Under the Sun
Thirst for knowledge led to his undoing as soldier
HAD Ehren Watada been an incurious man, he might well be in Iraq right now, his life in danger but his standing as an exemplary Army lieutenant bright and shining.
He'd be doing what soldiers do, fighting for country and fellow citizens, many whose interest in him would not amount to much, except maybe in passing if he was killed and his name and hometown noted in the terse, awful lists of war dead.
Watada relinquished that anonymity when he announced last month that he wouldn't go where the Army wanted him to go.
See, after learning he would be deployed to Iraq, Watada became inquisitive. Wanting to know more about where he was going and why, he read, researched, discussed and studied. He discovered that the justification for the war was built on untruths. His curiosity led to his undoing as a soldier.
He was called a coward, a traitor, a degenerate and a fool for not realizing that as a soldier he would have to fight in whatever war President Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld decided to start.
Angry people described him as an unwitting puppet of dusty, anti-war, Cindy Sheehan liberals. They said he brought shame and embarrassment to islanders. They said he was a disgrace to loyal Japanese-Americans. They said he should rot in jail for aiding terrorists by showing weakness. They wanted him ignored, and scolded newspapers and television for promoting a publicity hound.
Though more muted, there were people who defended him. They called him courageous, a true patriot and hero for standing up against the war.
But all of this -- the vitriol and extollment -- was just piling on.
Lt. Watada became the object of our discontent, the body mass on which to dump the toxic products of unease generated by the relentlessly horrible war. He inadvertently offered himself as a whipping post to a nation shaken by a strange policy of striking the weak while whistling past the genuinely malignant, of shuffling and contorting pieces to fit a puzzle whose solution remains elusive.
Through various accounts, it appears Lt. Watada talked to returning soldiers who recounted terrible conditions in Iraq that had twisted their perspectives, one saying he and his men might have committed war crimes. He searched books, papers and memos to conclude that the war is illegal. He searched his soul and decided he couldn't get on the plane with his division when it shipped out.
He asked to resign his commission and was refused. He asked that he be sent to Afghanistan, but the Army doesn't let soldiers choose their battles.
I don't know Lt. Watada. I follow news accounts about him and read what he says and what others who do know him say.
I can Google him and see "in happier times" photos of him with his father, arms draped across shoulders, grins crinkling their cheeks. I can click on to the blogs and Web sites that chatter on about him.
But I can't say that his decision is disingenuous and neither should anyone who hasn't volunteered to be a warrior, who hasn't had to lead a platoon into danger, who hasn't had to launch rockets at enemies and who hasn't had to make a choice between doing what his heart knows is wrong and wrecking his life.
Lt. Watada made a mistake in believing inflated tales about weapons of mass destruction and mushroom clouds. His admission is a painful undertaking, but few besides himself will suffer the consequences -- unlike the bigger mistake of launching a war with a plan concocted from a deadly brew of hubris and conjecture by an incurious commander.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org