regarding the Courageous Resister Award Sunday,
By Camilo Mejia, August 8, 2004
After reading the official letter on the Courageous Resister Award along with the list of past recipients, my first reaction was that of embarrassment - I see that so many people have sacrificed so much in their very own ways of resistance- Recipients and otherwise have spent decadesin prison, have devoted their whole lives to resistance, have been executedfor resisting, for standing up to authority, for not conforming, forstruggling for peace and justice.
There are so many extraordinary people whose tireless devotion to freedom, and whose sacrifice have helped me realize that far greater sorrows mayhave befallen me. I am only a regular person that got tired of being afraid to follow his own conscience. For far too long I allowed others to direct my actions even when I knew that they were wrong. I am but a humble member ofa world community of "true" freedom fighters.
I cannot accept this award on behalf of those who have truly refused and resisted; there are far too many of them who deserve the honor more thanI. I will, however, accept the award on behalf of those who are still quiet, those who are still afraid to speak their minds. Not too long ago I wasone of them. Not too long ago I was ordered to be part of a war that I knew in my heart was immoral and criminal, a war of aggression, a war of imperial domination. Many have called me a coward, many have called me a hero. I believe I canbe found somewhere in the middle. To those who have called me a hero, I say that I don't believe in heroes, but I believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
To those who have called me a coward I say that they are wrong, and that without knowing it, they are also right. They arewrong when they think that I left the war for fear of being killed. I admit that fear was there, but there was also the fear of killing innocent people,the fear of putting myself in a position where to survive means to kill, there was the fear of losing my soul in the process of saving my body, the fearof losing myself to my daughter, to the people who love me, to the man I used to be, the man I wanted to be. I was afraid of waking up one morning to realize my humanity had abandoned me. I say without any pride that I didmy job as a soldier. I commanded an infantry squad in combat and we never failed to accomplish our mission.
But they who called me a coward, without knowing it, are also right. I wasa coward not for leaving the war, but for having been a part of it in the first place. Refusing and resisting this war was my moral duty, a moralduty that called me to take a principled action, a moral duty that was clearand the accomplishment of which was urgent. I failed to fulfill my moral dutyas a human being and instead I chose to fulfill my duty as a soldier. All because I was afraid. I was terrified, I did not want to stand up to the government and the army, I was afraid of punishment and humiliation. Iwent to war because at the moment I was a coward, and for that I apologize toall of you. I apologize to my soldiers for not being the type of leader Ishould have been, I apologize to the Iraqi people. To them I say I am sorry forthe curfews, for the raids, for the killings. May they find it in their hearts to forgive me.
One of the reasons I did not refuse the war from the beginning was that I was afraid of losing my freedom. Today, as I sit behind bars I realizethat there are many types of freedom, and that in spite of my confinement I remain free in many important ways.
I have said that I want to receive this award on behalf of those who are still quiet. To them I say "come forward," to them I say "free yourminds." What good is freedom if we are afraid to follow our conscience? What goodis freedom if we are not able to live with our own actions? I am confined toa prison but I feel, today more than ever, connected to all humanity.
While I was confined in total segregation, I came across a poem written bya man who refused and resisted the government of Nazi Germany. For doing sohe was executed. His name is Albrecht Hanshofer. The poem is short, I won't take a lot more of your time. I see much of my reality, much of the way I feel in this poem, and I would like to share it with you. AlbrechtHanshofer wrote this poem as he awaited execution.
GUILT The burden of my guilt before the law weighs light upon my shoulders; to plot and to conspire was my duty to the people; I would have been a criminal had I not.
I am guilty, though not the way you think, I should have done my duty sooner, I was wrong, I should have called evil more clearly by its name I hesitated to condemn it for far too long
I now accuse myself within my heart: I have betrayed my conscience far too long I have deceived myself and fellow man.
I knew the course of evil from the start My warning was not loud nor clear enough! Today I know what I was guilty of.
Once again, I accept this award on behalf of those who are still quiet, those who continue to betray their conscience, those who are not calling evil more clearly by its name, those of us who are still not doing enoughto refuse and resist. I accept this award knowing in my heart that I don't deserve it. I accept this award as a promise that I will live to earn it.I will live to fulfill my duty to the people. I will live to speak for those who know evil but are afraid to call it by its name. I accept this award with the promise that I will live my life striving to deserve it. I will live my life to refuse and resist. Thank you all.
In Solidarity and Resistance, Camilo MejiaU.S. Army Conscientious Objector.
The Free Camilo Committee
c /o Maritza Castillo
201 178 Drive # 323
Miami, FL 33160