Tuesday, February 13, 2007


In her article “Watada follows the rules of military dissent” on Truthout (www.truthout.org/docs_2006/021207S.shtml) retired Colonel Ann Wright very competently reviews the appropriate manner in which a member of the military can and must dissent, when operating on that dangerous ground whereon one must consider the legality or illegality of an order.

Recent Watada-related Posts on this site have discussed this, and so have the Posts such as “Bishops Bomb” and Warrior Professionals” but Wright actually quotes the military-judge in the case and his bon-mot demands a riff. The defense attorney, Mr. Seitz, was asking Watada’s battalion commander questions about the opinions voiced by retired generals and others. When suddenly, sounds issued from Judge Head’s head to the effect that Seitz had to “move on” because he was getting too close to “the ultimate question”. The ultimate question. The Ultimate Question. As in “What’s it all about, Alfie?”

Military music can’t hold a candle to Burt Bacharach, and military justice can only hold a torch to whatever it comes near … but this ultimate-question business goes to the heart of the matter and it’s about as close as you’ll ever see military justice come to peering into its own abyss. Classically, the military Presider (‘judge’ is utterly misleading in the military context) wants to avoid The Ultimate Question. And well he should. And well that his bosses told him to. Because if there is one thing the military doesn’t like at all it’s Capital Letter Words (e.g. Virtue, Character, Justice, Truth … or, frankly, God). None of those CLWs are welcome unless they are completely subjugated to the military’s own CLW – Victory – and are only in the parade to provide window-dressing. Any hint of independence and the CLWs are out the door, out the window, off the base, out of the Service.

What 1st Lt. Watada did was to accept the reality and the authority of the classic CLWs and allowed them, in his conscience, to judge (precisely the right word in this context) the military’s and the government’s actions. Individual conscience is to governments and militaries what holy water is to vampires. And even modestly accurate and resourceful media coverage is to governments and militaries what sunlight is to a vampire. Thus we watched the vampire brood writhe and finally retreat, unholy smoke coming out of their heads. It was – as Mark Twain would have said – “a heart-warming spectacle”.

It also has to be said: the work of the media in this case went a long way toward nullifying the military’s massive initial advantage: not only did Watada face the absurdly biased dynamics of military justice, but he also faced a public now saturated with the many ladlings of Hollywood gravy poured thickly to mask the rancid meat of the National Crime State. Didja ever watch “JAGS”? That piece of utter and calculated fantasy is no doubt anchored in the minds of many as a true-story picture of what goes on in military justice (“JAGS” is gone now after a long run; the even more unreal “NCIS” still rawks on, packing in the patriotic, sleuthing couch potatoes week after week.)

For those who can recall “Perry Mason” or “The Defenders”, there was once a care in TV-land and in this county to respect attorneys who deployed their skills in the service of persons whose lives were at the mercy of the police power of the State. Hollywood also once took its stand against the police power of the State – and especially against the Jim Crow imperium of the Southrons – with such films as “To Kill A Mockingbird”, with Gregory Peck as the courageous small-town defense lawyer, Atticus Finch.

That changed sometime in the late-‘60s. The National Crime State required just the opposite, and the Southrons - surprise! - who hadn't even finished packing up their whips of righteousness after the collapse of Jim Crow, suddenly found themselves back in 'respectable' business again. Instead of weekly demonstrations of defense counsel saving the innocent accused from the stolid and sometimes corrupt hands of the prosecutors and the police, we started to see courageous and upstanding cops and prosecutors using (or bending) the law to nail verrry guilty – and very vividly guilty and unlikable – perps. Thus the supportive, enabling mythology of the National Crime State. Nowadays, it’s all about scientific crime-investigators, weird and almost non-human perps, and creased-pants cops who look like they wouldn’t know what a donut was if they ran over one while jogging in time to their favorite Army exercise chants before going home to cook dinner for the kids and lead the family in the Pledge of Allegiance after Grace. And a fine spectacle it is, indeed.

But spectacle, like the circuses that went with the bread, is not nutritious enough to nourish those parts of the brain that a Citizen has to rely on. You need much more grown-up food for that serious task. And much of it can only be done by reading. And judicious reading at that.

It’s probably no coincidence that the National Crime State hasn’t done much for actual education (although there is now enough official ‘security’ presence in many schools to police a small city). It will only be necessary, in the not too distant future, for individuals to ‘hear and obey’. No ‘speaking’ required or allowed. No thinking necessary or allowed. I’m not plumping for one set of Hollywood biases over another. I’m more concerned that We are able to distinguish Truth and stand by Truth in its hour of need (which ‘hour’ nowadays is 24-7, I’d say). Where are We going? Where are We allowing things to go? And, ultimately, What are We all about? (Hint: “We The People …”).

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