In Uniform

As a member of the military, I take personal umbrage when the military is exploited for political purposes. Mind you, I’m not naive. The armed forces are a large part of the political sphere, and quite often, particularly in these times, it is difficult to seperate the military from war from patriotism. Still, I’ve always felt it a little cheap to drag military members in a personal capacity into the political arena.

I bring this up because of a piece that Goose directed my attention by Josh Marshall on the President’s move to enlist military members to campaign on his behalf of the Iraq war. Sadly, this isn’t really news. El Presidente has made it one of his trademarks to flog the military like a lonely dolphin for his own political gain. If he’s not delivering a speech in front of a scripted audience in uniform, he’s peppering his speeches with little anecdotes from individual members who continue to tell the President that he needs to fight the good fight, and we’re all behind him.

But let me tell you something; we’re not all behind the president. And this is what really incurs my ire. As a liberal member of the US Navy, I feel more like I’m a part of some secretive cabal. We lurk in the shadows, afraid to express our point of view, using secret handshakes and communicating in code when the next progressive rally is going to be. Under cover of night we express our dissenting views to each other, hoping and praying that one day things might just get a little bit more fair.

Because right now, they really aren’t.

As Josh explains, there are strict regulations about how military members are to conduct themselves in a political context. There is a reason for this. While the military is a cog in the political machine, the military itself is supposed to be apolitical. It’s a tool that is intended to be void of opinion. That is why we have public affairs officers and guidelines. To engage in political activities while in uniform is to lead people to believe that the service you represent holds the same opinions as you. So I really have no druthers with the idea of putting a leash on all of us in a political fashion. But it’s not uniform, as the piece linked to points out.

The fact is, only those who disagree with the administration need fear anything. While we’re not supposed to engage in political events in uniform, the single highest ranking member of the military, the Commander In Chief, breaks that rule frequently. As the highest ranking official in the military (it’s a technicality that would take some time to explain, so just go with me on this), the President has the right to address the troops, however, this particular president has a penchant for turning such addresses into political forums, undermining the idea of an apolitical military.

Further, one has to consider the political bias within the military. I’ll be brutally honest, the military is considerably conservative. The officer community is split 70-30 conservative-liberal. Not a surprising fact considering officers have a tendancy to enjoy a more affluent background, earn more cash, and are part of a more homogenous society both culturally, and ethnically.

In the enlisted ranks, the split I don’t believe is quite as lopsided, but it still favors the conservatives as other factors come in to play. For one, there is a grandfathered bit of lore that you always vote Republican because they give you pay raises. An interesting prospect considering that while pay raises may not have been as good under Bill Clinton (which in actuality they weren’t that bad, Bill was pretty generous to the pay check), overall quality of life improved greatly throughout the nineties as better schools were being garnered for the military, accomodations on military installations were being rehabed in ways they had never been before, educational oppurtunities increased greatly, and many other little things that made staying in the military a little bit more worth the while.

The end result is a very hostile political atmosphere in the military. Folks like me are outnumbered, and unwanted. Bush will spend all day telling you about the soldiers who agree with him, but won’t let you know that people like me exist. Internally, my comrades have a tendancy to turn me into a pariah because I have the audacity to question the political maelstrom that surrounds us.

And now the White House wants some of us to start giving speeches?

For over a year I’ve been blogging. I remain anonymous to protect myself. I rarely bring up my military experience out of an odd sense of fairness because I truly agree with keeping the military apolitical. But this goes beyond the pale. I have to sneak around with my political views, but some jarhead who wants to say the President is doing a bang up job can tell it to the world?

What’s fair in that?

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