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It is the duty of the U.S. Armed Forces to protect the country from both internal and external threats yet few people seem to realize that the basis for such responsibilities is not due to orders from the president or that of Congress but rather it is a result of a sworn oath to protect the Constitution.
The Constitution itself is greater than any single branch of government however it is still vulnerable to corruption from within and as such it is the duty of each and every military officer to ensure that such corruption is stamped out.
On the other hand, it must be mentioned that though it is the duty of the military to protect the Constitution it is only through the Constitution itself and its various amendments that the military was even brought into being in the first place For example, it is only through the powers given to it by the constitution that Congress is able to authorize the creation of the military as well as control its budget and it is only through Congressional action that war can be declared (McCarthy, 2011).
It must be noted though that the constitution also happens to give the President significant powers in terms of being the commander and chief of the Armed Forces in times of war and as such all military leaders/officers are de facto obliged to obey the president. Based on such factors, this paper will explore how the Constitution applies to being a military leader/officer and what are the various contributions the Constitution has had in the creation of the modern day system seen in the U.S. Armed Forces today.
Sworn Oath of Defending the Constitution
First and foremost among the oaths sworn by a military officer/leader is a pledge to defend and support the Constitution of the United States, do note that this isn’t a pledge to obey the President or support Congress in its decisions rather it is an obligation to defend the tenets of the Constitution from both foreign and domestic threats.
What you have to understand is that while the Constitution itself is responsible for the creation of the U.S. armed forces (seen in Section 8 Article 1) the fact is that it also entails a distinct separation of powers in order to create a checks and balances system of which each and every U.S. military leader/officer is a part of.
The pledge to defend the Constitution is in part an aspect of this check and balances system wherein despite the fact that the military is under the control of a civilian government, military officers/ leaders also acts as a means of ensuring that such a system isn’t abused (Kuehn, 2010).
For example, in cases where an obviously corrupt elected government is in control, military officers/leaders have the solemn duty to ensure the continued protection of the tenets of the Constitution by intervening in civilian affairs whether through arms or through protest in order to ensure that the Constitution is protected at all costs. This is one of the main reasons why the oath every single military officer takes is not to the President, to Congress, the Judiciary, or the Senate but rather to the Constitution itself.
This is to ensure that should all else fail and the government of the country is corrupt beyond measure and is pursuing a path that is in direct conflict with the ideals put into practice by the founding fathers, there would still be some form of resistance in the form of the Armed Forces of the country in order to ensure that such actions can be prevented and to ensure the reassertion of the proper form of government that is necessary to put the country back on track.
Military Justice and the Constitution
Under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution the creation of a separate justice system for the U.S. military was enacted in order to create a system that specifically deals with cases involving military personnel. What you have to understand is that the creation of such a unique justice system was due to the fact that civilian law lacked the necessary “severity” and “strictness” needed for the Armed Forces (Underhill, 1924).
For example, neglecting ones duty, gross disrespect for a superior, abuse of power in the work place or arriving late for an assignment is normally seen as adverse actions however perfectly allowable under civilian law. Under the military justice system, though such actions have a corresponding criminal punishment due to their violation of military codes of conduct and ethics.
The reason behind this is quite simple, all militaries whether they are based in the U.S., the Philippines, the U.K. or other such countries all function through a process of strict discipline, unquestioning observance of orders and the rules of military codes of conduct, as well as loyalty to ones country.
Without such systems in place the end result would be an undisciplined organization that would be unable to work as a cohesive whole should a period of war occur this resulting in the potential deaths of thousands of soldiers as a direct result.
It is based on this that once a civilian has entered into military service he/she understands that under the 5th amendment to the Constitution they will henceforth be subject to the military justice system until such a time that they released from active duty within the military.
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Limitation of Powers
As mentioned earlier, there is an inherent separation of powers within the U.S. Constitution which ensures that no single branch of government has too much power in order to ensure that the there is a certain degree of “control” in order to limit potentially unconstitutional policies from being implemented. The same though can be said in the case of the military wherein based on the constitution the power of the military is limited and controlled by the civilian government of the U.S (Agency group, N.D.).
This is in line with the aforementioned checks and balances system mentioned earlier which all military officers need to take into consideration since despite the potential power at their hands they need to realize that such powers are there only to defend the constitution, protect the people of this nation and ensure its continued existence and as such should not be utilized for personal gain.
Agency group. (n.d). Civilian control of military based on constitution. FDCH Regulatory Intelligence Database,
Kuehn, J. T. (2010). Talking Grand Strategy. Military Review, 90(5), 74.
McCarthy, A. C. (2011). The law: servant or master?. New Criterion, 29(6), 26.
Underhill, L. K. (1924). Jurisdiction of Military Tribunals in the United States Over Civilians. California Law Review, 12(2), 75.