Story by KEN MOCHIZUKI
Examiner Assistant Editor
Over 100 listeners of all ages gathered to hear a speech from 1st Lt. Ehren Watada at the Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church in Seattle on Jan. 25.
The general court martial of Lt. Watada began on Feb. 5. He is charged with refusing to be deployed to Iraq along with the rest of his unit, the 3rd (Stryker) Brigade, 2nd Division from Fort Lewis; and “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” for public statements he has made opposing the Iraq war and the Bush administration. He is the only commissioned officer in the U.S. military to refuse to serve in Iraq, denouncing it as an “illegal and immoral” war. Watada is facing up to four years in a military prison.
Receiving a standing ovation before and at the end of his 45-minute speech, Watada said, “I am here for only one reason: imagine the possibility of change within our country, and how you can be a part of that change.” During his presentation, he also stated that:
“I swear no loyalty to the commander-in-chief, but to the Constitution. We cannot persecute consciousness.”
Speaking about how the war in Iraq has been conducted through the “deception of the American people,” he said “the will of all of you has all been brushed aside.”
“Half a trillion dollars has already been spent on the war – money that could have helped the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”
Stating that the war in Iraq is really being conducted for the benefit of American corporations Watada asked the audience: “Do you think the military will leave as long as there are profits to be made?” The profiteers, he said, “have the most to gain and the least to lose.”
“An officer protects his soldiers – plain and simple,” he said, explaining his stand. “Would you do the same if you watched your brothers and sisters perish?”
“In a democracy, everyone is a politician. Our elected representatives have failed the people. We must be the voice for those [U.S. military personnel in Iraq] still living or struggling to live.” About the 535 members of Congress, plus the president, who make the decisions about the war in Iraq, he said, “Will they do so in a vacuum, or as the recipients of our collective voice?”
Responding to the position that if U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, the over 3,000 members of the U.S. military killed in the war would have “died in vain,” Watada said, “They died for you and for me, so that we will not allow this to happen any further. It was not in vain if we are willing to achieve change. My sacrifice and their deaths will compel you to act.”
During the question-and-answer session after his speech, Watada said he has been speaking at schools: “There is a perception that high schoolers don’t care – they do care.” When asked what the public could do to stop the war in Iraq, Watada suggested writing to their congressional representatives. If members of Congress are bombarded with messages opposing the war, change could be achieved, he said. “I am speaking to the power all of us has.”
Watada said that when he told his superiors he would serve in Afghanistan instead of Iraq, they responded: “If we sent you to Afghanistan, then we will be admitting there is something possibly wrong with the war in Iraq, and we see nothing wrong with the war in Iraq.”
If war broke out with Iran, Watada said the U.S. military is already stretched thin, and it “will have to institute the draft.”
Sponsors of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada’s appearance included the Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, University of Washington Nikkei Student Association, Institute for Community Involvement, Arab American Community Coalition and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum Seattle Chapter.
These organizations stated that their sponsorship did not necessarily mean an endorsement of Watada’s views. Seattle Chapter JACL President Kyle Funakoshi, who acted as moderator for the evening presentation, said the event was meant as more of a “discussion” with Watada.