The right to say what you want, without fear of government or societal persecution is so great of importance that our founders listed it as our very first amendment. For when ideas, whether good or evil, are suppressed, society cannot engage in a progressive evolution. When people fear to utter a word, whether it be written or spoken, the world begins to become a quiet, cold, and gray place to live in. The feeling of having your thoughts trapped inside of your head with no legal way to escape is akin to a sort of mental prison.
Many Americans falsely believe that “free speech” protects us in a way that allows us to say anything we want, so long it doesn’t involve a threat of violence. While I wish this was the case, it is not. Under the Smith Act of 1940, it is illegal for any American citizen to express sympathetic communist viewpoints. Under the National Defense Authorization Act, passed under the Obama administration, anyone who is merely “suspected” of having terrorist sympathies, can be detained without a trial. These are very vague parameters which can easily be applied to silence social dissent.
Those who serve in the military have it even worse. If you are a private citizen, and you make a Facebook post about the president being “incompetent” or “unqualified”, the FBI isn’t likely to show up at your door. However, if you are serving in the military, such a simple statement can likely have you standing before a judge in a court martial hearing. In a court martial setting under military jurisdictions, there are typically no requirements for a jury, making the case that much more difficult to fight.
You would think that those who are literally putting their lives on the line to defend our nation and carrying out the orders of congress, would have more right than anyone to criticize the commander in chief and/or the orders given to him/her. But, the reality is, soldiers are expected to follow orders, show support for the commander in chief, and to keep their mouth shut if they disagree.
Article 88 of the U.C.M.J, 10 U.S.C. 888, makes it a crime for a commissioned military officer to use contemptuous words against the President and Congress, among others. The Department of Defense has also expanded this rule to include all military enlisted personnel (DOD Directive 1344.10).
These rules have a practical rationale for the fact that a soldier’s ability to criticize a mission could destroy his unit’s morale. While this is a noteworthy rationale, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the opinions of our men and women in uniform should matter a lot more than they currently do. If we are going to limit their ability to publicly criticize a mission or leader, should we not at least require that our congress, president, and commanding officers consult with our enlisted members in regards to input on whether or not missions should be pursued? Perhaps we should hold a yearly caucus where servicemen and women can express their opinions regarding missions and operations.
Many jurisdictions have implemented an on base “public forum” that is only visible to other military personnel whereas enlisted members have the chance to fully express their thoughts without fear of punishment. This is a step in the right direction. However, when you consider that the United States has not had a properly declared war by congress since WWII, we soon realize that there is a major problem with how our soldiers are treated as mere pawns on a chess board when we should consider them as individual human lives, only sending them to war if absolutely necessary.
Our law makers need a huge reality check in terms of civilian vs military life. Unmarried soldiers are expected to live celibate lives in the barracks whereas they have no freedom of speech; Talk about having pent up rage! Perhaps its all apart of the plan to make them better fighters. Who knows!? Regardless, I will exercise my free speech by saying, its about time we start humanizing our soldiers instead of viewing them as mere pieces of flesh covered expendable “equipment”.