Thursday, February 08, 2007


Over on Atlantic Free Press Jayne Lyn Stahl has a Watada article (“Conduct Unbecoming”, (

Following the article there are Comments, and many of them – all civil and reasonable – quote assorted military documents.The assorted Commenters who quote chapter and verse of this or that military Manual or even Oath strike me as well-intentioned. But in military ops well-intentioned isn’t enough. Not hardly.

They are seeking to establish certainty on a field which is, at its deepest core, uncertain. In the area of military enterprise, American and Western tradition resembles the planet itself: on the surface hard and solid and conforming to physical laws, but at its core it is hot and molten and semi-fluid and responding to pressures we cannot fully predict and ‘laws’ we cannot fully comprehend.

This is the result of the American and Western tradition, especially as formulated after World War 2. This tradition relies – as any Democracy must – upon the moral character and the moral agency of the individual Citizen-soldier (notice which comes first). And with that authority of the moral agent comes the responsibility of the moral agent to use his skills to live up to his authority and exercise it properly. This has always – whether we took the trouble to remember it or not – distinguished the soldiery of a Democracy from the soldiery of Empire.

This is the reason why the embrace of military service in a Democracy is such a freighted public act: the individual Citizen commits to this fundamental task. And is bound to it not only by responsibility as a Citizen and as an individual moral agent, but also by American and military law. Nuremberg executed German officers who claimed they were only fulfilling their oath when they gave orders and carried out orders that were clearly in violation not only of international practice and justice and humanity, but also were – in Douglas MacArthur’s thinking – a violation of the very essence of a soldier in a Democracy: “to defend the defenseless”. And thus too did we execute General Yamashita for his command role in the Bataan Death March.

Watada confronts precisely this ‘core’ ground: if he is required by law and regulation to disobey any illegal or unlawful order, then he must exercise his moral agency by judging the order. While he has no right to disobey a ‘stupid’ or a ‘dumb’ order (Yet how many heroic and vaunted soldiers have, and have been decorated for it? How many have given such orders, gotten troops killed, and still prospered in their military career?) yet he must take his stand against an illegal or unlawful order. Whether the order to report to an unlawful war is itself illegal, or whether only the war itself is unlawful strikes me as a distinction without a difference. And who among us doubts that the current Iraq War is unlawful and illegal according to national and international law (Watada was willing to go to Afghanistan instead)?

In this type of ‘core’ engagement, quoting chapter and verse of a Manual is the equivalent of Braddock marching his redcoats in column through the Pennsylvania woods, hoping that their intense faithfulness to the Manual would see them through to success. Not hardly. In the uncertain and fluid operating environment of the ‘core’ Battlespace, skills are required which are hell-and-gone from the usual soldierly skills of obedience and conformity.

This is hugely uncertain Ground, and it is not at all in the best interest of militaries to allow its junior members – certainly – to be confronted with a ‘core’ engagement. The solution is to prevent things from coming to this pass by the brass not letting unlawful and illegal wars develop in the first place. Had fewer brass been unwilling to endanger their careers and their promatability in the run-up to this war, then this stampede might never have started. But with all their oaths and Manuals and medals, the brass did not take a stand, not even to Congress (such as it was).

And as for Watada being disloyal or unfaithful to his comrades by failing his unit … many noncoms and J.O.’s stayed faithful to their units on the Eastern Front and in the ghettos of Poland and the villages of the Ukraine, on the Bataan Death March, and in so many other places. Having failed to engage the ‘core’ when the situation required it, they and the troops to whom they remained loyal all died in a bad cause – for all their loyalty and heroism.

Militaries serving governments of the Dark Side – Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Soviet Russia – have always sought to get rid of those soldiers who ‘wavered’ or ‘doubted’. Such could be shot or sent to Siberia. The best the Pentagoons could come up with to perform this role was the military-justice system, which does its best under the demanding limitations of a Democracy that respects the individual moral agency of the Citizen-soldier. But this is also why there is such a press on by assorted groups to imperialize our military. Make no mistake: to imperialize the troops is to de-Citizenize the troops. Just as sure as an Empire does not require a Constitution and thus does not require The People. (We as a People are facing a ‘core’ political and cultural confrontation nowadays, just as our soldiers – exemplified by 1st Lt. Watada – are facing a ‘core’ military confrontation.)

The standard military ‘world’ of certainty and obedience and loyalty, so simple in a fundamental way, is not surprisingly an object of nostalgia and a model for making one’s way through the jungles of life. But what faces us all here is a Vertical drop to the ‘core’, which urgently requires a Vertical ascent to the heights of one’s character and virtue and authority as a Citizen-solider and as an individual human being and moral agent.

We owe 1st Lt. Watada a deep debt of gratitude. A moment for that – and then each of us must get on with the great unfinished work lying urgently before us which he has thus far so nobly advanced.

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Blogger Davidco said...

They pulled the plug to avoid embarrassment. This kid has gotten the upper hand in the public relations battle. They could no longer afford to railroad him without giving him a chance to explain his motives. The public wouldn't allow that.

Gummint couldn't give him the forum his civil disobedience earned either. He is too prepossessing and articulate.

12:01 PM  

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