Proposal: Armed Forces Pledge to Support Dissent

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.

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