To provide the necessary context for what follows, I must offer a brief excerpt from the first part of this series:
History 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 Torture: But 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.
When the 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: No. 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.
No. 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.
Norman Solomon writes about Lt. Watada’s court-martial, which just began: The 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 to protect.
“The judge 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.
While the 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 become. …
Many of 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. …
In direct 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.”
Watada says: “My participation would make me party to war crimes.”
Outside 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.
Darrell 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.” …
Soldiers 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.
Ehren Watada 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 “To 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.
Later on, 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.
As Solomon 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.
Most Americans 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 a war crime on a huge scale. Our actions have been and continue to be entirely immoral. For these and related reasons, the United States deserves to lose.
Every day 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: No 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 smallest degree. 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.
The Democrats now control Congress. As Russ Feingold explains here, they could stop the ongoing criminal catastrophe in Iraq within months. Feingold writes: As 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. Congress almost 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.
When Congress 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.
They can 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.
Now, it’s 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.
Having said 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.
In certain 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 Mayer’s, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 193345, that I offer there.
February 9, 2007