The Military, Politics, and Dissent…

I guess it’s fitting that my 50th post on this blog ends up on the topic of political discourse and the military.  This little intellectual experiment certainly hasn’t taken quite the course I thought it would when I started it almost a year ago, but then no worthwhile intellectual endeavors ever do.  If you’ve read any of my worthless bullshit thanks for the support and I hope we can continue further quality discussions in the future…

The Military, Politics, and Dissent…

In our politically polarized and complicated world, there is a great temptation for our military professionals to involve themselves in national politics.  We see active duty soldiers appearing at campaign rallies, veterans groups of every persuasion marching, posting on social networking sites, and standing together for their political agenda, and we have recently seen our first discharge for insubordinate comments posted on Facebook.  While it is natural for our military men and women who have born a greatly disproportionate share of the sacrifice from America’s decade of war to have much stronger opinions of our current political realties relative to the rest of the population, I think it is worth reminding ourselves that such action should not be a part of our chosen path.  Our military was created and has remained the standard bearer for our society solely by existing as separate and distinct from our political arena.  And a lot of the freedoms (although many appear to be quickly diminishing) that our society still enjoys stem from our military’s absence from rather than presence in the nation’s politics…

Dissent is a very controversial and I believe very little understood or examined concept in our military establishment.  We have all sworn an oath to protect this nation and part of that oath involves a duty to refuse to obey any unlawful, deeply immoral, or unconstitutional order we are given from our superiors.  Yet between the black and white content of our legal discourse there exists a much grayer and more complicated spectrum of operational reality.  How can our non-legally educated soldiers and officers truly determine in the heat and stress of the moment whether an order is legally binding or not?  And if we chose the latter, what sacrifice are we personally willing to accept in order to make things right when concepts of right and wrong seem like far off and distant dualities?  Ultimately it is surely a decision that each of us must come to when the situation presents itself but our choice can only reflect our prior levels of preparation, investigation, and reflection.  Every war has its share of protestors, conscientious objectors, deserters, and whistleblowers, and I cannot say whether it is truly morally right to leave the service prematurely for personal convictions during our nation’s time of need or reveal pieces of pertinent secret information to the public (both are clearly legally wrong although I must admit that I have deep respect for the courage of Mr. Manning even if I may disagree with his actions—regardless I feel that our military will only grow stronger as a result of the information he released).  In the end it is up to each of us to deal with the hands dealt to us by time, circumstance, and coincidence in the best and most morally and legally correct way possible while to ensuring that the decisions we make in these most trying of times are ones we can live with the rest of our lives.  After all, beneath the uniform, we are all still very human…

Personally, you will never see me publicly arrive at any type of political conclusion through my words or actions.  For a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that I have no permanent home and therefore am not a true constituent to a single elected public representative, I am not even registered to vote and will likely not participate in an election until the day I finally chose to remove the uniform permanently.  As an intellectual I feel that total non-participation in our nation’s politics also gives me greater freedom to question the nature of the current state of our great American experiment in democracy and how the reality of it greatly diverges from our publically stated ideals in many ways.  As you see me actively question these democratic realities you can be confident that I will never be one to sell out to one party over another on election day.  I don’t ask that others follow the path I have chosen—as the right to vote is indeed the birthright of every citizen regardless of military status—but it is a path I will likely not diverge from for the foreseeable future.  As a professional soldier I will always faithfully execute the orders and guidance I have been given, but I will also never up my intellectual responsibilities to constantly question our realities no matter how dark and scary some of the answers may be…

The act of openly questioning is one area however, that I feel our military personnel can and should use to further participate in our collective national and global discourse.   We hold a very unique set of experiences as some of the few members of our society who have actually witnessed the wars of our nation firsthand and I feel that perspective is a vital aspect of our collective national narrative.  And so while we are caught up in all the craziness and complexity that encapsulates our current national reality, I ask my military brother and sisters to take their personal ideologies and experiences and phrase them in the form of tough and intellectually powerful questions.  By asking questions, while we naturally seek answers, what we often end up with is still more questions.  And by engaging in further questioning and analysis what we create is a more robust and dynamic discourse within our establishment.  In our deeply interconnected society, such a renewed discourse from our military professionals can only lead to deeper societal understanding and a much more intellectually mature and reflective military establishment…

So as we push headlong into another dynamic and polarizing political election cycle, I challenge my fellow soldiers to step away from political agendas and towards collective discourse.  In later years, we will all have ample opportunity to take sides and establish our political identities whatever our chosen direction and course may be.  For now, our  nation calls us to stand tall as its guardians in time of strife, peril, and uncertainty, and it expects us to fulfill our duties in the most ethical, legal, and constitutional way possible regardless of who our elected bosses may be.  If we ever truly want to leave a world free from endless war for the next generation, the process must begin with discourse over politics.  The politics of our nation will have their place in time, for now it is our duty to simply stand by, serve, , keep thinking, and start questioning…Here’s to the renaissance of professional discourse…

Cheers,

Brian

28 APR 2012, 1115(L), Sharana, Paktika, Afghanistan

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About briangdonnelly

I'm pretty much a random traveler and free thinker. Right now I live and work with the Army in North Carolina. I grew up in Missouri but am from the northeast US and have traveled a lot with the Army and life in general so I can't say I really have a "home" except where I chose to catch a few hours or rack each day. Overall, life is pretty awesome and I'm looking forward to changing the world. Hit me up if you care... Peace, Brian
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