VietNow National Magazine
Some of us have taken an oath, swearing
a solemn pledge, at one time or another.
Those of us who have been in the military
have all taken an oath that put our lives
on the line for our country. But many Americans
have never taken a serious oath of any
kind, especially not an oath that pledges
any kind of commitment to this country.
Is it time now for a “Citizens Oath”?
Article by Larry Winters
On October 3, 1967, I took the following
oath to join the United States Marine Corps:“I,
Larry Winters, 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;
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.”
Lately I’ve begun wondering if the
people I had sworn to protect from communist
insurgents ever took any kind of oath.
The answer to this question is no. If they
were born in the United States, they took
no oath of citizenship – although
if they had been born elsewhere, and then
applied for citizenship, they did have
to take an oath.
By the time I got to Vietnam I didn’t
believe we should be there, but I did my
duty and fought. I took my oath seriously,
as did many who felt as I did. I was recently
investigating oaths and what they have
meant historically, and I found out that
in the past, oaths were considered solemn
statements that had to do with truth, allegiance,
promises, honor, ethics, and the preservation
of life. Many oaths invoked a divine witness.
In my investigating, I was looking for
I was calling a “citizens oath.” I
was hoping to find a citizens oath that
obligated the oath takers to take care
of those who were injured while protecting
the citizenry in times of war. What I discovered
was a citizens oath from ancient Greece
called the “Athenian Ephebic Oath.” The
Ephebic Oath was sworn by young men, ages
eighteen to twenty, upon induction into
the Ephebic College.
We will never bring disgrace on this our
City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice.
We will fight for the ideals and Sacred
Things of the City both alone and with
We will revere and obey the City’s
laws, and will do our best to incite a
like reverence and respect in those above
us who are prone to annul them or set them
We will strive increasingly to quicken
the public’s sense of civic duty.
Thus in all these ways we will transmit
this City, not only not less, but greater
and more beautiful than it was transmitted
This oath is seen by many as the epitome
of nobility and virtue, and has in recent
years been revived for use in educational
When I Googled, “Citizens Oath,” I
found a speech written by Edward Skloot.
Mr. Skloot presented this speech at the
annual meeting of the National Conference
on Citizenship, in Washington, DC, on September
19, 2005. His speech was titled “A
Citizens Oath for America.”
A Citizens Oath
As an American I
embrace the responsibilities of self-government.
I pledge to learn and live the principles
set forth in the charters that define our
freedoms: the Declaration of -Independence,
the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
I pledge to keep myself informed about
the challenges that face our country and
world and to work with others to meet those
I pledge to assist all persons in need,
and thereby strengthen the bonds among
I pledge to register and vote when I am
of age, in every election in which I am
I pledge to conduct myself according to
the highest standards
of civic decency, to foster those standards
throughout my community, and to expect
them of all public officials.
Through these acts, I commit myself to
build a more just, humane and ethical nation,
for my own and all future generations.
Mr. Skloot’s intention was to offer
this to young people entering high school.
In neither the “Ephebic Oath” nor
Mr. Skloot’s “Citizens Oath” is
there any mention that we have as citizens
an obligation to care for those injured
while protecting us. I don’t know
why the care of soldiers is not in a category
that evokes oaths and promises. To me there
is not a more sacred offering than
your life in defense of others, and the
repayment for this should be held in the
If we call for our soldiers to take oaths
in which they give up their individual
rights as citizens, and require them to
willingly sacrifice their lives in defense
of us and our ideals, is our Pledge of
Allegiance to the flag being taken seriously
Since the events of 9/11, fear has placed
its foot upon our soil. Is this new threat
on civilian life in the U.S. enough to
make us consider what we are asking our
soldiers on distant battlefields to do?
And if we consider more carefully the consequences
being faced by these soldiers, what aid,
comfort, and healing are we responsible
to offer? We as a nation are now facing
which are difficult to make without a solemn
and deep commitment – a commitment
not unlike the one we ask our soldiers
to take in their military oath.
It appears to me that our obligation to
take care of those soldiers who have sacrificed
their life’s blood has faded like
the weather-beaten flags that have never
taken in or replaced since 9/11.
Our politicians take oaths, and it is
questionable as to whether or not they
obey them. When politics enters the arena
of life and death, it becomes a catalyst
that distorts humanity’s
need to understand the depth of these personal
sacrifices. Politics brings many other
agendas, such as finance and power, which
sets the moral compass on a false setting.
A soldier’s oath is a commitment
that stretches between the personal and
state, and there is no room in this sacred
place for politics. Politicians have a
responsibility to understand the military
oath sworn upon a soldier’s enlistment.
It contains codes, truths, and a divine
relationship. If the politician’s
focus is on politics and not the soldier’s
oath, soldiers are compromised and lose
honor, which is the beginning of losing
the first and most important battle.
No one has your back.
In today’s politics we have changed
how we treat our oath breakers. From “Watergate” to “Whitewater” the
consequences of this country’s highest
ranking officials breaking sacred oaths
have been swallowed up in the bowels of
our judicial system. The judicial system
is made up of appointees working to protect
those politicians who appointed them. These
oath-breaker infractions once were seen
as crimes against God or of some divine
entity, which would lead to damnation or
another form of severe penalty. Now oath
breakers have fertile materials to write
books and collect financial remunerations
to sooth their media wounds.
Abraham Lincoln came closest to understanding
the need to care for and comfort those
we send into battle. He said, “With
malice toward none, with charity for all,
with firmness in the right, as God gives
us to see the right, let us strive on to
finish the work we are in; to bind up the
nation’s wounds, to care for him
who shall have borne the battle and for
his widow and his orphan – to do
all which may achieve and cherish a just
and lasting peace among ourselves and with
President Lincoln illuminated the core
of an oath that all Americans should inherently
know. Our political leanings should never
influence our commitment to our soldiers.
If Americans are not standing completely
behind our soldiers when we send them to
war, they enter the battle without the
most important weapon. This truth is reflected
in the outcomes of all our recent wars.
Americans take their freedoms for granted,
because politicians have seen to it to
insulate them from the carnage and personal
devastation war has on our military oath
takers. We must all become more conscious
of what war does to those immediately affected
by it. I know no other way to do this than
for every American to be required, as part
of their education, to volunteer in VA
hospitals or homeless veteran shelters.
We could also use the Peace Corps model,
and create an After War Corps, where citizens
are sponsored by our government to go for
a tour of duty in one of the many war-torn
countries our military has occupied.
The After War Corps should become a requirement
for all political oath takers. Any politician
making decisions affecting soldiers’ lives
should have personal war experience or
some form of firsthand knowledge in the
physical areas of war devastation. This
would help temper political decisions involving
the life and death or our soldiers.
In order to get war consciousness back
into the roots of our learning we should
require high schools and colleges to provide
courses every semester on war, taught by
war veterans from our communities.
Perhaps it is no longer enough to be born
here in America to enjoy the freedoms without
publicly making the commitment to honor,
heal, and nurture those soldiers and their
families who have made the supreme sacrifices
for those freedoms. Maybe we need to better
understand the gravity and responsibility
we as citizens have toward our war-bound
soldier oath takers. Wouldn’t it
be important for each person in America,
born here or not, to take a Citizens Oath?
Such an oath would place us within the
same promise our military oath takers have
made to us.
Who among us has the courage
to fight this hard for peace?
Larry Winters served with the Marine
Corps in Vietnam. He’s a psychotherapist
who works with veterans, and is a widely
published writer. You’ll find lots
of interesting things on his web site,
so don’t miss it – www.makingandunmaking.com.
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