RANGER AGAINST WAR: Soldier Citizens <

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Soldier Citizens


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The topic of Soldier's freedom of speech is a major concern of Ranger's. The Army recently released a 37-page handbook covering online social networking platform communications for Army personnel.

Much of it is common sense, like not using the geo-tagging feature to betray troop location.
It is a given that Soldiers should not release sensitive information, but what about the restriction that they may not speak negatively about Commanders or the chain of command? The muzzling of Soldier's opinions on their leadership still sticks in Ranger's craw.

"Soldiers are also cautioned to watch that what they say doesn’t violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice. While social media encourages soldiers to speak freely, soldiers may not speak negatively about commanders or release sensitive information" (Handbook to guide GIs on social media usage).

Historically, U.S. soldiers have always enjoyed the right to criticize their commanders; this was a reflection of the egalitarian nature of U.S. society. If a unit elects their officers, then unit members obviously were free to comment on both the positive and negative attributes of those officers. Officers in today's Army are still elected by the men, albeit in a different manner.


Any leader that lacks the faith of those under him will end up under the bus; this is a negative election of officers. A popular example is that of Captain Sobel in Stephen Ambrose's The Band of Brothers. The unit, to include the Company's 1st Sergeant, did not accept Sobel as a combat leader and so cast a no-confidence vote which reverberated up to Regiment. When it bounced back down the chain the result was Sobel's transfer.
The unit NCO's selected their next leader by cutting Sobel off at the knees.

Examples of soldiers criticizing higher ups abound in history. LTC George Custer's officers actually wrote letters to newspapers criticizing his leadership. With such a history of free expression how have we come to restrict the speech of our soldiers? When did criticism become an illegal activity?


Since we are a nation of laws, what constitutional authority restricts military free speech? Military law is based upon the Constitution, and the basis of that document is that all citizens have the right of free speech. The strength of a democratic Army is that the men know how to think, improvise and act when officers are not present.


Unlike totalitarian armies, we are flexible and individualistic -- a positive feature -- yet now we are telling Soldiers to put a cork in it. We say that we train them to think but then punish them if they do so in written or oral expression.


Why was there only one Lieutenant Watada in opposition to an illegal war? Why did not one other officer refuse to participate in a war of aggression against two nations? If free speech is a guaranteed right of citizens, then it cannot be taken away; if it can be stripped, then it was not a right. If soldier's free speech can be curtailed, why not that of civilians?
If the argument is to maintain order in the ranks, then why not the same argument for maintaining a disciplined civilian society?

If a soldier is sworn to uphold and defend The Constitution, it follows that same Constitution would insure a soldier's right to free speech. The U.S. does not have two separate Constitutions - one for soldiers and one for civilians.


When did our leaders become tin gods exempt from human interaction and criticism? Soldiers become second-class citizens when they are denied the rights of free speech, perhaps the most precious right which they are charged with defending.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous barcalounger said...

Sounds like the joes and janes need to organize, form a union maybe? I don't know how you would handle NCOs and officers-separate guilds for each? There should be a way to voice your point of view and for management to take it into consideration. Otherwise, people vote with their feet, go elsewhere; then you have talent drain.

Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 5:23:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous CholoAzul said...

And who is defining 'sensitive information' these days?

Is turning in higher ups for wrongdoing going to become an offense?

Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 5:33:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

I think there's a difference in keeping things in-house versus venting to your "friends" on Facebook. So in that sense the restriction makes sense.

But...I think that there IS a push towards a more "aristocratic" model in a long-term professional army. Draftees were never worried about their careers, and their officers were often no more than other draftees that wanted better food and billets (WooPoo grads the exception, of course). In a small long-service army I suspect that there's a strong dynamic pushing the officer-NCO-enlisted man relationship in the direction of the British model, with class distinctions between commissioned and enlisted ranks mirroring the social distinctions.

Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 5:46:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous CholoAzul said...

If history serves, the logical slide down that slope would lead to buying commissions and hiring foreign mercenaries.

;-}

Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 8:52:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

CAzul,

But ... we're America. We don't Do things like that ...

Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 10:05:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

Cholo: Not sure about the "buying", but I would argue that our commissioned cadre has become narrower and more LIKE the social-class-distinction-group that provided the purchase-era British with their officers.

And this "don't criticize me!" regulation seems to be at least partially motivated by an aristocratic dislike of the revolting peasants.

BUT...I think there's also a big element of "let's keep it in the family". Which, in a sense, points up another of the big problems with the U.S. Army, which is that it is increasingly divorced from the U.S. public. So I think that at least part of the motivation is due to the officers' expectation that "mere civilians" won't understand soldier grousing (and, frankly, they're probably right).

Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 1:36:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

To all,
I roger all cmts, but we're missing the point.
ALL ARMY REGS MUST BE BASED ON US CODE, THAT IS BASED IN THE CONSTITUTION.We only have 1 and it doesn't restrict free speech of soldiers.PERIOD.
If we can restrict their speech then it follows that civilians will soon follow this slippery slope.
At this point i'm more concerned with my country and i'm willing to throw the Army under the bus to protect freedom here in the ole USA.
We buy too much military bullshit these days.
jim

Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 3:40:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous CholoAzul said...

@FDChief:

I agree entirely. Multiple factors at work, all leading us back to the feudal days.

@Jim

The extra-constitutional muzzling of citizen soldiers has already been extended to citizen teachers, and tried on citizen cops, etc...

http://www.memphisflyer.com/TheDailyBuzz/archives/2008/07/22/director-godwins-looking-for-him--and-we-found-him-mpd-enforcers-dirk-diggler

Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 9:01:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...

jim: I guess my question would be - what is different about this that makes you so concerned?

Soldiers have NEVER been free to slag off on their superiors, and that includes the U.S. Army all the way back to the Revolution. Remember Charles Lee? Dude got relieved for shittalking GW.

I agree that we accept WAY too much restriction on public speech in general, but I'm not sure that THIS particular restriction is that much of a step beyond the pale. Armies, even democratic armies, have rules to preserve "good order and discipline". That's the nature of armies. If you want to argue that we need to have something different, fine. But that's a whole 'nother issue.

Monday, March 14, 2011 at 11:49:00 AM GMT-5  

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