RFI President Eric Patterson on Armed Forces Day and the Meaning of the Enlistment Oath

May 19, 2023

RFI President Eric Patterson wrote an article published in WORLD Magazine this week in which he reflects on the significance of Armed Forces Day and the meaning of the U.S. military’s enlistment oath. In it Patterson argues that “The content of a military’s oath tells us much about the moral nature and demands of its government.” He continues:

Take, for example, the notorious oath that Germany’s military and some government personnel were forced to take in the 1930s. The evil nature of this oath was captured onscreen by the Tom Cruise film, Valkyrie:

I swear to God this holy oath that I shall render unconditional obedience to the Leader of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.

The Nazis demanded a sacred, binding oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler himself. It was unconditional and unlimited. It was a sacrilege to call this oath “holy.” It was idolatrous to render Hitler, or any man, god-like authority. The Nazi pledge points to the gross evil institutionalized across the Third Reich, including soldiers “just obeying orders” as they massacred six million Jews in the Holocaust. 

In contrast, American military personnel swear (or affirm if they have a religious conviction to avoid swearing) a very different oath: 

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. 

The U.S. oath is a solemn vow to defend the fundamental fabric of America, the Constitution of the United States.

Read the full article: “Defenders of the rule of law.”