Eric Stradford, United States Marine Corps, Retired
AMWS, September 27, 2017, America -- Up to now, I’ve held my thoughts on a national conversation about honor and discipline. That was before reading a post by a military family member seeking to reconcile reality between civilian and military duty. Mine was a pre-stated position that YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH.
Throughout history, Americans have exercised their right to free speech, often ill-informed as to how their actions might impact the life and liberty of their fellow citizens in service.
You might recall the movie, A Few Good Men. Two U.S. Marines were on trial for the murder of Willie Santiago, and a “lesser charge” of conduct unbecoming a United States Marine. The defendants were found guilty of Article 134, a "catch-all" for many offenses that are not covered by other specific articles of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
According to sources, these other offenses, including their elements and punishments, are spelled out in Part IV, Punitive Articles (Paragraphs 60-113) of the Manual for Courts-Martial. They vary from kidnapping (para. 92) to disloyal statements (para. 72). As a consequence, the defendants were dishonorably discharged.
From the perspective of those who hold honor on behalf of others who die defending your rights, let’s have a real conversation about the true cost of citizenship. Military folks do not have the luxury of debating your right to disrespect those empowered to lead. By our own actions or inaction, #WeThePeople subject our military to stand in the midst of conflict and crisis. We share a responsibility to educate America’sFuture about the importance of history, honor and national standards.
A professional athlete and any citizen may take a knee without consequence to themselves. But your military family member, who swears to uphold your right to free speech, cannot legally partake in civil action that conflicts with a leader's perception of good order and discipline. The conversation is not about a flag, but a chain of command. It’s about the Americans, ordered to stand, salute, and if necessary, sacrifice life and or limbs defending the rights embodied by a symbol.
If you can wrap your head around the Star Spangled Banner, a.k.a. The National Anthem, a song about a flag, the only words that really matter is that rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the darkest moments that "the flag was still there."
One Supreme Court opinion recognized limitations to the First Amendment’s broad reach that affect the legitimacy of the military’s requirement to display respect to the national colors. When discussing the role and function of symbols of the state, the Court opined that some gestures of respect were “appropriate,” specifically citing the salute as an example.
Further, in concluding that no circumstances were present justifying an exception to the protections of the First Amendment in Barnette , the Court recognized that such an exception may exist in the military context. As the Court noted, “The Nation may raise armies and compel citizens to give military service . . . . [I]t follows, of course, that those subject to military discipline are under many duties and may not claim many freedoms that we hold inviolable as to those in civilian life.”
The conversation is perplexing for those sworn to defend you, and your constitutional rights. On their behalf, we only ask that you consider our contractual commitment to honorable service.