National security is obviously a top priority, among other things, for the military. Divulging key strategy is obviously something that needs to be prevented. No one claims that state secrets should become anything else than what they are- secret, especially if their concealment is vital to the safety of troops on the ground. You'd be hard-pressed to find people who disagree with these notions.
But if we claim, as a democratic republic, that the right to free speech is one of our vital freedoms, something worth fighting for, why do we deny the very people on the front lines fighting, the right to express their own opinions? Rather, why do we make them jump through multiple bureaucratic hoops, some set aflame?
For a member of the military to express her or his personal views, their is a multi-tiered process before they can mail away a letter to a journalist or post their thoughts on a blog. First, they must go through a security review, which consists of consultation with a supervisor, and the operations security officer. These people will examine the articles, checking for security leaks. The soldiers must also take a training course in order to be allowed to write, and the general lesson topics are undefined for the public. Once soldiers take this mysterious course and are cleared to begin actually writing, they need to post a "disclaimer" prominently along with their writing, establishing the views as solely their own, and not in any way a part of the Department of Defense. Interesting how the Dept. monitors them, trains them up on what is acceptable and continues checking up, yet they claim no responsibility for the way in which these soldiers write. They try to control information's dissemination, but simultaneoulsy, fiercely ensure that no one thinks that they have any control over it. It seems the Defense Department has somehow taken major league baseball as an example, and starts every sentence, "only with the expressed, written consent..."
Anybody intelligent enough to cull value from a soldier's words would also be smart enough to realize one soldier, or even a group of soldiers, cannot sum up the experience of the entire military, and therefore withhold judgment on the entire operation in question. But perhaps the Defense Department is smarter than they seem while fearing the words of these individual soldiers. One soldier writing is just as dangerous, if not more so, than a whole battalion scribbling in unison. One soldier personalizes a war - brings a voice, and even a face to the anonymous thousands risking their necks everyday. If readers don't know someone fighting for us, they can adopt someone who's words they read everyday. And the more risky the words, the better, because a single soldier putting her or his reputation, and the possibly of court martial on the line in order to speak out is incredibly appealing to readers. And in today's climate, where information, whether actually stiffled or not, seems to be increasingly withheld by the current administration, all people really want are a few straight talkers. And soldiers, not politicians, are an obvious choice.
It's sad that what we're fighting for is denied most feverishly to the people on the front lines. They can't just speak their minds, whether in print, online, etc. - regarding the war, politics, or even sexual orientation. If our country really values their contributions, then we should honor them with the same rights we carelessly fiddle with everyday.
After World War II, many poets believed there was nothing relevant left to say after the horrors of that war were revealed. They claimed "poetic silence," as a silent statement showing their inability to use words to express their thoughts and feelings. What soldiers have to deal with nowadays is a kind of imposed poetic silence. And that is the worst kind of all - the inability not only to be heard, but to be able to express their thoughts and feelings in unique, and intrinsically beautiful ways. It is a tragedy not just to these men and women, but to the nation at large. We will not have the papers and opinions of those on the ground to support the history future generations read about in text books in years to come. And without written records, mistakes are much, much easier to repeat.