The Military vs. Free Speech

Four months after hammering the military for deploying women and mothers overseas, the e-mail is flooding in, denouncing this columnist for daring to express such an opinion.

As the cosmos goes, the opinion is insignificant. But the answers aren't.

Two things are troubling about the mail. First, the vile language and hateful insistence that dissent is un-American and must be stopped. Second, men wrote most of it.

Shoot the Writer?

The column, which appeared in February, concerned a new mother who joined the Army after the terrible carnage and destruction on Sept. 11, 2001. A military news service lionized the woman because she enlisted and shipped out for Afghanistan.

But only recently did the military mom see my column. She posted an answer on the web, and ever since, mail from all corners of the empire has poured in.

One writer called me an "ignorant liberal," hilariously enough, while another called me a "communist." A third offered "pond scum" and a forth began, "Dear Idiot."

"Thank your ancestors," wrote another, "for putting their lives on the line to let a dirt-bag like you not flow down the crack of your …." If you saw the film, "Full Metal Jacket," you know how the line ends.

Began another, "men like you should be shot."

This isn't just anger. It's feral hysterics, apropos of the lynch mob. The subtle subtext is this: Shut up or else.

And it is odd, given that many writers claimed they "defend your right to free speech." Maybe, but between the lines, they added, "don't dare think of exercising it."

American Manhood

More significantly, the most reactionary mail came from active-duty or retired soldiers, particularly men.

They wonder what's wrong with a mother’s leaving a child behind. Feminist brainwashing complete, these men don't see the difference between a man and a woman, or a mother and a father, or the stark evil of sending a woman into harm's way. The emasculation is done.

Wrote one fellow, "What difference does it make that a woman goes off to war? How is that any different than a father doing it?" In another column, I suggested that some fathers shouldn't do it, but the difference is this: a man doesn't send his wife downstairs to check on a noise in the basement.

Said another, "Us in the military do not distinguish between male and female." This is nonsense, which is why the military "gender norms" training, but you get his point. Here's another: "u2018Mom' won't always be home, bare foot, and in the kitchen cooking dinner. Some will be away in far off places fighting so that we can have the right to speak out."

Yet again, from the guy who inquired after my ancestors: "Moms deserve the right to serve the country in any way the nation needs them. No one should be excused from the front lines."

This, friends, is the American man.

To Defend Democracy

The left has always said, correctly, that military indoctrination is inimical to a free society. Well, the past few weeks' mail shows why, as a friend observed, the framers of our Constitution wisely subordinated the armed forces to civilian rule.

The military ethos imparts many admirable qualities: respect for authority, physical courage, and self-sacrifice. Tolerating dissent, however, is not one of them, and rightly so in the military ambit. Soldiers defend free speech; they do not practice it.

Neither should they threaten it.

June 21, 2003

Syndicated columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send him mail] is managing editor of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va.

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