"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mental Reservation, Purpose of Evasion, and Service Before Self

I have spent some time now sparring with some fellow Officers on the importance of factoring the Constitution and the law into our professional decisions in debates across the interwebz. It has been a positive experience for the most part. There are plenty of Officers who understand the importance of the document they swore before God to support, defend, bear true faith and allegiance to; an obligation they took freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. Sadly, they rarely share these opinions in public fearing they will be seen as fringe or nutty.

Still more unfortunately, there are a number of others who apparently did not take the oath in earnest, who took it without considering what they were pledging, or who took it with a mental reservation or a purpose of evasion.

Those with a purpose to evade their obligation likely stay quiet in such matters. Others offer up mental reservations as a justification to the shirking of their duty. There is no doubt the oath is solemn and serious, and defending something always means some risk to yourself. I believe this risk is the sticking point for many Officers who wish to pick their battles in order to actually avoid a fight that carries personal risk. For them, our Constitution does not factor into a battle worth fighting and instead they prioritize their careers, their convenience, and their social or professional standing over the oath they swore. These Officers demonstrate a purpose of evasion, the purpose being themselves rather than making good on their oath to the People. Always at the root of dishonorable government action is self over service.

The primary mental reservation I have witnessed from these Officers is fear. These Officers will remind you that you're really risking yourself if you take the viewpoint of your oath and refuse an unconstitutional order. You better have your ducks in a row, better hope others agree with you, better make sure you're right or you're going to get it. This mental reservation isn't actually offered for the benefit of the principled; the principled are well aware that principle is typically inconvenient in our largely unprincipled world. Instead, it's offered as a rationalization to the person uttering it, to assuage the guilt they feel because deep down they know they are shirking their duty for their own convenience, and are acting without honor.

Another common mental reservation is the idea that we as educated military Officers are not able to read the Constitution or the law, in order to determine for ourselves the legality of our professional actions. The purpose of evasion here is obvious. Officers with this viewpoint seek to evade the oath they took to defend the Constitution, instead delegating that authority, without the legal power to do so, to others in the government. While the Constitution requires military Officers be bound to the Constitution, and not to the interpretation of it by any branch of the government, these Officers evade the oath they took by diffusing the responsibility they freely accepted by passing the buck. Imagine if you hired a caretaker for your home, wrote out a list of things that the employee must do and could not do, in the maintenance of your home and made him or her promise with the strongest language to be bound to your instructions. What would we think of that same employee not carrying out our instructions because somebody down the street said they didn't apply, were too old, not important, or meant something different? What if that employee said, "Well, it's debatable what garbage is or is not, so I'm just not going to take it out despite my instructions." What happens to the Home we live in when we can't depend on our housekeeper to follow instructions?

There are those among us who have a purpose of evasion to their oaths. They are not interested in the hard work required by the instructions of those who employ them. Rather, they are interested in preserving their own convenience and they make a political maneuver, rather than a principled one. They are cowards and they are a cancer to our nation.

We have many cultural challenges in our service and despite our Core Value of "Service Before Self," many place themselves and their convenience before service. In my younger years I argued against this Core Value despite being a fan of Gen Fogleman. My argument was that of rational egoism, that everything we do is essentially for self and it cannot be any other way. I still agree with this perspective. The trick though is to convince or recruit Officers who value the principles of the greatest nation that has ever existed, and the rule of law, and to value the principles of our Founders above themselves. One would think with the generous money our citizens pay us, and the emphasis on service and sacrifice, that this would be easy. Unfortunately, the character of many we employ belies this assumption. Patrick Henry said give me liberty or give me death. He valued freedom so much that he wasn't willing to live without it. Unfortunately many Officers value their own convenience and comfort over the principles of America. For Officers who understand and appreciate the greatness of America, this is not a problem and they are willing to sacrifice themselves for it because they value America more than their personal convenience. Other Officers do not. Despite my philosophical argument, the value of the Core Value of "Service Before Self" is to remind us that there is something more important than our comfort, and we are being paid by the People to support and defend it.


  1. You are my new hero, yes somebody, albeit another member of our US Armed services agrees with you. God Bless you for not being afraid. You aided my conviction to write my State US Congress Reps. ALL OF THEM!
    Thank you

  2. Thank you for this brilliant and soul-searching explanation of the phrase "without mental reservation or for purpose of evasion".

    I would very much like to know what you think of the situation I am dealing with in a political campaign where my opponent took two oaths of office...one to the military and the other to the State of California. The question is, when he is called to active duty should he resign?


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