the necessary context for what follows, I must offer a brief excerpt
first part of this series:
provides us with stories of individual heroism from which we draw
courage. We wonder: why did Hans and Sophie Scholl fight
against the immense evil of the Nazi regime, even when they
knew their actions would very likely lead to their deaths, as they
did in fact? In our own time, we wonder: why does Ehren
Watada refuse to participate in acts that he regards as evil,
even when he knows the penalty for his refusal may be exceptionally
severe? From what source does he derive his strength, and why is
he willing to pay such a terrible price? As I noted in an
earlier part of the series, On
above all else, there is one fact that appears forever invisible
to both Krauthammer and Sullivan, and one kind of individual who
does not exist for them.
order comes down to treat a prisoner with unspeakable cruelty,
to “waterboard” him, to electrocute him, to cut him, to hang
him on hooks from the ceiling for days on end, or to commit
any number of other unforgivable crimes, there is always the
man or woman who will say – without bravado, without show,
without explicitly staking any particular moral claim, but as
a simple, unadorned statement of fact:
I will not do this. You can torture me, or say you will
kill me. I cannot and will not do this to another human being.
I will not do this.
It is the person
who says, “No,” whom we must seek to understand. It is not melodramatic
or engaging in overstatement to say that he or she is our salvation.
Ehren Watada is
one of those rare heroes who has said, “No” – and he is prepared
to go to jail for four years for his refusal.
Lt. Watada’s court-martial, which just began:
people running the Iraq war are eager to make an example of Ehren
Watada. They’ve convened a kangaroo court-martial. But the man on
trial is setting a profound example of conscience – helping
to undermine the war that the Pentagon’s top officials are so eager
in the case against the first U.S. officer court-martialed for
refusing to ship out for Iraq barred several experts in international
and constitutional law from testifying Monday about the legality
of the war,” the Associated Press reported.
judge was hopping through the military’s hoops at Fort Lewis in
Washington state, an outpouring of support for Watada at the gates
reflected just how broad and deep the opposition to this war has
the most compelling voices against the Iraq war come from the
men and women who were ordered into a conflagration that should
never have begun. …
resistance to the depravity of the Bush administration as it escalates
this war, Lieutenant Watada is taking a clear and uplifting position.
Citing international law and the U.S. Constitution, he points
out that the Iraq war is “manifestly illegal.” And he adds: “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. It is my duty not to follow unlawful orders and not to
participate in things I find morally reprehensible.”
“My participation would make me party to war crimes.”
the fence at Fort Lewis – while the grim farce of Watada’s
court-martial proceeded with virtually all substance ruled out
of order – the criminality of the war and the pain it has
brought were heavy in the air.
Anderson was a U.S. soldier in Iraq. He received a Purple Heart.
Later, he refused orders to return for a second tour of duty.
Now, he gives firsthand accounts of the routine killing of Iraqi
civilians. He speaks as an eyewitness and a participant in a war
that is one long war crime. And he makes a convincing case that
“the GI resistance” is emerging and pivotal: “You can’t call yourself
antiwar if you’re not supporting the resistance.” …
have to choose from options forced upon them by the commander
in chief and Congress. Those who resist this war deserve our gratitude
and our support. And our willingness to resist as well.
faces four years in prison. Half of that potential sentence has
to do with the fact that he made public statements against the
war. The war-makers want such honest courage to stop. But it is
growing every day.
As I noted in
Change the World,” which in part recounts the story of the very
beginnings of the anti-slavery movement in the late eighteenth century,
every significant change has begun with only a handful of individuals.
They are the ones who lead the way and who take a stand when very
few will join them, and not infrequently even when they are entirely
alone. They possess courage of a kind most of us will never know.
As Lt. Watada makes clear, they act as they do for one very simple
and profound reason: their consciences, and their refusal to make
accommodations with what they regard as immensely wrong and even evil,
will not permit them to do otherwise.
when the changes for which they gave so much begin to be seen, many
people will be heard to say that those early pioneers were correct
from the beginning, and that all decent people acknowledged the
rightness of their cause. But the ones who are willing to put their
own lives on the line when it matters most and when opposition is
at its strongest are always very, very few in number.
says and as I have indicated, we owe these solitary people our profound
gratitude and our support. And, if we truly think these lonely heroes
are right, we ourselves must resist as well.
and, with only a few exceptions, our entire political class will
not acknowledge the primacy of the principles that move Lt. Watada.
Because Iraq had not attacked us and because Iraq was not a serious
threat to the United States, our invasion and occupation constitute
war crime on a huge scale. Our actions have been and continue
to be entirely immoral. For these and related reasons, the United
that we remain in Iraq, we continue to commit unspeakable war crimes.
Our media inform us of only a few of the worst instances, those
that cannot be covered up and denied. But because we are fighting
a war of unprovoked aggression, our crimes are much worse than this
– and they began at the
very outset of the invasion:
moral principle legitimizes our invasion and occupation of Iraq,
just as it will not justify an attack on Iran. Therefore, when the
first person was killed in Iraq as the result of our actions, the
immorality was complete. The crime had been committed, and no amends
could ever suffice or would even be possible. That many additional
tens or hundreds of thousands of people have subsequently been killed
or injured does not add to the original immorality with regard to
first principles. It increases its scope, which is an additional
and terrible horror – but the principle is not altered in the
As Lt. Watada
recognizes, you cannot stop evil by compromising or making accommodations
with it. If you genuinely understand the issues and if you care, you
must say, “No.” You must refuse all further participation. If not
enough of us will do this, the horrors will continue for years to
come, and probably for decades.
now control Congress. As Russ
Feingold explains here, they could stop the ongoing criminal
catastrophe in Iraq within months. Feingold writes:
the hearing I chaired in the Senate Judiciary Committee made clear,
this legislation is fully consistent with the Constitution of the
United States. Since the president is adamant about pursuing his
failed policies in Iraq, Congress has the duty to stand up and use
its constitutional power to stop him. If Congress doesn't stop this
war, it's not because it doesn't have the power. It's because it
doesn't have the will.
certainly won’t have the will, and for the worst of reasons: most
of them are pathetic cowards. They’re terrified they will be accused
of failing “to support the troops.” They are so inept and unintelligent
that they have no confidence they can refute the charge, which is
easy enough to do (Feingold explains how). These are the people who
govern us, and who make decisions that involve the deaths of hundreds
of thousands of people. If they fail to take action to stop an attack
on Iran, they will possibly be responsible for
the deaths of millions.
approves Bush’s request for hundreds
of billions of dollars more to pay for this ongoing crime, these
horrors will fully belong to the Democrats, as well as to the Republicans.
I have no doubt that the Democrats will tinker loudly around the
edges, and demand “oversight” of how certain of the funds are spent.
But they will not stop it. They’ve said as much: “Democratic
leaders have promised not to cut off funding for the troops.” They
should pay much closer attention to Feingold, and try to understand
his argument with their few remaining brain cells.
stop it. They won’t. These are the greatest stakes in the world,
and the lives of countless innocent people lie in the balance. In
such a situation, you are either with the resistance – or you
are with the murderers.
Those in Congress
who will not even try to stop these horrors are with the murderers.
In terms of the principles and the moral responsibility involved,
they are the murderers. This is your government.
I think only
continuing, massive public protest and civil disobedience will stop
this nightmare, and the greater nightmare that may soon be upon
us. Our government will do nothing to end them.
up to the rest of us.
P.S. I realize
that, in its form, my title appears to come dangerously close to
the dishonestly false choice offered in such iniquitous phrases
as Bush’s, “You’re either with us or against us.” But Bush’s approach
… represented an entirely specious choice: he meant that either
you agreed with and embraced his approach to fighting the purposely
indefinable “War on Terror” in each and every particular, or that
you were “on the other side” – that is, on the side of the
terrorists. But that, of course, is not the choice, and it
never was. One can recognize that the United States has genuine
enemies who must be fought and even eliminated as necessary, and
one can simultaneously understand that waging war against entire
nations is not the way to most effectively achieve that goal.
When one adds to this the fact that Iraq had no ties to either 9/11
or Al Qaeda, the nature of our unprovoked, non-defensive war of
aggression against Iraq becomes clearer.
that, certain realities in life sometimes limit our choices very
severely. Our government now continues to conduct an illegal and
immoral war every day. Each new day brings new murders committed
by U.S. forces. And make no mistake: they are murders, in
very large part of innocent people who never threatened us and who
would not threaten us now were we not in Iraq in the first place,
and in Iraq illegally and immorally. In this circumstance,
there are only two alternatives: you can either support a continuing
criminal war and ongoing murder, or you can oppose and work to stop
them in every way possible. In that sense, as discussed above, you
are either with the resistance or with the murderers. To
be precise, there is one other possibility: you can remain on the
sidelines and refuse to take a stand at all. I would hope no one
reading this considers that to be a legitimate alternative, although
it appears to be the alternative chosen by Congress. With rare exceptions
like Feingold and Kucinich, they speak against the war –
but they will not take action to stop it, even though such
action clearly is possible. At a minimum, they are obliged to at
least try to stop this ongoing criminal enterprise –
if, that is, they care at all about innocent life.
ways, not taking a stand is the worst and most contemptible choice
of all. It is precisely how evil triumphs in the world. For another
example of how these dynamics work, see my essay, “Thus
the World Was Lost,” and in particular, the excerpts from Milton
Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45, that
I offer there.
Silber’s [send him mail]
blog is Once Upon
a Time, where he writes about political and cultural issues.
He has also written a number of essays based on the work of psychologist
and author Alice Miller, concerning the implications of her work
with regard to world events today. Descriptions of those articles
will be found at a companion blog, The
Sacred Moment. Silber worked as an actor in the New York theater
many years ago. Upon relocating to Los Angeles in the late 1970s,
he worked in the film industry for several years. After pursuing
what ultimately proved to be an unsatisfying business career, he
decided to turn to writing full-time, a profession which he happily