Magazine article Newsweek

Dissenters in Uniform; the Men and Women in the Field Are the Ones Best Able to Judge Whether the Mission Is Working. They Are the Ultimate Embeds

Magazine article Newsweek

Dissenters in Uniform; the Men and Women in the Field Are the Ones Best Able to Judge Whether the Mission Is Working. They Are the Ultimate Embeds

Article excerpt

Byline: Anna Quindlen

In 1965, Henry H. Howe Jr. marched through a park in Texas carrying a sign that read END JOHNSON'S FACIST AGGRESSION IN VIETNAM. He regrets, he told a reporter not long ago, that he did not spell "fascist" correctly. That's saying a lot, since in exchange for his moment of protest at a rally in El Paso the active-duty reservist wound up in jail. Although Lieutenant Howe was

off duty and out of uniform, several soldiers recognized him, and by the end of the day, he had been arrested. He spent three months in Leavenworth after being court-martialed under a provision that bars officers from "contemptuous words against the president."

There's something essentially discordant in the symbiotic relationship between the armed forces and American democracy. On the one hand, there's a form of government that is supposed to glory in free speech and support it zealously, even when it incites or offends. On the other, there is the organization designed to protect democracy from its enemies, with one of its guiding principles a monolithic devotion to duty that seems antithetical to individual opinion.

But with an increasingly unpopular invasion dragging on in Iraq, a volunteer Army that signed on to what has been sold for years as a patriotic trade school and an enormous cadre of reservists who have civilian expectations of self-expression, you now have a blueprint for an entirely new level of dissent in the service. It's difficult to imagine any soldier being imprisoned today for simply expressing some version of the sentiments on Lieutenant Howe's protest sign without a civilian uproar that would slide the Pentagon sideways.

It's true that a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War was recently accused of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice for wearing his camo uniform, insignia removed, during a mock-patrol protest at the White House. But a military panel decided merely to recommend a general discharge. Some service people have faced harsher penalties, but that's because their objections to the Iraq mission took the form of desertion or failure to deploy. Lt. Ehren Watada has become the first officer to face court-martial for refusing to return to Iraq. "My participation would make me party to war crimes," he said at a news conference. Others have applied for conscientious-objector status, including one young decorated combat veteran who described being approached by an elderly Iraqi, who asked, "Why are you still here?"

He could easily have responded, as so many have before, that he was just following orders. That one sentence, and its powerful resonance, explain why dissent within the ranks has become increasingly accepted by both the public and political leaders. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.