Friday, May 13, 2005

Sailor Gets Hard Labor For Being Right

As I have pondered the disaster that is the war with Iraq through the prism of my own military service, I have wondered what I would do if I were still in the U.S. Navy.

Unlike people in previous generations (or those who have been subjected to the Bush administration's back-door draft), I volunteered for the military. People join the service for many reasons – for me, it was to get the G.I. Bill, so I could go to college – but, whatever the rationale for signing up, people who enlist understand they may be called upon to fight and are prepared to do that.

But there's an idealism that goes with the willingness to pick up a gun and kill people on behalf of your country. The desire is generally to be doing it for a righteous cause and a campaign that truly involves protecting our people.

That's not what our men and women face in choosing to go to Iraq and it's the difficulty of that choice that caused Petty Officer Pablo Paredes to be sentenced to hard labor for refusing to ship out to the Persian Gulf.

Paredes, 23, said that he believes the U.S. war with Iraq is both illegal and immoral and declined to board the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard when it shipped out of San Diego in December. A military judge yesterday sentenced Paredes to three months of hard labor – far less than the one-year maximum sentence and less than the nine months requested by prosecutors. The court also busted him down to seaman recruit, the U.S. Navy's lowest rank.

The problem is that Paredes is being punished for being right.

The conventional wisdom among military people has always been that soldiers and sailors are to follow orders without question and not waver on the many directives that come from superiors in both war and peace.

But there is a profound difference between expecting those in uniform to not question the unknown, versus requiring that they acquiesce to something that the entire world knows is flat-out wrong.

While half the American people may not read newspapers enough to know this, Paredes and the rest of the planet know that Iraq had absolutely no weapons of mass destruction, that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and that Iraq had nothing to do with our country being attacked on September 11.

How do they know this? Our own 9/11 Commission determined these facts, which were later ratified by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee.

So this quite literally means that we attacked another country, spent $170 billion, killed 100,000 Iraqis, sacrificed 1,600 of our own and allowed tens of thousands of our troops to be maimed – all for nothing.

Bush and Donald Rumsfeld do everything they can to hide the plummeting morale in the armed forces. That doesn't stop many of us from hearing the stories of stateside soldiers and sailors wounding themselves or committing petty crimes to avoid Iraq deployment. While some conservatives would call them cowards – undoubtedly the same right wingers who have never served a day in uniform – I feel sorry for them and the fact that they should have to go to those lengths to avoid killing or being killed in a pointless war.

Petty Officer Paredes had the guts to openly refuse to kill for nothing and to remove any chance he will lose his life for what is at minimum a Bush policy mistake and at its worst a criminal act on our government's part.

He's right and he should be commended for his courage. As a Veteran decorated under a more traditional scenario, I think there should be a medal for his kind of patriotism as well.

I also think I'll stop the next person I see with one of the ubiquitous "Support the Troops" ribbons on their car and ask if they support Pablo Paredes. They should.