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"Free Speech" Versus the Military

by janine carmona and josh sonnenfeld of SAW
Members of the military have never had the right to free speech. Believe it or not, this isn't because of student protesters. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), enlistees are specifically denied their 1st Amendment Rights. Take Lt. Ehren Watada, an Army officer opposed to the war in Iraq, for example. He's currently being court-martialled for "making public remarks disparaging his chain of command," i.e. saying that he believes Bush lied to us and the war in Iraq is illegal. He could get up to 6 years in prison for a mere 4 speeches made in public.
When the military comes to UCSC for recruitment purposes, they are coming as representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces, and, by extension, the U.S. government. They are here to enlist bodies for the U.S. to wage war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They aren't here to engage in philosophical debates. When protesters disrupt military recruiters' activities, it is not "free speech" we are challenging, but their actions. Interfering with military recruitment (through education, direct action, and other tactics) is a strategy to end war - a way in which we try to save the lives of all those harmed by militarism. If our generation (both within and outside the military) refuses to fight, and if recruiters are consistently unable to meet their quotas, the government will be unable to continue their misadventures overseas.

We have a responsibility to listen to what folks in the military have been saying, especially those who risk punishment for speaking out, but we do not have to allow the military (and the government) to do whatever they please. Recruitment is not a statement by an individual, but an action by the government. Interfering with this action may land us in jail, but we believe our attempts are morally just.

The Bill of Rights, including our right to "free speech," was enacted to ensure our protection from the government, not the government's protection from the people. With a 4 billion dollar recruitment budget, the government has an unprecedented ability to convince people to join the military. Their misleading ads are all over TV, radio, the Internet, and billboards, and their recruiters are in almost every school in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and now even Tijuana. You couldn't buy a bigger bullhorn.

Anti-war activists have always fought alongside soldiers in their demands for rewriting the UCMJ to ensure "free speech" and other rights in the military - but that doesn't mean we'll allow the government and the military to use our money, our families, and our communities to cause injustice.

We were saddened that the job fair was unnecessarily cancelled. We need jobs as much as other students do. But rather than blame it on largely nonviolent protests that have almost always ensured student access to non-military jobs, we should be looking at the institution that continues to force itself on a community that does not want it.

Student protesters at UCSC come from a long lineage of defenders of freedom. We are the political descendents of those who were imprisoned for speaking out against World War I. We are living the legacy of those who refused deployment to Vietnam. We've been spied on by the Pentagon, we've been arrested by the cops, and we've been consistently mischaracterized in the corporate press, but we'll continue to do as those before us did - stand up for a freedom rooted in justice for all people.


The above was also published as an op-ed in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Sunday, January 15, 2007.
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