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Applause for the Moral Paupers?

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"You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man's freedom. You can be free only if I am free." -- Clarence Darrow

On Friday March 8, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) successfully executed its first public protest of actions taken by the U.S. military. Following the protest, I was interviewed by a reporter who had a question to ask which I do not believe has been given the public response it deserves. Her question was simple: "Why do you think members of the military are able to get away with violating the Constitution so often?" Good question.

In our country it is popular to hold a great esteem for the men and women that serve in our armed forces. Although there is much praise due to those who posses the courage to face physical danger for the benefit of others, the trait of physical courage does not translate directly into moral courage. The disparity between the nationalistic portrait of all soldiers, and their true courage when faced with moral dilemmas is chasmic and a problem which deals tragic blows to our civilian population, and subordinates of the fabricated warrior elites. Although there are great efforts underway in the profession of arms to see to the fine tuning of the ethical compass of our country's warriors, these efforts are often ineffective. One such effort is a program which I took part in, both as a student and instructor, while at the United States Military Academy. It's called Professional Military Ethic Education (PMEE).

My favorite lesson in PMEE was titled "Courageous Communication." We were taught that at times when laws are being broken, when there could be consequences for speaking out, when those around us disagree, it is our duty to have the personal courage to communicate clearly that something is awry. It may seem counter-intuitive, but for the overwhelming majority of people it is easier to embark on a convoy through enemy territory, patrol a region where death abounds in terrifying forms or face down an enemy combatant with a rifle in hand than it is for them to risk their popularity by publicly stating the simple truths which are bantered about behind closed doors and during casual games of spades. To be unpopular instills greater fear than the fear of death. Peculiar, eh?

I have met and heard from hundreds of military members who describe the unlawful abuses of authority of those above them in rank who have genuine fear of coming forward with their complaints. I have heard stories of soldiers being told they could not self-identify as "Atheist" and professing themselves to be "Jewish" could be worse, only to give in to the pressure and go with something socially palatable (if you guessed non-denominational Christian, you're a winner!). I have had soldiers describe to me how their children have been chastised in on-post public schools for not wanting to participate in religious (Christian) holiday celebrations. I have had Christian cadets lament their frustrations with peers and superiors providing unlawful pressure to participate in off duty religious services under the popular guise of "unit cohesion" or "esprit de Corps!" The question moves on now to: why are so many so afraid to be vocal?

The answer is community coercion. No socially acclimated person (with the rare exception of true idealists) would willfully sacrifice their position in their peer group for something that they have no reason to believe will change quickly enough to preserve their social safety. In this case, that means rank, promotions, duty assignments, accolades or lack thereof. In this case, it means the good ol' boy system is in full swing in the military, twirling like a club and ready to bash anyone who gets in the way.

A recent example of the good ol' boy system's dominance in the military is the story of Air Force LTC James Wilkerson. After being found guilty of molesting a woman in her sleep, he was given no punishment aside from a promise to keep him off the promotion list. Of course the Air Force had to consider that he's really, really good at flying airplanes, so they just had to look the other way. Is that moral courage? Of course, impropriety like this is far more commonplace than it is made public. I personally observed a soldier of despicably low moral fiber receive special treatment on dozens of occasions while I was enlisted. This character that we jokingly referred to as The Sergeant Major of the Universe Promotable (SMUP), was happy to boast that he "runs this s**t!" He regularly disregarded military law and regulation, openly and publicly berated senior officers and non-commissioned officers, encouraged underage drinking, took part in and instigated bar fights with his soldiers, had a fondness for underage prostitutes, was known to be defrauding the U.S. government through a false Basic Allowance for Housing claim, and was generally a clown. On any one of the instances of criminal behavior by the SMUP he ought to have been court-martialed and summarily discharged from the Army, BUT (and this is the good part) he was a member of the Free Masons, along with several senior soldiers in positions which could make life very difficult for anyone who chose to intervene. When I made an attempt to initiate an investigation I was given an order to not report him just yet because we had to wait until he did something more serious for any punishment to stick. Instead of addressing his criminal behavior at first sight, his social influence shielded him just as LTC Wilkerson, for a very long time.

There are other forms of dishonesty quite common in the military, not the least of which is the rampant abuse of funding. It is a culturally enforced requirement that at the end of each fiscal cycle, those in positions of authority to do so spend every penny allotted to their unit, regardless of need. The explicit purpose of this tradition of waste is to ensure that when budgets are made for the next fiscal cycle there is no reduction in the amount of money available to a unit, even when a reduction is fiscally responsible. I was personally chastised by a superior officer while serving as a cadet First Sergeant because I did not invent arbitrary ways to spend money for my unit. "You could have asked for anything you wanted! Why didn't you order a new pool table, a big screen t.v. or some new furniture?!" "Because we don't need any of those things," was an unsatisfactory response and I was advised that in the future it was expected of me to waste every dollar I could to ensure we had more money to waste in the future. No, this was not an isolated incident, this is what is expected of officers.

While on the topic of money, one might question why the service academies feign a cost of education at nearly a quarter million dollars? Comparable and superior institutions of higher education levy tuition of just under $60k, and those schools certainly tout professors with far greater experience and required compensation than those at the service academies. The unjustifiable sum of $170,409 was the price-tag USMA assigned to my 3½ years at the peculiar institution, but why? Perhaps one could argue that the cost of training or maintenance of the post cause the high price tag, but those costs cannot be lawfully exacted from any former active duty service member, and if they are being included in the roll-up, admitting it is an admission of fraudulent reprisal. To justify the expense: Lack of moral courage. Lack of honesty. Retribution. If none of the above, excessive waste of appropriated funding and $40k hammers.

To summarily respond to the question I was first asked: Members of the military are able to get away with violating the constitution, because there are very few people guarding the guards. The military has great freedoms to operate outside of the law, because courts of law are hesitant to intervene in its operations. Crimes committed by cadets and often soldiers (in all but the most extreme cases) are relegated to military punishments, saving them the inconvenience of a criminal record. When a soldier wishes to bring the military to court they are required to first exhaust all options of recourse offered to them by the military first, a process which takes years of appeals and has the great expense of demonstrably reducing a soldier's perceived loyalty to the their institution. In the words of former Cadet John Cody (a child in uniform that was briefly my superior) delivered to me during a formal developmental counseling session: "You need to stop worrying so much about doing the right thing, and start worrying more about what other people think of you."

Well John, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation disagrees. We will do the right thing, we will disregard what others think of us. We will guard the guards when they call for our help.