I got a kick out of episode 2.18 'Lekio' ('Radio') when Scott Caan played opposite his father, James Caan. Rumor has it that Jimmy Caan offered to do the job for the gift of a watch as compensation just so he could spend time with his son. I believe that rumor. Anyway, I enjoyed that show a lot.
Five-O episodes sometimes leave me thinking about issues that the writers bring up. Episode 2.10 "Ki'ilua" ('Deceiver') was one that left me thinking. Here's my synopsis:
Without authorization and against standing orders, Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) slips into North Korea to ransom the finance of a friend. He gets captured by outlaws. (The friend is complicit in his capture.) Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Five-O figures out where Steve is and what has happened. They decide to rescue him and enlist a couple of retired Navy Seals to help them. Bad guys die. Five-O and the Seals rescue Steve.On the face of it, this is a straight-forward 'leave no one behind' story. But scratch it just a little and life issues of allegiance and loyalty pop up. Life issues. I'm not talking about "What am I gonna have for breakfast? Cereal or eggs?" I'm talking "What will I risk my blood, my life, and my honor to save?" That's the heart of this story.
You see, Steve violated his oath of commission in the Navy to help a friend. This struck me with tremendous force immediately. He dishonored his sworn allegiance to the US Constitution to go to the aid of a friend. In other words, his implied loyalty took precedence over his sworn loyalty.
To rescue Steve, every remaining member of Five-O plus two Navy Seals violated their oaths. That says that their implied loyalty to Steve took precedence over their sworn loyalty.
What will I risk my blood, my life, and my honor to save?
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Above is the full current text of the Pledge of Allegiance. It has been such since 1954 when the words 'under God' were added in an attempt to exclude godless Communists.
I will not recite this pledge. To do so would violate my sworn oath.
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; 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 on which I am about to enter.
This is the oath I swore when I was commissioned in the US Air Force. I swore my allegiance to the Constitution, not to the Flag and not to the Republic. There is a meaningful difference.
About a month after I resigned my commission, I received a letter from the Secretary of the Air Force that informed me that, while I was no longer on active duty, I was still bound by my oath and, if the Air Force needed me, I was subject to recall at their discretion for the rest of my life. And, yes, they have recalled soldiers to active duty. Douglas MacArthur retired from military service 31 December 1937 but was recalled to active duty in 1941.
All my fellow officers took the same oath. The oath of enlistment is similar. In its allegiance to the Constitution, it is identical.
What is the Constitution? A cause? It is not a superior or a group. Is it just a document? Did I and my fellow officers swear allegiance to a scrap of parchment?
Perhaps Oxford's definition is lacking.
1. Loyalty or the obligation of loyalty, as to a nation, sovereign, or cause. See Synonyms at fidelity.
2. The obligations of a vassal to a lord.
--The American Heritage Dictionary
The AHD definition adds more detail. I note the obligation of loyalty to a sovereign. Officers of the Royal Army and Royal Air Force swear their allegiance to the monarch. Curiously, officers of the Royal Navy do not.
AHD's second definition makes it seem as if the vassal owes loyalty to his lord but the lord owes no loyalty in return. Perhaps this is a deliberate attempt to keep the definition short. It does, however, overlook the fact that the lord has a duty to his vassal. For the vassal's pledge, the lord undertakes to confirm the vassal in his possessions and to defend such so that the vassal will have the means to execute his pledge.
The Constitution is different. It is an ideal. It is an ideal that changes, and we who swore allegiance to it do not control the changes.
In 1896, the Constitution said that separate institutions for blacks gave equal treatment. From 1954, the Constitution says that separate institutions for blacks are inherently unequal. I prefer the latter interpretation. There have been other changes I was not so fond of.
When that to which I swore allegiance changes to espouse a view that is antithetical to my beliefs, am I still bound by my oath?
In a nutshell, I owe my loyalty to the Constitution, but the Constitution owes no loyalty to me.
In the Five-O episode 'Deceiver', everyone owed loyalty to the Constitution. The Constitution owed no loyalty to them. And yet the writers would have us believe that each and every one chose to abandon his sworn oath to help a friend. The whole story fails or succeeds on whether we find that choice credible.
And we do.
Why should we believe that men who served the toughest military organization in the world, men whose word is their bond, would dishonor their sworn oath to help a friend?
Because that's the choice we would make.
I watched that episode, and I thought, "Yeah, I would do that." I would risk blood, life, and dishonor to save Steve because I believe Steve would do the same for me. My loyalty to Steve is returned.
My loyalty to the Constitution is not returned.
There is a story, "No Truce with Kings" by Poul Anderson. Won the Hugo for 1964. Beat out Zelazny's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes". In "No Truce with Kings", the United States has dissolved. How, we don't know. In its place are smaller states, and the Pacific States of America is one of them. One group tries to forge a new, continent-spanning nation-state like the United States. They are defeated by the clannish armies of the PSA, men who owe allegiance to their colonels, colonels who owe allegiance to their lords, lords who owe allegiance to the sovereign or to no man.
"No Truce with Kings" is an argument for the feudal concept of loyalty. Loyalty to a person. Loyalty that is returned. In the story, the feudal concept of loyalty prevails over the concept of loyalty to an ideal.
It is a dangerous thing when a man begins to question his sworn allegiance, but these are dangerous times.