6.10.2008

letter exchange on war resisters in toronto star

From this week's Toronto Star, first, we have this:
In defence of the United States
Re: MPs vote to give asylum to U.S. military deserters

As a retired U.S. army officer, I can no longer remain silent while apologists for Iraq war deserters accuse my country of war crimes and denigrate our armed forces. I would remind them that the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison were reported by a soldier, just as the massacre at My Lai in Vietnam was reported to an army chaplain by a soldier.

In war, just as in civilian society, people may commit crimes. However, it is not the policy of the U.S. or its army to violate the Geneva or Hague conventions. I have taught the "law of war" to many soldiers, and I can tell you that they are taught to disobey any order that they believe to be illegal or immoral. This training works: Our soldiers do refuse illegal or immoral orders, and they do report violations of the law of war.

The deserters from the U.S. army were not draftees; they were volunteers. They joined the army of their own free will. These people who have come to Canada are not heroes. It is moral and physical cowardice masquerading as principle. The only "asylum" they should be granted is at the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Do not embrace these fugitives from justice. I can guarantee you this: If Canada were attacked, these deserters would desert you, too.

James R. Reese, Major, U.S. Army (Ret.), Toronto

Can you spot the holes in this man's reasoning? I mean the holes big enough to drive a Humvee through? These five Canadians did!
James R. Reese, a retired U.S. army major, writes, "I can no longer remain silent while apologists for Iraq war deserters accuse my country of war crimes and denigrate our armed forces."

In what appears to be a feeble attempt to put a positive spin on two dark points in U.S. history, he argues that the abuses at both Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and My Lai in Vietnam were reported by soldiers. He fails to note, however, that both of these heinous events were perpetrated by U.S. soldiers.

Reese also notes that "it is not the policy of the U.S. or its army to violate the Geneva or Hague conventions." Sure, while it may not be a formal policy to violate either of these noted conventions, they are being violated just the same. Consider extraordinary rendition and waterboarding.

Finally, he says, "The deserters from the U.S. army were not draftees; they were volunteers. They joined the army of their own free will. These people who have come to Canada are not heroes."

The argument that current U.S. deserters are professional soldiers and not draftees has been uttered many times by people who hold viewpoints similar to those of Reese. However, the argument is largely irrelevant. If a war is illegal and unjust, it is illegal and unjust to all aggressors, not just to those who didn't volunteer.

Reese is fully within his rights to consider U.S. military deserters as cowards, but he is wrong to imply that the U.S. always takes the moral high road. It clearly doesn't.

R. Glenn McGillivray, Oakville

Retired U.S. army major James R. Reese says he is opposed to Canada granting asylum to U.S. military deserters. He also states that he has taught the "law of war" to many soldiers, and that they are taught to disobey any order that they believe to be "illegal or immoral."

With that reasoning, all of the U.S. armed forces deployed in Iraq would have been fully justified in laying down their arms and deserting once they realized that the war had been waged on spurious grounds and was deemed illegal by the United Nations.

Mohamed M. Jagani, Markham

As a retired officer of the U.S. army, a force guilty of documented excesses and various corrupt and illegal acts, James R. Reese is hardly qualified to lecture Canadians on morality and justice. And if "it is not the policy of the U.S. or its army to violate the Geneva or Hague conventions," perhaps he can explain why U.S. troops are in Iraq under false pretenses, killing, maiming and torturing innocent citizens.

Our Prime Minister may do as he's told, but for now, Canadians are still free to think for themselves.

Randy Gostlin, Oshawa

Retired U.S. army officer James R. Reese states that U.S. soldiers are taught to "disobey any order that they believe to be illegal or immoral." If this is the case, all U.S. military personnel should have refused to take part in the Iraq war, which is illegal and immoral.

Unlike Reese, I believe that those soldiers who decided not to participate in this war and have taken refuge in this country should be supported by Canada and given the chance to stay here.

Ramin Farsangi, Innisfil, Ont.

I wonder if James R. Reese, a retired major in the U.S. army, would consider an order to wage an illegal war based on distorted intelligence and false premises grounds for disobeying orders. He then says, "If Canada were attacked, these deserters would desert you, too."

I wonder if Reese could let us know when Iraq attacked the United States. I would remind him that his country was the last to attack Canada. (We won that one.)

Howard Kaplan, Toronto

Terrific letters! Perhaps you will take a minute and write one of your own.

21 comments:

Jere said...

"If Canada were attacked, these deserters would desert you, too."

Well, the last guy stole my thunder on this one--this statement is the type that many people would hear and completely miss how off-base it is because of the way it's worded. Like, "Yeah, they WOULD desert us if we were attacked!" But you have to just take a second and think, Wait, were we attacked in the first place? I mean, the guy says it in that "final word" kind of way, like, Oh, that's so succinct... And I like how he "guarantees" it--hey, dumbass, that's not even right because maybe if Canada were attacked by some country and actually needed to be defended, they'd be the first to defend it. They are soldiers after all.

L-girl said...

maybe if Canada were attacked by some country and actually needed to be defended, they'd be the first to defend it. They are soldiers after all.

You're right. They are soldiers - and really courageous people. It takes so much inner strength to do what they've done. I have no doubt that if Canada needed physical defending, they would be on the job immediately.

neutron said...

" ... it is not the policy of the U.S. or its army to violate the Geneva or Hague conventions"

What about Guantanamo?

L-girl said...

The entire Iraq War is a violation of the Geneva Conventions - since it's entirely a war on a civilian population.

Of course Neutron is right about Guantanamo.

The letter is a great example of the blindness and arrogance of the US military mentality.

impudent strumpet said...

Even if Canada were attacked and they did desert us, there would be nothing wrong with that. A country is attacked and foreign nationals flee. Why's that a problem? Or, if they become citizens, a country is attacked and civilians flee. Why's that a problem?

L-girl said...

Imp Strump, you rock.

Jere said...

Right, it's not a problem. The irony is that they probably WOULD defend, if there was, you know, a legitimate attack and the country actually needed defending. Against the ones that attacked (unlike with the US and Iraq). And this guy GUARANTEED they'd "desert" in that situation. They'd desert if there was something unjust going on, as they've proven, and they of course should be commended for that.

Kim_in_TO said...

He then says, "If Canada were attacked, these deserters would desert you, too."

Then there is the whole idea of Canada "being attacked" in the first place. Attacked by whom? In the 21st century? The Russians? The Chinese? Outer space aliens? Someone's been watching too much bad tv.

This whole argument makes me crazy. It started coming up regularly when Canada chose not to send troops to Iraq. Many Americans (no doubt the same ones who attack Laura for choosing to leave the US) talked about how the US with its powerful military "protects" Canada, and how ungrateful we were. Protects us from whom? As if we're fending off pirates daily along our shorelines...

One day, education reform will require that logic be taught to children, from the lowest grades.

impudent strumpet said...

Theory: if anyone attacks Canada it's going to be the US, because the US would probably still rather have us as their neighbours than Russia or China.

Jere said...

"Protects us from whom? As if we're fending off pirates daily along our shorelines..."

And protects themselves from whom? I guess a bunch of terrorists who are already dead.

deang said...

Many Americans (no doubt the same ones who attack Laura for choosing to leave the US) talked about how the US with its powerful military "protects" Canada, and how ungrateful we were. Protects us from whom? As if we're fending off pirates daily along our shorelines

I've found that an assumption many Americans make is that US military bases are strewn throughout the world because other countries rely on us to "protect" them. One coworker (who considered himself "liberal," by the way, and hated Republicans) even believed that US bases were in other countries because those nations' people had requested that the bases be there to "keep them safe." When asked "Protection from what or whom?", such people start making stuff up: terrorists, rebels, narcotraffickers, guerrillas, the boogeyman du jour, etc. Often hard to know where to begin with people like that.

M@ said...

Theory: if anyone attacks Canada it's going to be the US

I think you have it right there. We'll see where this energy crisis goes. If we ever cut off the pipes, we'd suddenly be a rogue state run by terrorists threatening them with imminent destruction.

M@ said...

Something else has occurred to me. Some soldiers (Canadian) I've talked to certainly feel that resisters should be sent back (though most concede that stop-lossed soldiers should be allowed to stay).

I think that this is the problem when soldiers express an opinion on this matter: personally, they do not consider that they would ever refuse their orders. There are two reasons for what I've observed, I think: the Canadian military is generally sane and humane (with glaring exceptions, I grant you), and Canada has a non-aggressive, or at least non-imperialistic, foreign policy.

These factors almost guarantee that Canadian soldiers will not be faced with waging an illegal war on a civilian population. When a Canadian soldier tries to imagine himself or herself refusing to serve or going AWOL, no situations readily present themselves where they would.

It's pretty easy to say "a soldier's gotta do what they're told" or, laughably, "they signed a contract" -- sophistry is always easier than thinking. From our very, very fortunate Canadian position, the ability to empathize with the resisters is difficult for some people. They aren't listening, and when we get them to listen, I'm more and more confident that they'll be on our side.

L-girl said...

One coworker (who considered himself "liberal," by the way, and hated Republicans) even believed that US bases were in other countries because those nations' people had requested that the bases be there to "keep them safe." When asked "Protection from what or whom?", such people start making stuff up: terrorists, rebels, narcotraffickers, guerrillas, the boogeyman du jour, etc. Often hard to know where to begin with people like that.

Oh geez, that is sad. It speaks to how Americans are (and are not) educated about what their country does.

Theory: if anyone attacks Canada it's going to be the US

I think you have it right there. We'll see where this energy crisis goes. If we ever cut off the pipes, we'd suddenly be a rogue state run by terrorists threatening them with imminent destruction.


This is so scary it hardly bears thinking about. Canada is rich with the two things the world is hungering for: oil and fresh water. How convenient for the US.

L-girl said...

I think that this is the problem when soldiers express an opinion on this matter: personally, they do not consider that they would ever refuse their orders.

M@, that's a very good point. They don't imagine themselves being part of something like what's going on in Iraq.

In your experience, do Cdn soldiers believe what is going on? Are people willing to believe it's a war against a civilian population, that war crimes are being committed all the time?

when we get them to listen, I'm more and more confident that they'll be on our side

Let me know how it goes. ;)

Cornelia said...

I want to say that I find it outrageous what the retired Major has written!!! I think it is abusive and insultative to call them "cowards". Just trashtalking, I hold. Of course he is free to dislike the war resisters to the utmost but so are we to defend their rights and the demand to let them stay in Canada.
Regarding his claim that they would not fight for Canada either, I would like to point out that 1.they had no problem to go to Afghanistan, only to Iraq. Second, I would like to ask him whether he thinks going to war is the only possible helpful contribution one can do for a country??? He seems to miss out on other possibilities, I think.
And if he was so successfully taught his soldiers the Geneva convention and stuff, may I ask him what he has been doing against the detainee abuse at Guantanamo???

L-girl said...

Second, I would like to ask him whether he thinks going to war is the only possible helpful contribution one can do for a country??? He seems to miss out on other possibilities, I think.

Very good point. The war resisters will contribute to Canada in many ways, even if they choose not to be soldiers. (Which is the choice most people make.)

Cornelia said...

Absolutey, thanks so much, Laura. I think the freedom to choose one's job in accordance with one likes doing and can do well is very important and it is good that not everybody wants to do the same job and it's only each person's business to decide for him- or herself where to live and what job to do. Period. That's a very general comment, of course. But more specifically, I do know the case of the people from outside Kosova (Albanian for Kosovo) helping financially and politically and with stuff and many people inside Kosova being grateful and happy and understanding that there are many other ways of helping a country than going to war.
Regarding Canada and US war resisters, so many of the people who have moved to Canada have made such great contributions and have helped to achieve so much and to do so many good things and in so many different areas in the civil life, including law, politics, media (Andy Berry, I think?), university etc.etc. They have done a terrific job and this needs to be underlined. They helped Canadian economy and progress so much.
Also aside from that, international exchange is so often good and important and meaningful and worthwhile.

L-girl said...

Andy Barrie, a CBC journalist who has been very supportive of our Campaign.

Well, at least 50,000 Americans came to Canada during the Vietnam era, and most stayed. They were mostly university educated and middle class, which will not be the norm for the Iraq War resisters.

Nevertheless, all the resisters I know are working, and many of them advancing and progressing in their fields.

Cornelia said...

It's cool that all of them do have a job since that is also sometimes helpful for having the possibility to stay (in terms of immigration related issues, I mean). Anyway, also people on welfare can do a lot of good things. When I was jobless, I did a lot of volunteer stuff, got my doctorate done and started to translate for the police, which I still do right now in addition to my main callcenter / office job. It helped me a lot to be able to get something done and to achieve something, thereby also keeping boredom at bay.
Regarding the discriminatory and abusive attitudes of the retired Major and his likes, I want to point out 2 things: The human dignity of people who have been bullied and abused does remain intact and helps to survive and improve the situation or something, a lady who worked for a women's crisis center over here said. Personally, I find that point very helpful. Second, as a big refugee assistance organization over here put it in their publications, "Those who forget human rights do indeed forget themselves". Absolutely. I agree 100 %. In every situation and on every aspect. Because if people for example do think one allegedly may not maintain boundaries and decide for themselves, but must do everything one is told and accept all sorts of abuse and victimization and bullying and whatever (and maybe even allegedly do themselves in and make sure to "suffer as others have to do as well", which is completely sadomaso and self-destructive and abusive and destructive, but this is something a lot of bullies and unenlightened people are crazy about!!! Personally, I recommend telling them: "Leave me alone, stop that, or I will take you to court and get a restraning order under Violence Protection Act!"), won't they be limiting their own choices and options severely as well? Will they ever know what the right to freedom, integrity, personal boundaries, positive identity and pursuit of happiness means? For example, if people who always had a problem with people on welfare lose their job themselves, how will they cope with the situation until they find a nice job again? If an unenlightened woman believes (most falsely) that patriarchal trash that women who got subjected to violence against women, allegedly are to blame themselves comes across an offender herself? Once I also heard that a bully who had tried to get bossy with me until I got free from her later fell victim to her own backward reactionary unenlightened views!!! Then I thought right away, this nonsense often doesn't even do the offenders themselves any good and I thought okay, now the trash she is so crazy about has backfired on her.
What the Major and his likes write is horrible and unacceptable and there is no excuse for that and one needn't and shouldn't ever take that or put up with that and them and their likes, but I just wonder whether their backward reactionary views will backfire on themselves one day.

L-girl said...

Anyway, also people on welfare can do a lot of good things.

Absolutely, and I don't mean to disparage anyone who isn't working, can't find work, etc. But for immigrants or people trying to immigrate to a country (refugee claimants, war resisters, etc.), it's a different issue. They have to work, or they are perceived as "living off the system" or coming to Canada to scam taxpayers. That's why we always emphasize that the war resisters pay their own way.