U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ehren K. Watada volunteered for
military service following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks on our country out of a desire to protect his family
and compatriots. His service record has been exemplary, and
he was deemed "among the best" by his superiors.
All that changed on June 22, 2006, when Watada was
ordered to deploy to the Middle East as part of Operation
Iraqi Freedom. Opposed to the premise and conduct of the war
in Iraq, Watada refused to comply with this order. He now
faces a court martial and up to six years in prison.
Lt. Watada has taken a solemn oath of allegiance as a
military officer. With the order to deploy to Iraq, he found
himself with a dilemma: Either follow this oath or risk the
severe consequences of disobedience. In the spirit of Henry
David Thoreau, this young man searched his soul and found
himself unable to suppress his conscience and opposition to
what he views as an immoral, illegal war.
Watada is not alone. Poll after poll points to an ever
rising tide of public opposition to President Bush's
handling of the war in Iraq. This soldier is unique,
however, in that he is the first commissioned U.S. military
officer to refuse Iraq deployment.
I am neither a lawyer nor a veteran, and it is not my
place to opine on the legality or military propriety of Lt.
Watada's actions. I am, however, a proud and patriotic
American solemnly entrusted by his friends and neighbors to
represent them, their hopes, their dreams and their
principles in the greatest deliberative body in the world.
I voted against giving President Bush the authority to
use military force in Iraq, and do not believe his
justifications for taking us into war were even minimally
adequate. As a duly elected member of Congress, I express my
admiration for a young American who, in the same spirit, has
heeded his conscience at tremendous risk to livelihood,
reputation and personal freedom in order to right what he
and the vast majority of his compatriots see as a tremendous
This soldier is neither a conscientious objector nor a
pacifist. He volunteered to serve his nation in the armed
forces, has expressed his willingness to fight in our
struggle in Afghanistan, and declined his superiors' offer
to deploy to a desk job in Iraq, out of harm's way. There is
not, nor can there be, the slightest doubt as to this young
man's bravery, patriotism or commitment to his fellow
In facing charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and a
gentleman, it is my belief that Ehren Watada has laid bare a
fact that is becoming increasingly plain: Mr. Bush has
handled this war in a manner unbecoming a United States
At best, our president misled the nation on the rationale
for going into Iraq. He has embroiled this great country in
a cycle of brutality there that has grievously tarnished
America's international reputation, has further destabilized
an already precarious Middle East and has taken the lives of
more than 3,000 American fathers, mothers, sons and
Watada has risked being deemed guilty of breaking one law
in furtherance of a higher, moral one, rather than
participate in a fight that, in his and my view, needlessly
sends our compatriots to their deaths.
In Watada's own words: "To stop an illegal and unjust
war, the soldiers and service members can choose to stop
fighting it" (www.thankyoult.org,
click on YouTube video).
Democrat Mike Honda represents San Jose in the U.S.
House of Representatives.