Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Military and Politics

There was an episode at the YearlyKos convention that has me sort of mumbling to myself. It’s hard to sort out what actually happened since every report I’ve read has been clearly slanted one way or the other.

The gist of it is that an Army sergeant, in uniform, attempted to address a panel at the convention. The panel was being moderated by Jon Stoltz, who is an Iraq veteran, remains a captain in the Army Reserve, and is head of a political organization called VoteVets. As far as I can tell the sergeant's address was an effort to support the “surge” and to claim that it was working, although in the flim clip he is reading from some sort of manual about the effects of adversity. Anyway, Stoltz not only cut off the sergeant, he commanded the rest of the panel the “stand down” and proceeded to dress down the sergeant for breaking a regulation against political activity while in uniform.

You can watch a video of the episode here and read an account of it here. It should be noted that the account is written by a person is a member of the organisation headed by Jon Stoltz. Another account regarding this sergeant is here, written by a right-leaning journalist who was also there.

Some of the accounts cite the regulation regarding participation in political activity while in uniform, so there’s no question that the sergeant was in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Since he was actually defending the actions of the Army, claiming that the surge was working and that the Army is actually a bunch of good guys, I question how much harm that violation was creating; that is to say, just how serious was the breach that was being committed.

Judging by the actions and demeanor of Jon Stoltz, the breach was very serious indeed, something on the order of high treason or possibly serial murder. A former general, Wesley Clark, seemed much less upset by the “crime” than did this reserve captain.

The writer of several accounts seemed to think that Stoltz would somehow be complicit in the “crime” if he did not step in to prevent it. I have to question the accuracy of that since Stoltz was not in uniform, is not a presently serving officer (this is, he is not on active duty), and he is not in the sergeant’s chain of command.

Perhaps the latter issue does not matter in today’s military, but when I served in the Navy it did. If an officer of another ship, or a shore-based officer, ever chose to treat me in the manner that I saw on that film clip, my Captain would have been outraged. He would have gone to that officer and told him to, “keep your damned hands off of my crew.” (Actually, I can’t imagine that an officer in those days would ever be that rude to an enlisted man. I refer to the “behavior modification” efforts, no matter what method was employed.)

I left the Navy more than 40 years ago, so perhaps things have changed. Perhaps things are done differently in the Army than in the Navy. Maybe both.

I do know from what I saw in that film clip that I’m glad I never had to serve under Jon Stoltz, because he came across as being an arrogant overbearing, um, jerk. (Gotta remember I’m not still in the Navy.)

If that is typical of Army leadership and dicipline, then I am certainly glad I’m not serving in today’s Army.

If that is the nature of VoteVets then I will put my support elsewhere. Jon Stoltz may have been completely right and that sergeant may have been completely wrong, but Stoltz treated both the panel, commanding them to “stand down,” and that sergeant with a complete lack of respect. That is arrogance, not leadership.

The reason the episode has been made so much of in the blogosphere is that right wing media has used it to accuse Yearly Kos of stifling dissent. The sergeant was saying something that the panel did not want to hear, they claim, so he was told to shut up. I don’t see that anything of the sort was afoot based on what I’ve read and seen. What I do see is that a reserve captain has formed an organization and likes to use it as a platform to throw his weight around and act like a thug. In so doing, he reflects discredit on the service that he claims to be protecting.

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