reply to living resistance, part two: cowards

[redsock guest post]

Laura recently offered her thoughts on war resister Dave Ward's declaration that he is neither coward nor hero.

Laura wrote:"People who call [war resisters] cowards are idiots." Then she asked me to offer perhaps a more substantive reply.

At various events, I have heard resisters mention being called cowards and why they felt the description was undeserved. Their answers often center on the fact that they have actually been in Iraq -- for years, in some cases -- and know first-hand what is going on. Having participated in dozens of house raids, having assisted in funneling innocent civilians into the US's torture chambers, having intimate knowledge of the vast carnage the US is committing and how the military is working overtime to hide the truth far from the eyes and ears of its citizens (the people who are funding the slaughter), they were in a far better position to render a verdict on the legality and morality* of the occupation.

All that is true, of course, but I can think of other reasons why these men and women are not cowards.

They stood up to the most powerful military in human history -- where I can only assume the peer pressure is intense -- and said No. When they made the decision to leave the US and come to Canada, they and their families gave up their homes, their jobs, and their friends. They became forever estranged from some or all members of their families. (At least one resister's mother told her child she wished he had been killed in Iraq rather than have deserted.)

They took only what they could carry (or fit in their car) and they drove -- in total secrecy -- to a foreign country they they had most likely never visited before. They came without a place to live, without jobs, without friends. They knew they might never see anyone from the US again. They knew that if they returned to the US (or were deported), they faced a military trial, a prison sentence, and a felony conviction that would follow them for the rest of their lives. (They also could be forcibly sent back to Iraq, which would probably a death sentence.) That criminal record would make it impossible for them to continue their education, get a bank or house loan, or apply for most jobs, even working for a fast food franchise.

In all other endeavors in our lives, we have the right -- we insist upon it, actually -- to say no, to quit, to change our minds. We leave jobs, we drop out of school, we break promises and agreements**, we get divorced (sorry, buddy, you signed a contract: 'til death do you part). Yet only for these most serious of circumstances -- the decision to kill other human beings -- do a depressingly high number of people smother all hint of compassion and race to assume this lofty position of judgment over people they know nothing about: "You have no rights, you must do whatever you are told to do."

I think about the inner strength it must have taken to leave the military, leave your country, and start a new life from scratch in a different country, with the horror of deportation hanging over you. I think about the huge risks and sacrifices these men and women -- many of them half my age or younger -- have made.

"Coward" is quite possibly the very last word in the dictionary I would use to describe them.

* Part of the bizarre hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance of the United States is that it does whatever it wants wherever it wants -- which has meant a lot of deliberate murders, rapes, torture, bombings, snuffing out of democracies, plundering the riches of others -- while also insisting that it is the foremost Christian nation on the planet. It is my understanding that Jesus (he put the Christ in Christianity!) told his followers that when your enemies attack you, you should turn the other cheek. He did not say "Fuck up your enemy so he's sorry he was ever born". And he absolutely did not say, "Go into the next town, rape and murder some random family, and steal their valuables."

** - Yet when the military forces soldiers to serve additional time beyond what they agreed to serve, there is no talk of demanding that the military "honour its contract".


M@ said...

I was at the event this week where Dale Landry spoke, of course, and I was really impressed at his story of how he came to decide he couldn't be part of the military any more. He wasn't in direct danger, and could very easily have kept his head down, worked the remaining few months on his contract, and gotten out without any problem.

Instead, he made a moral choice, that he was not going to participate in what he knew were illegal acts and in fact war crimes. He just said no. And he's paid a heavy price for his choice, and might continue to pay a heavier price.

Making a moral choice that involves personal sacrifice, purely for the betterment of others and the world around you, is a pretty good example of bravery. Hiding behind a contract -- which, by the way, the US military was openly preparing to violate anyway -- is sheer cowardice.

I have a hell of a lot of respect for Dale, as I do for all the war resisters.

allan said...

I agree with you 101% about the difficult moral choices, but even if Dale had kept his head down and served his time and gone home, he still could have been stop-lossed and involuntarily kept in the military against his will (as over 15,000 other vets have been, according to the US Army, so the number is probably higher) for another year or two or three or ...

M@ said...

Actually, Dale had already been told he would be stop-lossed. He had 8 months left on his contract and was assigned to Iraq for 12 months. When he pointed it out, his commander just said "Oh, it's okay, we'll just stop-loss you."

The contract is all-important unless the military says so, is the moral of the story, I guess.