Memorial Day is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the enormous personal sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country in uniform. It is a chance, also, to appreciate what, specifically, they are sworn to do, lost as that often is in a swirl of flag-waving hero worship.
Because those who serve do not do so to become larger-than-life, or to have medals pinned to their chests, or to have strangers in airports thank them "for their service." Rather, the stated purpose of the American military can be boiled down to the few simple sentences that comprise the oath of allegiance sworn by all officers when they are commissioned:
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; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.This oath is similar in both intent and concision to the one taken by the president at his inauguration:
I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.What is striking in both of these oaths is that the focus of each is to defend the Constitution, not to make sure that bad things never happen or to "keep us safe." And that is why, in his speech on Thursday, in which he advocated something called "prolonged detention" for individuals whom we cannot successfully prosecute, President Obama dishonors both his own office and the men and women of our military.
This radical policy, rooted firmly beyond the bounds of the president's constitutional powers, declares that the government can imprison - without trial - those we merely suspect of having a desire or motivation to commit a crime in the future. It is utterly, completely, indefensible, and on this day, when we remember those who have given their lives to defend their nation - to defend their country's constitution - it could not be more insulting.
Rachel Maddow has an excellent piece on the president's speech in the clip below.