Sunday, February 04, 2007

Agree or not, he stands up for what he believes

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.


  1. Narcissists usually do. And if this guy is so stupid as to believe that the Iraq situation is illegal, then he clearly does not believe in the Constitution. He should go to prison.

    I have a real problem with people who self-satisfyingly violate their oaths.

  2. I imagine he will go to prison, but not because he does not believe in the Constitution, but because he does believe in the Constitution.

    The problem with wearing the uniform is that the use of military force is nothing more than politics by other means... and that gets damn messy.

  3. Uh, Peter, if he believed in the Constitution, then he would recognize that the Iraq situation is a lawful exercise of presidential authority, VALIDATED BY CONGRESSIONAL ACTION. This chucklehead doesn't have a legal leg upon which to stand, as your later post recognizes. While I agree with your last sentence, those who suggest that our mission in Iraq is unlawful --- as opposed to "ill-advised," "misguided," "futile," questions over which reasonable men may differ, but only the President is entitled to decide --- are simply wrong. And wrong is a huge way.

  4. Of course, the argument you lay out is exactly what the defendants in Nuremberg said, too.

    I think the issue, for me anyway, is two fold. First, as a member of the military, we serve at the pleasure of the Commander in Chief and, frankly, as I've noted before, the use of military force is a "politics by other means." When one joins the military, one gives up a few things, including the ability to decide what is ill-advised or misguided or futile.

    Having said that, even in uniform, one has to decide what is right and what it wrong. In Mr. Watada's case, I actually think he stepped off too early; I'm not sure that refusing to deploy is the right time & place to take a stand. The order to deploy wasn't unlawful; any unlawful orders would come in-country, if they came at all. And they wouldn't.