Iraq 'deserter' a hero for standing up for his beliefs

Jim Cohen
Staff Writer

With an all-volunteer U.S. military, it seems it would be difficult for a soldier to object serving in combat. After all, every soldier knowingly volunteers to be put in harm’s way. Soldiers know they might have to fight in wars for reasons with which they may disagree.

Although some say it is inappropriate for a volunteer soldier to object to fighting in a war, Army 1st Lt. Erhen Watada was right to refuse to serve in Iraq. He is a hero for standing up to the Bush administration’s deceptions that led the nation to war.

By the end of 2005, Army 1st Lt. Erhen Watada was convinced that the Bush administration had purposefully manipulated intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq and that the congressional approval of the war therefore was based on lies, as reported by the Hartford Courant. With this knowledge, he could not honorably serve his country in Iraq.

Watada volunteered to serve his country after graduating at the top of his class from Hawaii Pacific University in 2003. He spent his early years serving in the Korean Peninsula earning high marks from his superior officers.

In 2005, Watada was reassigned to the United States to begin training for combat in Iraq. Preparing for battle, Watada listened to the sage advice from his commanding battalion officer when he told him if he didn’t know all there is to know about his mission, he would be failing himself and his soldiers. Watada took these words to heart and began studying and learning every piece of information he could obtain about why the United States went to war with Iraq including the purpose of his mission.

As his military unit was deploying to Iraq, Watada refused to deploy with his army unit because of his views on the war.

Watada offered to use his military training and experience by fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. He even offered his resignation from the Army. In both cases, the Army declined his requests. Watada is now facing a court martial for failing to follow orders to deploy to Iraq. After having his original case declared a mistrial by an Army judge, Watada’s lawyers are attempting to prevent a second trial set to begin on March 19th.

A recent report from the Pentagon has concluded that the former policy chief from the Pentagon, Douglas J. Feith, took “inappropriate” actions by advancing unsubstantiated evidence to bolster the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq. Watada’s justification of abstention to fight in Iraq has, in fact, been substantiated.

This new information will hopefully give Watada the peace of mind by knowing he was right for following his former commander’s advice to study everything our government’s arguments for going to war in Iraq as well as the purpose of the mission. By failing to do this kind of hard work, the commander in chief has left the troops without a mission caught in the middle of a civil sectarian war.

From a legal standpoint, Watada finds himself in a difficult situation because he offered his voluntary service to our nation’s military. Unless he can avoid a second trial, Watada faces serious jail time for his actions.

The Army’s duty to uphold its honor and code of military law prohibits it from accepting Watada’s resignation. It seems that Watada, with his military training and skills, could be better used to protect the nation rather than sitting in jail for the next number of years. Watada could be especially helpful in the real war on terrorism by fighting in Afghanistan, which faces a resurgence of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

Some of Watada’s comrades don’t agree with his objection to fight in Iraq and have tried to physically attack him for it while he has been stationed at his military base. Family members of Watada’s army unit have also voiced their dissent for his actions. Some have even questioned his patriotism and loyalty to the U.S.

While their dissent is understandable, the true

patriot in this story is Watada. Although he has violated his oath to follow military command, Watada had the foresight and courage to do what every leader is expected to do –– to get it right.

Watada got it right when he did his homework and learned everything he could as to why our country went to war in Iraq. Watada got it right when he realized we went to war on faulty intelligence pushed by political motivations. Watada got it right when he concluded our president failed to do his homework before he decided to send our troops to a foreign land without the proper equipment or plan to get them home quickly.

Although Watada broke the rules, his leadership has shown the greatness of our nation’s military because it has cultivated leaders like him, including an Iraq war veteran in Congress, who are fighting against the quagmire that is Iraq.