On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the fighting paused. There was an armistice, a break in the fighting, and a signal of the end of the Great War. Indeed, it was the greatest war the world of 1918 had ever seen. Some even called it, “the War to End All Wars.” But we know better.
A year later President Woodrow Wilson asked the United States of America to consider November 11 a day for “solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service . . . .” He chose his words carefully. Solemn pride. Not the pride of fame or success, but the pride of a flag draped over a soldier’s coffin; the pride of a son’s eulogy, a daughter’s memory, a worthy sacrifice. The pride we humbly accept as both gift and burden, from those who need us to feel their pride for them.
But with that pride comes a parasitic question—why? Why must we accept solemn pride when we would gladly trade the yellow ribbon, the gold star, the folded flag, to get back our sons, our daughters, our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our families and our friends?
Why? The question is short, sharp as a dagger, and just as dangerous. But for every dagger there is a shield. Duty. Our sons and daughters swore a duty, and they would rather forfeit their lives than break their oath. This is the oath they swore, the Oath of Enlistment:
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; 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.
It was their voluntary duty. No one forced it upon them; they accepted it by choice. By performing their duty they protect those living under the Constitution. They defend us against any and every enemy that would threaten our morals, our principles, our way of life. As citizens, we owe these Defenders of the Constitution more than our gratitude. We owe them a duty in return.
Our duty is not voluntary, though not all of us uphold it. We inherit our duty the moment we become citizens of the United States of America. Our duty is to give the defenders something worth defending. The treasure must justify the chest.
As citizens of the United States of America, Statesmen and Stateswomen alike, we have a place to look to find our duty. Take a moment to look carefully again at the words of the Oath of Enlistment and try to answer the following question: To whom does a service member swear allegiance? A service member’s allegiance belongs first and foremost to the Constitution of the United States, only secondarily to orders of the President of the United States and appointed officers. The President too swears an oath to the Constitution:
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.
Officers swear an oath similar to enlistees:
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. So help me God.
If our service members voluntarily swear a duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States then we, as citizens, inherit a duty to embody that Constitution. Our Constitution begins with the following words:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
If you travel to Washington D.C. to see the original, handwritten Constitution you will notice a unique and telling feature in its penmanship. The words “We the People” are the largest words in the document. In fact, those opening words nearly double the size of the article headings, and they dwarf the rest of the document’s text. This was no accident. The United States of America was not to be a nation of kings and tyrants, but of people. We are “the People.” We have a duty to transform a browned, tattered four-page document into the very soul of a nation. What is our duty?
To “establish Justice.” Do we deal justly with our neighbors? Do we demand justice from our courts, our lawmakers, our leaders? Do we strive to create a society devoted to fairness and reason? That is our duty.
To “insure domestic Tranquility.” Do we needlessly fight with one another? Are we too eager to call to arms? Are we too reluctant? Do we protect and maintain a peaceful society? That is our duty.
To “provide for the common defence.” Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves to preserve one another, our principles, our Constitution? Are we willing to allow our loved ones to sacrifice themselves? That is our duty.
To “promote the general Welfare.” Are we selfish? Do we care for one another? Do we concern ourselves with the well-being of all? That is our duty.
To “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Do we guard our freedoms zealously? Do we preserve our freedoms not only for ourselves, but for our children to come? The children who will, like us, inherit a citizen’s duty to the Constitution?
Do we embody the Constitution that our warriors swear to defend? To do so is more than gratitude. We cannot alter the sacrifices of our Fallen Heroes—they have given all they can give—but we can create something worthy of their sacrifice.
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the fighting paused. I say paused because the fighting never stops. As long as we, the People, uphold principles worth fighting for, and as long as others threaten those principles, our warriors will fight for us and our Constitution.
They will die for it, but first, we must live for it.
-Written by a Marine Brother
Copyright © 2009 Scott Karalis
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