Respect in the Military

It has been said that military standards are higher than the country demands of its president. And that is true. President Clinton lied under oath. Perhaps that is not perjury, but an army officer could not do that. Nor could army personnel have extramarital affairs. Kelly Flynn found that out when she lost her position in the Air Force and years of pilot training went down the drain. But for the Commander in Chief, it is another story. While it is true that the Commander in Chief is able to get away with misbehavior, military personnel have been warned not to criticize him.

In fact, the various branches have been reminding troops that they can be prosecuted for publicly condemning the Commander in Chief and in fact there are cases pending on this very matter ( Komarow 04A). AT the same time, the Clinton-Lewinsky affair was the talk of the nation. Even school children have hinted that they knew something about the cigar story. Yet, the military is considered to be different. They are not allowed to discuss or tell Clinton jokes in public. In a way, that seems unfair and there is a debate as to whether or not they should be allowed to criticize the president.

But that debate is only among civilians who do not understand military life. What should be emphasized is that speaking ones mind is not an option in the military. When one joins, they do so voluntarily and give up first amendment rights. They know this when they join. Just as a police officer is on duty 24 hours a day and is expected to exhibit conduct in accordance with the badge, the military officer similarly gives up certain civilian privileges. And violation is more than just a slap on the wrist. Martha Raddatz reports that a violation can lead to a court martial under the Code of Military Justice, Article 88 (Stiegel and Raddatz PG).

That law says “any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the president, vice president” — and on down — “shall be punished as a court martial may direct” (PG). Also, the truth of the statement is immaterial (PG). Thus, just because Clinton admitted to doing the misdeeds, he cannot be criticized by military members. In other words, one cannot accurately talk about President Clinton without getting into serious trouble. The military may seem unnecessarily restrictive or antiquated but there is a reason for the mandate. Officers must respect their superiors. It is simple as that.

The reasoning behind that is that routines and orders must be obeyed. After all, soldiers are being trained and must be ready to go into combat at any time. The reason that the personnel cannot criticize their leader should be obvious. If a war or conflict were to break out, it would significantly affect performance as well as the world’s perception about the United States. Thus, no matter how one feels, there must be respect given to every single officer all the way up the line to the commander in chief. The fact that Clinton himself has not been in compliance is immaterial.

While he is the Commander in Chief he is still considered to be a civilian. While it is important to give the president respect, respect to Military Superior Commanding Officers and Non Commission Officers is perhaps even more pertinent. If theoretically, when one is in the trenches with superiors, they must be ready to accept orders willingly. The only way to accomplish this is with respect and military courtesy. Thus, the fundamental purpose of having and enforcing a chain of command with expectations of courtesy and obedience is due to the threat of war.

It is important to remember that war is always difficult. That is why it is critical to have everything just so and provide a semblance of normalcy, routine, respect and little conflict within the ranks. Seifert equates war with a ritualized “game” with its own firmly accepted rules and regulations (1). In fact, the author believes that one reason why Western military leaders were hesitant to intervene in Bosnia is because they were facing an enemy which did not play by the rules (1). Rules would include the existence of structured armies with a set command structure (1).

International laws of war do mandate that there be a clearly structured chain of commands and distinctive emblems worn to make fighters identifiable as members of a particular group of combatants (1). Along with this picture is an air of seriousness. This is no children’s game because in the game of war, lives are lost. Military courtesy then is vitally important. Respect in the army for ones superior is crucial to maintaining stable armed forces. And the Army does not leave that aspect to chance. A sample three week basic training course at Fort Monmouth, in New Jersey, for example, includes a class on military courtesy (Terrett PG).

The reason why respect is important is implicit in the design of the system itself. Part of that respect includes not going around the chain of command. If one respects their immediate superior, there would be no need to circumvent that chain anyway. Their immediate superior would be able to adequately handle all of their needs. Traditionally in the Army, it is the job of sergeants and junior officers, like company commanders, to take care of the personal needs of troops (Newman 33). They do on occasion refer matters to their superiors (33). But problems and complaints should rise one level at a time (33).

So what happens when the chain of command is broken? It has been reported that routine circumvention of the chain of command can create a situation where officers spend less time attending to their own soldiers (33). This inherently weakens the discipline (33). Some critics who take the problem of the broken chain quite seriously, have suggested that it may even lead to hate crimes, sexual harassment, and other problems (33). Perhaps the Army’s most vital tool is keeping its troops in line with substantial discipline. This is why superiors are called “sir” and why every uniform must be clean, neat and have shiny buckles.

It is why beds must be immaculate. While in civilian life, men may feel that making the bed is woman’s work and that they can be sloppy, it is quite a different case in the military. While neatness does count, that aspect is part of a larger model to enforce discipline. The discipline is inextricably linked with respect of others. There have been a great deal of political issues which the Army has faced in recent years. One was the ousting of Lt. Flynn which brought up a host of issues including gender discrimination. There was the Tailhook fiasco where it is believed that female officers were sexually harassed at a convention.

Another issue which surfaced was the presence of homosexuals in the military and whether or not it was the business of the government. Each of these issues is in the public light and also inherent in normal life. But in the military, there is nothing normal. It is a world turned upside down. It is a governmental agency that does everything differently where freedom is truncated and power is wielded in a strict hierarchy where what is normally right or wrong is not necessarily so. But there is a reason for that. The troops are being readied for a hypothetical war. That is why they are there.

That is what they are being paid for. And that is why they must respect the organization which they voluntarily joined. In looking at military courtesy, it becomes clear that respect of superiors as well as the respect of the U. S. Army values is essential to the maintenance of troops. Without the respect as described here, where troops would honor every superior rank up the line, including the president of the United States, the branch would be significantly weakened. It is only through severe discipline, inclusive of a model of courtesy, that the military can thrive.