November 26, 2010

Reply to living resistance, part one: heroes & part two: cowards

The following posts, part one and part two, are taken in their entirety from Laura's blog, We Move To Canada

Reply to living resistance, part one: heroes
War-resister blogger Dave Ward says he is neither coward nor hero. Obviously I don't think war resisters are cowards. And frankly, I think the people who call them cowards are idiots. I won't address that particular idiocy in this post. I'm going to ask redsock to guest-post on that topic in part two of this post.

But it was interesting for me to read that DW also doesn't like being called a hero.

At least once, whenever I talk to a group of people about the path that led me here, someone utters the word "hero" as if it were a compliment.. I cringe every time I hear it. Just as I'm no coward, I'm no hero, either. Deciding to shed my uniform and walk away from the military wasn't a heroic act. It was an enormously painful experience for me, and I agonized about it for - literally - months. For those months, I continued to execute my orders and support my unit. I continued to give orders that would result in the deaths of innocent civilians in numbers that still keep me awake at night. The thought that truly hurts me is that, for all that time, I knew better. I knew what I should do months before I actually did it. And I was never even remotely concerned about it until it was staring me in the face. Only through being present during the actual commission of war crimes was I able to realize what was wrong in my military service. I still feel like I was forced into taking action, and really had no other choice than to refuse further service. I simply couldn't live with myself anymore. I can honestly tell you if there had been any other way to not participate in that anymore, I'd have taken it. If there had been any easier way to stop it, I'd have done it. I was no hero, I just ran out of options.

I can appreciate this. A young woman once told me I was a hero of hers. I felt completely ridiculous. I was just living my life.

Few people consider themselves heroes for making moral choices. When someone jumps in a river to save a drowning stranger, they are always hailed as a hero, and what do they always say? I'm not a hero, I just did what anyone else would have done.

In fact, choosing what's right over what's expedient or over what is expected of us - when what is expected is wrong - should not be heroic. It should be commonplace. It should be merely human.

Unfortunately, moral choices are sometimes in short supply. Expediency, profit, short-term thinking, self-preservation narrowly defined - these often seem thick on the ground. So when people do the right thing despite a high risk of harm to themselves we often see them as heroes.

DW implies that serious peace activists who support the cause of US war resisters in Canada are heroes. This is flattering, but embarrassing. I work for peace, I study peace, I think about peace and how we can create a more peaceful world. It takes time and effort, but it is also a joy, and my passion. My activism presents little risk to me, and when there is some slight risk, I welcome the opportunity to test my commitment.

The war resisters have done something better, something braver - and something that actually makes a difference. First, they said no to war. They said no to the mightiest military institution the world has ever seen. But it's more than that.

War resisters bring us the gift of truth: first-hand experience of the injustice of war. They give us the gift of example, by showing other military people that resistance is possible, and by showing what moral courage looks to anyone with the brains and compassion to recognize it. And the US war resisters in Canada have given us the opportunity to fight for the Canada we want to live in, a Canada that reflects our values. They've given us a concrete way to work for peace.
The men and women who "ain't gonna study war no more" inspire me every day. Dave Ward may not like it, but war resisters everywhere are my heroes.

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".

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