Lt. Ehren Watada has become the Army's first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on grounds that the war is illegal. Watada claims that he ceased to believe in the legality and morality of the Iraq war. He is currently involved in his second trial; the first was declared a mistrial.
“I refuse to be silent any longer. I refuse to be party to an illegal and immoral war against people who did nothing to deserve our aggression. My oath of office is to protect and defend America’s laws and its people. By refusing unlawful orders for an illegal war, I fulfill that oath today.” -US Army First Lt. Ehren Watada
What follows is excerpted from Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates's address to the graduating Air Force Academy Class at Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Wednesday, May 30, 2007.
There is only one way to conduct yourself in this world--only one way to remain always above reproach. For a real leader, the elements of personal virtue--self-reliance, self-control, honor, truthfulness, morality--are absolute. They are absolute even when doing what is right may bring embarrassment or bad publicity to your unit or the service or to you. Even when doing what is right may require sacrificing personal allegiances and friendships for professional duty and ethics--for personal honor.
Those are the moments that will truly test the leader within you--test whether you will take the hard path or the easy path, the wrong path or the right path. Always remember, as a wise man once said, "following the path of least resistance is what makes men and rivers crooked."
The willingness always to take the right path, even if it is the hard path, is called character. In every aspect of your life, whether personal or professional, you must always maintain the courage of your convictions--your personal integrity. President John Adams wrote to one of his sons: "A young man should weigh well his plans. Integrity should be preserved in all events, as essential to his happiness, through every stage of his existence. His first maxim should be to place his honor out of reach of all men." And, I would add, don't kid yourself. More often than not, doing this involves traveling a difficult and lonely road.
At a pre-trial press conference Watada remarked that he believed "it his duty to refuse to fight in the [Iraq] war," and that he was "prepared to face prison time for his beliefs."
There is a tradition in the Japanese American community of acting on personal belief, from volunteer 442/Nisei Linguist (while their family and friends were in camps) to the NoNo Boys and the Vietnam War Resisters.