An old high school chum, who, following graduation from the Air Force Academy, served a distinguished career in defense of our nation, reached out to the Colonel recently. Though retired from active military service, he continues to serve his nation mentoring future military officers. He asked the Colonel for suggestions in that regard.
The Colonel is certain it was a pro forma request made more out of his abundance of politeness and friendship than out of any serious regard for the Colonel's not-so learned opinions.
But, the Colonel gave him a reply all the same.
The Colonel's snap answer was that he considered "integrity" to be the most important core value of a commissioned officer, and that the most important foundation stone in an officer's professional knowledge base was at least a working knowledge of the Constitution of the United States, to which every officer solemnly swears an oath of allegiance.
Here the Colonel would add a little meat to the bare bones of that snap answer.
The Colonel first swore to support and defend the Constitution nearly half a century ago upon entry into the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps as a midshipman. He took the same oath at his commissioning as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, and again at each promotion to the next rank:
"I, Thomas E. Gregory, 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 upon which I am about to enter. So help me God."
Please note, as key to this entire discussion, that an officer swears allegiance to no other entity in his or her oath of office -- only the Constitution.
Yet, the Colonel will bet you a punch in the jaw that not more than one in a hundred military officers has ever read the Constitution for comprehension, let alone have a working knowledge of the document to which they have sworn their honor and lives to "support and defend..., against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
Here, the Colonel must admit that his own, admittedly limited, working knowledge of the Constitution was gained very late in his military career. It is now a matter of personal chagrin that he so blithely swore an oath of allegiance to a document he really knew very little about. Oh, he understood the general concepts around which the Constitution was formed and the general form of government and its operating principles delineated therein, but that's like an airline pilot being satisfied with the general knowledge that his aircraft has wings and propulsion for the purpose of generating lift.
The Colonel has come, albeit far too late in his life, to the conclusion that the most critical document on any U.S. military officer's professional reading list is the United States Constitution. He remembers clearly the admonitions of his professional military mentors to remain apolitical and to devote himself strictly to the study of political objectives only as they applied to his translation of those objectives into battlefield successes. The Colonel is afraid that most officers regard study of the Constitution to be outside of their professional military purview because "that's politics." But, the Constitution itself is apolitical, in the partisan interpretation of that concept.
To be sure, the language is antiquated, and the concepts of federalism and guaranteed basic individual rights may seem outdated now nearly two and a half centuries since Madison, Hamilton, and Jay put them in writing. And, many find fault with the original document for some of it's flaws with regard to slavery, and other important issues on which it was originally silent. But, the genius of the Constitution is that included within it are mechanisms for correction and update. It is here that the Colonel takes great umbrage with those who maintain that the Constitution is a "living" document open to judicial interpretation to suit the prevailing public will. Such adherence to judicial activism as the guarantor of the "constitutionality" of unaddressed, yet publicly perceived "rights" ignores the very mechanisms of the Constitution that allow for "constitutional" address of those rights -- namely the process of Amendments.
Understand this: The courts are NOT the ultimate guarantors of the rights of citizens of these United States and the constitutionally correct operation of their federal government.
The commissioned officer corps of the nation's military is.
No others who take the oath of national office, do so apolitically. At least no others possessing the wherewithal to employ irresistible force against "...all enemies, foreign and domestic."
The Colonel does not mean to advocate military intervention in the political affairs of the nation. At least not lightly. But, if the U.S. military's officer corps is indeed the ultimate guarantor of the individual rights and the operational form of government embodied in the Constitution, it has a sacred, sworn, responsibility to act in the defense of that Constitution. Such action might only need be the occasional subtle reminder to the people's elected temp help in the Oval Office and in the halls of Congress, that the nation's military leadership has but one master -- the Constitution. But, politicians should know, deep in the recesses of their self-serving hearts, that America's military is not their play-thing. America's military is their minder, and it will act to preserve Constitutional governance, if it must.
An officer so grounded in the Constitution, to which he or she swears sole allegiance, would also have no other more sacred, sworn, duty than to immediately return constitutional governance to the people's representatives from whom it was so grievously usurped as to require military action in the first place.
That is the genius of the commissioned officer's oath of office.