The Sailor’s Creed – a Controversy

By lex, on Thu – May 5, 2005

This may well sound like inside-Hollywood to those outside the service, but there’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot brewing in the naval ranks these days.

Turns out that a certain relatively senior officer (more senior than me, so I’m being a bit circumspect here) thought it would be a splendid idea if each and every day folks under his (distributed) command spoke the Sailor’s Creed aloud.

I am a United States Sailor.

I will support and defend 
the Constitution of the United States of America,and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me.

I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy
 and those who have gone before me
to defend freedom and democracy around the world.

I proudly serve my country’s Navy combat team
with honor, courage and commitment.

I am committed to excellence
 and the fair treatment of all.

Apart from whatever thoughts you may have of daily hand-raising rituals, this has generated a sad controversy revolving around just the kind of class posturing that certain folks take too much pleasure engaging in – a few officers have either expressed themselves exceptionally poorly or plainly misunderstand their position and obligations in the service by claiming that they should not have to recite the Sailor’s Creed, not being themselves, well – Sailors. They are officers, see? And certain Sailors have taken a kind of perverse joy in beating the officer corps en masse with this, as probative evidence of our inherent insularity and arrogance.

It is all rubbish, of course, but worse than that it is counterproductive – anyone that uses the sea or goes down to the sea in ships is a sailor, whether officer or enlisted. And any enlisted man who is not yet a chief is a Sailor – the words sound very similar, don’t they? And the capital “S” Sailor has an advantage over me in that he has experiences that I have not and will not ever have – being a Third Class midshipman and sleeping in the Supply berthing for three weeks doesn’t count. I have advantages over him in experiences too, but mine are merely different than his, not better. One of the best CO’s I ever had spent his first eight years enlisted, before going on through the BOOST program to officer accession and eventual command of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Not only was that pretty good work for a guy that started out tending lines aboard the presidential yacht Sequoia when Nixon was the prez (and getting hurled in to the Potomac River on national television), but it made him an outstanding communicator with the troopers – someone who’d worn the white hat and been there. I envied his style, all the while knowing I could never fully emulate it – I didn’t have his background.

Historically, prior to WWII, the Navy had a bad reputation for the almost aristocratic aloofness of its officer corps. This was much diminished by the forced democratization of the service by a huge influx of draftees who owned no part of naval tradition as their own during the war. But the Navy (always the most traditional of the services) was slower perhaps to change than the other services. Witness the convulsions over CNO Elmo Zumwalt’s changes back in the 70’s. But we’ve finally worked just about all of that out, one team/one scream etc – we are, quite literally in the same boat – when this ridiculous controversy comes up. Pah.

Oh, it’s not so big a deal really. More steam than flame. But Admiral “31 knot” Arleigh Burke was proud to be called a sailor, and that’s good enough for me, and should be good enough for the rest of us.

I acknowledge however that there’s one little problem: The Sailor’s Creed has certain language, “I will obey the orders of those appointed over me,” that is evocative of the Oath of Enlistment:

I 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; 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 regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God. (ed. there’s that word again)

But rather different than the officer’s oath of appointment:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to 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. (ed: it’s everywhere!)

It might seem strange, but officers do not take an oath to obey the orders of those appointed over them (don’t try testing this out at work, Skippy). Instead, our allegiance is to the Constitution, and this is a precise distinction designed by U.S. Title X (federal law governing the armed services) to ensure that we don’t a) all roll over like the German General Staff did in World War II and take a vow of personal allegiance to a mere politician, or b) try to claim (á la LT Calley ) that we were only following orders.

So anyway, it’s a rather stupid discussion to be having, and I could wish we hadn’t embarked on it, while recognizing the laudable intent of the folks who, however unintentionally, brought it to the fore. Still, there’s no graceful backing out of it I suppose, and it’s doubtful that anyone will amend the Sailor’s Creed for the sake of the more pompous.

My recommendation, if anyone cares, is that we view the creed as something other than an oath – in other words, something we affirm as true, rather than something we swear to do. Anyone who objects on (actual) principle probably ought to shut his suck for the good of the service and get on board with the team. For the big win.

My 2c.

 

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Leadership, Lex, Naval History, Neptunus Lex

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