5 Ways The UCMJ Treats Troops Unethically

Note: I served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000-2007. My AFSC was 3C0X1 (Communications computer systems operator). My highest rank was E-5 (Staff Sergeant), and I received an honorable discharge.

Many American civilians don’t fully understand that military service members fall under a completely separate legal jurisdiction than civilians. This legal code is known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The existence of the UCMJ isn’t necessarily a sinister thing. In a lot of ways, pointing out that civilians and troops fall under different legal codes is like saying people who work for McDonalds and people who work for Burger King have different employee handbooks. The military is a bureaucratic institution that exists to accomplish a specific purpose just like the United States Post Office. Neither could operate without some kind of guidelines that outline the operating procedures for how they accomplish their purpose.

This sounds reasonable on paper, but the UCMJ redefines the basic human rights of the people who fall under its jurisdiction in ways that are considered unethical and unconstitutional. It’s literally illegal to treat civilians the same way troops are treated under the UCMJ. Here are five ways the UCMJ treats the troops unethically:

1. Bad Conduct and Dishonorable Discharges

There’s effectively no difference between a bad conduct/dishonorable discharge and a felony conviction. No other place of employment has the ability to punish dissenting employees with prison time and felony convictions for not obeying their boss at work. However, the military reserves this right because the UCMJ gives it that right, which is like saying the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true.

Just like how the Bible causes its followers to carry around the burden of the threat of Hell in their minds every time they commit the most innocent, victimless sin, the troops carry around the burden of the threat of a dishonorable discharge with them all the time, everywhere they go. This is tolerable if you don’t think about it, but once you realize that the rest of your life will be unceremoniously destroyed if you decide not to do a jumping jack when you’re ordered to or you decide not to button up your shirt when you’re ordered to and persist in refusing to do so after repeated orders you’ll come to realize that your life isn’t your own, and your personhood isn’t important to the military. You’re a slave whose worth is measured by your willingness to conform, and you’ll be unceremoniously thrown out onto the street and made an example out of the moment it’s convenient for the military.

You can find ways to justify this, but it’s a legal fact that McDonalds couldn’t do this to its employees because that would be grossly unethical. So let’s be clear that in justifying the existence of bad conduct/dishonorable discharges we are in effect justifying second class citizenship for the troops; they have less protection under the law and can be treated worse than other people and we’re fine with this.

2. Institutionalized Victimhood/Subjugation

Imagine if you had to salute teachers, police officers, doctors or politicians any time you pass them in the street. Imagine if you had to address everyone who gets paid more than you as “Sir or Ma’am.” Imagine if you had to deliver these gestures of submission to people you don’t work with and don’t know. Or imagine if you had to offer these gestures of submission to individuals who you knew for a fact were dumber than you and had less moral character than you.

Now imagine if I told you that you had to salute all these people and address them with a superior title because you respected them….well, that and the fact that if you don’t then you’ll be demoted, fired, go to jail and/or receive a felony conviction on your permanent employment record that you can’t hide from future prospective employers….but the fear of permanent destitution isn’t why you salute them. You salute them because you respect them…even if you don’t know them or you know for a fact that one of those individuals is a scum bag.

What if I told you that you had to respect these people because they were white, or older than you, or joined the company before you or went to school a little longer than you? In a world where “all men are created equal” does it matter what reason someone tells you to subjugate yourself to another person, especially when the order to subjugate yourself comes with the threat of destitution?

Mandatory gestures of subjugation are reprehensible and illegal in every walk of life except the military, and in that case insult is added to injury by training the troops to glorify participation in their own subjugation. Military training teaches you that the way to be the perfect human is to be the perfect victim or abuser, depending on which side of the caste system your rank places you in relation to the human being standing in front of you.

Again, I understand that there are reasons for the military caste system and for saluting, but those reasons merely justify the exact same level of institutionalized victimhood and subjugation that was imposed on Negro slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation.

Just like with Negro slavery, many honest, well-intentioned people used similar reasons to justify the institutionalized victimhood and subjugation of those slaves, and the worst part is that from one narrow point of view they were right. If you ignore the inherent value of human beings and only look at the well-being of a nation from the standpoint of its economic and political strength, then a caste system looks justifiable. So feel free to argue that the troops need to or deserve to be held to a lower standard of ethical treatment than the civilian population. Just understand that when you do that, saying “Support the Troops” is as meaningful as saying “Support the Slaves.”

3. Inhumane Training Methods

Have you ever wondered why police officers, firemen, lawyers, CEOs or politicians don’t go through military basic training? After all, the commercials say that military training will turn you into a super human. If military basic training is such a powerful tool for raising human beings to their full potential then why doesn’t everyone or at least the most powerful people in the world go through basic training?

The answer is because military training doesn’t raise you to your full potential. It uses time-tested brainwashing techniques to break you down mentally and replace your values and beliefs with those that will ensure you shut down your capacity to reason and question. It indoctrinates you to willfully subjugate yourself to external control and kill without question.

Public and private organizations alike regularly produce literature condemning the training techniques used in military basic training. However, these techniques are only condemned when cults use them, not when the military does. I strongly urge you to put this claim to the test. Go look in any brainwashing text book, and compare those methods to military basic training. Military basic training is copied word-for-word from brainwashing textbooks. This isn’t a subjective opinion you can disagree with for your own subjective reasons. This is a cut-and-dry, verifiable fact.

Another way you can put this theory to the test is to set up your own basic training camp. Hire ex-basic training instructors to train a group of psychology students using the exact same training manuals and techniques used in military basic training. Then invite the American Psychological Association to monitor your training program for any ethical violations. Your experiment would be shut down before it finished if not before it started.

This raises the question, why the double standards? Why have we taken one group of people and exempted them from the same protections we guarantee everyone else? And does it even matter if there’s a reason? What’s our freedom worth if it’s bought with the blood of slaves and can be taken away from us by our own government with the flick of a pen? Are we even worth protecting if we agree to strip our fellow man of their humanity?

4. Pushing the Limits of Contractual Obligation

We justify exempting troops from the same rights and protections every other human being is entitled to because the troops signed a contract and took an oath. Actually, this statement is only half true. In the case of a draft the troops don’t have a choice. They have to take the oath or go to jail. In that case, the government gets to throw all the rights and protections guaranteed by the constitution out the window at its own discretion. In other words, the government can suspend the constitution at will like it did in the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it, The American War) when there was zero threat to the American public and the troops were sent in (many against their will) to protect American business’s access to the South East Asian economy against the will of the majority of the Vietnamese (and all of the Cambodian) people…but I digress.

The draft sets a precedent that the government can throw out the constitution at will and it doesn’t need airtight justification to do so. It can also throw out the constitution if it can get a person to sign a piece of paper waiving their rights. Before you start screaming, “The troops knew what they were getting into before they signed up!” go visit a military recruiter and tell them you want to sign up for the military. They’ll put a piece of paper and a pen in front of you and pressure you to sign it as fast as possible.

If you ask them the hard questions about the U.C.M.J. they’ll make excuses and dodge the subjects. They’ll reassure you everything is on the level and promise you anything they can to get you to sign that paper so they can meet their recruitment quota. They’ll even flat out lie to you. Any honest basic training instructor will tell you that military recruiters are synonymous with dishonesty.

To a military apologists this is all just nit-picking; the bottom line is the troops signed a contract that’s more legally binding than the constitution or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I suppose, from a purely technical standpoint that’s legally valid. But if that’s the case then what the hell are we doing here? If I can just give you a $3,000 kicker bonus and promise to pay for your pregnant wife’s upcoming hospital bills (that you can’t afford because you work for McDonalds) in exchange for all your civil liberties then why have civil liberties in the first place? The issue here isn’t whether or not it’s illegal to strip human beings of their civil liberties. The question is whether or not it should be legal. The answer is no. It shouldn’t, because as the military says, “A threat to liberty anywhere is a threat to liberty everywhere.”

5. Loss of civil liberties

Many of the laws in the UCMJ are inoffensive and inarguable. For example, Article 128 of the UCMJ deals with assault. Of course, we don’t want people assaulting each other. Article 120 deals with rape, and that’s great too. Nobody should be raped. So I agree with that, but the fact that there are some reasonable lines in the UCMJ doesn’t prove that they’re all reasonable, practical or just. Look at Articles 133 and 134, which say,

Any commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.” and “Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special, or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.

If those statements sound borderline meaningless, that’s because they are. They were designed as catchall laws to allow the military to incriminate and punish the troops for any reason it subjectively decides. Michelle Manhart was discharged for posing nude in Playboy magazine because it brought discredit on the military. Others have been reprimanded and discharged for moonlighting as strippers even though they kept their daytime job in the military a secret. You’ll go to jail and/or get a dishonorable discharge for publicly speaking your mind about morally questionable things your employer (who won’t let you quit) is doing. You can be demoted at work for cussing at a minor at a grocery store.

You might not have a problem with this, but let’s just be clear about the precedent we’re setting here. The military enforces subjective cultural taboos, and retains broad discretion in its ability to destroy the lives of its service members for not conforming to the military’s narrow perception of morality. Imagine if you were a member of a church, and your pastor found out you cheated on your wife. Then he told your boss and you got demoted at work. Imagine if you got fired at work for marching in a gay pride parade over the weekend. Imagine if you were sentenced to life in prison for whistle-blowing human rights abuses committed by your employer. Would that be fair? Would that be just? No, but that’s everyday life for the troops. The human beings are so un-free that they’re subject to laws that basically say anything you do can be illegal if your boss wants it to. That’s literally the opposite of freedom. That’s totalitarian control over the life of a human being, and there’s no dignity in that.

All of the extraordinary rules/regulations in the UCMJ are supposedly justified because they ensure good order and discipline, but never forget that this good order and discipline comes at the cost of respect for human dignity and equality. These measures aren’t necessary to maintain good order and discipline in the civilian population because civilian employers don’t have the same mission as the military. The military’s mission is to kill people and blow things up without asking why.

This is an unnatural mission that human instincts, common sense and reason-based morality cannot accept. As a result, the military must use invasive techniques to break its members’ minds and bind them in an unnatural psychological state against their will if/when necessary. If the military can’t break the mind of a troop it will tattoo “failure to conform” on their forehead and throw them in the gutter and make an example of them to scare the remaining troops into submission. To the military, the perfect hero is the perfect slave, and all their benefits and perks are just golden handcuffs. Putting bigger golden handcuffs on the slaves is a hollow way to support them. Refusing to allow open, honest discussion about what the troops are dying/killing for is a hollow way to support them. If you really, truly care about the troops, the best way you can support them is to end the UCMJ and give the troops their rights, their dignity and their freedom back.

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