Honor the Troops?

Courts have no jurisdiction to tell the military what it can and can't do.

The purpose of Memorial Day is to remember the sacrifices that have been made by our soldiers in uniform in the defense of our country.

America has the most powerful and competent armed forces the world has ever seen.  As grievous as it is to lose one single American life, the total number of American dead in Iraq is less than have died on a single day in many of our previous wars - which, again, goes to show the awe-inspiring competence and training of the men and women who defend us.

Even those who oppose our current wars, or indeed any wars, have learned the lesson of the 1960s: it is one thing to oppose a war, but it is quite another to demean those who are serving honorably in that war obeying the lawful commands of their superiors as elected by the people.

Therein lies a grave concern.  In many ways, the military is the exact opposite of normal American civilian life.  As an American citizen and civilian, you have rights which cannot legally be taken away by any authority, and other rights which can only be restricted after due process of law.  What's more, the authorities in government are there only by the consent, collectively, of the governed; our "leaders" are leaders only insofar as we allow them to be.

Nothing could be further from the case in the military.  Now that we have an all-volunteer army, each individual service member has an absolute right to their own decision as to whether to enlist; but once they have done so, most if not all of their normal rights are sharply restricted.  Their lawful commander can order them to go to a specific place, in or outside of the country; to say or not say, to do or not do, any number of things.  This power extends even to life and death; not only can a military commander order his soldiers to risk their lives in battle, he can under certain circumstances order them to be executed on the spot.

It has to be this way.  An army is not the place for democracy.  You don't hold an election to decide who the general will be or have a PR campaign to convince the soldiers that we should attack here instead of there.

To be effective, the head of the army needs to be able to make whatever decision he thinks is appropriate, give the relevant orders, and have full faith and confidence that the orders will be obeyed all down the line.  Of course, any officer has to answer to his superiors for whatever orders he gives, and if they are stupid, don't work, or are conflict with his own orders then there will be a heavy price for him to pay.  But, under normal circumstances, it's not for a soldier to question the orders of his superiors.

The United States has a long history of civilian control of the military; that's how it should be.  The President, as the Commander in Chief, and the Secretary of Defense, are both civilians.  The Joint Chiefs of Staff answer to elected and appointed officials, who in turn answer to the people.

Respect goes both ways: although the president gives orders to his generals, appoints many of them to their posts, and sets the direction of policy ("Invade this country!  Don't invade that one!") he normally allows the military experts to determine exactly how the policies should be effected on the ground.

When this principle is violated, it generally ends badly: Lyndon Johnson was famous for giving specific orders to individual bomber squadrons and platoons as to who should go where and do what; the results in Vietnam speak for themselves.

But at least the president answers to the voters for what he does with the military; President Johnson decided not to run a re-election race he surely would have lost.

What's far more worrisome is when unelected judges with lifetime appointments, who answer to no one, take it upon themselves to set military policy.  As they have done to such ill effect in civilian life, so are they now doing to the army.

CNN reports:

An Air Force major who was dismissed for being a homosexual can continue her legal fight against the military, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals let stand the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bars the military from discharging gay or lesbian service members as long as they do not reveal their sexual orientation.  Yet the appeals court said the government may only "intrude upon the personal and private lives of homosexuals" to "advance an important governmental interest," such as maintaining troop readiness or improving morale.  The decision came in the case of Maj. Margaret Witt, who was discharged after a career of nearly 20 years on the grounds that she had a six-year relationship with another woman, a civilian.

What the court is saying is not that the military cannot discharge homosexuals, but that they have to prove that that specific homosexual relationship was harming a government interest.  This is similar to saying that a soldier who falls asleep on guard duty cannot be punished as long as no enemies snuck through during his nap.  "No harm, no foul."

In normal civilian life, this makes a lot of sense.  In a military force, it is absolutely corrosive nonsense.

Warfighters are under circumstances of extreme stress which most civilians will never experience.  They need to be able to have their whole concentration and dedication on the job at hand; and need to understand clearly that this is demanded of them.

Adding sexual issues to the mix is desperately dangerous; soldiers need their buddies watching their back, not their backside.  Since the Navy has permitted women at sea, there have been no end of problems with sexual escapades, pregnancies, and violence due to jealousies.

But all that is irrelevant.  The only point here is that the military has made a decision.  It may be the right decision; it may be the wrong decision.  It is absolutely wrong for the court to decide that it's wrong.

The military has been on the wrong side of civil rights in the past.  At one time, blacks were barred from the armed forces.  Then, for many years, they were segregated in all-black units.  Now they are integrated, and indeed the military is generally held to be one of the least racist institutions in existence, where soldiers are each judged purely by the "content of their character."  But these changes didn't take place because some judge ordered them to; they happened because the military hierarchy made a decision that the changes were wise or because Congress passed a law dictating that the rules change.

There is absolutely nothing preventing the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President, or the Congress from changing the rules concerning homosexuals in the military.  There is absolutely nothing preventing voters from demanding a change, should they so desire.  And there is absolutely nothing preventing homosexuals from deciding that the military is not really the place where they would feel most welcome, just as a straight man might decide that a job in a gay bar is not the ideal career for him.

But if you decide on a career in the military, you know the rules and must expect to abide by them.  If military orders are subject to court appeal, how can we expect to fight a war or do anything at all?

It's been knows since Roman times that camaraderie of a military corps is absolutely essential for its safety and success.  A platoon must act as one, with instant and intelligent obedience to orders, in order to fulfill its mission while bringing everybody home alive.  But it's natural for any human being to care more about his sexual partner than anyone else.  In a military environment, this can lead to disaster for all.

Which, one can't help but wonder, might be the purpose of these judges.  There's no faster way to destroy an army by destroying the authority and credibility of the commanders and the confidence of each man in his comrade.  If the rank and file has the ability to stick their finger in the eye of the brass and to pick and choose who he wants to defend most, we have not an army but a mob, incapable of keeping good order and accomplishing the mission in safety.

This Memorial Day, let's remember the principles that have made our military the awesome power that it is, that have kept our men safer than the soldiers of any army in the past, and keep all of us safe as well.  If we sacrifice our defenders on the altar of political correctness, soon we will be forced to bow before a different god altogether.

Read other Scragged.com articles by Hobbes or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
"If we sacrifice our defenders on the altar of political correctness, soon we will be forced to bow before a different god altogether."

We have already started, which is why the campaign in Iraq has taken longer and not been as effective as it should have been. If our soldiers were allowed to go and do their job ("kill people and break things") with cold, hard efficiency, we would be seeing an entirely different story today. But because people can't seem to understand the purpose of the military, we have all sorts of rules telling them when they can shoot, and who they can aim at - and as a result, they are limited in how they do their job.
May 27, 2008 2:27 PM
Or at least, he has a very good point. Conservatives that send soldiers to war have to insist that the media get out of their way. Guys like McCain, who are all for the war yet at the same time brown-nose the media, are just as much to blame for the outcome. We should be telling the MSM to kiss our collective asses and let our soldiers kill-and-break like Tony said.
May 27, 2008 5:00 PM
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