The Truth, Mainly - 07/06/1993

Celebrate civilian control of military
by Leon Satterfield

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 retire.

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 Theatre—usually 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 their defects.

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."

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 labor—an 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 bankrolled—where 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 hassle—not even Republicans made a fuss about canning Campbell—it 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.

America—love 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.

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