Left Justified: Soldiers protest the war

I was a gung-ho soldier when I enlisted in February 1969, back when most soldiers were drafted. Thought the Vietnam War was just, and I wanted to be patriotic (and the G.I. bill looked pretty good—it put me through Rock Valley College).

The Army sent me to Germany, but I volunteered for Vietnam. Took me four months to realize my mistake. I followed orders and tried to do a good job (which was easy—I was a clerk). Had a “short-timer’s calendar” and counted down the days until I would return to the “world” (home).

Upon return, I joined with other veterans and marched against the war. We caught our government leaders flatfooted. Rarely do soldiers return from a war and march against their government.

Now here’s a little-known fact: there were soldiers who protested the war while they were in the military!

It’s all brought out in a new documentary called Sir! No Sir!. Using amazing archival footage and photographs, the film chronicles servicemen protesting and even refusing duty in Vietnam. And even while in Vietnam, refusing to go into combat! That is mutiny, and in some circles, could warrant immediate execution.

Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee will show the video Sir, No Sir! Monday, Feb. 5, 7:30 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St. The program is free and open to the public (donations are gladly accepted for the Coffee Talk series).

You won’t find much mutiny happening in Iraq, but there are soldiers who are refusing to return to that horrible mistake of a war. A military court is now sentencing one of them, a Lieutenant Watada, because he refused to return to his unit that was getting sent back to Iraq. He had already served two tours and felt the war was immoral, and he could not abide by it.

In a remarkable protest from inside the ranks of the military, 1st Lt. Ehren Watada has become the Army’s first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on grounds the war’s illegal. The 28-year-old announced his decision not to obey orders to deploy to Iraq by saying, “My participation will make me party to war crimes.”

He is an artillery officer stationed at Fort Lewis Wash., and he wore a business suit rather than his military uniform when making his statement. “It’s my conclusion as an officer of the armed forces that the Iraq war is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law,” he said. “Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must, as an officer of honor and integrity, refuse that order.”

There are veterans in Rockford who march with us against the Iraq war. Our last visit to Rep. Don Manzullo’s office saw a former Marine and a Korean War Army veteran. There are other peace-loving veterans here, and if we get 10 more, we can start our own Veterans for Peace chapter. These guys (and gals) have been around for a while and are getting better organized. I hope to march with them in Washington, D.C. Forever loyal—to the Constitution!

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Jan. 24-30, 2007, issue

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