By Howard Lisnoff
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Apr 29, 2009
On April 21, Mathis Chiroux argued his case in front of an
administrative separation board of the Army Human Resources Command
after refusing deployment to Iraq in 2008.
Chiroux had previously served honorably as a photojournalist in
Afghanistan, Japan, Europe and the Philippines before being called up
again to serve in Iraq. Chiroux testified that the military was
"sending people off to participate in war crimes." He faced an
"other-than-honorable discharge" if found guilty by the Army board,
which would have meant a loss of benefits for his time served. The
separation board granted him a general discharge, under honorable
conditions and benefits.
Following Chiroux's victory, he issued the following statement: "So
what does this mean for the military? RESIST! Now's the time, ladies
and gentleman [sic]. The floodgates are open. Your leaders are
listening and, more and more, they are agreeing. Resisters are moving
away from being the exception, and slowly becoming the norm."
While I think Mathis Chiroux's heroism and bravery in the face of the
arbitrary nature of military authority was admirable, there are many,
many considerations a soldier must make before becoming a resister.
The road to resistance to the military is filled with veritable
landmines. The penalties and life-changing results can be devastating!
Most soldiers who resist deployment to a war zone will face the very
real possibility of being sentenced to a prison term in a military
stockade, loss of rank and benefits, and a dishonorable discharge.
Military stockades are not conducive to honoring the sacrifices of
war resisters! Failing to report for duty can result in being found
guilty of being absent without leave or desertion. A dishonorable
discharge can follow a person for life with the very real probability
of being barred from many jobs that require any kind of security
clearance. Government jobs are unobtainable with so-called "bad paper."
Fleeing to Canada for sanctuary has almost been eliminated by the
active opposition of the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
War resisters, though supported by the majority of Canadians, face
the prospect of being deported and handed over to military
authorities. Often the penalty for returned resisters is more severe
than for those who stood up to the government while still in the military.
Though it is difficult to compare war resistance during the Vietnam
War with opposition to either the war in Afghanistan or the Iraq
wars, there are many lessons that war resisters learned during their
opposition to the war in Vietnam that can be passed on to
contemporary resisters. Resistance to war is always unpopular, but
resistance to wars fought with conscripts are easier to defend on
moral grounds, though the differences between a war fought with
draftees rather than volunteers is like splitting moral hairs in
light of the lethality of technology used in "modern" warfare. Once
troops are deployed the call of "support our troops" can, at least in
the short term, drown out any considerations to treat resisters
fairly. Nationalism and national chauvinism serve to cement the will
of a nation to fight. Following years of war, the spotlight of the
media is lost on the cause of resistance and greater injustices can
take place in the treatment of resisters.
During the Vietnam War, resisters were better off if they resisted
the draft rather than the military. Only a few thousand men who
resisted the military were discharged under honorable conditions
through President Carter's amnesty program, and tens of thousands had
to live with bad paper that limited many of their choices in life.
While thousands were granted sanctuary, primarily in Canada, the
lives of immigrants were hard, especially if resisters didn't have
the skills needed by the host country. However, thousands who became
resisters went on to live successful lives in Canada. Amnesty was far
easier to obtain as a draft resister than a military resister. Many
families were literally torn apart by the decision to resist war.
While resistance to a moral wrong is always admirable, it is wise to
consider all the possible outcomes before embarking on that course of
action. The military's job is to fight and win wars, not to provide
accolades to resisters.
Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He was a Vietnam War resister.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.