Defend Corporal Jesse Thorsen

Support the troops – as long as they keep their mouths shut. That’s the operative principle as far as Jesse Thorsen is concerned. The Boston Globe reports:

“An Army reservist who took the stage at a political event for Ron Paul and expressed his support for the Republican presidential candidate could face legal troubles, the military said Thursday.

“Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, 28, stood at a podium at the Paul rally in Iowa on Tuesday night wearing his military fatigues and said meeting the Texas congressman was like ‘meeting a rock star.’

“’His foreign policy is by far, hands down better than any other candidate’s out there,’ Thorsen told the cheering crowd.

“Army Reserve spokeswoman Maj. Angel Wallace said participating in a partisan political event in uniform is a violation of Defense Department rules and the military is reviewing whether Thorsen could face legal ramifications. Soldiers are permitted to vote, participate in some political activities and express opinions about candidates as long as they are not in uniform and speaking in an official capacity, she said.”

Soldiers are allowed to “participate in some political activities” – as long as they are the right people participating in the right political activities. After all, in 1970 Al Gore campaigned in military uniform with his father, Albert Gore, Sr.; Richard Nixon campaigned in uniform, touting his status as “Lt. Commander Richard M. Nixon,” against Helen Gahagan Douglas; and, as a piece in Commonwealth magazine points out:

“Nineteen forty six was a good year for World War II veterans running for office, and many of them campaigned in uniform. Among them was a resident of Boston, a former Navy lieutenant named John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”

This kind of thing happens all the time. Dwight Eisenhower told his campaign managers in 1952 that he would do his pre-convention campaigning – ‘if any” – in uniform and from Paris, where he was stationed at the time. Indeed, military figures routinely address political issues, particularly regarding foreign policy and defense: here is Gen. David Petraeus, at the Heritage Foundation in 2008, in full uniform and be-medaled to the max, giving a talk rife with political implications. He can get away with it because of the politics he’s pushing: Corporal Jesse Thorsen, not so much….

The War Party’s lynch mob was out for Thorsen’s hide the very next day, with Democratic party shill Paul Rieckhoff, head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, declaring:

“Our troops are many things to many people. Heroes, parents, diplomats, victims, villains, victors. But as the GOP Primary races roll through New Hampshire this week, there is one thing that all of America must understand they’re not: political props. And that’s not just my opinion, it’s the law.

“This is why so many of us in the military and veterans community were so shocked and outraged last Tuesday night when we saw Corporal Jesse Thorsen step up to the microphone in uniform and endorse Ron Paul for President. We know the law–the military law under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). We know Article 88 of UCMJ prohibits contemptuous speech by commissioned officers against the President and certain elected officials at penalty of court-martial.”

Rieckhoff is off his rocker: the section of the complicated and often contradictory regulations being invoked against Thorsen has nothing to do with “contemptuous speech,” but with engaging in partisan political activity while in uniform. Here is what Thorsen had to say at the Paul rally: do you hear any “contemptuous speech” in these remarks? I thought not. However, if you’re a Democratic party operative like Rieckhoff – who has served as an official party spokesman – you do indeed hear “contemptuous speech” in Thorsen’s condemnation of President Obama’s foreign policy. CNN did an interview with Thorsen earlier, but cut him off when he started to talk about how our interventionist foreign policy is opposed by most soldiers – which is why Paul has garnered more donations from military personnel than all other candidates combined.

This widespread support for Paul’s “radical” anti-interventionist stance scares the War Party: it angers war-defender Rieckhoff, just like it frightens the bejesus out of the pro-war media, which stupidly characterizes Paul’s foreign policy views as “isolationist.” (Was Eugene McCarthy an “isolationist,” too?)

The elites don’t like us peons speaking out on issues they consider their personal domain, and foreign policy certainly falls into this category. When military figures – big shots like Petraeus – get up there in full uniform, pushing a pro-war agenda – well, that’s just fine and dandy. But let a mere corporal try to get a word in edgewise in the national debate over war and peace, and suddenly the Paul Rieckhoffs of this world are demanding a court martial!

The military code reads that on duty soldiers may “express a personal opinion on political candidates and issue, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces.” Thorsen never claimed to represent anyone other than himself, but this thin pretext for going after him is nothing new. During the Vietnam war, the Pentagon tried to go after soldiers who marched in antiwar demonstrations while in uniform, and harassment of antiwar activists in the conscript army was routine. Now apparently all that is coming back into vogue. As Yogi Berra once put it: “It’s déjà-vu all over again” – except that our Lyndon Baines Johnson is an African American and the antiwar protesters of yesteryear are solidly in his camp.

Isn’t it odd that the same “mainstream” media that made a heroine out of Cindy Sheehan – and rightly so – is less than sympathetic to the plight of Cpl. Thorsen? Well, not really, now that I think about it, because that was Bush’s war, you’ll recall, while Thorsen has the temerity to protest Obama’s wars. And that is an entirely different story as far as Rieckhoff, CNN, and Obama’s limousine liberal fan club are concerned.

Here is a soldier speaking out on behalf of a rational foreign policy, one that respects the Constitution and the sovereignty of other nations – so where are the “antiwar” protesters and liberal loudmouths now? Silent – if they’re not calling for Thorsen’s head, that is.

During the Vietnam era, the Pentagon tried to crush dissent in the armed forces, and failed miserably: as the war dragged on, they were faced with open rebellion in the ranks. They could no longer trust their own military to carry out orders: and at home, too, the natives were getting restless, as riots broke out in the streets and the very fabric of society threatened to come apart.

This is what our rulers fear the most: another bout of the Sixties. Only this time they fear it will be much worse, with the collapsing economy and the threat of another Great Depression looming on the horizon. It’s a positively Paulian scenario, the prospect of which explains the present nervousness in official circles about corporals in uniform taking a strong public stand: no wonder Thorsen’s actions provoked the Pentagon into reiterating its “no politics” policy in an official memorandum.

Of course they’re nervous: if you were sitting atop a global empire teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, uneasily contemplating the prospect of rebellion on the home front, wouldn’t you be more than a little apprehensive when soldiers in uniform started denouncing your wars of aggression? The sight of Thorsen up there questioning the very existence of the Empire poses a deadly threat to their power. Because if they can’t depend on the military to obey orders, then what will happen when those peasants with pitchforks show up at the castle gates?

Never mind Ron Paul: this isn’t about his candidacy. It’s about the right of Americans – all Americans – to exercise their First Amendment rights. It’s about the right to dissent, and the concept of equality before the law: if Gen. Petraeus can appear before the Heritage Foundation and make political speeches about our glorious campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, why can’t Corporal Thorsen speak out against our interventionist foreign policy?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

You don’t have to support Ron Paul’s candidacy to oppose the persecution of Corporal Jesse Thorsen. The antiwar movement has a moral responsibility to defend him, just as they defend dissident soldiers who refuse to obey unjust orders or regulations that violate their rights.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].