Lieutenant Ehren Watada didn’t enlist in the army to face prison for standing up for his morals.
Over 200 students and community members maneuvered the icy roads and frozen sidewalks to attend on a Friday evening, offering support to Lt. Watada or just hearing him speak and answer the audience’s questions.
“I am not an agitator or a radical, I simply stated that I cannot be part of something deeply illegal and immoral, and respectfully asked to be separated from it,” Watada said to Western students on January 12.
On June 22, 2006, Watada publicly refused to deploy to Iraq. He is the first commissioned officer in the Iraq War and occupation to do so, according to his support campaign’s website, thankyoult.org. Now, Watada may face military prison for what he feels was protecting his soldiers from dying in a war he argues is illegal and immoral. Maybe just put that he feels this way before the “protecting his soldiers part”.
In addition to refusal of deployment, the U.S. Army has charged Watada with conduct unbecoming of an officer and contempt of an official, in this case, President Bush. Watada’s court marshal date is February 5, at Fort Lewis, Wash.. According to his website he may be sentenced to up to six years in prison.
Watada said he enlisted in the military in March 2003, during a time of personal patriotism. He also said that he believed the premises of the war: that Iraq was linked to al-Qaeda and was a threat possessing weapons of mass destruction. Because Watada came to feel that the public,was mislead—which he believes is immoral—he refused his deployment to Iraq.
“I am not against war, yet a war to defend against aggression is vastly different than starting a war of aggression and for corporate profits,” he said during his speech.
Watada said he “takes great offense” when he is accused of abandoning his troops.
“Our duty as leaders is to protect the lives of our soldiers.... What I sacrifice today is for those who lost their lives and those who are struggling for their lives, whether they realize it or not.”
Watada pointed out that the lives of 300 million Americans hinge on the decisions of the Congress and the president, just 536 people. It takes a little bit more than half, 270 congress-members, to sway the United States. Watada called into question how accountable those people were to the country’s population as a whole.
As an officer in the armed forces, Watada said he serves the U.S. Constitution and the will of the people as a whole.
Under the Nuremberg Principles, a soldier is required to refuse an illegal order. According to Telegraph UK, Watada’s defense team plans on citing this during Watada’s trial. They also must demonstrate the illegality of the Iraq War.
“In this war, we have all been deceived, and as a result the will of the people, the will of all of you, has been ignored,” he said.
While Watada felt politicians had failed the American people, he also felt Americans had failed as participants in a democracy.
“If we do not stand up and give our all to correct the wrongs of our government, then we are equally at fault. Do not be surprised when the people of the world rise up and strike back at any and all Americans.”
“In a democracy, we all have to involve ourselves in politics,” said Watada. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is leading you astray.”
“The ideals and principles I speak of are simple enough that any man, woman, or child with the willingness to study civics, the Constitution, or a little bit of history very well could comprehend. What I speak [about] to you now is the very essence of what it is to be an American, to live under peace, law, and justice.”
Watada said that even if he is unable to stop the Iraq War, he hopes he will inspire others to not only end the war, but to ensure that an illegal war never happens again.
“It is one thing to end a war, it is another to ensure it never happens again” said Watada. “You have the power to stop this endless cycle of death. You have the power to change history.”
“Do you think the American military will ever leave so long as there are profits to protect? Do you think any Iraqi will rest until the occupiers and exploiters are completely expelled from their home?”
Watada was invited to Western by Students for a Democratic Society.
Siobhan Sloan-Evans, a first year student and member of SDS, videotaped Watada’s speech. She said she came “to hear someone who is a part of the military stand up for what they believe in without considering himself a radical—and the fact that he might face prison for not doing something he believes isn’t right.”
“I wanted to hear it from the perspective of someone who is in the military,” said Sahara Bailey. “I just wanted to hear it from someone who was part of that institution but was still against the war and feels it is illegal and immoral and a war for profit.” Bailey is also a first year student and member of SDS.
On February 5, supporters of Watada will rally outside of Fort Lewis. SDS and Social Issue Resource Center are organizing a carpool caravan for Western students who want to attend. It will leave at 10 am from Bellingham Public Market parking lot, which is located at 1530 Cornwall Ave.