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Loyalty to Country

America (also known as "My Country, 'tis of Thee")
Words by Samuel Francis Smith, 1832

My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring.

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love:
I love thy rocks and rills
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills
Like that above.

Excerpt from “Crito” in Great Dialogues of Plato
Translated by W.H.D. Rouse and edited by Philip G. Rouse and Eric H. Warmington. © 1956, 1961 by John Clive Graves Rouse.

One of the most famous examples of loyalty to the laws of country is embodied in the story of the death of Socrates, who was condemned to drink poison hemlock because he was convicted by a court composed of 501 citizens of having "corrupted the morals of Athens's youth." While Socrates awaited his execution, his close friend Crito visited him in prison to attempt to persuade Socrates to escape. Socrates' words, as they came down to us in the writing of his most famous student, Plato, are an eloquent description of the loyalty owed to a country by a citizen. Socrates refused to save his own life because to do so would require that he violate the laws of his country. Socrates explained to Crito that for seventy years he had chosen to stay in Athens when he was free to stay or leave. Now that he was no longer legally free to leave, Socrates could not abandon his principles and leave the city illegally. More is required a citizen, said Socrates, than that he obey the law only when it is convenient to do so. In his explanation to Crito, Socrates outlined the allegiance and loyalty owed to a country by its citizens:

Are you so wise that you failed to see that something else is more precious than father and mother and all your ancestors besides—your country, something more revered, more holy, of greater value, as the gods judge, and any men that have sense? You must honor and obey and conciliate your country when angry, more than a father; you must either persuade her, or do whatever she commands; you must bear in quiet anything she bids you bear, be it stripes or prison; or if she leads you to war, to be wounded or to die, this you must do, and it is right; you must not give way or retreat or leave your post, but in war and in court and everywhere you must do whatever city and country command, or else convince her where the right lies. Violence is not allowed against mother or father, much less against your country.



To Serve with Honor
By Richard A. Gabriel (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982)

In a crisis, the soldier must exercise his sense of loyalty as fides, and it must always take precedence over any sense of obsequium. Indeed, the problem is even more complex, for in a deep moral crisis the soldier may even have to override his oath to the profession and to the Constitution in order to be loyal to humanity itself.

The Germans, who perhaps have had more direct experience with officers and soldiers being crushed between demands of their oath and the course of immoral events, have developed an interesting distinction in dealing with the question of loyalty to superiors. They distinguish between hochverrat and landesverrat. Hochverrat is disloyalty to a superior, which in German terms meant disloyalty to the monarch or other government head of state. Landesverrat, by contrast, is disloyalty or betrayal of the nation. Within this distinction there is room for maneuver in making an ethical choice. In order to serve the nation or the Constitution, a soldier may sometimes have to be disloyal to his superiors or refuse to execute their orders. The Germanic distinction between the two notions of loyalty throws into focus what every member of the military profession knows in his heart, and that is that fundamentally a soldier's first loyalty is to behave ethically and humanly, and that in times of severe moral crisis he must be prepared to follow that higher morality….In essence, to be an ethical soldier is to do one’s duty as to what is ethically right and to know why those ethics bind. Duty is not blindly tied to following orders.