Freedom of speech and the military: When politicians make decisions, soldiers die

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The issue of freedom of speech for the military has hit the headlines in a myriad of blogs and the mainstream media. When the military speaks out to correct inaccuracies, they are considered to be disloyal and in some instances fired and threatened with a dishonorable discharge.

Submitted: August 25, 2012

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Submitted: August 25, 2012

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The issue of freedom of speech for the military has hit the headlines in a myriad of blogs and the mainstream media. When the military speaks out to correct inaccuracies, they are considered to be disloyal and in some instances fired and threatened with a dishonorable discharge.

When politicians make decisions, soldiers die

We can reach back into the pages of history and find many examples of poor decisions by politicians that have resulted in way too many deaths of both civilians and the soldiers deployed to war. Vietnam is one example, where some 58,200 US soldiers and an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 civilians were killed. Wikileaks

A Canadian example is the Dieppe Raid on Aug. 19, 1942, where 6,000 Canadian soldiers were launched to attack the beaches of Normandy. A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. Canadian troops for all intents and purposes were used as cannon fodder. There is no better explanation.

Freedom of speech

Military personnel have limited freedom when it comes to expressing their opinions. Based on past history, it almost seems criminal that soldiers cannot speak out when they see the truth twisted by politicians, since they pay the ultimate price in the end. Generals by nature are political animals and are often seen by their troops to be bolstering their own careers by cowtowing to politicians. This may be a fair or unfair criticism, but perception is reality. In my long career I have seen examples of careerism and also high-ranking officers who really care. In the end, regardless of the argument, politicians make the decisions, as it should be in a democracy.

When all of the military arguments fall on deaf ears, though, should there be a way for military members to voice their frustration, especially in light of poor decisions?

Afghanistan and Special Operations

While some issues can be politicized and one should always guard against that contingency, there are valid arguments for the military outing bad decisions without compromising national security.

Recently a Super PAC formed by former special operations personnel released an ad that discussed the raid to capture and kill Osama bin Laden. The veterans are pointing out that the president didn't kill bin Laden but that a combination of intelligence and the well co-ordinated planning and rehearsals of Navy SEAL Team 6 did.

In another example, a new book soon to be released is causing quite a kerfuffle in the military community. “No Easy Day,” written by Navy SEAL Team 6 member Mark Owen (pen name) and author Kevin Maurer, whose previous books covered Special Operations, reveals a first-hand account of the raid that killed bin Laden. In the book Owen writes, “It is time to set the record straight about one of the most important missions in U.S. military history.” The book wasn’t vetted by the Pentagon or CIA, leaving many concerned with whether the information released is classified and could “compromise future missions” of other SEALs and even the author himself. The author maintains that the book has been vetted by lawyers versed in national security issues and that there are no apparent concerns.

Carl Higbie served as a Navy SEAL for nine years, but was forced to retire after speaking out against Obama’s policies. Higbie was threatened with dishonorable discharge for writing the book, “Battle on the Home Front,” but instead was able to simply retire.

“My commanders were more concerned about how the fallout of this book would affect their careers than they were concerned about how re-electing President Obama would affect the country,” Higbie said.

National security leaks

There are allegatiosn by some in Congress, including Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein, that there were leaks eminating from the White House, which could adversely affect the safety of troops and also national security. By revealing the details of the Osama Bin Laden raid it is alleged that intelligence sources and the method of intelligence gathering had been compromised.

The most recent voice is that of House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.). He said on Wednesday that released e-mails indicated filmmakers of a movie on SEAL Team Six had a “potentially dangerous collaboration” with the White House and Obama administration. The movie is scheduled to be released prior to the election.

Some background:

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that Bigelow's movie could possibly endanger members of the Navy's SEAL team who took down bin Laden in a clandestine raid on his hideaway in Pakistan in May.

"Most SEALs want to stay in the background,'' King said to the Associated Press, and not "tip off the enemy of what they do and don't do.''

Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who both won Oscars for the 2009 film The Hurt Locker, said they are sensitive to the security issues.

"The dangerous work of finding the world's most wanted man was carried out by individuals in the military and intelligence communities who put their lives at risk for the greater good without regard for political affiliation," the two said in a joint statement. "This was an American triumph, both heroic and nonpartisan, and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise.'' SheKnows Entertainment

A delicate balance of free speech and loyalty

The president also is the commander-in-chief. Speaking out publicly can be seen as a loyalty issue. If the issue is trivial or primarily a complaint, there is reason to sum it up quickly. If the issue affects the daily operations of troops and is a matter of life or death, there may be cause to go public and take the consequences.

Whether or not to prosecute or take any other disciplinary action, including dismissal, remains within the realm of the military.

After having weighed the necessity of going or not going public, the soldier is left to his or her own decision. For the most part one must do what is right without getting tied up in a trivial political quagmire.

National security leaks

The unprecedented access to allegedly classified information to filmmakers is another issue. Hopefully the film to be released this fall is extremely sensitive to national security concerns. Needless to say, it would have been an unneccessary risk to take and to leave in the hands of Hollywood to do the right thing.

If nothing else transpires over this issue, it should bring the discussion of national security to the forefront. It is not clear yet whether the Pentagon will seek to prosecute the author of "No Easy Day" once the book is published.


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