Perhaps you've heard about Army 1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada; his courts martial starts this week at Fort Lewis south of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Watada
faces four years in prison if convicted on one count of missing movement and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer for refusing to ship out with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.It's not so much that Mr. Watada missed movement, but why he missed movement. He missed movement because his unit was headed to Iraq, and he believes Iraq II is an illegal action. Evidently, at a 7 June 2006 press conference, Mr. Watada said, "As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order."
Well, that's not all he said:
You can see one of his charge sheets here; this one is from the middle of September 2006. There are others here.
What would have been said about a pilot from the Imperial Navy refusing to fly against Pearl Harbor in 1941? Or about an officer of the Wehrmacht refusing to participate in the blitzkrieg of Poland in 1939? And what would we say?
Agree or not, Lieutenant Watada is principled. Perhaps naive; perhaps misguided; but certainly principled. And, like dissenters before him, men and women of conscience, he will pay a price.
Wrote one of our greatest leaders not even half a century ago,
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.Indeed, Dr. King's Letter from Birmingham Jail is worth reading, in its entirety, as we think about Mr. Watada and all those others who agree to disagree, who hold their conscience above the fray, who are willing to act rather than sit passively by.