A former Naval officer makes an observation in The Atlantic magazine:
I spent nine years on active duty in the U.S. Navy. I served as an aircraft commander, led combat reconnaissance crews, and taught naval history. But the first thing I did upon joining the military, the act that solemnized my obligation, was swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution. How strange, then, that despite all of my training, the millions of taxpayer dollars devoted to teaching me how to fly, lead, and teach, not once did I receive meaningful instruction on the document to which I had pledged my life.
It’s a fair statement. I’ve always been interested in the history of our nation and its institutions, so when I served on active duty I had a fairly solid knowledge of our Constitution. It surprised me how many others did not — and moreover, how many didn’t care. A member of one of the teams I once led was an enlisted legal resident from the Philippines (did you know citizenship is not required for military service? You do now…). She was studying for her citizenship exam, and we were all cheering for her to complete that lengthy process. Out of curiosity, I asked to see the study materials she’d been given. It was fairly detailed, and I realized if she mastered it she’d likely have a better grasp of how our nation is supposed to function than most high school graduates do today. (This is why LEGAL immigration processes and paths to citizenship, rather than amnesties, are important). For fun, I tossed a few basic questions from the book out to the rest of the team, and was disappointed in how little they could answer. Like the author of the linked article, I reminded them they’d sworn an oath to protect the Constitution, so they might want to know what’s in it.
The military is in many ways a reflection of the society from which it’s drawn, and this is but one example. There is a glaring lack of basic understanding of our institutions, particularly among those who are handed the privilege of voting at the tender age of 18. I taught High School for a year after leaving the military. The seniors I had for Government were roundly disinterested in the subject (to be fair, they weren’t thrilled with many others, either). I explained they wouldn’t play any of their sports without knowing the rules. So why were they content to begin adult life without knowing them? Frankly, it was a depressing experience.
Almost 2,500 years ago, one of the most successful republics in history inscribed 12 tablets with basic social laws, and placed them in a public forum for all citizens to see. This action did not create a utopia, of course, and by today’s standards some of the laws are quite questionable. But it did foster an idea later expressed as “lex rex” (“the law rules”), as opposed to governance being merely the whimsy of those in power. Though that republic later fell into tyranny and then disarray, later documents such as the Magna Carta continued this line of thought: that there were limits even to a king’s power.
What limits today do Americans recognize on Uncle Sam and his little cousins, the States? Can Sam simply take your money without due process? What about your home? Is the 2nd Amendment subject to curtailment by the States? Did the writers of the Constitution intend for the government to be a dispenser of welfare? Are we supposed to have equal justice under the law, or is your risk of prosecution for similar offenses dependent on whether you are a former deputy FBI director or someone working for a president who acts as an ‘outsider?’
Short of the Bible, there is no more important document in our society’s fabric than our Constitution. Yet the average American today is alarmingly ignorant of both. Is it any wonder our nation is so troubled?