An oath is not to be taken lightly

Thursday, November 29, 2007 | 8:27 a.m. CST; updated 2:53 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

‘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; that I take this obligation freely, without 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.”

For those who may not be aware and as a refresher for those who are, this is the very oath of office taken by all officers of the executive and legislative branches of the United States subordinate to the president, to include the vice president, members of the Cabinet and civil and military officers and federal employees. For those among you who are prone to nitpick, the phrase “So help me God” is customarily added but cannot be required.

I first took this oath on June 7, 1957, during a commissioning ceremony here on MU’s Francis Quadrangle and have since administered that oath of office on countless occasions. The acceptance of that very simple, no-frills obligation articulates a serious responsibility to the Constitution and to the citizens so governed. It also means exactly what it says.

Consequently, I am utterly appalled at the whining, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth by State Department and Foreign Service Officers over the administration’s decision to order them to service at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The self-aggrandizing arrogance of these Foggy Bottom prima donnas in believing themselves too valuable to serve the nation in a place that may lack the social and entertainment amenities to which they feel entitled, and may also involve a wee bit of danger, is an embarrassment to all who take their obligations seriously.

To be sure, the embassies in Paris, Rome or London are preferable to the less desirable and more hazardous deployments; nevertheless, the needs of the service must take precedence. Additionally, it should not be difficult to recognize the essential nature of assigning the most able and experienced foreign service officials to newly established and critical postings, regardless of the individual inconvenience obtaining therefrom.

Should any reader seek a measure of sympathy for those who place creature comfort over personal responsibility, allow me to provide a close-to-home example of the consequences. Suppose members of our city police department declined duty in Columbia’s First Ward because of the incidence of a higher crime rate and increased hazard to their person? And, what if our firefighters agreed to serve only so long as they were not expected to report for duties involving fighting fires?

The answer is only too obvious, for as the old song goes “you have to pay the fiddler if you want to dance.” When signing a contract or taking an oath of office, one is obligated for the terms of that agreement until it is terminated by one or both parties through mutual consent or for cause. Members of the Armed Forces, both officer and enlisted, find it far more difficult to end their service than do other government or civilian employees as their agreement is not only for a specified period but also subject to involuntary extension for emergency or crisis conditions.

Accordingly, while State Department and/or Foreign Service Officers are highly trained and experienced practitioners of their particular specialty, they are not, or at least should not be, above departmental assignment policies. They are not afforded special privileges in choosing or refusing assignments to hazardous or dangerous postings.

Should an officer of the government discover that he or she cannot or will not live up to his oath of office or other contractual agreement, that person should consider seeking other employment forthwith, for there are but two options open — to resign or to be terminated. Those entrusted with advising on or executing policy decisions affecting the citizenry have a responsibility to duty, honor and country that is not open for debate.

Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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