Let me warn you right now: in keeping with the Fourth of July weekend, I'm
about to say something patriotic and pugnacious. And it's not because we seem to be
back in the business of doing collateral damage to Iraqi civilians with incontinent
Tomahawk missiles. (That's militarese for blowing up people we don't intend to blow up.)
What's got my jingoistic juices flowing is the way the country has survived the
General Campbell affair. He's the Air Force major general, you recall, who was quoted
calling President Clinton "gay-loving," "pot-smoking," "womanizing," and "draft-
dodging." Those adjectives didn't just slip out privately at the officers' club. They came in
a speech the general made at a banquet with lots of people listening.
For his indiscretion, he was fined "in the neighborhood of $7,000" and forced to
Normally, when the government squeezes employees into early retirement for
things they say, my knee-jerk indignation is aroused on behalf the squeezee. I mutter
things about constitutional rights to free speech.
But when the employee is a general, I think of my experience in the army back in
'55 and '56 when I was defending the Free World in the European Theatreusually the
Rialto Deutschland in Munich, if I remember right.
What I think of is how my company commander could say all sorts of
uncomplimentary things about me, but if I said uncomplimentary things about him I'd be
so deep in the stockade they'd have to pipe soup to me.
That's because military free speech is a contradiction in terms. How GIs talk is not
governed by the Constitution but by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and it says that
people lower in the heirarchy can't say nasty things about people higher in the heirarchy.
Career military people like it that way. The longer they're in, the higher their rank
and the more peons there are under them who are legally required to keep quiet about
So before we see General Campbell as a victim, we should try to imagine what
he'd have done to an underling who publically labeled him a "homophobic, war-mongering
boozehound"or some such title roughly parallel to the language the general used on the
President. You get the idea.
And anyone who sees a Clintonite plot here should read up on the case of 2nd Lt.
Henry W. Howe. Back in 1965, Lt. Howe put on his civilian clothes and marched in a
protest against the war in Vietnam.
He carried signs saying "End Johnson's Facist [sic] Agression [sic] in Vietnam"
and "Let's Have More than a Choice between Petty Ignorant Facists [sic] in 1968."
The Truth, Mainly
Lt. Howe was court-martialed, not for his misspellings, but for using
"contemptuous words against the President." He was found guilty and sentenced to two
years' hard laboran outcome that General Campbell probably would have approved of.
The principle was the same in both cases: soldiers who criticize the Commander-
in-Chief take it in the shorts.
But the absence of free speech in the military isn't what makes me feel patriotic this
Fourth of July weekend. What makes me all bubbly about the U.S. is that the
Commander-in-Chief, the highest of the high in the military heirarchy, is a civilian. And
the military has to do what he says, even if he avoided the draft, chased women, smoked
dope, and wants to allow gays to wear the uniform.
That's one of the things that keeps us from being like a lot of other countries
some of which we've bankrolledwhere the nominal head of the government really serves
at the pleasure of the generals.
These are almost always countries that give knee-jerk ACLU types the fantods.
They're countries where "disappear" has become a transitive verb, as in "General
Eldisgusto disappeared the president, two priests, three nuns, and one archbishop, then
had high tea with the U.S. Ambassador."
So when we reaffirm the principle of civilian control over the military, it makes me
want to set off a celebratory bottle rocket. And when we do it with almost no hasslenot
even Republicans made a fuss about canning Campbellit makes me want to try to hit the
high notes of the national anthem.
That's the patriotic part. Here comes the pugnacious part.
If it offends you that a civilian is Commander-in-Chief of the military, move to a
country where generals run things.
Americalove it or leave it.
Gee, that felt good. I've been wanting to say it for years.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.