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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A History of Courage

Posted by on August 22 at 16:32 PM

In the case of Ehren Watada’s refusal to go to the war in Iraq, because it is an illegal war and a war that was made possible by obvious lies, it is common for his denouncers to call him a coward.

The men and women who are risking their lives in Iraq are called courageous; whereas Watada is called a coward. The problem with Watada’s denouncers, however, is that they have not read Aristotle’s book on ethics. Much of their confusion would clear up if they understood exactly what military courage meant to the ancient Greeks, and should still mean to 21st century Americans. Courage, according to Aristotle, is, true, expressed on the battlefield; but courage also doesn’t mean running into battle for the sake of showing courage, charging into battle without thinking about why you are charging into battle. Courage is about knowing when to use that virtue, which stands at the middle of two extremes: cowardice and brashness. To thoughtlessly go into any old battle is not being courageous; that’s being foolish. Courage is something that requires intelligent activation; a good soldier (good in Aristotle’s sense, which is the substance of any ethic), knows when not to fight as well as he knows when to fight. Those who have led young soldiers to their deaths in Iraq are not virtuous but vicious; and those who are dying in Iraq are not courageous but foolish.

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Nobody would give a shit if he was enlisted. Because he's an officer his actions are somehow more courageous and controversial than your average AWOL private? I mean, I agree with him and everything. I think it's awesome that he's risking his career and his freedom to take a stand against this madness, but aren't we giving him more sympathy because of his rank?

Jerod, you need to wake up and serve.

If you had, you'd know that officers have a legal duty to question illegal and unconstitutional orders, whereas enlisted soldiers don't get that choice.

Clearly the Army doesn't agree with you since they're charging him with, among other things, conduct unbecoming an officer. But that's beside the point.

I wasn't addressing this from a legal perspective but from a philosophical one, as that was the subject of the original post. I was asking whether Lt. Watada is somehow more courageous than an enlisted man doing the same thing.

Ehren Watada quoted Martin Luther King Jr at the Veterans for Peace Convention last week in Seattle:

One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.


I think you were a little quick to jump on Jerod. I'm not an expert, but I think everyone in the military--officers and enlisted alike--has an obligation to disobey/ignore illegal orders. Didn't the military courts reject the "following orders" defense presented by the non-officers in the recent Abu Ghraib prosecutions?

The American soldiers who died in Iraq had no courage. They were just foolish enough to join the military for the money, or because they believed whatever the recruiters told them - that's just mercenary. Most of them are from poor families and are uneducated anyway. They wouldn't have contributed much to society, and their deaths are coward's deaths that are no real loss.

As The Stranger's excellent article pointed out Israel has a draft so their military is composed of the best of society. There real courage in those ranks.

Charles is right about American soldiers in Iraq being cowards. It takes a thinking army with a just cause like Israel's to make an army of heros.

I will not feed the trolls no matter how angry they make me.
I will not feed the trolls no matter how much less human they become with each post.
I will not feed the trolls.... damn.

I'd say going to war and killing others based on a lie because it's your duty would be rather cowardly. Avoiding that and knowingly facing a court-martial is indeed courageous, and I think it's apt to reference the thinking of MLK Jr. I support a draft any time we're doing something the president calls a war, but if I were drafted to go to Iraq, I'm not sure I would have had Watada's courage. But I also don't know if there would be an Iraq war if it implied a draft. Think of those uncomfortable congresspeople in Fahrenheit 9/11.

...those who are dying in Iraq are not courageous but foolish.

How dreamy and poetic Charles. I never would have thought of it like that. Thanks, you made my day.

"AND who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment..." {emphasis added}

Uhh, doesn't that mean that he should plead guilty and take his time in the stockade?

Civil disobedience where you turn around and argue you didn't really do it seems a little chickenshit.

Snort - He accepts that down this road his is taken military prison most likely awaits him.

However, the military has provided him with a platform to speak and defend his stance. He does not expect that will acquit him, but it provides a unique opportunity for the case he has made to be heard.

Furthermore, some of the charges against him regarding his comportment and very right to speak need to be argued against as they go against his and your very freedom of speech.

I might be wrong about this but after Aristotle's pretty lectures about courage, didn't Athens loose to Sparta?

And, if Aristotle was so great, why do you spew Hegel all the time Charles? What did Hegel say about courage and truth? Isn't truth, courage and all that just a social construct?

I'm no fan of this war, far from it. But this guy made a bad decision, knew what he was getting into, and he needs to live with it (whether that means jail or Iraq).

If more people thought twice before enlisting this administration wouldn't have the troops it needs for its military adventures.

Will, I was an enlisted man in the Navy. I distinctly remember that all military personnel, both officer and enlisted, are obliged to disobey an unlawful order.

Jerod, you have a point, sort of. But remember, it is the military itself that sets up the class distinction between officers and enlisted people. And it has been this way since the formation of the country. It is deeply ingrained in the military culture. You can hardly blame the press for making a distinction when an officer pulls a publicity stunt like this.

MrObvious, it is in part because of your attitude that the rule obligating soldiers to disobey an unlawful order exists. Yes, when someone enlists, they are obligated to serve the term they agreed to. But that doesn't mean they become willing slaves, or unthinking drones or automatons. They must follow orders, but only so long as they are legal.

Probably all of us would agree that if a platoon leader or officer ordered his soldiers to massacre a bunch of unarmed civilians, the soldiers should not obey such an order. That is a fairly obvious example of an unlawful order. Watada is simply trying to take that premise to the entire war itself. It is a leap that I doubt he will have much success with in a military court. But I think it is a courageous thing to attempt, and he most likely is well aware of the fact that he will probably end up in jail over it. From what I've read about him, he strikes me as somewhat idealistic, but not stupid.

And ultimately his actions may, indeed, convince some others to think twice before enlisting.

He may not be a coward for refusing to go to Iraq, but there's no question that he's a whore for accepting a military paycheck and then refusing to do the job for which he had been trained and paid.

I read all of your comments, but I just wanted to add that I think Eric is cute.

Whoops, Ehren! I knew an Ahren once, in Portland, Oregon. He was cute as well.

....there's no question that he's a whore for accepting a military paycheck and then refusing to do the job for which he had been trained and paid."

Um, what? He's been trained and paid to be an officer, and as an officer he has
an obligation to question what he sees as illegal orders. He hasn't been trained and paid to be an unthinking killing drone.

Furthermore, by this (il)logic, if you work for a company that's doing something illegal, you shouldn't speak out about it, or if you do, you should return all your earnings beforehand. You do see how stupid that sounds, right?

Military History? I strongly recommend you read this post regarding Sparta and Athens in today's context:

The Clash of Civilizations is a Local Thing that Occurs Globally

I find it appaling that the millitary recruits people in poor neighborhoods and schools, because those are the people who feel they have no options. They promise them money for school and a whole new attitude and respect for one's self. Then we make them into heros, because who wants to lose someone in a war that was for nothing but our president's ego?

Yet, Watada entered the millitary in 2003, when Iraq was definitely on the horizon. He should not have joined! If he was in it before, or was drafted, I could get behind him. While I don't think he should go to jail, I do think he's wrong for joining in the first place when it was so obvious where he'd end up.

@Dianna: I think Watada joined then because he actually believed Bush's BS about WMD's in Iraq. It's after learning that Bush lied about Iraq that he felt it was an illegal war and wouldn't go there. He's willing to go to Afghanistan, though.

I wish that the American population had to vote in favor of war every year we were in one, and that all those who vote in favor of said war had their names deposited on an enlistment registry, ready to be called up to served in the war.

i think a lot of people were duped into signing up for the military before we entered into this phase. my sister's boyfriend signed up for an ROTC scholarship in the summer of 2001. shortly after, the shit hit the fan. now, he's obligated to serve for 4 years.

not just 4 years, but another 4, and then another 4, and then another 4.

I guess I just can't believe that anyone bought into the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" bullshit which I thought was so obviously a lie from day one.

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