De oppresso liber

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United States Army Special Forces distinctive unit insignia

De oppresso liber is the motto of the United States Army Special Forces.


United States Army tradition[edit]

It is United States Army tradition that this phrase in Latin is considered to mean "to free from oppression" or "to liberate the oppressed", in English.[1] However, a translation of "to free from oppression" would be de oppressione liberare. Similarly, "to liberate the oppressed" means oppressos liberare.

Actual translation[edit]

A possible, yet meaningless translation of the phrase de oppresso liber is "a free (man) (apart) from an oppressed (man)."

Grammatical structure[edit]

The structure resembles that of the motto "E pluribus unum". The preposition de with the ablative case, however, cannot express the idea of an ablative of separation, which one would expect from either the ablative by itself or 'ex' or 'ab' with the ablative.[2] The word de denotes, instead, not separation from, but a source in the oppressed.[3] The word liber means not the verb "to free" but simply the adjective "free", which, in the masculine singular form here used, may be interpreted as a noun, meaning "a free man"; while "oppressus" is not the noun "oppression" but the adjective "overthrown."

Similar phrases[edit]

The motto resembles the following St. Augustine quote:[4]

The turbulent have to be corrected,
The faint-hearted cheered up,
The weak supported;
The Gospel's opponents need to be refuted,

Its insidious enemies guarded against;
The unlearned need to be taught,
The indolent stirred up,
The argumentative checked;

The proud must be put in their place,
The desperate set on their feet,
Those engaged in quarrels reconciled;
The needy have to be helped,

The oppressed to be liberated,
The good to be encouraged,
The bad to be tolerated;
All must be loved.

Corripiendi sunt inquieti,
pusillanimes consolandi,
infirmi suscipiendi,
contradicentes redarguendi,

insidiantes cavendi,
imperiti docendi,
desidiosi excitandi,
contentiosi cohibendi,

superbientes reprimendi,
desperantes erigendi,
litigantes pacandi,
inopes adiuvandi,

oppressi liberandi,
boni approbandi,
mali tolerandi,
omnes amandi.

See also Isaiah 1:17:

Learn to do well:
seek judgment,
relieve the oppressed
judge for the fatherless,
defend the widow.

discite benefacere
quaerite iudicium
subvenite oppresso
judicate pupillo
defendite viduam


The phrase stems from the exploits of World War II Office of Strategic Services Jedburgh/Sussex Teams operating behind the lines in France. Colonel Aaron Bank, father of United States Army Special Forces, and his teams enabled the French Resistance to grow and oppose the occupying German Army. The unconventional warfare tactics of Colonel Bank differed from the conventional warfare tactics of the rest of the United States Army in that they included clandestine support for one side of an existing conflict and that they were subversive to the Nazi forces in power.


The sculpture America's Response Monument is subtitled De Oppresso Liber. It is a life-and-a-half scale bronze statue located in the West Street lobby of One World Financial Center opposite Ground Zero in New York City. Unofficially known as the Horse Soldier Statue, it is the first public monument[5] dedicated to the United States Special Forces and commemorates the servicemen and women of America’s Special Operations response to 9/11, including those who fought in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, which led to the initial defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was conceived by a private citizen, sculptor Douwe Blumberg, and commissioned by an anonymous group of Wall Street bankers who lost friends in the 9/11 attacks. It was dedicated on November 11, 2011 in a ceremony led by Vice President Joe Biden and Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, commander of Special Operations Command.[6]


  1. ^
  2. ^ New Latin Grammar, by Allen and Greenough (1931), p.249
  3. ^ Oxford Latin Dictionary, ed. Glare (1982), entry on 'de' 8-11
  4. ^ St. Augustine, Sermo 340,3: CChr.SL 194, 920.
  5. ^ "Unconventional Work". Blackwater. Retrieved 13 January 2012. 
  6. ^ Quade, Alex (October 27, 2011). "Commando monument near ground zero unveiled on Veterans Day". Washington Times. Retrieved 12 January 2012. 

External links[edit]