One of the most important things for a successful democracy is civilian control of the military. The power of a standing army to take over a nominally democratic society can be seen in the multiple coups and handovers of power in Turkey and the more recent reign of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. Those are the best case scenarios, where the power that was seized by the military was returned to the civilian governments, that is not always the case. Burma being an example of when the military takes over and does not relinquish power.
"Originally posted at Squarestate.net"
All this makes the recent establishment of the Armed Forces Tea Party Patriots is so troubling. Talking Points Memo is reporting that active duty marine Gary Stein has formed the group at his Camp Pendleton base.
By doing so Sgt. Stein is breaking long standing policies about active duty military members and partisan activity. Here are a couple of quotes by Sgt. Stein from the TMP article
"People in the military need to be heard," the group’s prime organizer, Gary Stein — a Marine Corps sergeant stationed at Camp Pendleton in southern California — told TPMmuckraker in an interview. "Our opinions do count."
Many people in the military "feel like they can’t speak out against Obama or Congress," said Stein. "The armed forces should have a little bit more say than we think we do," he said.
My oath was to the Constitution, not to the politicians, and that oath will be kept. I wont’ "Just follow" orders. There is at this time a debate within the ranks of the military regarding their oath. Some mistakenly believe they must follow any order the President issues. But many others do understand that their loyalty is to the Constitution and to the people…
This is troublingly close to the thinking of the “Oath Keepers” who have published a list of orders they believe would be unconstitutional and are pledging not to follow. The Oath Keepers cast a wider net by including police and firemen in their recruiting efforts.
This type of paranoid thinking is an extension of the rhetoric of the Right Wing of the Republican Party over the last few years. The idea that it is suddenly okay for active duty military to question the orders of the civilian president who is (in the phrase so beloved by the Right) the Commander in Chief grows out of the Birther conspiracy. The efforts of the right in the form of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh to undermine the legitimacy of President Obama combined with the Right Wing paranoia has been metastasizing. It looks as though it is beginning to spread into the Armed Services as well.
This is extremely dangerous. I am something of an absolutist when it comes to political speech. I believe that there is no better cure for insane and objectionable speech than more speech. However the actions of Sgt. Stein go beyond speech to political activity. This is not acceptable in the military, at any level.
We have an all volunteer military. No one is forced to join and in joining they wave certain rights that a private citizen enjoys. The military system of justice is very different than the civilian one, as an example. These differences are in place because there is a need for the military to operate under tighter rules than is normal in civilian life. The ability to be politically active, to speak out against the policies of the civilian government have long been held to be something that can not be allowed, especially in an all volunteer force.
If this type of thing is allowed to spread it can become are real danger. The concept that some politicians are more qualified by their point of view, rather than the height of their elected office to command the military is a first step to acceptance of a military government. This was the danger that so many on the Left warned about when the Bush administration kept saying that it should be the Generals on the ground who decide war policy and not the elected officials who the Constitutions places over the military.
Nations that have Right Wing Paramilitary groups develop and gain acceptance lose the ability to really have free and fair elections. When these groups decide that one party or style of government is the only legitimate one, then there is political violence on a large scale. Columbia is a prime example of the problem that these types of groups can cause and the difficulty in ending them once they start.
I have been writing quite a bit about this lately and it is with a feeling of dread that I do so. The cross pollination of the military and the Right wing politics has been going on for a long time. Tim McVey, the Oklahoma City bomber, was a military veteran, and there are many in the militia movements who have served in the military. What is new and troubling is the fact of active duty military starting to flirt with this dangerous and destructive meme of an illegitimate government.
While I doubt strongly that there could be a successful uprising in the military ranks and an overthrow of the elected government, the damage that even a few hundred serving military members could do is extreme.
Is there a solution for this? It is hard to say. If people like Sgt. Stein have broken military law they by this type of action they should be prosecuted. The problem is, of course, the victimization meme they have wrapped themselves in. If they are prosecuted for their breaking of military law, it now looks like they are being silenced by the very phantom forces they base their fear on.
Detaching them from the military also does nothing to prevent them from joining the Oath Keepers or other so-called patriot movements. It limits the damage they can do inside the military but it does nothing to prevent them from agitating as citizens. Still, the point here is the difference between a private citizen and someone serving in the military. One has many more rights to shoot their mouth off and act politically than the other. This is a difference that we must preserve, if we are to have a Republic that is run by civilians and not the military.
We can not afford to have military as well equipped as the United States Armed Forces deciding who is and who is not a legitimate president.If there is to be a challenge to that, it is the sole prerogative of the other two branches of government.
The floor is yours.