My colleagues Jim and Lorie have already had their take on the shouting-down of Sgt. David Aguina at the Yearly Kos Konvention, when he tried to speak to a panel on the military and progressive bloggers while in uniform. Their pieces are excellent, but I want to have my share of the fun, too.
There have been a variety of explanations of just why moderator John Soltz cut off Sgt. Aguina so forcefully. In situations like this, I tend to pay the most attention to the first versions — they tend to be the most honest, and haven’t had the chance to be re-calculated and engineered to best fit reactions.
The key element seems to be Sgt. Aguina’s wearing of his uniform, and military regulations regarding the appropriate (and inappropriate) things to do while in uniform.
The regulations are fairly clear: his wearing the uniform at the Konvention was most likely inappropriate. Various and sundry people have argued whether the Konvention was, by military law, a “political” event; whether what he was preparing to say constituted “political” speech; and just which military regulations he was brushing up against.
I’m no military lawyer, but common sense tells me that if it’s that debatable, Sgt. Aguina probably should have played it safe and not risked running afoul of regulations.
So that is the explanation from the Kossacks: they were looking to protect Sgt. Aguina from the consequences of his actions.
But that doesn’t jibe with the words and tone of the moderator. Soltz wasn’t warning Aguina, he was threatening. “If you ask me a political question, I’m going to take you outside… you want me to come down there?” And, after the sound is turned back on: “For the sergeant… I will see you outside. I want the name of your commander and your first sergeant; you will never ever use my uniform again in the name of political purposes.”
That is a clear threat.
I have two problems with this. (Actually, I have a lot more than two, but I’ll limit myself to just two for now.)
First of all, Soltz is appointing himself the enforcer of military law. There’s a term for that sort of thing — “vigilante.” And it’s usually the province of the right wing, to take the law into one’s own hands, not the left.
If Soltz and his ilk were that concerned about military regulations and decorum, they would not have been so quick to embrace the accounts of “Private Scott Thomas/Scott Thomas Beauchamp” The New Republic published. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with military law (and I barely qualify) would have known that “Thomas” was violating serious regulations — if his accounts were true, he had failed to report them to his chain of command (like this hero did); if they were false, he was slandering and dishonoring his comrades. In either case, the point remains: the reports should NOT have first surfaced in his girlfriend/fiancee/wife’s magazine.
Secondly, it’s an insult to Sgt. Aguina. It presumes that he acted in ignorance, and needed to be protected from his deeds.
I think that there’s another possibility here. (For the record, I have not read or seen or listened to any of the interviews with Sgt. Aguina. I have done so deliberately before writing this, so I would not be basing my opinion on any more information than Soltz or any of the other Kossacks would have had at the time of the incident.) Perhaps Sgt. Aguina carefully weighed the possible consequences of his deeds and decided — after due consideration — that the opportunity to “speak truth to power” and address the Kos panelists was worth his career. That he was using his military status to commit a true act of civil disobedience, and wanted to make that statement before any and all to see — that he was there to speak truth, to present facts, and if the manner of his presentation brought serious consequences on him, that was the price he was prepared to pay.
Had I been there (a laughable thought), I would have cautioned him in the strongest possible terms, made certain he knew precisely what he was risking — but I would not have shouted him down. He made his choice, and I would have respected that.
The Kossacks’ reaction was entirely typical, and sums up so much about their version of political discourse — everyone is free to say how much they agree with us. But if you cross us, we will destroy you.
All, of course, in the name of peace and justice and equality.