Several days ago in my post, “Yes, You Did,” I commented on making commitments with eyes wide open and remaining true to accepted responsibilities even when they become distasteful and/or burdensome. I mentioned that sometimes circumstances arise which make abrogating a pledge the prudent thing to do. I’d like to expand on that a bit.
By my lights, a commitment, consciously accepted or happenstance, is a candidate for annulment if it has evolved to the point where the continuation of such causes grievous harm to oneself and/or others. Several brief examples.
The marriage covenant is one of the most basic and strongest to which a person can commit. Yet it happens that one of the partners fools the other or changes in nature over time. When a husband becomes a mean alcoholic who consistently abuses both wife and children, neglects the latter’s welfare by spending all on drink, and steadfastly denies reality and refuses treatment, dissolving the union can be the prudent, even necessary, action for the safety and well-being of spouse and children.
A commissioned officer in the U.S. armed forces pledges “freely and without any reservation” to defend the Constitution against all enemies, and “faithfully discharge the duties of the office” being assumed. This includes obeying any and all orders by superior officers. But if an immoral, unconscionable order is given – to wit, the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam – it is incumbent upon a soldier to refuse.
Civil servants in Germany’s Third Reich took the following oath: "I swear: I will be faithful and obedient to the leader of the German Empire, Adolf Hitler, to observe the law, and to conscientiously fulfill my official duties, so help me God." As knowledge of the Holocaust gradually became known, many government workers forsook that oath. And with good reason.
So, indeed, there are situations where the sane course of action is to vitiate a pledge. Yet, if affected, it must be done with the utmost care and consideration of all factors attendant to the decision.