I Swear

(Photo: “The Motherland Is Calling,” Mother Russia holds the Red Army Oath of Allegiance.)

As soon as Lily and the others who volunteered for the women’s regiments arrived at the military air training base in Engels, their hair was cut and they swore the soldiers’ oath, which was long and awfully demanding.

Let’s compare the Soviet oath to the Americans’ and British. In all three, soldiers “swear” to be “honest” and “obey” the orders of officers and the head of state.

In the British oath, there was no mention of defending the country. Instead, soldiers promised to be faithful to their sovereign (and his heirs), defending them against all enemies. American soldiers vowed allegiance to their country against enemies and to defend the constitution.

The German oath had a religious flavour. Soldiers swore “to God” a “sacred oath.” Interestingly, the (godless) Soviet oath also referenced itself as sacred. Obedience was a theme in all these armies, but for the totalitarian states, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, there was a stricter qualifier. In the German oath it was “unconditional” and in the Soviet, it was “unquestioning” obedience.

The German soldier’s allegiance was to his “leader of the German Reich and People.” Like the Soviet soldier, the German promised to be brave and to be prepared to give his life.

However, the Soviet oath was longer and required more. Soviet soldiers promised to sacrifice themselves for victory, to be brave, disciplined, vigilant, honourable, skillful, loyal, even studious. Like the Americans, they swore to defend their country (the Motherland), but also to keep its secrets and take care of military property.

That line about military property was often invoked. For example, Olga Sanfirova, a pilot who crashed her aircraft in attempting a daring manouevre while training, was court-martialled. Her sentence of hard labour was commuted to “atonement by blood,” but fortunately she wasn’t transferred to a punishment unit. (Source: Soviet Women on the Frontline in the Second World War by R. Markwick et al.)

The Soviet oath also emphasized that the soldier was part of a great whole: he was a citizen who was serving in the people’s army in obedience to the people’s government. The demands were high, so was the responsibility, and the oath ominously concluded with the consequences of failure. The full text follows:

“I, a citizen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, join the ranks of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, take the oath and solemnly swear to be an honest, brave, disciplined, vigilant fighter; to strictly keep military and state secrets, to unquestioningly carry out all military regulations and orders by commanders, superiors and commissars.

“I swear to conscientiously study military science, to take care of military and public property in every possible way; to be loyal to my people, my country and the Soviet of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government to my last breath.

“I am always ready to come to the defense of my Motherland at the order of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and, as a soldier of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, I swear to defend it bravely and skillfully, with dignity and honor, without sparing my blood or life itself to achieve complete victory over our enemies.

“If I show evil intent by breaking this my solemn oath, let me suffer the harshest punishment of the Soviet law, and the universal hatred and contempt of the working people.”

(Russian text available here)

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