I Was Just Following Orders

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George Bush is an arrogant, egotistical, hypocrite. But he is not alone. Every U.S. president, secretary of state, diplomat, congressman, military commander, and other advocate of the highly interventionist American foreign policy of the last fifty years is just as arrogant, just as egotistical, and just as hypocritical.

A few days before he ordered U.S. dupes to invade Iraq back in 2003, Bush the decider delivered an address to the nation from the White House. As usual, the speech was full of lies:

The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat.

In a free Iraq, there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms.

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

Some observations. First, if it means anything, fifty years of U.S. intervention in the Middle East means that the United States invited any “threat” that we faced from that region of the world. Second, if in a free Iraq there will be no more aggression and torture, then, since the United States has an aggressive foreign policy and is guilty of torture, can we call America a free country? And third, speaking of the most lethal weapons ever devised (which, of course, we know that Iraq never had), the United States not only has more of these weapons than any other country, we are the only country to have used them.

But it gets worse. In this same speech Bush instructed foreign soldiers to do something that he would never want American soldiers to do:

And all Iraqi military and civilian personnel should listen carefully to this warning. In any conflict, your fate will depend on your action. Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people. Do not obey any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people. War crimes will be prosecuted. War criminals will be punished. And it will be no defense to say, “I was just following orders.”

So, the former commander in chief believes that soldiers should sometimes disobey orders from their commanding officers. I have no doubt that the current commander in chief believes likewise. But what about American soldiers? Can they ever disobey orders? What would happen if they refused to obey an order? What if they refused an order to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan? What if they refused an order to launch a cruise missile, drop a bomb, throw a grenade, or pull a trigger? What if they refused an order to harshly interrogate a prisoner? We know what would happen: A U.S. soldier would be called a traitor and a coward; he would be ridiculed and ostracized; he would face court-martial or time in the brig; he would be called un-American and un-patriotic.

But what if an American soldier thought an order was unjust? Wouldn’t he be excused?

First Lt. Ehren Watada wasn’t. In fact, when he publicly refused to fight in Iraq, the Army tried to court-martial him, but it ended in a mistrial. Although a new court-martial date was later set, rescheduled, and postponed, a federal judge ruled that the Army could not prosecute Watada a second time because that would be double jeopardy. A federal appeals court judge recently allowed the Army to drop its appeal. Watada could still face charges of “conduct unbecoming an officer” for public statements he made against Bush and the war.

But if soldiers should always obey orders then why aren’t Iraqi soldiers defending their homeland lauded as heroes? Aren’t U.S. soldiers who obeyed orders to invade Iraq all said to be heroes? Why the double standard?

And what a double standard it is. This is American exceptionalism at its worse and most deadly.

No soldier in any of the world’s other 193 countries is supposed to follow an order to fire a weapon at an American soldier, sink an American ship, shoot down an American plane, drop a bomb on American territory, invade American soil, mine an American harbor, occupy an American city, torture an American, or kill an American. Those that do are considered terrorists, insurgents, and enemy combatants, all worthy of torture.

But if an American soldier is ordered to launch a preemptive strike against Iraq, he should just follow orders. If an American soldier is ordered to bomb Afghanistan, he should just follow orders. If an American soldier is ordered to drop napalm in the jungles of Vietnam, he should just follow orders. If an American soldier is ordered to invade Korea, he should just follow orders. If an American soldier is ordered to put down an insurrection by Filipinos, he should just follow orders. If an American soldier is ordered to firebomb a German or Japanese city, he should just follow orders. If an American soldier is ordered to help the CIA remove a foreign leader, he should just follow orders. If an American soldier is ordered to intervene in some country’s civil war, he should just follow orders. If an American soldier is ordered to destroy a city and kill its inhabitants in a country that he cannot locate on a map, he should just follow orders.

Just think what it would mean to the peace of the world, not to mention the U.S. defense budget, if American soldiers limited their activities to actually defending the United States — guarding American borders, patrolling American coasts, protecting American citizens, enforcing no-fly zones in American skies — and refusing to follow orders to do otherwise.

That would truly be an America First foreign policy, a constitutional foreign policy, a Jeffersonian foreign policy, a Ron Paul foreign policy.

Since it is soldiers the world over who do the actual fighting, we would all be better off if none of them followed orders, including Americans.

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