Soldiers Must Choose to Stop Fighting


e 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, has had any
effect in persuading the powers that be. 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, soldiers can
choose to stop fighting it. 

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 American soldier must rise above the socialization that tells
them authority should always be obeyed without question. 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 of self-defense, but by choice, for profit and imperialistic
domination. WMD, ties to Al Qaeda, and ties to 9/11 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. Though the American soldier
wants to do right, they must know some of these facts, if not all,
in order to act. 

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 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. 

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. 

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. 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.
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? 

You must know that to stop this war, for the soldiers to stop fighting
it, they must have the unconditional support of the people. 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.
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 person.
If I am to be punished it should be for not acting sooner. 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.


June 22 Lt. Watada became the first commissioned officer to publicly
refuse deployment to the unlawful war and occupation in Iraq. On August
12, Watada spoke at the Veterans For Peace national convention. That
speech was compiled by Dahr Jamail  (see for
full speech).