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Civil Law

I have an online friend who likes to pick at me. (It seems that it's one of her favorite forms of entertainment.) She finds little apparent inconsistencies and awkward positions, and then calls me on them.

(The same person inspired my latest Tech Tip: when confronted with a spider scampering across your computer, let it move away from the power button before squashing it. Especially if in the middle of a fascinating conversation with a delightful lady. But I digress...)

It's annoying, but it's also valuable. For one, it forces me to re-evaluate what I've said and what I believe, and that's always useful. For another, I am a "reactive" thinker and a lot of times it takes someone poking at me from outside to get me to figure out just what the hell is going on.

Recently, she called me on my stance on civil disobedience. She noted my longstanding and strong support for respect for the law, my disapproval of certain acts the perpetrators undertook, and wondered if I was really a jackbooted fascist.

It was an uncomfortable question, especially coming on the heels of my position on Sgt. David Aguina's possible violation of military regulations regarding of when and where to wear one's uniform.

This led me to some serious thought about deliberately breaking laws -- especially such questions as how and when.

Basically, I can condone deliberate lawbreaking when certain criteria are met. This is not an all-inclusive list, and I don't have a minimum number of conditions that must be fulfilled before I will approve, but they're the sort of things that I bear in mind:

1) The law or situation being protested must be fundamentally wrong or unjust.

The civil rights movement chose to deliberately violate segregation laws and voting restrictions, among others. While these policies had been given the imprimatur of the legal system (right up to the Supreme Court, in some cases), they were fundamentally unfair and wrong and needed to be changed. The protesters knew that, believed that justice would eventually prevail, and used their non-violent, non-confrontational deeds to call attention to the situation.

2) The protester must be willing -- and, in some cases, eager -- to accept the legal penalties for breaking the law.

Dr. Martin Luther King's arguments for civil rights and an end to segregation gained tremendous power and authority from geography. The notion of a nationally-recognized member of the clergy composing a "Letter From Birmingham Jail" woke up a lot of people.

3) The protester must directly challenge the law or the situation, and not those charged with enforcing the law. The actual enforcers should not be attacked or harassed.

It's not the cop's job to decide matters of law. It's the cop's job to enforce the law, and leave it to the the legislature to make the law and the courts to interpret the law. Harassing or annoying the cops to start making their own rules about legal matters is not only wrong, but grossly stupid.

Now, let's apply those principles to certain situations:

I occasionally speed. (OK, I often speed.I knowingly, willfully, and deliberately choose to violate the laws governing travelling on public highways. But I do so fully prepared to accept the penalties for my decision. I will not lie to an officer about how fast I was travelling, I will not argue with him or her, I will simply and politely state that yeah, I was probably going faster than I should, and I do understand that it is his or her job to enforce the law. If I get a ticket, I will pay it without argument.

2) The Brattleboro protesters were not fighting a specific law or policy, but a single action that no one argued was legal. A property owner wanted to expand his business into a full-fledged truck stop, and owned the land where he wanted to build. The protesters -- striking a blow for Mother Gaea -- chose to trespass on his property and make their stand. Further, they shackled themselves in such a way as to make removing them a tremendous inconvenience for the police, who had no say whatsoever in the property owner's decision. The cops found themselves tied up with these morons for some time, limiting their ability to respond to REAL problems. The cops found a way to quickly get these morons to free themselves without causing injury.

3) Sgt. Aguina (I speculate) chose to violate military regulations and wear his uniform to the Yearly Kos convention. He did not express his dissatisfaction with those regulations, just that he believed what he wanted to accomplish was worth the risk to his military career. And even after being confronted by the moderator with threats of the consequences, he chose to continue. I respect his decision, and wish he had been allowed to speak. And afterwards, if he faces military discipline for his decision, so be it -- he thought the benefits outweighed his personal risk, and I will not insult or dishonor him by denying him that right.

The path of civil disobedience is never an easy one. It flies in the face of so many natural human responses -- anger, self-defense, self-preservation, obedience to authority. It requires an almost super-human level of patience, of tolerance, of will, of self-restraint, and an overwhelming sense of justice. And most of all, it requires that the target of the protest have an underlying decency and goodness and conscience that can be touched.

But then, if it was easy, everyone would do it.


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Comments (22)

The exponential proliferati... (Below threshold)

The exponential proliferation of laws and subjects deemed suitable for legislation has given rise to the current situation, in which the typical American puts his own personal ethic above all legislated law. This would be completely acceptable if people's personal ethics were a bit more likely to be sound!

Whenever I get in a mood li... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

Whenever I get in a mood like that I always do the same thing.

I find a fast food place with the order station on one side of the building and the pickup window 180 degrees on the other side.

I wait until there is a good flow of cars, then I drive right up to the pickup window, pay, and take whatever they give me.

Then I park, eat lunch, and watch them get screwed up for a while.

This is my little protest for always having my order screwed up.

Ghandi this is not, but I do love it so.

JT, I think the word that s... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

JT, I think the word that should be emphasized is "peaceful", demonstrations. The civil rights movement was just that. The only people showing violence were the enforcement authorities. The eco-terrorists, as you pointed out. broke the law by trespassing. The Sgt. was trying to express an opinion at a forum for just that. Now a days, when the G8 summit and such, it is all provaction, mainly for the headlines. ww

On #3: I didn't see much di... (Below threshold)

On #3: I didn't see much difference between Aguina and the panelists themselves. That he was wearing the uniform which was immediate visual verification of his position in society for anyone who did not know who he was, was no different than the publicized biographies of the panelists who used their positions as military members to qualify their opinions. There is no indication that he was there to be outwardly disruptive or disrespectful. I'm not questioning whether he broke military law. That's an obvious matter. I "am" questioning whether that's a sound distinction to base to whole matter on.

The fact is, many of us expressed dissent on this issue and suddenly, that was a bad thing to those who regularly claim that dissent is "patriotic".

------------
Robert, that's funny. You're not going to get what you ordered anyway so it's really no different than actually ordering first.

Robert, the reason you alwa... (Below threshold)
Tim:

Robert, the reason you always get a screwed up order is because some other guy is pulling the same stunt. Make sure you don't cross paths, or you could end up in an alternate parallel universe.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s <a... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail may provide additional perspective on this issue.

--|PW|--

What I find intriguing abou... (Below threshold)
SShiell:

What I find intriguing about the Aguina situation is that he did what the Left reserves for its greatest honors, speaking truth to power, and has been lambasted by the left for doing so.

I disagree slightly with th... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

I disagree slightly with this point:

The protester must directly challenge the law or the situation, and not those charged with enforcing the law. The actual enforcers should not be attacked or harassed.

There are situations in which the enforcers of the law use unnecessary force or violence, essentially acting out their own prejudices while enforcing the law. We saw this phenomenon most vividly, I think, during the heyday of the civil rights movement.

That said, I would argue the proper venue for redress there is in courts or via other legal mechanisms.

--|PW|--

"1) The law or situation be... (Below threshold)
jp2:

"1) The law or situation being protested must be fundamentally wrong or unjust."

So is the ban on performing politics in uniform unjust?

I would like to hear your thoughts on Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh as well.

I'm teaching a Business Eth... (Below threshold)
Candy:

I'm teaching a Business Ethics course this summer, and we've gotten into some pretty interesting conversations. One such discussion involved whether something could be legally wrong, but an ethic and/or moral stance could still make it "right" in our eyes.

We came up with a few - I wonder if any of you can come up with a situation that would fit that criteria for you?

I think that technically, j... (Below threshold)

I think that technically, jp2, it has an element of unjustness to it. I've already said a couple times that the only real-world difference between Aguina and the panelists at the convention was the simple fact that they didn't wear the uniform while exercizing their freedom to speakand make their dissent known.

As far as Cpl. Kokesh goes, it would be hypocritical for me to criticize his actions without doing the same for Aguina. I would defend him too. Not for fear of being a hypocrite, but because of the very reason I stated above. Neither was disruptive to the point of infringing on anyone else's rights.

But the comparison of the two situations stops there.

Kokesh performed his act of disobedience amongst those who shared his sentiments, among friends, as it were. Aguina did it among a large crowd hostile to his opinion and in the face of adversity.

Was either a "serious" offense? Nah, not to me.

But if I had to give you an opinion whether I had any admiration for one of two people who broke a law, it would be Aguina - hands down.

I don't know if anyone brou... (Below threshold)
mantis:

I don't know if anyone brought this up when Aguina was being discussed in earlier threads, but here is an account from another military attendee (beware of chickenhawk comments at the top).

The most salient point, other than the fact that Wesley Clark had already warned Aguina about his appearance in uniform, is that Stolz, as moderator, felt that if he allowed Aguina to continue that he, as an officer, was in effect condoning the illegal behavior.

That's a good point Mantis,... (Below threshold)

That's a good point Mantis, and one I've already considered. Personally, I don't blame Soltz for anything and I don't see any indication that Clarke treated Aguina with any disrespect, so neither is a "bad guy" in my book. I likely disagree with their politics, but that's a separate issue from their actions in regard to Aguina. I think that being his military superiors themselves they acted accordingly.

Is it Clarke or Clark?... (Below threshold)

Is it Clarke or Clark?

It is Clark. Oh, ... (Below threshold)
mantis:

It is Clark.

Oh, btw, I find Aguina's courage in this matter commendable, but his methods foolhardy.

It's not obviously, um, obv... (Below threshold)

It's not obviously, um, obvious that Sgt. Aguina violated anything. He may have, or he may have not. Surely speaking of his own experience or knowledge is not automatically political speech. People in the military *do* appear to give talks about the military and what they are up to here and there and wear their uniforms without it being political.

And uniform or not, the fellow who had a cow about it and shut him up, while not wearing a uniform was certainly there as someone representing his military service as pertinent to the event. Did his have a name card on the table in front of him and did it contain his rank? Was Wes Clark introduced as a General?

I doubt Aguina will get in much trouble over it, though he'll probably get "talked to".

I do have a bit of trouble, though, with certain parties getting all het up over the uniform violation when anti-war *anything* is usually populated with at least a few who wear uniforms to proclaim their military membership (real or imagined) and wear them incorrectly. THAT is a violation as well and I'll bet not a single anti-war sort calls them on their uniform violations.

(I took all the US Air Force tapes off of all of my BDU uniforms and jackets before allowing the kids to wear them... it's not the least bit hard to fix the uniform violation problem and it's not as though someone who's been in the military doesn't know the rules.)

Surely speaking of his o... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Surely speaking of his own experience or knowledge is not automatically political speech. People in the military *do* appear to give talks about the military and what they are up to here and there and wear their uniforms without it being political.

Do they do so at overtly political gatherings? Would you say the same thing if a member of the military spoke at the Democratic Party convention in uniform, if he/she was strictly speaking "about the military?"

And uniform or not, the fellow who had a cow about it and shut him up, while not wearing a uniform was certainly there as someone representing his military service as pertinent to the event. Did his have a name card on the table in front of him and did it contain his rank? Was Wes Clark introduced as a General?

That's not the point. Members of the armed forces are not forbidden to participate in politics, but when in uniform they represent the military, and it is illegal for them to speak at political events when they are representing the military. That's the whole point of the regulation.

I doubt Aguina will get in much trouble over it, though he'll probably get "talked to".

I hope he doesn't get in too much trouble for it, but it is obvious that he was deliberately trying to break the law.

I do have a bit of trouble, though, with certain parties getting all het up over the uniform violation when anti-war *anything* is usually populated with at least a few who wear uniforms to proclaim their military membership (real or imagined) and wear them incorrectly. THAT is a violation as well and I'll bet not a single anti-war sort calls them on their uniform violations.

Non-military members are not bound by military code, but it's certainly unsavory to falsely wear the uniform. I would bet that other anti-war soldiers, especially active duty, would not look to kindly upon others wearing the uniform in a political capacity. Why do you think all of the other military members in attendance and on the panel were dressed in plainclothes? You don't think they would call another anti-war soldier wearing his/her uniform on the violation?

Clark has to be the biggest... (Below threshold)
jhow66:

Clark has to be the biggest weenie that was ever in the military.
As to breaking the law, it fast getting to the point where it is time to start kicking ass and taking names later on certain species of people that would like to change our laws. You pick the species of which there is several.

My point about the fellows ... (Below threshold)

My point about the fellows who go to anti-war rallies wearing uniform parts is that there is no indication whatsoever that any military members present on that side of things call those people on their uniform violations. The feeling I get is that the Veitnamesque uniform part declaration of military or vet status is encouraged because anti-war sorts just looove to be able to point to those guys as being on their side.

Pro-military counter protestors, however, do confront those improperly wearing the uniform.

As for the other... I think the *substance* is more important than the letter in almost all cases. On the milblogs I read there was a reasonable amount of discussion of did he or didn't he (Aguina) violate uniform regulations. People who ought to know disagreed that it was so very clear that he had. I think that probably he did violate uniform regulations but I haven't looked at those regulations for years and I'm not sure how yearly KOS would be identified. It wasn't a political rally or party convention for one political party or the other. It wasn't a protest.

As for participation in politics so long as the uniform is removed... last time I knew about it at all military members were not allowed to be delegates to party conventions at any level. In uniform or out. (Neither was my dad and he just worked for Fish and Wildlife.)

And in the end, if someone is going to complain about a uniform identifying a lowly ranked individual as representing some "military" opinion rather than just his own, I think that it *does* matter if Wes Clark is introduced as a General and the other fellow as a Captain or Colonel or whatever the heck his rank is. They aren't required to introduce themselves as something other than Mister but identifying as military is politically useful.

I don't think this is so cut and dried as you represent it, Mantis. And getting hyper attentive to the letter of regulations and ignoring the substance is rather weak.

I am wondering, Mantis, of ... (Below threshold)

I am wondering, Mantis, of your opinion of John F. Kerry's appearance in his fatigue uniform before the Senate Committee in 1971(complete with medals -- which no self-respecting officer wears with his fatigues)?

Mantis, Synova's comment wa... (Below threshold)

Mantis, Synova's comment was in keeping with the theme of the original post. Your response...

That's not the point. Members of the armed forces are not forbidden to participate in politics, but when in uniform they represent the military, and it is illegal for them to speak at political events when they are representing the military. That's the whole point of the regulation.

...cited absolute law claiming the law was the point. It was indeed not the point.

The subject of the post is not so much about the letter of the law but more about the gray areas and civil disobedience in regards to certain laws. We already know what the law is in regards to wearing a military uniform and engaging in political speech.

The point I'm making is tha... (Below threshold)
mantis:

The point I'm making is that Aquina was deliberately trying to get in trouble, and Stolz and others were trying to prevent him from doing so. He would have been permitted to speak if he had simply heeded Clark's advice and worn plainclothes the next day. If you have problems with the way the regulations are enforced, or with the regulations themselves, Synova, that is fine. I was not addressing the issue of whether the regulations are fair or encompassing enough, but rather their relevance to this particular incident.

vnjagvet, I think Kerry is a moron, but I don't know if his appearance before the Senate in uniform could be considered a violation, regulation-wise.




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