Will Asian Americans Support this Dissenter?

November 28, 2006

Watada was court martialed by the U.S. Army and faces charges for missing a military movement and conduct unbecoming an officer. He may face up to six years in prison.

This is the official Watada website that has updates and ways others can take action. His father, Bob Watada, who was a Vietnam war resister himself, says some interesting things in an interview here.

One of the most interesting parts of this story is the way the Japanese American Citizens League is reacting to Watada's decision. Ever since his court martial, they have been debating whether or not to support him. There has been a series of articles in the Pacific Citizen about the debate:

With various JACL chapter members present to argue the pros and cons of the divisive issue — including members of the Berkeley and Honolulu chapters who have already gone on record in full support of Watada — the NCWNP district presented a resolution to support the Sansei officer’s First Amendment right to free speech. But in the end, the national JACL board quickly voted to defeat the motion 3-7, with 2 abstentions. Thus, its July statement of concern over some of the charges, including conduct unbecoming an officer, will stand.

“The national board action … was a statement that [it] was satisfied with the current JACL statement, that there was not a need for revision,” said Larry Oda, JACL national president. “This particular board takes its responsibility seriously, and as a group, is sometimes called on to make difficult and unpopular decisions, but it does so in a thoughtful and considered manner through careful and thorough deliberation.”

Five months after Watada, 28, announced his decision to refuse deployment to Iraq because he believes the war is illegal and immoral, the JACL — an organization that has long revered its heroic World War II veterans — continues to struggle over the issue. Some chapters believe that although the current JACL statement of concern is a good start, the organization needs to increase its support for Watada, the first officer to refuse to deploy.

“Lt. Watada is sticking up for the provisions in the U.S. Constitution. Watada took his oath to the Constitution very seriously and he decided he could not go to this War and participate,” said David Forman, Honolulu chapter president. He also noted that Watada chose to risk his career and future by his actions. “Lt. Watada … is putting himself at risk now.”

JACL’s statement “is not strong enough,” said Jim Duff of the Berkeley chapter. “The tendency of the executive branch is to punish those who speak out. The attack on Lt. Watada is just one of those incidents. We need to step up and support Watada.”

But others believe JACL’s statement of concern over some of the charges without taking any position on the Iraq war is a prudent and well-thought out stance for an organization that has a long history with the WWII veterans.

“We commend national JACL for its excellent statement … the balance it struck is incredible,” said Chip Larouche of the Portland chapter and a veteran of 20 years. He noted that he is against any move to change the JACL’s current stance. “It would jeopardize that stance … it will only hurt JACL’s statement.”

Larouche noted that non-military folks who discuss the Watada issue inevitably present an unbalanced argument, especially in terms of the Military Code. “[Watada] took an oath which includes defending the Constitution but also an oath to obey the president and to obey the Uniform Code of Justice. He is not living up to those portions of the oath.”

The U.S. Army announced Nov. 9 that it will go forward with a court martial for Watada on the charges of missing a military movement and conduct unbecoming an officer but has dismissed the charge of contempt towards officials. Watada will likely have a court martial sometime early next year and could face up to six years in prison.

Watada currently works in an administrative position at Fort Lewis, Washington. Prior to making his decision to refuse deployment to Iraq he offered his resignation on two occasions and has offered to serve in other parts of the world including Afghanistan.

The national JACL board first took up the Watada issue at its September board meeting where it was decided that the districts would go back to discuss with its members whether the organization should increase its support for the officer. In the months since then the Midwest, Central California, Pacific Northwest and Intermountain districts all voted to reinforce the current JACL statement of concern and will not increase their support for Watada.

The NWCNP district voted to support Watada’s right to free speech thus taking the furthest steps of any of the districts to support the officer. The PSW district recommended that national JACL take a more aggressive posture in two areas: “protecting his right to a hearing in accordance with military law” and “ensuring fair and equal treatment in regards to his comments” although this motion was not taken up by the national board.

“PSW’s primary concern was to ensure that Lt. Watada was treated equally as others who had spoken in a similar fashion and that he not receive undue punishment just to be made an example,” said Alayne Yonemoto, PSW governor, who noted that her district did not vote on the First Amendment issue.

John Tateishi, JACL executive director, had advised the national board to increase its support for Watada noting that their decision would continue to have ramifications on the organization for years to come.

“Personally, I’m disappointed in the board’s action on the motion to support Watada’s right to free speech. As I stated during the discussion, I honestly think the decision made by the board will define who and what the JACL is for younger generations, just as the decision in 1942 defined the JACL and left a cloud hanging over the organization,” he said. “But it’s not because of this that I urged the board to support Watada’s right to express his moral convictions — it’s simply because it’s a fundamental right of an American, whether he’s in uniform or not.”

What Tateishi says about who the JACL will be as we move forward is really interesting. This issue seems especially powerful as it is a Japanese American -- just a few generations removed from those soldiers who left internment camps to fight for the U.S. -- is the first soldier to really stand up and question the War in Iraq.





Neela,It's great that you've taken on this issue and advanced the discussion. Before posting comments and/or after having read your posting, I hope that the readers and fans of Hyphen take a few minutes to a) read about the history of Japanese and Native Americans' military services, b) read about Fred Korematsu and the internment of Japanese and Italian Americans during WWII, c) go to Wikipedia to do a "Cliffs Notes" reading about Noam Chomsky, Fran Fanon, Paul Robeson and the "draft dodgers" of the Vietnam War.My take on the JALC's stand is that its founding was rooted in an era when the patriotism and Americaness of those of Japanese descent were questioned and suspected. So much of the Japanese American experience to date has been defined by the proven loyalty (the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of WWII) of JAs to this land and the Old Glory, assisimilation/Americanization, being labeled "foreign enemies" by presidential order and an act of Congress and eventually imprisioned.I was not surprised to say the least.However, being an anti-war person at the core (One only needs to live through one war to have had enough of it.), I am not entirely all supportive of everything Ehren Watada has claimed as his reasons for not going to Iraq, as a soldier.War itself doesn't kill people. It's the soldiers, the commanders, the planners, the politicians, the arms makers and, ultimately, the citizenry that elects the leaders who lead us to war. You want peace? Abolish the military and the war machine. Simplistic? Maybe. You cannot be anti-war without being anti-military. And that includes the soldiers who enlist to fight.What was Watada thinking when he joined up? Boy Scouts? What was he thinking all those training excercises for? The military conditions and trains people, Watada included, to look at the people at the end of their riffle barrels as lesser beings, as enemies and that when the triggered is pulled, the casualties become part of the statistics. No more, no less. Kill or be killed. So, why the hell did he sign up?Morality, ethics and armed conflicts/warfare are like oil and water. The human species' capacity for war/killing is one function that should not have an "On" switch.Thanks, Neela.Sonny Le
sonny, i think the article makes it very clear that watada isn't "antiwar." he's just anti this war. he offered to go to afghanistan, after all, instead of iraq. it's the particular war he objects to.and i think military personnel, being the ones who suffer the immediate and worst consequences of war (along with warzone civilians) have a right to say when a war is so wrong that they do not wish to fight it. obviously the military couldn't function with personnel constantly questioning decisions, but if enough low-ranking officers go to prison for refusing to deploy to an illegal, or immoral war, that's a pretty effective statement.
Claire,My foot doesn't taste so good in my mouth. Maybe it needs a dash of fish sauce.Thanks for pointing that out. And yes, I did read about him stating that he was willing to go to Afghanistan.I think the key points worth debating from the whole thing are:--JACL's board of directors decision not to support Watada and what we can read from that decision.--How much of this has to do with, our own assumption, of course, the fear of appearing unpatriotic and disloyal, ala WWII internment flashback and backlash?--And this statement from John Tateishi, "...I honestly think the decision made by the board will define who and what the JACL is for younger generations..."--America as a war machine, and from reading your comment, is there such a thing as a "right" war?--And last but not least, Watada seems to have been sucked into the anti-war-cum-anti-Bush movement, ala Cindy Sheehan.And yes, I also recall reading about him stating that as he learned more about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, or as he got more educated about the neo-cons' agenda, he decided to refuse order to go to Iraq. He woke up, in other words.In some quarters, especially among the right-wing bloggers, Watada is already seen as a traitor, a "foreign enemy."And lastly, I don't buy the argument about the disruption that may come about if more grunts refuse deployment. The military is quite good and turning out killing machines and there are enough hero-worshipping, GI-Joe-playing, God-and-country types in the populace to keep the war machine going.Good day, Claire.Sonny Le
I think he should be tried for Sedition, not the piddly charges he's up against. He's openly tried to convince soldier's junior to him to refuse deployment and that's illegal and immoral in itself. If he got the full six years, he'd be getting off early. We're soldiers, we're not politicians. We go where our leaders send us. Cowards need not apply.
A Congressional Medal of Honor can be awarded to a soldier over the objections of the President if there is reconsideration by the Congress after a Presidential veto. This is what should happen in Watada's case. The President and his immediate staff should be isolated. Watada should be embraced. This is what people of conscience should stand for and the failure of Democratic members of Congress to support such actions should be understood for what it is: a determination to inherit the spoils of the war.
As a serving APA professional officer in the USMC I think Watada should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. He wasn't just a sad sack private...he was an officer with obligations and responsibilities. His platoon has now had to deploy without their leader - soldiers may die now because he's failed to be there with them. If he had gone and shared their experiences he may have had more of a leg to stand on in making his protest but he has nothing. Noblesse oblige requires more than thinking about himself and his own desires and statements. He can express all he wants about his personal opinions after he gets his Dishonorable Discharge. This may be the difference between Inouye's generation of service and the ME FIRST generation Nexters.
Makes sense to me: Uphold the Constitutionfirst and foremost. Deal with yourmoral convictions (shoot no innocentseven if ordered).Love your fellowsoldiers, love your country. Speakingout and resisting may have saveda few thousand more American Lives inVietnam , before the generals shook handsand moved in the Coke machines and tourists.I love this country, home of themost educated military in the world.
That is true, no one forced him to join.
You have Al Sharpton offering support, things can get ugly. Thats if he stepped in
Watada is at home with his family; who needs him; with whom he gets and gives all the appreciation he will ever need. And I'm sure his family is glad he is safe in Hawaii then serving to make rich Jews and their rich 'Shabbos Goyim' puppets even richer by killing people who have not harmed us and have no capacity to harm us. He needs nothing from our Imperialist Pagan State.This is a man of honor. Fighting for his family, against false American patriotism that only serves Israel and corporations.