"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism"

ABC News reports that US Intelligence had been aware for months that Major Nidal Hasan was attempting to get in touch with al-Qaeda. It is not known what role the “Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Great Falls, Virginia” played in subsequent events. But the circumstances are suggestive.  According to the Christian Science Monitor, the mosque once had prayer leader Anwar al-Awlaki. Anwar al-Awlaki had been the spiritual adviser of two September 11 attackers. He is now in Yemen and is certainly pleased at Hasan’s actions:


Nidal Hassan is a hero. He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people. … The US is leading the war against terrorism which in reality is a war against Islam. Its army is directly invading two Muslim countries and indirectly occupying the rest through its stooges. …

But “on the Sunday talk shows, an army official warned against jumping to conclusions about Hasan”.  It was the second time the phrase “jumping to conclusions” was used in the context of the Fort Hood attack. President Obama, while offering his sympathies of those shot and killed at Fort Hood was also described by the New York Times as urging Americans not to “jump to conclusions.”

In a Rose Garden appearance on Friday, Mr. Obama urged Americans not to “jump to conclusions” about the motives behind the shooting, a theme he echoed on Saturday. “We cannot fully know what leads a man to do such a thing,” he said in the Saturday address. “But what we do know is our thoughts are with every single one of the men and women who were injured at Fort Hood. Our thoughts are with all the families who’ve lost a loved one in this national tragedy.”

Cannot know or will not know? The difference is a crucial one.

Barry Rubin recently spoofed the “jumping to conclusions” phrase by writing a satirical piece retelling historical incidents in modern politically correct style. Why he asked, should John Wilkes Booth have been suspected of Confederate sympathies simply because he expressed them? Was the fact that a bombing suspect had attended IRA meetings any reason to think that it might be a factor in attacks against the British?  By emphasizing the ludicrousness of it, Rubin argued that the media was going out of its way to distort the facts and suppressing what ought to be natural avenues of public inquiry.


The phrase “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” can lead to sloppy thinking which incorrectly assumes that it is always best to give a man exhibiting dangerous tendencies the benefit of the doubt. The words “don’t question my patriotism” and “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” suggest that tolerance trumps everthing and pre-emptively shuts down inquiry. It is certainly always true that “we cannot fully know what leads a man to do such a thing” if one cannot ask.  After all, you can’t know what’s in a box if you’re not allowed to peek or at least shake it. And speaking of jumping to conclusions, if you can’t ask,  what alternative is there? When the true value of an object cannot be known because it is forbidden to ask many people will simply assume the worst value. Political correctness may have the long term effect not of shielding Muslims from suspicion but making it universal.

How could one have gone about inquiring into Hasan’s true mental state? A Marine veteran of the Iraq campaign wrote to me after the Hasan incident and recalled a relevant incident in his own career.  He had a subordinate who expressed highly controversial political views prior to their deployment to Iraq. He could have let it slide. Instead, the officer decided that it was better to actively engage the dissenter rather than ignore him; and if he were indeed a patriotic dissenter then he would actively help the subordinate find legitimate channels to express his disagreements with the US government. The message was: do dissent right or don’t do it.  It was a risk, but the officer was prepared to take it.


Before my last deployment, I had a junior Marine who was very competent tactically, and a little bit of a smart-ass, but not painfully so. Over the course of our pre-deployment training though, it became clear that he was also a September 11th conspiracy theorist. At first this seemed just one more part of his being a smart-ass. Over time though I could see it was wearing on the other Marines and that this one really seemed to think that the government had planned September 11th. I had a long conversation about it with him, and gently asserted my own view (I didn’t like overtly influencing my Marines’ political viewpoints). A month or so later, he nearly got into a fight with one of his team members about this. I told him to keep his thoughts to himself from then on.

He chose not to. After another incident, I brought him in for a formal counseling. I was concerned that if we had a casualty or God forbid someone was killed, that he would then blame the whole thing on the government, and the President, etc etc, which would destroy morale after such a loss. I brought him in and told him he had a choice: a) shut the f**k up permanently, b) if he wanted to be a conscientious objector, there was nothing wrong with that, that’s just being honest to your opinions as a man, and it’s admirable, and I would help him fill out the paperwork, and he probably wouldn’t have to deploy, or c) if he spent any time theorizing again, I would charge him under the provsion of Article 134 of the UCMJ that addresses making “disloyal statements,” and he would be eligible for non-judicial punishment, or a court-martial, if he so chose.

He chose option A, and if he ever had much to say again after that, it was out of my own earshot and awareness. He was (and probably still is) a good Marine and came from a long family tradtion of isolationist, America-first politics, which is what spawned his theories.

I wonder why nothing like this was ever put to Major Hasan in Fort Hood. Personally, I made sure my boss knew what I was doing and approved, and I was fully ready to defend my decisions should somebody write their congressman about it. I’m sure it might have been controversial — “suppressing speech” and so forth — but so be it.


Sources have told me that Hasan’s behavior at Walter Reed had long been the subject of conversation of his colleagues.  So at least some of Hasan’s superiors may have been in a position to take an active interest in his views.  But it is still unclear whether they simply let things slide or tried to get to the bottom of it.  If they let things slide then they left the definitive diagnosis until too late. The real benefit of the Marine officer’s approach is that it gained information early. By engaging his subordinate the commander was able to tell whether he was a legitimate dissenter or a member of a dangerous conspiracy. The engagement was a kind of reconnaissance, not without its dangers, but certainly laden with potentially rewarding early information.

Personally, I made sure my boss knew what I was doing and approved, and I was fully ready to defend my decisions should somebody write their congressman about it. I’m sure it might have been controversial — “suppressing speech” and so forth — but so be it.

The effect of political correctness has been to destroy the contrast between dissent and actual criminal behavior. Because certain religious activities are treated differently than other observed behaviors, political correctness has essentially forced a kind of “late binding” on the American organizational processes.  Early discovery or even inquiry is actively discouraged. That is like writing a computer program in which the qualities of certain objects are not tested at compile time but at run-time: you find out whether things work only when you actually have to use them. By inquiring into his subordinate’s behavior before deployment, the Marine Officer was attempting to enforce a kind of “early binding” upon the men he was going to test in potential battle. Despite President Obama’s assertion that “we cannot fully know what leads a man to do such a thing” the Army certainly discovered that this “thing” involved shooting and discovered it too late.


Political correctness can have the opposite of its intended effect; creating divisions where they were none, start issues over trivial matters and impose information blackouts over ludicrously small things. Take for example the matter of the Annapolis color guard at the World Series. The Navy Times reports on how attempts to be “diverse” wound up being “divisive”.

Naval Academy leaders removed two midshipmen from a color guard that performed at the World Series last week because they were white men, and replaced them with a non-white man and a white woman so the academy could present a more “diverse” profile, according to several sources, a move that has reportedly angered mids and alumni.

As it turned out, the color guard still ended up all white because the male replacement forgot parts of his uniform.

Two white, male members of the color guard learned Oct. 28 they were being replaced with a white woman, Midshipman 2nd Class Hannah Allaire, and a non-white man, Midshipman 2nd Class Zishan Hameed, on orders of the school’s administration, according to an internal e-mail message provided to Navy Times by an academy professor. With a national television audience, Naval Academy leadership worried the color guard it planned to send wasn’t diverse enough, the e-mail said.

But the Muslim male cadet forgot part of his uniform and so an all white male contingent marched anyway. It was the worst of all worlds. And instead of projecting diversity the incident wound up covering everyone with embarassment instead of glory. Who benefitted from this incident? The UNSA? The Muslim Midshipman? The World Series? Or did everyone lose? Not surprisingly there were attempts to put the whole thing under wraps.


The administration’s decision upset many of the mids, according to the e-mail. But after Klunder heard complaints about the situation from alumni and family members, the brigade’s company commanders were ordered to tell their midshipmen they were forbidden from discussing the color guard story with people outside the Yard, according to a source familiar with the situation who was not authorized to discuss it.

The source said current midshipmen and alumni were frustrated that one of them was denied the chance to march at the World Series, despite having earned it, and that the administration was trying to squelch discussion of it.

Carpenter said he didn’t know who told the midshipmen not to talk about the situation.

The reason a meritocracy works is that all the members of an organization operate under a single consistent set of rules. What political correctness does is overlay a second, or even a third set of unspoken rules on top of the formal ones. Suddenly nobody knows what gives and the system seems not only unpredictable but may be perceived as unfair. Worse, it encourages those with “special” attributes to segregate themselves to take advantage of the new and unwritten rules. It can be enormously disruptive.

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