The Moment of the Oath

I am at a loss of words for the momentous and seismic shift we witnessed today with the inauguration of Barack H. Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America. The joy and hope of people everywhere was palpable as a new chapter in our Nation’s history opened. Today was a day for all Americans.

President Obama’s inaugural address was powerful and poignant. Each word was precisely selected. It has already be replayed and reprinted thousands of times. It will be dissected for what he said and what he did not say. There are other words he said that also deserve pause and reflection, the timeliness words of oath of office.

In the weeks leading up to this day, I read John Adams, by the noted historian and Pulitzer prize-winning author David McCullough. I sought the resonance to understand the historical context in anticipation of what the world was to witness. History provides both our bedrock and map of our future.

Adams is regarded as one of the most influential of the Founding Fathers and in the formation of our Republic. He did much to shape, defend and explain the Constitution of the United States. Each President recites an oath of 35 words, in accordance with Article II, Section I of the US Constitution. Adams, the second president of the United States, took the oath on March 4, 1797.

“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.”

Military officers also take a distinctive oath. 87 words precisely define the uniqueness of the profession of arms.

“I, (state your name), having been appointed an officer in the United States Army in the grade of second lieutenant, 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.”

Reciting these words, military officers commit themselves to defending the greatest idea for government in the history of humankind, rather than to defending the government or country itself. It’s a conceptual distinction to a certain degree, but it’s also what makes the military profession so unique.

The reciting of the oath was a moment not soon to be forgotten. They are the words define responsibility and accountability.

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