Military Oath and Obligation

The military oath taken at time of induction reads:

“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; 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 the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God”

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) 809.ART.90 (20), makes it clear that military personnel need to obey the “lawful command of his superior officer,” 891.ART.91 (2), the “lawful order of a warrant officer”, 892.ART.92 (1) the “lawful general order”, 892.ART.92 (2) “lawful order”. In each case, military personnel have an obligation and a duty to only obey Lawful orders and indeed have an obligation to disobey Unlawful orders, including orders by the president that do not comply with the UCMJ. The moral and legal obligation is to the U.S. Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders, especially if those orders are in direct violation of the Constitution and the UCMJ.

EXAMPLES!

During the Iran-Contra hearings of 1987, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a decorated World War II veteran and hero, told Lt. Col. Oliver North that North was breaking his oath when he blindly followed the commands of Ronald Reagan. As Inouye stated, “The uniform code makes it abundantly clear that it must be the Lawful orders of a superior officer. In fact it says, ‘Members of the military have an obligation to disobey unlawful orders.’ This principle was considered so important that we-we, the government of the United States, proposed that it be internationally applied in the Nuremberg trials.” (Bill Moyers, “The Secret Government”, Seven Locks Press; also in the PBS 1987 documentary, “The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis”)

Senator Inouye was referring to the Nuremberg trials in the post WW II era, when the U.S. tried Nazi war criminals and did not allow them to use the reason or excuse that they were only “following orders” as a defense for their war crimes which resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent men, women, and children. “In 1953, the Department of Defense adopted the principles of the Nuremberg Code as official policy” of the United States. (Hasting Center Report, March-April 1991) Over the past year there have been literally thousands of articles written about the impact of the coming war with Iraq. Many are based on politics and the wisdom of engaging in an international war against a country that has not attacked the U.S. and the legality of engaging in what Bush and Rumsfield call “preemptive war.” World opinion at the highest levels, and among the general population, is that a U.S. first strike on Iraq would be wrong, both politically and morally. There is also considerable evidence that Bush’s plans are fundamentally illegal, from both an international and domestic perspective. If the war is indeed illegal, members of the armed forces have a legal and moral obligation to resist illegal orders, according to their oath of induction.

The evidence from an international perspective is overwhelming. The United States Constitution makes treaties that are signed by the government equivalent to the “law of the land” itself, Article VI, para. 2. Among the international laws and treaties that a U.S. pre-emptive attack on Iraq may violate are:

  • The Hague Convention on Land Warfare of 1899, which was reaffirmed by the U.S. at the 1946 Nuremberg International Military Tribunals;
  • Resolution on the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons and Prevention of Nuclear War, adopted UN General Assembly, Dec 12, 1980;
  • Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; December 9, 1948, Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the UN General Assembly;
  • Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Adopted on August 12, 1949 by the Diplomatic Conference for the Establishment of International Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War;
  • Convention on the Prohibition of Military or any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, 1108 U.N.T.S. 151, Oct. 5, 1978;
  • The Charter of the United Nations;
  • The Nuremberg Principles, which define as a crime against peace, “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for accomplishment of any of the forgoing.” (For many of these treaties and others, see the Yale Avalon project. Also see a letter to Canadian soldiers sent by Hamilton Action for Social Change). at )

As Hamilton Action for Social Change has noted “Under the Nuremberg Principles, you have an obligation NOT to follow the orders of leaders who are preparing crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. We are all bound by what U.S. Chief Prosecutor Robert K. Jackson declared in 1948: [T]he very essence of the [Nuremberg] Charter is that individuals have intentional duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state.” At the Tokyo War Crimes trial, it was further declared “[A]nyone with knowledge of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something about it is a potential criminal under international law unless the person takes affirmative measures to prevent commission of the crimes.”