorter and more a matter of form. But with the splitting apart of the nation, the taking of loyalty oaths took on a lot more significance. They became one of the means by which the U.S. government assured itself that those working for them weren’t allied with the Confederacy. The various oaths started becoming more involved and the oath we have today, swearing true faith and allegiance to the Constitution, etc., is a product of a time when we were fighting ourselves and the enemy was a cousin in South Carolina.

After looking into it, I think what these recruits were agreeing to do, in essence, when they swore (or affirmed) to support, defend, bear true faith and allegiance, was to fight against anyone who seeks to overturn the government established by the Constitution, and to not personally attempt a coup d’etat. They swore basically to side with the government against threats to that government.

I’m sure the issue can still get murky. What if it’s the government itself that is acting against the Constitution? What if that government were to start actively violating rights established by the Constitution?

What’s a good soldier to do?

I don’t know the answer. I guess they would have to do what the rest of us do and look within themselves for the right answer.

I haven’t taken an oath like this personally. But I do believe that the U.S. Constitution is one of the greatest accomplishments of our nation. It’s not perfect, but it allows for the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next and for the checks and balances of power between branches. The Constitution is a beautiful thing and I’m glad the words of the armed forces’ oath center around it, because our nation centers around it.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist.

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