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Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
The Concerned Officers Movement (COM) is made up of active duty officers in the armed forces who want to express responsible dissent on the Indochina war. We believe that such expressions of our convictions are within our rights, and that in expressing them, we are following our obligations as officers to defend the Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the free expression of views, both for and against the war.
The armed forces officially encourage servicemen to express their views. The Armed Forces Officer (Department of the Army Pamphlet l-38) insists that a good officer “has honor if he holds himself to a course of conduct because of a conviction that it is in the general interest . . . he has veracity if, having studied the question to the limit of his ability, he says and believes what he thinks to be true even though it would be the path of least resistance to deceive himself and others.” Admiral Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated recently in a memo to all Navy personnel that “public dissent and debate, including public assembly and protest, are part of the American way of life.. We teach our citizens to have convictions. We urge them to voice these convictions.” Many officers disagree with our policy in Vietnam, but remain quiet to avoid controversy, slipping into apathy and counting the days until their obligated service is completed. We are convinced that officers should not be passive and unquestioning, afraid to speak out because of legal or extra-legal harassment, submitting to what seems to be an overwhelming environment.
The regulations governing free speech in the armed forces vary from service to service, and few of them have been examined or questioned by the Department of Defense, the Congress, or the courts. We have sought guidance from the military on how we can responsibly express our dissent and have met only vague threats and unofficial disapproval.
Several of us have been separated from active duty despite our objections in the past weeks. It is more than coincidental that this should have happened after we announced our association with COM. We feel that the military must recognize the right of free expression of views by active duty servicemen. The present regulations are adequate neither for the times we live in, nor for the expectations that officers have a right to hold in these times.
We have examined our obligations as officers and our convictions about the Indochina war and feel that it is both right and necessary that we voice these convictions. The war is a ruinous failure. Its devastating effects on our society and on the people of Indochina cannot be justified by any strategic goal. The war will not stop until Americans who are deeply committed to the concepts of duty, honor and loyalty freely voice their convictions that the Indochina war is a tragic error. In doing so, we are not encouraging & general contempt for obedience and discipline. All of us have served honorably in the armed forces. Many of us have served in Vietnam. We are only challenging encrusted traditions which have worked to make servicemen afraid to form and express their views on national problems.
To this end, we propose the following program:
l. To support the right of all servicemen to publicly express thieir views on matters of national concern.
2. To give speeches and join in debates in the community in which active duty officers express their opposition to the war.
3. To encourage all officers to join us in expressing their views on the war to the community and to the Department of Defense.
4. To seek support from civic leaders, retired officers, Senators and Congressmen.
Concerned Officers Movement Newsletter, no. 3