Saturday, March 12, 2011

Soldier Citizens


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 networkinging 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.


  1. jim-

    There is very thin line between speaking negatively and fomenting mutiny. The very dynamic of social networking is conducive to fomenting mutiny, as people tend to feel separated from responsibility for their words. Our oaths and/or commissions charge us to "obey the lawful orders", not just the enlightened or popular ones.

  2. Al,
    The Constitution is a lawful order, and i can't find an exclusionary clause restricting soldiers free speech.
    As for mutiny i can't see any such thing in a free speech discussion.But i see you qualified it with the word conducive. This approach is calling wolf.

  3. jim,

    I agree, there should be no restriction on what a soldier can say about their leadership. But that is usually in private and not posted for the world to see. I had a Co Cdr once that said, "If you here to air out your dirty laundry, don't do it in my Company!" Usually bitching about your CoC is an internal discussion, not always appropriate to post for the world to see.

    No where in the document did I see anything that restricted soldiers from criticizing or posting negative comments about their leaders. It does clearly remind everyone that unlike bitching in the barracks, what you post online is now in the public domain and can be used by anyone (media), so be aware.

    Army Times article: "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"

    I see you are quoting the article, but that was a paraphrase from some Major and is not in the source document. I searched the 37 page document, and closest I could find was:

    When in a position of leadership, conduct online should be professional. By using social media, leaders are essentially providing a permanent record of what they say, so, if you wouldn’t say it in front of a formation, don’t say it online. "


    Everything a leader says and does is more visible and taken more seri- ously. Leaders have a greater responsibility to speak respectfully and in- telligently about issues they don’t intend to reflect on a command or the Army."

    It is the Major who says in the Army Time article, "On a personal page, if you’re just Joe, you can be opinionated, and you could probably say your boss is stupid; it’s just dumb,” Chang said. “But for us to say something like that is actually illegal, according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So we can be held accountable for our actions on social media, as if we published them anywhere else.”

    When she says, "Us", she is poorly referencing UCMJ that does restrict commissioned officers from speaking out against the POTUS or senior DoD officials.

    If I am missing something in the source document, please let me know.


  4. Okay, I found one paragraph that could be the issue:

    Soldiers using social media must abide by the Uniform Code of Military Justice at all times. Commenting, posting, or linking to material that violates the UCMJ or basic rules of Soldier conduct is prohibited. Social media provides the opportunity for Soldiers to speak freely about what they’re up to or what their interests are. However, Soldiers are subject to UCMJ even when off duty, so talking negatively about supervisors, or re- leasing sensitive information is punishable under the UCMJ. It’s impor- tant that all Soldiers know that once they log on to a social media plat- form, they still represent the Army."

    This is a poorly written paragraph, IMO, because it assumes that everyone reading the article knows regulations well enough to know what UCMJ being referenced. This is written is such a way where one would absolutely believe that no soldiers can speak bad about their CoC or be held accountable by UCMJ. But I don't believe that is the case, the key language here is "punishable by UCMJ." There is no article in UCMJ that prevents a private from bitching about his 1SG. So therefore, he can not be punished under UCMJ.

    So jim, I see your concern, but I feel the real issue here is a poorly written paragraph, and not an intent by the Army to censor soldiers.

  5. bg-

    I think one problem is is the nature of the medium itself. Social networks are public, and as such posts can be the equivalent of insubordinate statements in front of, for the sake of example, a unit formation. There is a big difference between e-mailing or privately saying to your friend that CPT joe is an asshole and posting that on Facebook or announcing it in public. To expand on my first comment, were I to post on Facebook, "If CPT joe gives me another stupid order, I'm going to give him the finger and walk away", that's a very public insubordinate statement. What is the difference in the intent of the UCMJ if that public statement is oral or in the current popular equivalent, Facebook?

    In my view, the hazard of social media is the false sense of privacy and non-accountability that participants have. If the words are out there for all to see, then that is no different than standing in front of a formation and making that statement at the top of your lungs. I'm confident we all agree that there are limits to what one can proclaim in front of a formation.

    The First Amendment may offer "Freedom of Speech", but it does not, to the best of my knowledge, guarantee absolute freedom from responsibility for one's acts. Has anyone successfully defended himself in a Court Martial when charged with something like saying, "F*ck you, Colonel, you are a jerk" in front of troops using the First Amendment?

    Are you saying that "However, Soldiers are subject to UCMJ even when off duty, so talking negatively about supervisors, or re- leasing sensitive information is punishable under the UCMJ" is an inaccurate statement? Perhaps it's not readily punishable in a private conversation, but social media are far from "private", and that's where the above caution is spot on. If someone has an expectation of some sort of "privacy" that frees them from responsibility for their words in an open forum social medium, they are just plain dumb.

  6. And in point of fact as soldiers we ARE in a different situation re: "freedom of speech". No military organization can function if the soldiers can heckle their sergeants or officers, or if the junior leaders can openly slag off on their seniors.

    Let's picture the company oporder briefing. No sooner than the CO announces the Commander's Intent than one of his PL's pipes up "Well, THAT'S about fuckin' stupid, sir!" Is that acceptable? Would that get passed over? Of course not. That's as clear a UCMJ issue as I can think of.

    I think that's the kind of "free speech" this is meant to warn about, and the very sort of thing you see all over the social network sites.

    Like it or not, we ARE restricted in terms of what we say about our military superiors. We can disagree with them - whilst still according them the respect due their rank or position - but we cannot disparage them or insult them or their actions publicly. The wording of the article - "talking negatively" - should reflect that.

  7. Come to that, I vividly recall a block of instruction (from ANCOC, I think) that discussed issues of indscipline and disrespect and noted that "disrespect" included nonverbal "speech"; things like eye-rolling or face-pulling up to flipping off the First Sergeant...

    So I think there's a lot more here than just "free speech" versus "tyranny", jim. As soldiers we are much more hedged about with restrictions than we are as citizens.

  8. To all.
    If something is true , does this imply disrespect?
    Example-Bush did not publish his NG documents. Clinton was a draft dodger. Obama used blow.
    If this is said by a soldier is it talking negatively. Is truth punishable these days?
    We should ask since we're all strategic thinkers and talkers, why did the FF's make the 1st amendment 1st?
    Maybe a officer with balls should've told Custer- this plan really sucks, and you are a idiot. Would this not be preferable to a massacre?
    Why do we brag on our troops as being the best educated etc... and then saying-shut the fuck up.

  9. jim-

    I see no effort to thwart "the truth" in this directive. What I see is a clear reminder and warning that public speech by soldiers must conform to long standing restrictions, be it in the ranks or on Twitter. All too may people think that they have some kind of Constitutional right when they post on the internet, to include the right to slander and libel.

    There is a world of difference between respectfully speaking up to one's commander when one might take issue with a given decision, and announcing to the world that a given commander cannot make a sound decision, for example. The latter is clearly intended to undermine command, and no soldier has the "Constitutional Right" to undermine his commander. If the commander is incompetent, there are channels for reporting same. Ever hear of the Chain of Command or the I.G.?

    Having commanded from fire team to brigade, I never had difficulty with a subordinate professionally bringing legitimate concerns to the attention of an immediate commander/leader. However, when troops attempted to undermine or publicly discredit their leaders, no matter how valid they may have thought their cause, I disciplined them quickly. A bell that has been rung cannot be unrung.

  10. jim: because, in the final throw-down, the soldier is not the boss, and also because something is true doesn't make it OK to use as the primary description of someone.

    If you give the troop the option of telling Custer that his plan sucked balls and he was an idiot, where do you stop? When you draw down on him and tell him you'll shoot him rather than let him lead his guys into Death Valley? Where's the bright line between arguing with the man and disobeying an order?

    And if the bottom line is that when he gives you that order you have to salute and move out smartly, what's the point is having a ten-minutes-before-closing-time hair-pulling argument about it?

    The other thing is that we all have limitations on our speech, some imposed by common sense, others by decency. If we have any sense, when we disagree with our significant others we stop short of calling them a "brainless bitch" or a "dumb-ass sonofabitch". We don't go into court and call the judge a "black-robed jackhole".

    And you wouldn't refer to a woman who had a miscarriage as "that dead-baby-momma", would you? Or someone who had lost their right arm as "Lefty"?

    So why would it be OK to call Clinton a "draft-dodger" in a professional setting, when he was your boss? Was that the sum of the man? Woudldn't that be as prejudicial as calling George Washington "that wooden-tooth ol' slave whupper?"

  11. To all,
    I reckon this essay was not preaching to the choir.
    Obviously i don't agree with the majority opinion here.
    I just don't get it. Maybe i need to read socnet and abu m more often.

  12. FDChief-

    A good friend back in WA was a retired Regan strategist, and an honest broker, even if he's a Republican. One day he gets a call from a former colleague in D.C. during the Clinton impeachment. The colleague is all excited, because the friggen GOP House impeachment team has gotten this grand idea to call the JCS as witnesses. The question to be asked was whether the revelations about Clinton's hiding his BJs from Monica would lead the troops to be reluctant to follow his orders!

    My buddy, who though the whole never ending investigations and impeachment were a total waste of time, told the colleague, "That's good", and left it at that. The colleague was thrilled to hear him agree. He then told me about the call, but went on as to why he said it was "good":

    If the generals and admirals were "real" generals and admirals, they would state:

    1. What the GOP is fussing about has no bearing on the military
    2. The troops were sworn to obey the lawful orders of the President, not to judge him
    3. No member of the Armed Forces has a public personal opinion of their duly elected or appointed leaders.
    4. The GOP has just delivered a major insult to the Armed Forces by even asking the question.

    In short, my buddy, the Republican, wanted the Generals and Admirals to be able to expose the GOP for the petty, ignorant jerks they were.

    He was a Buckley man.

  13. Al: When I was on active duty I had a certain sympathy with those pre-WW2 officers who even chose not to vote, on the grounds that even casting a ballot was expressing a political opinion that they, as soldiers in a democracy, had no right to interpose between their service to the Constitution and the political preferences of the citizenry.

    I still voted, mind you, but, yeah, sorry, jim, we don't agree on this one. IMO letting soldiers yawp about their political views is letting the camel's nose of politicization of those soldiers into the democratic tent. Bad enough that a pantsload of today's officer and NCO corps are out-and-out conservative Republican.

  14. FDChief-

    As a young Marine in 1960, The Old Gunny told us that it was our right to vote. When asked if he voted, he expressed what you attributed to "pre-WWII" officers - he voted in state and local elections only. When I turned 21, I got an absentee ballot for my home state and followed his example. My first Presidential ballot was cast after my 1995 retirement. Served under 9 presidents. Gave the same loyalty to each and every one. I do not feel deprived.

  15. Well, I think Articles 88, 89, 90 and 91 are pretty clear. They've always been there, at least during my association with the UCMJ. I am aware of judicial and nonjudicial (usually the latter) actions taken in the distant past. And what with the advent of this nifty Facebook deal, I can see where some GIs are going to run afoul of the UCMJ. And, IMO, anyone stupid enough to post something that might be construed as actionable under any of the punitive articles deserves whatever he/she gets.

    I'm pretty confident there are Facebook postings out there right now wherein ex-PFC Wintergreen waxes eloquently on what a dumb shit Sergeant Rock is or how Lieutenant Minderbender's parents weren't married.

    There is one gaping hole in the UCMJ and that's the omission of enlisted personnel from that old contempt for public officials article. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of enlisted people (and not just junior ones, either) are died in the wool right wingers. I've already seen where NCOs are signed up for these "birther" web sites; hell, even officers have gotten involved. It's anyone's guess what some of these troops might be posting about the president, who is, let's face it, a lightning rod for Wingnuts.

    Then there are the security and OPSEC issues presented by uncontrolled troop access to email and social media. Frankly, as a guy with a little background in counterintelligence, the specter of troop compromises of sensitive operational information scares me a lot more than the random Snuffy mouthing off about stupid sergeants and officers. I know you can't do it in this day and age, but I'd be tempted to ban this stuff. And since I know it can't be banned in the MVA, I will bet you there are some counterintelligence NCOs and/or contractors wasting their time surfing for violations. They won't care about any of the bad mouthing.

    Now, as far as telling your superior officer he's a jackass in his approach to an important matter, been there, done that. To his face. Won some, lost some. That's the way to do it. Have to admit I've also expressed negative opinions of a superior, even up and including the president, to trusted peers over cocktails. Who hasn't?

  16. Publius: I'll 'fess up; yup, I once called the Secretary of Defense "dumber than a bag of fucking hammers".

    But that was in private. As you point out, the problem with these websites is the public nature of them.

    Tho I suspect that the actual danger of OPSEC is less than it appears. You'd have to have a KGB-like intel apparatus to sweep all of these sites trolling for intel. I doubt if the jihadis are that sophisticated, so as with so much in relation to these cabinet wars in central Asia, I think there's a tiny puff of smoke for a fire the size of a paper match here.

    But I have to wonder about more capable outfits, like the PRC's Guóānbù; I suspect that they have sections doing the same thing as our CI folks only from the other end...

  17. Chief,4:14
    That's exactly my point- we do have a kgb apparatus in place to monitor the net.
    Nobody bothered to answer my question-WHY DID THE FF'S MAKE THE 1ST AMENDMENT 1ST?
    Curbing free speech , even in the military is unwise , if not pig headed.Have we devolved into SS mentality? Who cares what the troops say as long as they ruck up? Are we so rigid?
    In spec ops units free speech is/was a given.Or it was at one time. WHy?
    All of you guys are blinkered.When you punish free speech you are punishing someone for being Amurican.BTW, if i remember correctly ,the military didn't get a conviction on Lt Watada for his free speech supposed violations. In addition the SC just reaffirmed civilian crazy talk, but according to the denizens of this site this doesn't apply to active duty soldiers.
    Why in the fuck would anybody join an organisation controlled by troglodites?
    Oh yeah, Chief, remember that FT. Bragg was the center of active duty resistance to the VN war, and they had newspapers to that effect. Is this free speech? Why then and not now?
    IMHO the military will continue to discipline people ,as did Aviator, but they'll NEVER let a free speech case get to the SC. It's easy to railroad a young troop. Even if they're right they'll be wrong.
    Wonder why recruiters never tell potential recruits that they have the right to stfu.
    We need to call milpub -THE LIFER BAR.

  18. Why is the First Amendment first? I have no idea; are you saying that freedom of speech is "the most important thing EVAH!"? More important than a the rule of law (public trials, juries, no torture)? More important than the right to be secure in our houses (illegal search)? Nothing I have ever read suggests that the Founders attached particular importance to the right to free speech above the other Rights in the Bill.

    And the other consideration is; look at the history of the country at the time the Founders were alive. Was the Continental Army a riot of revolutionary talk? Were Continental officers and soldiers allowed to talk smack about their political masters? If you remember, Washington himself disbanded his officer corps rather than let them confront the Congress. Free speech has NEVER been free in the U.S. Army or any other army, jim. That's not "being the KGB"; that's just the nature of armies.

    And when you start on this you're confronted with the fact that a hell of a lot of us ARE lifers. And old lifer me will tell you that if a troop, young or otherwise, threw down on me and started lipping about my leadership in the middle of a FRAGO he'd get a fist in response. There are times to mouth off and times to STFU and soldier. Are you saying that's not true? That you called out your A-team leader in the middle of a firefight and told him that you just weren't gonna follow his dumb fuckin' orders?

    That's so far out there I just don't know how to respond.

  19. Thinking it over, I can respond with this. Here's what you said originally: "The U.S. does not have two separate Constitutions - one for soldiers and one for civilians."

    But in a sense it does; it has two seperate legal codes, one for civilians and another for soldiers. And you can be tried, and convicted, of violations of the UCMJ that no civilian would ever be charged with.

    If you want to argue that this is unconstitutional, you're WAY over my pay grade. But assuming that you accept that the UCMJ is constitutional, then you can't really make a case that "free speech" as set out in the constitution and codified by civilian case law is exactly the same as "free speech" as regulated under the UCMJ. It's not, and you and I as soldiers know that it's not.

  20. Chief,
    Ucmj is based on legal code. But let's ask why is it necessary when all violations are covered by civil and criminal law. It's a codification for simplicity in a military environment. It's constitutional, but what allows the restriction of free speech? Where is that found in our legal code?
    The stories of talking during opord issuance , and all the other stuff misses the key point. Truth and or free speech is the basis of democracy. I really don't care if we screw snuffy from fire team to brigade, but the fact is that these phony wars are the result of restricted speech-IF ONE GENERAL/CABINET LEVEL OFFICIAL had spoken out we could've avoided a needless, pointless decade of elective , aggressive war. Gen S spoke out , but addressed how and not why. He never questioned the illegal war, but only the manpower restrictions.
    To be cont.

  21. Continued.
    We talk of policy and strategy and bemoan ill fated wars,but the bottom line is that the wars are the result of lies. Official lies from all levels of leadership , both civilian and military. And our reaction-muzzle the common soldier. This does not solve the high level problem that nobody stood to arms by exercising the right of citizenry, and not soldierly duty.
    Truth trumps a silent soldier when the soldier knows the truth. Truth implies the freedom to express the facts. What a crummy system when Generals make a living opposing wars after they retire , but gave total support by clamping their lips before they retired.We might as well use robots if this is what we require of soldiers.
    TO be cont.

  22. Cont.
    Here's my discomfort with the thread.
    I'm being blown aside by warrior rhetoric and leadership 101 stuff by older mature distinguished soldiers, but the point is moot. Being a warrior is a transitional state, and is not an evolved position. Hell we even talk of Maaslow here, but ignore his implications for older soldiers. We did what we did , but we must mature and move up the heirarchy. We can't stay in a fire team mentality, and if we do let's just drink at the AMLEG/VFW. We just don't need to drop off at milpub.
    Without wasting words , or further boring anyone i'll say that unrestricted free speech and shit canning a outmoded code of soldier conduct would be more in keeping with democratic ideals. And what does it cost us?
    We haven't exactly been successful by doubling down on lies. Coin, aggressive wars, nation building,and democracy in AFGH/IRQ are all lies, and we all know this. Supporting lies by restricting speech is exactly the first step to failure.
    There you have it.That's my take, and i apologize if i rambled.

  23. cont.
    My discomfort is that we are all older soldiers, but knee jerk reply as fire team leaders. We do arts on Maaslow but ignore the implications for evolving critters.
    If we are moving up the hierarchy we must leave behind the immature,lower rungs of the pyramid. What we did as soldiers is irrelevant to higher sensibilities. And if this is false then i need to rejoin the AM LEGION/VFW and belly up to their bar.
    Hope i didn't ramble.

  24. jim: We can talk smack all day about how Joe needs to be able to mouth off in formation. That ain't gonna happen. It hasn't happened in any army in history. Evolution has nothing to do with it; military discipline does. I can't change that, and I wouldn't want to. I don't want an Army where every formation becomes an Oprah show with privates debating sergeants about policy and lieutenants arguing with the Old Man about unit deployments.

    The issues you've brought up about the GOs that didn't tell the truth to the American public is a straw man. These GOs had every right to speak up; they could have formally resigned their commissions and gone public any time. The fact they didn't has nothing to do with "free speech" rules and everything to do with the corrupt Washington Rules structure in Washington.

    And let's think about it; we probably have more speech, free and otherwise, than any time in American history. What difference has that made?

  25. Chief,
    OK , i'm done.
    It just seems strange to me that we... fuck it, i'm done.

  26. Either as an officer of NCO you have the same constraints in the military as you would in industry as a manager: You're representing the organization and you have to back it up. You can't undermine them.

    However, go back to the days of the conscript military. PVT Snuffy just may not like being there, and he wouldn't be bashful about filing a congressional. A lot of paper moves around whether Snuffy is justified or not.

    Before the blogs there was the Overseas Weekly in Europe. A complaint/scandal tabloid. An officer or NCO wasn't being aggressive enough if his name didn't appear in there. OTOH, it was hard to cover things up with the troops willing to give stories to the rag.

    Not a new problem, just a different medium. And a volunteer rather than conscript miitary.