Amid all the finger-pointing and contested policies surrounding the war in Iraq, there is one sentiment that seemingly everyone can endorse: "Support our troops." The men and women who choose to serve in America's armed forces risk their lives to protect our national security. Even those who return home safely often do so only after having experienced stresses that the rest of us would have a difficult time imagining. One might think that the extraordinary commitments and burdens these men and women shoulder entitle them to a greater voice than most in shaping our country's direction. But do they?
In his May article, "Warrior Politics," Boston University history professor Andrew J. Bacevich takes a considered look at a new antiwar movement now being fomented by a group of junior members of the military who have joined together to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The movement's founders cite a tradition of activism that dates back to the Vietnam era: Jonathan Hutto, a Navy seaman who has been a leading figure, was reportedly stirred to action by the 1975 book Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War. Hutto connected with the book's author, David Cortright, and an Iraq War veteran named Liam Madden, and on January 16 of this year, they presented their statement—"An Appeal for Redress from the War in Iraq"—to Congress, along with the signatures of more than 1,600 fellow servicemen and women. The number of signatures has now grown to over 1,700, and members of the military continue to add their names at a Web site dedicated to the cause. Although soldiers walk a fine line when speaking out while wearing a uniform, those who have signed the appeal assert that they are acting within the bounds of appropriate behavior; the appeal's Web site explains that according to military law, soldiers have the right to "complain and request redress of grievances against actions of their commanders" and "to make a protected communication to [a member of Congress]." So far, the higher-ups seem to agree. As Marc Cooper recently noted in the Nation, when questioned about the appeal, a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed that active-duty personnel are free to express their views to Congress as long as they are not violating military law.