Service members owe respect to their commander in chief. (Jose Luis Managa / Associated…)
I'm pretty close to being a 1st Amendment absolutist, but I can't get too upset about the dismissal from the U.S. Marines of Gary Stein. He's the sergeant who is being given an "other-than-honorable" discharge for Facebook postings in which he called President Obama a coward and an enemy, vowed not to salute him, declared he wouldn't follow presidential orders he considered illegal, and urged the president's electoral defeat.
The American Civil Liberties Union is defending Stein. A lawyer for the civil liberties group said: "I don't believe Sgt. Stein did anything other than engage in political speech. Since the days of Valley Forge, I seriously doubt that there haven't been members of the armed forces who haven't complained about their government." True, but would Revolutionary soldiers have gotten away with posting anti-George Washington screeds on trees?
Free speech is important, but so is civilian control of the military. If, as reported, Stein said he wouldn't obey an order from Obama, it's hard to see how that doesn't amount to a violation of "good order and discipline. "The "illegal" doesn't change the equation.
Let's say Obama ordered Stein to massacre a group of civilians; refusing such an order would be an admirable act of civil disobedience, but civil disobedience is supposed to come at a cost. The same logic applies to Pfc. Bradley Manning. If, as alleged, Manning gave secret cables to WikiLeaks, that may make him a whistle-blower in some eyes, but it shouldn't prevent him from being prosecuted.
Maybe I've seen "Seven Days in May" too many times, but I get nervous when military men diss their commander in chief. I like to think I'd feel the same way if a soldier had engaged in Bush-bashing on his Facebook page.
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