From the Foxhole
Fulfilling Our Oath
Why the flag flies over the Occupy Wall Street movement
It is both telling and alarming that in response to the Occupy Wall Street movements sweeping the country, officials are deploying police. The officers leave the station not to protect and serve the community, but to intimidate Americans asserting their constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and free speech.
This show of force against the American people by their government is just as troubling as the policies the movement is protesting; it is a reminder of who the government serves. By sending armed forces to roust protesters from public parks, beat them with batons and arrest them in large numbers, politicians reveal they are protecting the small minority at the top whose only golden rule is: Whomever has the gold makes the rules.
I served my government and my country for 15 years as a soldier. I took my oath of service to this country as an 18-year-old recruit at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Los Angeles. I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies “both foreign and domestic.”
I recall being puzzled at the inclusion of the phrase “and domestic.” It struck me as odd, the idea that there could be enemies to our Constitution right here in the United States. Why would anyone try to undermine the rights granted to us? It made no sense to me at the time, so I didn’t give it much thought. Not then, not when I took the oath for a second time as an infantry lieutenant seven years later, and not when I administered the same oath to my soldiers as they periodically re-enlisted.
But it has become increasingly clear to me why the oath, dating back to the birth of our Constitution, reads as it does. Observing police intimidation around the country, I understand why the armed services oath drafted by our founders implicates the defense of the Constitution against anyone working within the country to stifle our rights.
There is nothing more central to a free and democratic people than the right to dissent, the right to disagree, the right to stand up in the town square and be heard. Now that I have seen the ugliness unfolding in Boston and in Des Moines and in Albuquerque—where police officers descended in the middle of the night on peaceful protesters at Yale Park—I feel quite sure that in standing in solidarity with the peaceful Occupy Wall Street movement, I am doing no less than upholding my oath as an American soldier.
That oath that reverberates with the same clear logic and immediacy today as it did when it was first uttered in 1789: Defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies both foreign and domestic.
I ask all veterans of all the wars that have ever been fought in the name of the United States, all veterans who recited the service oath at countless recruiting stations across this country, to recognize that the Constitution is imperiled and needs defending. You do not have to be in agreement with the messages of the protesters.
You need only believe, as I do, that the right to free assembly and free speech is under attack right here in this country. Go to Yale Park at the intersection of Central and Yale and see for yourself what a peaceable assembly looks like.
We all remember boot camp. We remember drill sergeants telling us, “This ain’t a democracy. This here’s the military!” Later, as we rose through the ranks, becoming sergeants and lieutenants, we told young soldiers the same thing.
But Wall Street is not the military. Central Avenue is not the military. Citizens do have the right to peacefully assemble in their cities and walk the streets in protest. Unlike soldiers, they live in a democracy. And we have a duty to protect that behavior because we swore we would do so. Whether you are retired or on active-duty, Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard, whether you did four years or 20, come out.
If you do not share any of the concerns of the protesters, if you are not troubled by the economy, by the wars, by the foreclosures, by the bailouts, by stagnating salaries, by the polluting of your food, then just come out to guard against the domestic threat to our people: agents of the state showing up in force with barking dogs, as though that great document that countless Americans have died defending is up for sale to the highest bidder.
Alex Escué Limkin served in the U.S. Army for 15 years, including a tour in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. He documents his experience as an Iraq veteran at warriorswithwesthusing.org.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.