For today's guest column, we welcome back Ed Fenstermacher, an MIT classmate of mine who has written several previous guest columns here since 2014. Ed is a regular reader of this site, a long-time leader in Scouting, and a nuclear engineer by profession -- and a very thoughtful commentator on life and society. I should mention here that, although I knew of Ed's name during our undergrad years, we never actually "met", and I suspect that he might not have known I existed, back then.
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On June 1, 1973, Bob and I, along with about a thousand others, graduated with bachelor's degrees from MIT, adhering to the request to “not shake President [Jerome] Weisner’s hand” as we received our diplomas. The day before, in a much smaller ceremony, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
The speaker at the Joint Services commissioning ceremony, Rear Admiral Rumble, gave a brief speech.
"Many years ago," he said, "I was commissioned in the Navy. I remember who the speaker was, but don’t remember what he said. Years later, I graduated from the Naval War College. I don’t remember the speaker or what he said. So I don’t flatter myself that any of you will remember what I say. So I’ll just say this: Read your commission, so you’ll know what you’re getting into."
Then he sat down. What my commission said was pretty much what my oath of office said, and that oath was this:
"I, Thomas Edward Fenstermacher, having been appointed a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, 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."
A check on the Internet gives not only the oath, but summarizes the meaning of the various phrases:
· I (name) do solemnly swear (or affirm): Signifies a public statement of commitment. You are accepting responsibility for your actions.
· That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States: You are not swearing to support the President, the Country, the flag or a particular service, but rather the Constitution which symbolizes all of these things.
· Against all enemies, foreign and domestic: We must always be prepared for current and future wartime operations.
· That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same: Officers pledge allegiance to the nation, not a military service or organization.
· That I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion: Your word is your bond! Without integrity, the moral pillar of our core values is lost.
· And that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter: Promising to give it our all.
· So help me God (optional): Signifies truth and commitment to what you have sworn to in the oath. It is a call to a higher being or divine agency, to assist with ensuring your own integrity and honesty.
Since I took that oath, I have also taken five other oaths of consequence. The first was my marriage vow. The next three were oaths I silently took before God when each of my children were born to do my very best to raise them as well as I could. The final one consisted of the promises I made when I joined my church. I have never violated any of these oaths. They are sacred to me. In a very real way, they define who I am.
A year or after graduating and being commissioned, I was on active duty. A fellow officer whom I will call Major Tony speculated that, if Nixon were to be impeached and then convicted, the military would stand with him and refuse to let him be removed. We were, after all, in the middle of a war. Tensions and emotions were high.
I reminded Major Tony that our oaths were not to President Nixon or any official, not even to our brother officers; they were to the Constitution of the United States. That supersedes all other considerations.
Now, four decades later, we are again in the middle of a Constitutional crisis you are likely familiar with. It has little to do with the alleged collusion of President Trump with Russians. What it has to do with is the refusal of certain civilian officers of the United States, who took oaths very similar to the one I took as a military officer, to perform their clear duty.
In this case, that duty is to cooperate with the oversight of Congress, a co-equal branch of the Federal Government, just as the Constitution calls for. They need to cooperate in word, by truthful and forthright testimony, and by deed, turning over the documents they are lawfully required to give to Congress.
Deputy AG Rosenstein and FBI Director Wray need to remember this -- that when they took the following oath, as required by 5 U.S. Code 3331:
"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; 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."
... that they took that oath not to the FBI, nor the Department of Justice, nor to their fellow employees, nor to their political party. They took that oath to the Constitution of the United States. It is time that they bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution, by doing their clear duty.
That duty is to provide Congress with the truth, not to protect their agencies.
Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton and T. E. Fenstermacher
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