Today’s post is based on a message I wrote to Gary Stein, after a Marine Corps administrative board recommended yesterday that Gary be forced out of the Corps with an other than honorable discharge. Here is the message:
Good work getting through the hearing yesterday. I just read the Christian Science Monitor article on the proceedings. It seems the Marine Corps made a pretty strong case that you violated the Corps’ policy about political statements – if not the written policy, then the unwritten one that has developed over the years. Your case raises this question: is the policy against political statements by members of the military Constitutional especially if the military enforces it with a heavy rather than a light hand? Is the policy at all consistent with the First Amendment?
As you and your attorneys recognize, your case takes on much more significance if it focuses on the latter question. If it focuses on whether your posts violated the no politics policy in the first place, you can’t go very far with your argument. Given the nature of the policy, if the Corps says the posts were in violation, they were in violation.
I was in the Navy a long time ago, as a junior officer. Back in those days, during the Iranian hostage crisis in the early 1980s, I accepted the no politics policy as one of the military’s many requirements. Our democracy had done well when the military stayed out of political discussions. Then the Iraq war came, and some members of the armed services began to object. I opposed that war so passionately, and the Bush administration did so much with its propaganda to quiet voices that opposed that invasion. In that environment, I began to believe that service members should be permitted to voice objections to policies like that. The war was clearly illegal. That made all the orders issued to fight the war illegal as well.
So thanks for standing up. You already know that people who take unpopular stands often find themselves alone. You should remember that a lot of people back you up.
One last point: the day will come again when a military unit is asked to use lethal force against United States citizens. We have already seen it with the unlawful execution of Awlaki. We saw it years ago, in the 1970s, at Kent State. If service members refuse to obey unlawful orders, and the military court martials them for their refusal, your stand will matter all the more.
Here’s the Armed Forces Tea Party Facebook page that caused this dispute over First Amendment rights for members of the armed services. Also visit the Armed Forces Tea Party website. Lastly, you can write to Gary at ArmedForcesTP@gmail.com.
Last weekend, I visited my son in Washington, DC. On Sunday we visited the Arlington National Cemetery, a place we have buried heroes who sacrificed their lives for us. The cemetery contains a large amphitheater used for ceremonial occasions. The inscription in the portico, above the speaker’s platform, reads:
When we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen.
The quotation is from George Washington, our nation’s first citizen soldier. The Armed Forces Tea Party has taken George Washington’s patriotic sentiment as its motto. We must never forget that our armed forces fight for our country, not for its government. When the government orders our armed forces to act illegally, our armed forces must protect the Constitution, not the government. Bradley Manning and Gary Stein both stand for this foundational principle: the armed forces serve the Constitution. When government betrays the Constitution, members of the armed forces ought to speak up.
Members of our armed forces need our support. When we start to fight illegal wars, we have to hear objections from all quarters. We cannot order our service men and women into conflicts like that, and order them to keep silent as well. We cannot order them to kill civilians, and ask them to shut up. That policy did not serve our country well during the Vietnam war, and it won’t serve our country well now. Gary Stein has taken the right stand here.