Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dissent = Disloyalty?

After reading about Lt. Watada's case, a famous quote by Edward R. Murrow came to my mind: "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty." Lt. Watada's dissent towards the US military about the US invasion of Iraq and his refusal to be deployed there is clearly seen as disloyalty in the eyes of the US Military.

Lt. Watada's stance about the Iraq war is that it is unlawful since the UN did not approve use of force in Iraq and there was no imminent threat that the US would be attacked by Iraq. Given his belief that the Iraq was is unlawful, Lt. Watada refused to be deployed to Iraq and instead asked for deployment to another front in the "War on Terror," specifically Afghanistan.

I personally agree with Lt. Watada's position on the Iraq war. However, as a soldier in the US Army, it is Lt. Watada's duty to follow orders. Yes, he can be a conscientious objector. Yes, he can refuse to carry out orders he knows will be directly harmful to civilians, etc once he is in Iraq. Being deployed to Iraq does not automatically make him a war criminal just because some world leaders believe the Iraq war is unlawful.

As far as the US Military's reaction to all of this... I am not sure what to think. No, I do not think they are violating any IHL, norms or just war theory by prosecuting Lt. Watada. The strongest norm I see at work here in this case is the norm of "toeing the line" if you're in the military. You simply take your orders and do what you're told. It's part of the deal when you sign up for military service. And that's a norm that everyone, whether you're a soldier or a civilian, knows about and really kind of doesn't mess with.

Sure, the military could have changed Lt. Watada's orders and sent him to Afghanistan. That, however, would have set up a slippery slope wherein any solider given orders to deploy to Iraq who doesn't "want to go" (like any of them do??) would have precedent on their side. "The military did it for Lt. Watada, why not me?"

Lt. Watada voluntarily signed up for military duty, just like every soldier in our military. In his case, dissent does equal disloyalty. Anyone who was graduating high school or college and thinking about careers in the military as a possible life choice since everything in Iraq began in 2002 has to realize that signing up for military service means you have a pretty strong chance of being sent to Iraq. It would be interesting to me to find out when Lt. Watada signed up for military duty. Was it before or after rumblings of an Iraqi war started?


bug said...

You brought up a good point that I didn't think about, Turkey, whether Lt. Watada joined the military pre or post Iraq invasion. I did a quick google search and found that his career began in 2003, after we got into Iraq. At first thought, I would think that would mean he was well aware of the possibility he would be deployed to Iraq. If I remember correctly, in 2003 pretty much everyone was aware that war was on the radar. How could he have thought he would join any armed service and not end up in Iraq at some point? Maybe he, along with many Americans and several of our presidential candidates, was misinformed about the nature of Iraq and accepted the idea of an invasion. If that was the case, I suppose it changes the situation a little. Knowing what we know now, many (and possibly Lt. Watada) have changed their minds. I still don't think it makes his refusal right, but at least we can understand him a little better.

Piero M. said...

I agree with much of what you said. You make the argument that Watada's deployment to Iraq is not in itself a war crime. I'm curious to what extent you believe Watada can refrain from acting before he has abdicated his responsibility as a soldier? I agree that if Watada knew he was going to get sent to Iraq, he should have probably looked into whether or not he believed the war was for a just case. Consequently, I have less sympathy for his position if he enlisted after the commencement of project "shock and awe". With that said, I'm not sure it's ethical to prevent Lt. Watada from raising the question of whether or not the war is legal. It would seem in this case that the need for judicial expediency has superceded the question of morality within the context of war.