Monday, February 12, 2007

Thoughts About Service, and Lt. Watada

I'm not into First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, or his refusal to serve in Iraq. Many on the left view him as a hero, even Sean Penn has appeared in his corner, reminding us all on "This Week" that Thomas Jefferson once said "dissent is the highest form of patriotism." I have a hard time believing George Washington felt that way as men deserted him at Valley Forge.

The story of Ehren Watada goes like this: He was a young man who signed up for the Army after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Maybe he was like me, and other officers I knew, in that he just didn't have much else going on and wanted to help out in the military and gain a little life focus. He graduated from Officer Candidate School, a competitive military commissioning school which many career enlisted officers dream to be accepted to. Watada then served one year in South Korea and then re-assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington. There, he learned his unit would deploy to Iraq and Watada began to have second thoughts about his commitment. He refused to go to Iraq and now faces a court martial.

Here's what his civilian attorney had to say:
Well, we expected him to be charged with missing movement or violating an order to get on a bus to accompany his unit to Iraq. We did not really anticipate that they would charge him with additional offenses based upon the comments and the remarks that he's made. And that opens up a whole new chapter in this proceeding, because what the Army has clearly tried to do by the nature of these charges is send out a message to people in the military, that if you criticize the war and if you criticize the decisions that were made to bring the United States into this war, that you, too, could be charged with disloyalty, contemptuous remarks and disrespect for higher officers, and in this case, specifically in this charge, the President.

Honesty, I'm amazed his attorney sounds so surprised. No, you can't openly criticize a war when you're in the military and the reasons for this are so obvious I wont even waste space to mention them. The military sends out that message from day one.
That's how it goes. You volunteer to serve, you sign the agreement saying you'll give your time and freedom and the government will pay you, train you, and give you tax breaks, you take the government's money, time, training; you get to be lauded, but you may have to die for your country. What you don't get to do is have the good without the loss of freedom or the increase in risk. Such is life.

Lt. Watada started reading about Iraq once he learned his unit might get deployed. What can I make of this? He's such a bright, thoughtful person he wanted to learn all about the area he was going to deploy to? If that's so you'd think someone like this would have been much more concerned about Iraq before he signed his life away in the army. Maybe he was like many I knew who thought "Oh, I'll never get sent to Iraq"
but had he read a few articles before signing up maybe he would have realized how shady the whole thing was.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, even back in 2003, that Iraq was a misguided, illegal war. I was in the Air Force at the time, I signed up before Iraq, and as our country went to war there I wondered whether or not I would be deployed. But, obviously, I had considered deployment into a combat zone before I signed up. Who wouldn't think about that? I can't believe anyone signs up for the army and hasn't considered deployment to a combat zone or being asked to do something disagreeable.

Had I been asked to go to Iraq I would have gone, even if I disagreed with the war, because, simply, that was what I agreed to. The Air Force gave me free training, decent pay, tax exemptions, tuition assistance, free housing, a rate reduction on my debts, and career assistance. And that's just the beginning. Their end of the deal was upheld, the least I could do was uphold mine. Honestly, I'm a better person for having known what I wanted out of the military, giving them my time, and giving them what they wanted out of me.

To his credit Lt. Watada tried to resign his commission before going to Iraq. The Army obviously refused. They want to get a return on their expensive investment. They want their end of the deal. Can everyone just resign from the military once they get an unpopular assignment? It is, after all, one of the few jobs where you may be called to give up your life for a cause. Something like that requires not only foresight, but honor to uphold.

I have little patience for people who suddenly become enlightened and objective the moment they find out they will be deployed. The time for such philosophical thinking, perhaps, was before taking the oath, and someone else's place at OCS, and before parading around as a hero. Anyone who puts their lives in the government's hands, and says they are willing to sacrifice themselves for what is deemed the greater good, should be held in reverence. But to have that honor you must submit and serve.

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