* Lt. Ehren Watada: a soldier’s real duty *


Richard Moore

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Subject: Ehren Watada

** Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches **
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** Website by http://jeffpflueger.com **

      Ehren Watada

By Dahr Jamail
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 14 August 2006

On Saturday night, I was lucky enough to be at the Veterans for Peace National 
Convention. For that night, Lt. Ehren Watada was able to give the following 
speech, which I've just received permission to post here. The speech was met 
with a powerful, standing ovation from the vets who've been there.

Lt. Ehren Watada, for those who don't already know, became the first 
commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to the unlawful war and 
occupation in Iraq. While doing this on June 22, 2006, Watada said, "As the 
order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must 
refuse that order."

Just as Watada took the stage and began to speak, over 50 members of Iraq 
Veterans Against the War filed in behind him. Watada, surprised by this and 
obviously taken aback by the symbolic act, turned back to the audience, took 
some deep breaths, then gave this speech:


Thank you everyone. Thank you all for your tremendous support. How honored and 
delighted I am to be in the same room with you tonight. I am deeply humbled by 
being in the company of such wonderful speakers.

You are all true American patriots. Although long since out of uniform, you 
continue to fight for the very same principles you once swore to uphold and 
defend. No one knows the devastation and suffering of war more than veterans - 
which is why we should always be the first to prevent it.

I wasn't entirely sure what to say tonight. I thought as a leader in general I 
should speak to motivate. Now I know that this isn't the military and surely 
there are many out there who outranked me at one point or another - and yes, I'm
just a Lieutenant. And yet, I feel as though we are all citizens of this great 
country and what I have to say is not a matter of authority - but from one 
citizen to another. We have all seen this war tear apart our country over the 
past three years. It seems as though nothing we've done, from vigils to protests
to letters to Congress, have had any effect in persuading the powers that be. 
Tonight I will speak to you on my ideas for a change of strategy. I am here 
tonight because I took a leap of faith. My action is not the first and it 
certainly will not be the last. Yet, on behalf of those who follow, I require 
your help - your sacrifice - and that of countless other Americans. I may fail. 
We may fail. But nothing we have tried has worked so far. It is time for change 
and the change starts with all of us.

I stand before you today, not as an expert - not as one who pretends to have all
the answers. I am simply an American and a servant of the American people. My 
humble opinions today are just that. I realize that you may not agree with 
everything I have to say. However, I did not choose to be a leader for 
popularity. I did it to serve and make better the soldiers of this country. And 
I swore to carry out this charge honorably under the rule of law.

Today, I speak with you about a radical idea. It is one born from the very 
concept of the American soldier (or service member). It became instrumental in 
ending the Vietnam War - but it has been long since forgotten. The idea is this:
that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting

Now it is not an easy task for the soldier. For he or she must be aware that 
they are being used for ill-gain. They must hold themselves responsible for 
individual action. They must remember duty to the Constitution and the people 
supersedes the ideologies of their leadership. The soldier must be willing to 
face ostracism by their peers, worry over the survival of their families, and of
course the loss of personal freedom. They must know that resisting an 
authoritarian government at home is equally important to fighting a foreign 
aggressor on the battlefield. Finally, those wearing the uniform must know 
beyond any shadow of a doubt that by refusing immoral and illegal orders they 
will be supported by the people not with mere words but by action.

The American soldier must rise above the socialization that tells them authority
should always be obeyed without question. Rank should be respected but never 
blindly followed. Awareness of the history of atrocities and destruction 
committed in the name of America - either through direct military intervention 
or by proxy war - is crucial. They must realize that this is a war not out of 
self-defense but by choice, for profit and imperialistic domination. WMD, ties 
to Al Qaeda, and ties to 911 never existed and never will. The soldier must know
that our narrowly and questionably elected officials intentionally manipulated 
the evidence presented to Congress, the public, and the world to make the case 
for war. They must know that neither Congress nor this administration has the 
authority to violate the prohibition against pre-emptive war - an American law 
that still stands today. This same administration uses us for rampant violations
of time-tested laws banning torture and degradation of prisoners of war. Though 
the American soldier wants to do right, the illegitimacy of the occupation 
itself, the policies of this administration, and rules of engagement of 
desperate field commanders will ultimately force them to be party to war crimes.
They must know some of these facts, if not all, in order to act.

Mark Twain once remarked, "Each man must for himself alone decide what is right 
and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk 
this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and
inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country Š" By this, each and 
every American soldier, marine, airman, and sailor is responsible for their 
choices and their actions. The freedom to choose is only one that we can deny 

The oath we take swears allegiance not to one man but to a document of 
principles and laws designed to protect the people. Enlisting in the military 
does not relinquish one's right to seek the truth - neither does it excuse one 
from rational thought nor the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. "I
was only following orders" is never an excuse.

The Nuremburg Trials showed America and the world that citizenry as well as 
soldiers have the unrelinquishable obligation to refuse complicity in war crimes
perpetrated by their government. Widespread torture and inhumane treatment of 
detainees is a war crime. A war of aggression born through an unofficial policy 
of prevention is a crime against the peace. An occupation violating the very 
essence of international humanitarian law and sovereignty is a crime against 
humanity. These crimes are funded by our tax dollars. Should citizens choose to 
remain silent through self-imposed ignorance or choice, it makes them as 
culpable as the soldier in these crimes.

The Constitution is no mere document - neither is it old, out-dated, or 
irrelevant. It is the embodiment of all that Americans hold dear: truth, 
justice, and equality for all. It is the formula for a government of the people 
and by the people. It is a government that is transparent and accountable to 
whom they serve. It dictates a system of checks and balances and separation of 
powers to prevent the evil that is tyranny.

As strong as the Constitution is, it is not foolproof. It does not fully take 
into account the frailty of human nature. Profit, greed, and hunger for power 
can corrupt individuals as much as they can corrupt institutions. The founders 
of the Constitution could not have imagined how money would infect our political
system. Neither could they believe a standing army would be used for profit and 
manifest destiny. Like any common dictatorship, soldiers would be ordered to 
commit acts of such heinous nature as to be deemed most ungentlemanly and 
unbecoming that of a free country.

The American soldier is not a mercenary. He or she does not simply fight wars 
for payment. Indeed, the state of the American soldier is worse than that of a 
mercenary. For a soldier-for-hire can walk away if they are disgusted by their 
employer's actions. Instead, especially when it comes to war, American soldiers 
become indentured servants whether they volunteer out of patriotism or are 
drafted through economic desperation. Does it matter what the soldier believes 
is morally right? If this is a war of necessity, why force men and women to 
fight? When it comes to a war of ideology, the lines between right and wrong are
blurred. How tragic it is when the term Catch-22 defines the modern American 

Aside from the reality of indentured servitude, the American soldier in theory 
is much nobler. Soldier or officer, when we swear our oath it is first and 
foremost to the Constitution and its protectorate, the people. If soldiers 
realized this war is contrary to what the Constitution extols - if they stood up
and threw their weapons down - no President could ever initiate a war of choice 
again. When we say, "Š Against all enemies foreign and domestic," what if 
elected leaders became the enemy? Whose orders do we follow? The answer is the 
conscience that lies in each soldier, each American, and each human being. Our 
duty to the Constitution is an obligation, not a choice.

The military, and especially the Army, is an institution of fraternity and 
close-knit camaraderie. Peer pressure exists to ensure cohesiveness but it 
stamps out individualism and individual thought. The idea of brotherhood is 
difficult to pull away from if the alternative is loneliness and isolation. If 
we want soldiers to choose the right but difficult path - they must know beyond 
any shadow of a doubt that they will be supported by Americans. To support the 
troops who resist, you must make your voices heard. If they see thousands 
supporting me, they will know. I have heard your support, as has Suzanne Swift, 
and Ricky Clousing - but many others have not. Increasingly, more soldiers are 
questioning what they are being asked to do. Yet, the majority lack awareness to
the truth that is buried beneath the headlines. Many more see no alternative but
to obey. We must show open-minded soldiers a choice and we must give them 
courage to act.

Three weeks ago, Sgt. Hernandez from the 172nd Stryker Brigade was killed, 
leaving behind a wife and two children. In an interview, his wife said he 
sacrificed his life so that his family could survive. I'm sure Sgt. Hernandez 
cherished the camaraderie of his brothers, but given a choice, I doubt he would 
put himself in a position to leave his family husbandless and fatherless. Yet 
that's the point, you see. People like Sgt. Hernandez don't have a choice. The 
choices are to fight in Iraq or let your family starve. Many soldiers don't 
refuse this war en mass because, like all of us,, they value their families over
their own lives and perhaps their conscience. Who would willingly spend years in
prison for principle and morality while denying their family sustenance?

I tell this to you because you must know that to stop this war, for the soldiers
to stop fighting it, they must have the unconditional support of the people. I 
have seen this support with my own eyes. For me it was a leap of faith. For 
other soldiers, they do not have that luxury. They must know it and you must 
show it to them. Convince them that no matter how long they sit in prison, no 
matter how long this country takes to right itself, their families will have a 
roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, opportunities and education. This
is a daunting task. It requires the sacrifice of all of us. Why must Canadians 
feed and house our fellow Americans who have chosen to do the right thing? We 
should be the ones taking care of our own. Are we that powerless - are we that 
unwilling to risk something for those who can truly end this war? How do you 
support the troops but not the war? By supporting those who can truly stop it; 
let them know that resistance to participate in an illegal war is not futile and
not without a future.

I have broken no law but the code of silence and unquestioning loyalty. If I am 
guilty of any crime, it is that I learned too much and cared too deeply for the 
meaningless loss of my fellow soldiers and my fellow human beings. If I am to be
punished it should be for following the rule of law over the immoral orders of 
one man. If I am to be punished it should be for not acting sooner. Martin 
Luther King Jr. once said, "History will have to record that the greatest 
tragedy of this period Š was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the 
appalling silence of the good people."

Now, I'm not a hero. I am a leader of men who said enough is enough. Those who 
called for war prior to the invasion compared diplomacy with Saddam to the 
compromises made with Hitler. I say, we compromise now by allowing a government 
that uses war as the first option instead of the last to act with impunity. Many
have said this about the World Trade Towers, "Never Again." I agree. Never again
will we allow those who threaten our way of life to reign free - be they 
terrorists or elected officials. The time to fight back is now - the time to 
stand up and be counted is today.

 I'll end with one more Martin Luther King Jr. quote:

"One who breaks an unjust 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."

 Thank you and bless you all.


The only thing Watada said that I would disagree with is that he claimed that he
is not a hero. He is a leader, yet again, by taking this stance. And he may 
never know how many lives he has already touched.

Today, it is up to the anti-war movement to make sure his leadership touches as 
many soldiers' lives in Iraq as possible. Watada is making his stand. He needs 
continued support.

As he said, if more American soldiers in Iraq know that they, along with their 
families, will be supported if they stand up against this illegal occupation, 
countless more will follow, and this repulsive war will end.

(c)2006 Dahr Jamail.

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