Second Lieutenant Spenser Rapone, West Point Graduate, and Infantry Officer, has gone viral. One photo, attached to a pro-Kaepernick tweet, shows Rapone in his West Point graduation uniform with a raised fist and the words “Communism will win” written on the inside of his cap. Naturally, online outrage soon followed. Rapone responded with a second tweet that read, “In case there was any lingering doubt, hasta la Victoria siempre,” and featured a picture of Rapone revealing a Che Guevara t-shirt underneath his uniform just moments after graduating from West Point. The phrase, which translates to “Ever onward to victory,” was a favorite of the communist revolutionary and mass murderer Che Guevara.
Liberty Nation went in depth in February of this year about why making political statements while in uniform is unacceptable. You can read the article here, but we’ll break down some of the key points and how they apply to this situation.
Department of Defense Direction 1344.10 specifies the political activities service members can and cannot participate in while in and out of uniform. Essentially, individual service members are permitted to have political opinions, and even take part in political demonstrations and rallies, while OUT of uniform. The intent is not to limit the free speech of service members; it is to ensure that the military as a whole remains apolitical.
The ban on making political messages while in uniform stems from the fact that when someone wears the uniform, they represent everyone else who wears it and the organization as a whole. It serves as a safeguard so that no one service member’s personal opinions can be mistaken for the official stance of the entire military.
Investigation and Admonishment
The Army has launched an investigation into the matter. The United States Military Academy at West Point has issued a statement regarding Rapone’s actions:
“Second Lieutenant Rapone’s actions in no way reflect the values of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Army. As figures of public trust, members of the military must exhibit exemplary conduct, and are prohibited from engaging in certain expressions of political speech in uniform. Second Lieutenant Rapone’s chain of command is aware of his actions and is looking into the matter. The academy is prepared to assist the officer’s chain of command as required.”
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Rapone’s actions could be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Article 92 – Failure to Obey Order or Regulation, Article 133 – Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentlemen, or Article 134 – General Article (the Army’s favorite “catch-all”) might come into play.
Leave the Military out of Politics
The military is not a singular block of people; it is not a monolith. As a microcosm of society at large, albeit an infinitesimally small one, there are differences of opinions. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Communists, Socialists, Independents, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists – you name it, the military has them all. Nevertheless, a person’s individual beliefs, while in the Armed Forces, must remain personal. The military absolutely must continue to be apolitical, and to see why one need look no further than countries whose armies either run the government or leave it in fear of a coup.
An apolitical military is necessary for the preservation of a free society, and the men and women of the Armed Forces are sworn to serve and protect the Constitution of the United States – not the government, not the people, not the country, but the Constitution. It is that same Constitution that grants military members the right to have their own opinions, but they must ensure that those opinions are their own and are not presented as representative of the organization at large. Politicizing in uniform blurs that line and disgraces all for which the uniform stands. Uniformed service members need to stay out of politics and we, as a nation, need to stop dragging the military into our political scuffles.