By Martin Kelley. Should armed forces personnel threaten dissenters by telling them to leave the country? Here’s my proposal for an Armed Forces pledge to support dissent.
Yesterday I got an email from Nick Holliday, a U.S. Marine serving overseas:
bq. I am a U.S. Marine assigned to the Diplomatic Security Service in a country I choose not to name… You have no idea why we went into Iraq and like myself, probably never will. Do you know why? Because you don’t need to. Because you probably wouldn’t understand.… Here is an idea. If you hate our Government and our military and our leaders so much, move. Leave. Better yet, go to Iraq or Afghanistan. Live free and peacefully. You would last about 5 minutes. Grow up, shave your beard, sell your Hybrid Toyota and be a man. Support your country, pay your taxes and quit whining. You’re pathetic.
I get emails like this every day, of course, but I still can’t help feeling sad for America. Here’s a intelligent American saying that I don’t need to understand the reasons for war, that I wouldn’t understand them. What kind of surrender to blind authority is this? I could imagine this argument in Medieval europe or in the darkest days of iron-fisted Soviet rule. But the United States is built on the very idea that the common man and woman do know enough to run the country. We don’t need to military strongman like Hitler to decide our best interests for us. We don’t need a religious Ayatollah to tell us how to live. We don’t need statues of Saddam Hussein on every street corner to remind us of the absolute authority of the government. Our leaders are civilians just like us and we can (and must!) criticize and double-guess them. Over two hundred years ago, America broke the mold of tyrannical governments to bet that the give-and-take of free speech and democracy would produce the most free country the world had ever seen. So far it has.
But the last part of Holliday’s email is a threat. An armed representative of my government is asking me to leave the country because he dislikes my political views. Someone who has promised to defend the Constitution with his life thinks nothing of sending a threatening email to a dissenter who is expressing his free speech. I get these emails every day. I know they’re just a way for Armed Forces personnel to vent off. But these threats are inappropriate. They are not an honor to the uniform.
I understand that many U.S. Armed Forces personnel like Nick Holliday might not like what I have to say. But if “America” is something special worth fighting for, it’s not because here an ultra-patriot can shoot their mouths off (ultra-patriots the world over are supported by their governments). What’s special about America is that here our Marines promise to protect even the dissenters. Some U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq recently complained about the war to the press. This was roundly criticized as going against the military code to serve steadfast but silently, to sow disgruntlement or challenge civilian authority. I think it’s time for military personnel to pledge not to challenge American dissenter’s right to free speech. They should honor their country and renew their promise to defend the right to free speech.
I have written the following pledge for Nick Holliday and his colleagues in uniform.
h4. Pledge to Support Right of Dissent
*As a member of the Armed Forces I support freedom of livestyle*
* I support Americans’ right to eat what they want to eat, drive the car they want to drive and keep their facial hair in whatever style they choose.
*As a member of the Armed Forces I will never tell someone to move to Iraq/Afghanistan/Current enemy*
* I’m proud that dissenters can live safely in America without fear of reprisal. I may not agree with their arguments but I trust that any outrageous ideologies will be debunked in the political arena without military intervention or threat of expulsion.
*As a member of the Armed Forces, I encourage American’s active political participation*
* I support American’s right to ask questions. I understand that in a democracy, national strength comes from an informed and empowered electorate.