Lt Col Tim Collins of the Henry Jackson Society, has some thoughts on whether it is permissible to refuse to serve in a war one believes is illegal or unjust. His answer is predictably that it is not. Rioting in controversy, he avers that the army is not a holiday. Further, he cites military law, to which a good soldier must submit. Oh, certainly, international law is supposed to override military law in these circumstances, but Collins has a cunning answer up his sleeve precisely in answer to that argument: the illegality of the war is unproven. And if you don't like that, you resign your commission.
Hence, Ehren Watada, a First Lieutenant in the US army who has refused to serve in Iraq, citing the Nuremberg Principles, and is due to be courtmartialed, is merely a big baby who thought he could pick his war destination as if it were a cruise. This already risible argument is undermined by the fact that Watada did, in fact, offer to resign his commission, and was refused. In fact, the very first thing that Watada did upon deciding that the war on Iraq was an illegal venture, was to submit a resignation request. Further, if there is an issue of illegality, and if this is the central part of the defense case, then what better airing could it have than in a court of law? Unfortunately, most of Watada's defense witnesses have been barred by the military judge Lt. Col. John Head. The defense cannot, he says, debate the legality of war in court, which is another way of saying that the defense cannot make its case, the supremely pertinent case.
There is no question that Watada is being made an example of. He is by no means the first to refuse to serve in Iraq. Sgt Kevin Benderman became an outspoken conscientious objector after a period in Iraq, and was detained and then dishonourably discharged. The trouble they had with Benderman is the same one that they have with Watada, which is that he made it known that he had such views.
The curious thing is that the military leadership who are intent on seeing him imprisoned do not even adhere to the principle that they espouse, namely that one obeys at all points, and without thought or discrimination. If they did, they would not have offered Watada a desk job in Iraq without direct combat involvement. The reality is that they can tolerate those who, for no particular reason of principle, wish to avoid combat duty. They cannot tolerate either the notion of conscientious objection, which is a right embedded in US military law, or the idea that one can refuse a war on grounds of a superceding law, or that one could refuse on any principle whatsoever. The very idea interrupts the system of mindless discipline enforced through basic training. What if the grunts and jarheads start getting fancy ideas like that? It undermines the state's automatic right to wage war on any grounds it sees fit, and that is the most fundamental right any state reserves for itself.