Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Moral and legal obligations

My moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders.

These are words from US Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada, perhaps the first commissioned officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq. Many people, including many readers of this blog, will, I am sure, believe that Lieutenant Watada has acted wrongly or is a fool, or worse; others will call him a hero, albeit an anti-war hero.

Kevin Sites, from war zones across the globe, recently interviewed LT Watada; it's worth a read.

I believe that Lieutenant Watada has hit on something that more and more Americans -- as well as people across the world -- are going to at least consider: perhaps the orders our leaders have provided military men and women are illegal. And, looking back to World War II and the Nuremberg trials, we know that "following orders" is not a reasonable defense.

Can a war be just? I believe so. Even many of my beatnik, tree-hugging friends utter words which show they believe Iraq I was just, at least our involvement in it. And so with World War II. They are quick to point out, however, that America was not the aggressor in either of those conflicts and was merely responding defensively to force. Can a war be legal? Like being just, yes.

The question is not whether or not war is just or legal; the question is whether or not a particular war is just and legal... and whether or not action in a particular conflict is conducted justly and legally.

I fear, like Lieutenant Watada, that at the least we have lost the moral high ground, and, at worst, we are involved in something which started as neither just nor moral. I fear, perhaps unlike Lieutenant Watada, that this mess will be much more difficult to get out of in a way in which we can demonstrate some sort of justness and legality. Like misbehaving teenagers (or adults), we have behaved our way into a mess, and now we need to suffer the consequences and get out in such a way that we don't make matters worse.

If that is, indeed, possible.


  1. It's fascinating how you far Lefties mouth the words of "just war" ... but cannot seem to apply them to the one we happen to be fighting now.

  2. I'm not sure I'm a Lefty, but...

    Mr. Young, a question: are you talking about the "War on Terror" or "Iraq II." I see a distinct difference in both the ethical basis and the actual conduct. Were you to pin me down, I'd say the "War on Terror," while not truly a "war," is just, while "Iraq II" is a war, albeit not just.