Two young soldiers, along with five fellow service members, penned a letter from Baghdad to the New York Times in which they vented their frustration and opposition to a war they knew intimately. A few weeks later, they were both killed in the line of duty. Despite marginal pundits like Rush Limbaugh referring to them as “Phony Soldiers” for speaking against the war, the rest of us should take careful note to acknowledge any message of dissent in the ranks that is delivered through a maze of complacency and conformity to our door step.
I've heard the conservative hardliners bark, “They're not entitled to an opinion,” but who better to warrant an audience than a soldier in Baghdad? Strict obedience to orders does not override morality; on the contrary, the Uniform Code of Military Justice advocates the opposite. Soldiers and Marines are instructed to defy illegal orders, otherwise they may be held accountable for their compliance. We know what happens when troops go along unquestioningly: think of Haditha and Abu Ghraib. So when an American in Iraq, who knows the cost of war better than any of us, says “This is wrong, un-American, and against my good values,” we would be stupid not to listen.
In the military culture of “doing as you're told, even if you die,” it takes extreme courage to come forward against this dogma. The American public needs to hear their voices. The cost of ignorance is too high. In four years of an illegal military occupation 3812 Americans have died in Iraq and 27753 have been wounded. We are obligated to honor these men and women with incessant moral reflection and action. We can never let their insight fall on deaf ears.
As a young marine 1991, I rode atop a humvee into Kuwait City. I understand the chaos, frustration and moral uncertainty that come with combat. You are forced to question what you do, because you are constantly making powerful decisions. Wearing the uniform also makes you accountable for the whole. Every death becomes your responsibility, in small fragments that can add up to a heavy burden. I applaud those that speak out against this war, against complacency and conformity to immoral actions. They are the best warriors we have.
Read the Media Matters article about Limbaugh’s tirade here . Marcus Eriksen is the author of My River Home: A Journey from the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico. Listen to an interview with him about his journey down the Mississippi following his service in the first Gulf War and his involvement with Veterans for Peace on the website of KWMU.