Meanwhile, here's an excellent essay written by an Iraq War veteran, originally published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Thank you, Evan Knappenberger, for speaking out - and for your moral clarity.
Acknowledge soldier's right to object
by Evan Knappenberger
When I joined the Army shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, my friends and family raised many serious questions that, after almost four years on active duty and two years of college, I have only now started addressing.
As an 18-year old, I deferred answering morally charged questions like "are you ready to kill human beings?" and "what if you change your mind?" partly because the Army recruiters claimed that I would not kill in my chosen occupation. As easy, however, as it is to blame faulty recruiting practices for the dysfunctional ethics of my past, honesty dictates a more thorough self-disclosure now.
As a high school senior I was unaware of the potency of the moral dilemmas to which my community was attempting to alert me. Neurobiology tells us that the capacity for reasoning is not fully developed in the human brain until the mid-twenties or later. It was illogical for my elders to expect me -- as an 18-year-old -- to be capable of comprehending the moral complexities of the war I was eager to join; just as today it is unreasonable to expect any teenager to be capable of understanding death, violence, the codes of military justice, or military obligations. It is an irresponsible society that binds its sons and daughters to a lifestyle of military discipline and the rigors of combat without acknowledging the imminence of their natural cognitive and moral development.
Considering this, as well as our nation's foundational principle of individual self-determination, it is profoundly hypocritical that we refuse to recognize the natural rights of the war resister. In an "all-volunteer" military, refusal to serve for any reason should be honored and recognized as the milestone of a mature mind, just as refusal of any voluntarily violent civilian occupation would be honored.
It should be noted that refusal to serve can take forms other than conscientious objection. The praxis of personal experience is a powerful teacher, especially to soldiers who believe that the occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan is unjustifiable in itself. Though they volunteered, they retain the right to change their minds, just as they retain the right to change political and religious affiliations.
Soldiers objecting to specific wars should be given the same conscientious objector status as those who stand against all war, and honorably discharged without prejudice. Were this doctrine fairly practiced, perhaps political-military expeditionism would become as militarily impractical as it is financially unrewarding. And, if the soldiery was able to exercise an independent and informed judgment, maybe military operations would be more successful than they have been at times.
In the years since I was first asked those challenging questions, I have come to a hard-won conclusion that conventional values do not follow the rules of conventional wisdom. I believe now that the mistaken equation of war-resistance to cowardice is an outdated and primitive notion, as barbaric and uncivilized as racism and patriarchy. In fact, true cowardice often hides behind a weapon, a flag, a uniform, or a particular shade of skin, and rarely behind matters of conscience.
I know now that there is no ethics that can balance the right of individual self-determination with the subjective pragmatics of military law. It is illogical to believe that an Army that does not recognize the right of its soldiers to object can defend the right of dissent at all. I did not earn the prerogative of social protest, as some tell me, through my service. It was there all along.
Until our country accepts and affirms the rights of war resisters, teenagers will continually be forced (as I was) into choosing between the unjust consequences of breaking the silence, or committing injustices themselves. Our young soldiers deserve better than this catch-22.
Evan Knappenberger is an Iraq War veteran and a Davis-Putter Scholar at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham.