Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote on Sunday that more than 100 active-duty or former members of the armed services had written to him in response to a column about Lt. Ehren Watada. -- Their views, he said, “were all over the map. About the legitimacy of Watada's case. The limits of conscience.” -- Westneat has been critical of Watada’s position, but he concluded his column with these words: “So what were our elected leaders doing as you raged this debate in my inbox? They debated whether to even have a debate on Iraq. -- I have mixed feelings about Watada's stand in the military. But we could sure use more like him in Congress.” -- A persistent current of criticism is based on the notion that, as a columnist in Monroe, GA, wrote on Sunday, “Watada is a soldier, sworn to follow orders.” -- (In fact, Stephen Milligan is mistaken: Officers in the U.S. Army are not “sworn to follow orders,” but rather to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”) -- An anti-Watada editorial published Monday in the Yakima (WA) Herald made the same error, taking the position that a soldier should be nothing but an automaton: “[I]t is not the province of an individual soldier to refuse a direct order from superior officers or question the legality of executive decisions.” -- But this is pure authoritarianism....
EMOTIONS RUN HIGH ON WATADA
By Danny Westneat
February 11, 2007
To Rich McConchie, who served 25 years in the U.S. Army, Iraq war resister Ehren Watada is not only right, he's an inspiration.
"If I'd had more than a ninth-grade education, I'd have disobeyed just like him," says McConchie, a command sergeant major from Blaine who served two tours in Vietnam. To George Humphrey, a former Army combat arms officer, Watada is not only wrong, he's upended a principle that goes back to the country's founding -- that the military stay out of politics.
"We do not make foreign policy, and we should never be allowed to," Humphrey said.
More than 400 readers e-mailed or called last week after I wrote about the Fort Lewis court-martial of 1st Lt. Watada. What was striking wasn't so much the volume but the diversity of the debate.
Especially within the military. A hundred current or former members of the armed services were all over the map. About the legitimacy of Watada's case. The limits of conscience. And my view that Watada, as an officer, had gone too far in calling for soldiers to peacefully mutiny against elected officials, who he says have "become the enemy."
It's true soldiers have a duty to disobey specific unlawful orders. But many in the military said Watada has blurred that with the political question of whether the country should have gone to war at all.
"Bravo Zulu for understanding what most civvies don't -- that the military exists to follow the orders of the civilian government," wrote Aaron Shuman, a Marine sergeant.
Jay Choe of Sammamish said he saw how bad it can get when a "military élite insists its values on civilians." He was in the South Korean Army before moving here in 1985.
"I lived through military dictatorship, and I regret I was a part of it," he wrote.
But some said the U.S. military has long been politicized. Watada is casting a lone anti-war vote for good reason.
"You're right that if officers stand up and refuse to participate in wars . . . then the military doesn't work," wrote Seattle's Ted Granger. "That is precisely why military personnel are obligated to stand up for their beliefs, so the military CAN'T be depended upon to blindly follow and fight the illegal wars of misguided, or criminal, civilian leaders."
Granger was an Army engineer in Thailand during the Vietnam War. He says he saw how that war was built on lies. For four decades, he has felt guilty that he didn't say anything.
"I was too lazy and comfortable to make any waves. Watada has the courage I lacked, so I admire him greatly."
I also got eyefuls about the Iraq war from those who are fighting it. Watada is hardly alone among soldiers saying the war was a mistake. Yet there's a strong sense of "we broke it, we ought to fix it."
I'll repeat: Whether we do that by staying or going is not up to the military. It's up to us.
So given that, what were our elected leaders doing as you raged this debate in my inbox? They debated whether to even have a debate on Iraq.
Pathetic. I have mixed feelings about Watada's stand in the military. But we could sure use more like him in Congress.
THE DEBATE OF THE PASSIVE SOLDIER
By Stephen Milligan
Walton Tribune (Monroe, GA)
February 11, 2007
Few issues facing Americans today are as important -- or divisively contentious -- as the Iraq War.
From the beginning of the war, people have differed on whether we should invade, the reasons for doing so, and the moral justification -- or lack thereof, in some eyes -- for the conflict.
Various shifts in the conflict have modified opinions: we deposed Saddam Hussein, even as we discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction; we established an Iraqi democracy, only to see it devolve into meaninglessness amid sectarian attacks; the Iraq Study Group submits a report on the conflict, which is dismissed by almost everyone on both sides of the political aisle; now, as the conflict continues to rage and troops continue to fight against a phantom enemy that changes its face every day, Americans are unsure whether we should stay in Iraq and continue to fight for some sort of resolution, or simply leave and allow the country to collapse into the civil war the extremists want.
As is the case of First Lt. Ehren Watada, who is currently on trial in a court-martial for refusing to go to Iraq.
Watada signed up to fight for his country, but refuses to fight in Iraq, which he calls an illegal war, built on a false premise and executed on immoral grounds. When his unit was ordered to the region, he said he could not, in good conscience, fight in the conflict. He stayed home. So the Army took him to trial for dereliction of duty.
If Watada is convicted of missing movement and conduct unbecoming of an officer, he faces a dishonorable discharge and four years in military prison, yet he remains convinced he is acting on the basis of his own moral stance. He offered to fight in Afghanistan, or to deploy to any other military outpost of mission, but he refuses to fight in Iraq. The military told him soldiers do not choose where they get to fight, and brought down the rule of law.
I sympathize with Watada’s convictions, even if I do not entirely agree with him. I do feel that the Iraq War was entered under false pretenses, and that despite early success, the war has become a quagmire of unfulfilled promise. On the other hand, I cannot say we should not be there, especially considering the damage to the region should we suddenly withdraw.
Watada has been attacked by bloggers and his own fellow soldiers as unpatriotic, a coward, or giving comfort to the enemy. As the first officer in the war to refuse to deploy, the significance of his action cannot be ignored.
But I cannot sanction Watada’s action. I do not feel he is a coward -- he remains eager to fight outside of the Iraq War -- or even unpatriotic. He feels the Iraq War is wrong, and free speech, despite the claims of extremists, is as patriotic as America gets. But Watada is a soldier, sworn to follow orders, and that includes deploying wherever the Army tells him. It is not a choice I would want, but then again, I didn’t join the military. He swore to go where they said, he didn’t and now he faces punishment. It’s sad, but simple.
And yet so, so complicated.
THIS ISSUE IS DISOBEYING A DIRECT ORDER
February 12, 2007
It would be a travesty if a mistrial on a technicality further clouds the real issues in the military court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused assignment to Iraq because he thinks the war there is illegal.
In the final analysis, it doesn't matter what legal status Watada assigns to a war that was already under way when he enlisted in the Army in late March 2003. It is immaterial that he may have changed his mind since he enlisted.
The issue in Watada's case is that a soldier -- in this case an officer and leader of other men and women -- refused a direct order. He is also accused in a military court of conduct unbecoming an officer for remarks made in opposition to the war -- including a call for soldiers to throw down their weapons.
He must answer to those charges. Anything less would be a slap in the face and a disservice to all those who honor their oath of service to country and the uniforms they wear. That's especially true of the other officers and enlisted personnel who make up the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. That's the Fort Lewis-based unit Watada abandoned and which is now deployed in Iraq without him.
The Army is not a democracy, nor can it be.
The president, by constitutional authority, is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. A military chain of command follows from the chief executive, and it is not the province of an individual soldier to refuse a direct order from superior officers or question the legality of executive decisions.
Once the chain of command breaks down, particularly in a battle zone where Watada was to be assigned, there can be serious consequences.
For that reason alone, Watada has forfeited any claim to being a soldier. How can men and women who trained with him, who looked to him as a leader, now trust him? That, not his political views on the war, is what's at play here.
After the deployment flap, Watada asked to take a combat post in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The Army refused those requests, along with Watada's request that he be allowed to resign.
And for good reason. He must answer for his inexcusable actions that should lead to his separation from the service. Then, as a civilian, he will be free of military obligations and can speak out all he wants against the war.
The mistrial was declared Wednesday when Military Judge John Head said he didn't think the defendant fully understood the ramifications of the document he signed admitting to elements of the charges.
But that's a technicality that slowed the process. In addressing an overriding issue, the judge had repeatedly clashed with Watada's attorney over what he deemed irrelevant testimony about the legality of the Iraq war. That, he said, was for Congress to decide, not the courts.
In the meantime, Watada must answer to military justice. The mistrial should only be a delay until the next trial, certainly not any final resolution.
We don't support an open-ended war in Iraq either, but we certainly back our men and women in uniform who have been deployed and -- unlike Watada -- answered the call.
Lt. Watada does not belong in such company any more.
--Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Michael Shepard, Sarah Jenkins, and Bill Lee.