Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

How to think about shutting up

Here is a note from a retired Army JAG. Many many years ago I wrote an article about a warning he issued to his command to not tolerate disparaging talk about the president.  By Col. Jim Rosenblatt, US Army (ret.) Best Defense chief contemptuous language correspondent An incident of this type is always possible when ...

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Here is a note from a retired Army JAG. Many many years ago I wrote an article about a warning he issued to his command to not tolerate disparaging talk about the president. 

By Col. Jim Rosenblatt, US Army (ret.)
Best Defense chief contemptuous language correspondent

An incident of this type is always possible when one allows contemptuous expressions (sometimes emanating from strongly held political or operational views) to undermine the basic tenets of military command, authority, and discipline.

Here is a note from a retired Army JAG. Many many years ago I wrote an article about a warning he issued to his command to not tolerate disparaging talk about the president. 

By Col. Jim Rosenblatt, US Army (ret.)
Best Defense chief contemptuous language correspondent

An incident of this type is always possible when one allows contemptuous expressions (sometimes emanating from strongly held political or operational views) to undermine the basic tenets of military command, authority, and discipline.

A soldier at any level easily understands the harm of directing contemptuous words against a company or battalion commander.  If military members were to picture the officials noted in Article 88 of the UCMJ as wearing uniforms with five stars (or the stripes of a command sergeant major), it might be easier to understand the deference and respect owed in expression regardless of how different are one’s views.  

It is also important to realize that with electronic media and communications words that would be uttered and forgotten in times past are now given a life of their own and have a reach and impact of untold proportions.  This “magnification effect” requires even greater judgment in making comments about political or military leaders.

My bottom line is that there are many acceptable and appropriate ways to express disagreement, to challenge concepts, and to question plans without being contemptuous.

Jim Rosenblatt
Dean, Mississippi College School of Law
Colonel (retired), JAGC, US Army

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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