Fellow Americans, ladies of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, I am honored by your invitation and I salute you for being a compelling voice regionally, nationally and internationally. I am awed by the fact that your time honored organization, which emerged out of the chaos of World War I, remains dynamic and relevant in the everchanging political, social, economic landscape. In an effort to extend the reach, you have taken on the formidable issues of our day, one being the illegality of the war and occupation of Iraq. Since the administration’s pre-emptive war in March 2003, the death toll among the “coalition of the willing” and the Iraqi people mounts daily and still there is no end in sight. You have called for “.a comprehensive and rapid plan for troop withdrawal (to) include the closure of all US military bases, support of a peace process in the post-occupation transition, payment of reparations to Iraq, and return of Iraqi control over its oil.”
It is within this context that I speak. It is within this context that I ask for your support of my son, Lt. Ehren Watada, the first officer in the US military to refuse participation in the Iraqi war and occupation. In January 2006, he submitted a request for discharge, citing the illegality of the war and the ongoing crimes of occupation. He was not taken seriously. Several months later, he submitted a formal resignation packet and was formally denied. On June 22, 2006, despite overt pressure to comply, he quietly defied the movement order to board the Iraq-bound plane with his Stryker brigade unit.
How did he arrive at this point, you ask? Through unbiased, rigorous scrutiny of the facts, reported by experts inside and outside the military and the structures of government, Lt. Watada concluded that he could no longer remain silent. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he swore to uphold the Constitution which includes all international treaties which the present administration chose to ignore. Blind obedience to orders that violated international law, he maintained, would make him party to illegal acts, multiplied many times over in his capacity as an officer.
Through the inner turmoil of the past year, he realized that, despite being a member of the armed forces, he had not sold his soul. He had not relinquished the inalienable right to choose. Furthermore, he was not a mercenary or a mindless tool of politicians and the military-industrial complex whose sole interest lies in the “spoils of war,” no matter what the cost.
As an officer in the US Army, conditioned not to think but to follow orders, he found that an act of conscience is a lonely road, traversed only if one is willing to accept the harsh consequences meted out by the military, the media, the manipulated masses who remain in ignorance and the “powers that be.”
Since his case became part of mainstream media, he has been vilified on one hand and cast as a hero on the other. He maintains that the issue is not about him but about the illegality of the Iraqi war and occupation. He hopes that his action will empower others to take a stand, that it will awaken the consciousness of the American people and impel them to make their voices heard. He believes that the demand for the end to the war, the withdrawal of occupation forces and reparations must be an American agenda and not merely the agenda of anti-war activists, liberals, progressives and left-wing elements.
On July 5th, the military formally charged Lt. Watada with failure to obey a movement order, contemptuous remarks against the president and behavior unbecoming an officer. Taken together, these offenses are punishable by up to 7 ½ years in a military prison. He awaits the article 32 hearing, slated for Aug. 17, 18 2006. This is a pretrial hearing to determine if there are grounds for a court martial. Whether or not he is given a fair hearing and permitted to submit evidence supporting his refusal to deploy and his first amendment rights remains to be seen.
As his mother, I initially feared for my son’s safety and his future. The thought of the consequences overwhelmed me. Today, I can truly say that I have taken “the first step in a journey of a thousand miles.” I am lifted by the realization that there is a higher purpose to all that has transpired.
When he first broke the news to me, I asked him to re-evaluate what he was about to do, to think about the impact of this decision on his career. He later said to me, “Mom, I felt betrayed by your trying to dissuade me. I know you love me and I know where all this comes from but you are asking me to betray myself. When all is said and done, I must be able to look at myself and be content that I followed the dictates of my conscience.” My son hoped for my understanding and reassured me that he loved me but it was clear, whether I approved or not, he would follow through with his decision. He said, ” Mom, whether one person supports me or no one does, I have the duty to do the right thing.” The die is cast. Come what may, he is committed to staying the course. For this, he has my utmost respect. I would expect no less from him.
In closing, I wish to leave you with the words of William Butler Yeats. His poem, The Second Coming, written after the horrors of World War I during the rise of communism and fascism, forecasted the demise of Western civilization and the menacing advance of an “unknown world about to be born.” Though written during a different period, it is as compelling now as it was then.
William Butler Yeats: “The Second Coming” (1921)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre (1) The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming (2) is at hand; The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi (3) Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries (4) of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Despite the cadence of doom, one is left with the choice to accept or reject Yeat’s fatalism. Lt. Watada chose to reject the inevitable. Today, I invite you to stand with him in his hour of protest. For ways you can participate, please visit www.thankyoult.org. Sign the petition to show your support. Familiarize yourself with the issues surrounding his case. Join us on August 16th, National Day of Education. On this day, supporters, nationally and internationally will host teach-ins, forums, house parties, etc. to address the question: “Is the Iraq War illegal?” Click on Resource Toolkit on the website’s main menu for some basic materials to use.
August 16th is not only a day of education but a day of action as well. Rallies, bannering, vigils, church gatherings are planned. Join an existing group or create one that will make a difference. Begin laying the foundation for mass mobilization during the October court martial. For updates on this action, see www.thankyoult.org.
The Lieutenant’s pretrial hearing on Aug.17th and 18th, in effect, puts the Iraq War on trial. This is a moment that has the capacity to alter the course of history. To this end, we must stand with Lt. Watada, remain of one mind, unwavering in our resolve. Through a collective will, energized by vision and courage, we will restore the beast to his “stony sleep.”