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.