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Ehren Watada’s War Theater
A Soldier Disputes an Illegal War

The flag is his chief prosecutor

What is the difference between a soldier refusing to refuse a superior’s order to assassinate civilians and a soldier refusing a superior’s order to deploy in a war deemed differently illegal—proven so, as the Iraq war has been, and proven to have been a deception from its inception? In the case of the soldier ordered to assassinate civilians, it’s easy enough, eventually, to find for the soldier, if he has the courage to step forward and challenge his superiors in these situations, if he survives not being assassinated himself, if he survives the chain of command’s attempts to silence him, or possibly assassinate him, and if he survives whatever happens in a courtroom, where games of mitigation usually kick in and accusers can become the accused. In the case of the soldier refusing to follow orders to deploy in a theater of war he deems illegal, well, the moral parallels may be similar, and even more compelling in the war theater’s case: more is at stake, more can be achieved by opposition, if indeed the war is illegal. But the military has a lot more to lose, too. Out of control soldiers who massacre civilians are the stuff of every war, but the military does an excellent job of hiding the incidents, condoning them by dismissing them as the stuff of war, or otherwise judging them the last thing they really are: isolated cases, the work of rotten apple, not the institutional diseases of any army at war, including, and it seems especially, the American army, now that it claims to be the world’s chief and only cop. Soldiers who protest an actual war, if they are ever to gain any credibility in the public eye, are far more dangerous, to the army, than rogue massacring soldiers. War opponents can turn into movements. And movements ruin wars. So there’s no possible way that a war opponent no matter how noble his cause will ever be given an iota’s hearing from a judge. So it is with First Lt. Ehren Watada, the Washington State soldier (Third Brigade, Second Infantry) who, ordered in July to deploy to Iraq with his unit, refused to go. He also spoke about his opposition publicly, as other soldiers refusing to follow similar orders have not. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be in a war zone. He asked to be deployed to Afghanistan—a perfectly reasonable and effective, if not efficient, way to accommodate soldiers’ consciences (the military transfers and accommodates for a lot les, and a lot more scurrilous, reasons). He was refused. He was also not allowed to argue his case in his court-martial: he wanted to argue the legality of the war. The court said no. That would be an offense to the very reason wars exist: legality is not in question. Following orders is. The case has drawn the attention of war protesters. He’s won the support of Desmond Tutu, Martin Sheen and Tim Robbins, but their voices only reinforce the military’s indifference. You don’t defy the Pentagon. You submit. And you especially don’t defy the military in public. The case has also, of course, drawn the attention of the rabid reactionaries of the armies of the blight—the Fox brigades, the Malkin cluckers, the Limbaugh louts, all of them excoriating Ehren as a traitor, a deserter, a monster. I’m curious about this: how close is the language of excoriation about Ehren to the language used against blacks who refused to give up their seats at Alabama lunch counters in the civil rights era? Those blacks, too, were breaking laws, defying law and order, defying the order of things. The parallel is more than a similarity. It’s an American tradition.

Ehren Watada in His Own Voice
 

 

 

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