The Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley said the U.S. military did not take an oath to “an individual,” but the Constitution, as President Donald Trump continued his reshuffle of the Pentagon in the wake of sacking Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Speaking at Fort Belvoir in Virginia on Veterans Day, the top general reiterated that servicemembers did not take an oath to any individual person, religion, country or tribe as he opened the new National Museum of the United States Army.
Delivering his remarks on Wednesday, Milley said: “We are unique among armies, we are unique among militaries. We do not take an oath to a king or queen, or tyrant or dictator, we do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion.
Milley was speaking Wednesday at the dedication of an Army museum in a week that saw President Donald Trump fire Defense Secretary Mark Esper and install three staunch loyalists to senior Pentagon policy positions. The abrupt changes have raised fears about what Trump may try to do in his final two months of office – and whether the military’s long held apolitical nature could be upended.
Milley’s comments, made as he stood alongside Esper’s successor, acting defense chief Christopher Miller, reflected a view he has long been passionate about: the military’s unequivocal duty to protect and defend the Constitution – what he called the “moral north star” for everyone in uniform.
But his message in a time of turmoil – Trump has refused to concede his election loss – was unmistakable: The military exists to defend democracy and is not to be used as a political pawn. “We take an oath to the Constitution,” Milley said, adding that every service member “will protect and defend that document regardless of personal price.”
Trump’s motives for the Pentagon shakeup are unclear, but it has created a great deal of unease within the building. Was he simply striking out at Esper and others he deemed not loyal enough? Is there a broader plan to enact policy changes that Trump could tout in his final days as commander in chief? Or, in the most extreme scenario, would Trump try to get the military to help him stay in office beyond Inauguration Day?
Milley has pushed back against that last possibility, telling Congress that “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military.” He said service members must not get involved in the transfer of power after an election.
In contrast, the British armed forces oath of allegiance is made to the King or Queen as head of state.
“We are unique among militaries,” said Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual.”
Here in the UK, we do not have a written constitution or a bill of rights our military swear an oath directly to the Queen, not the people.
All persons enlisting or commissioning in the British Armed Forces, except Royal Navy Officers, are required to attest to the following oath or equivalent affirmation:
I… swear by Almighty God (do solemnly, and truly declare and affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors, in Person, Crown and Dignity against all enemies, and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors, and of the (admirals/generals/air officers) and officers set over me.
Until recently no oath of allegiance was sworn by members of the Royal Navy, which is not maintained under an Act of Parliament but by the royal prerogative. This is still the case for officers as, by nature of the Navy’s authority deriving from the Crown and not Parliament, the loyalty of naval officers to the Sovereign is taken for granted.