Dissent: Voices of Conscience
Government Insiders Speak out Against the War in Iraq
By Colonel (Ret.) Ann Wright and Susan Dixon
(Koa Books, 2008)
The George Bush administration in the US and the Tony Blair administration in the UK, and other regimes in the so-called Coalition of the Willing, have waged a hardline campaign against any dissent to their immoral and illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. Despite this there have been many people who defied their governments to openly speak out against a war that defies conscience.
Ann Wright and Susan Dixon reveal a host of whistleblowers and other dissenting individuals in their book Dissent: Voices of Conscience. Among the dissidents are government ministers in the UK, civil servants, diplomats, intelligence personnel, military officers and soldiers. These courageous and conscientious people were subjected to a barrage of vindictiveness ranging from assaults against their mental integrity, demotion, firing, imprisonment, and, in some cases, maybe even murder.
Despite the stated avowal against the aggression of Iraq, despite labeling it a “war of choice,” the authors’s dissent appears, at times, weak to imperialist dictate. For example, Wright states, “The international military build-up is providing pressure on the [Iraqi] regime that is resulting in a slow but steady disclosure of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).” WMD in Iraq? Really? Where would these disclosed WMD be? As far as any reports by weapons inspectors, Iraq has been found to be without any WMD. So how can one disclose what Iraq does not have?
Wright continues, “We should give weapons inspectors time to do their job.” But already the first round of inspections by United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), lasting from 1991 to 1999 failed to turn up WMD. UNSCOM chief weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, even admitted that Iraq was “fundamentally disarmed.” So why does Wright, seemingly, then back up the US and UK regimes’s demand that weapons inspections continue?
Wright opines, “I strongly believe that the time is not right for military action in Iraq, as a soldier who has been in several military operations, I hope General Franks, U.S., and coalition forces can accomplish the missions they will be ordered to do without loss of civilian or military life and without destruction of the Iraqi people’s homes and livelihood.” The sheer wishfulness and naivety of this statement is astounding. Implicit is that there is a right time for military action in Iraq. Really? Is Iraq a military threat to the US? Does the foreseeable future portend an Iraq that is militarily capable of threatening the US — even if it should have nuclear bombs capable of striking the US? It is preposterous. As long as Iraq never attacks the US, and as long as the UN Security Council does not pass a resolution permitting military action against Iraq, any US attack on Iraq would violate the UN Charter. Furthermore, why would Wright hope for the success of the missions based in illegality? Why does she not hope that illegal and immoral militarism will fail ignominiously?
Wright and Dixon spotlight Robin Cook who laudably resigned from the cabinet in the UK in protest of the invasion of Iraq. Nevertheless, Cook, in his 17 March 2003 letter of resignation, pledged his “personal support” for hawkish prime minister Blair’s leadership. What gives? Cook opposed the direction the party was being steered by Blair and, at the same time, supported the leader.
Few active-duty military officers spoke out in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. As to why more senior officers refrain from speaking out against the invasion of Iraq, major general (Ret.) John Batiste answered, “Everyone’s working for defense contractors. Their bread is buttered by the Department of Defense [sic].” Bastiste was one of the silent men until retirement. His opposition, as related by Wright and Dixon, was not to the attack on Iraq; he was opposed to the military strategy of secretary of defense [sic] Donald Rumsfeld.
Lieutenant Ehren Watada obeyed his conscience and refused deployment to Iraq. However, his conviction that an American’s “duty to the Constitution is an obligation, not a choice” is, I submit, wrongheaded. The assumption is that the US constitution is a perfect document — legally and morally — that has evolved to keep pace with current circumstances, in which case Watada’s sentiments ring not too badly. The Constitution, after all, was drafted by men devoted to inegalitarian lives (so-called founding fathers) at a convention headed by George Washington, a racist1 who destroyed liberty within the military.2 If, indeed, the Constitution is imperfect, why then should faulty notions in a constitution be adhered to? After all, once enacted and unless amended, a constitution is all or none — not pick and choose.
Whatever their motivation, the dissenters discussed in Dissent: Voices of Conscience deserve respect for taking a stand according to their conscience. One wonders at the many people who remained at their posts while their consciences told them that many Iraqi citizens would be murdered and their homeland devastated. Wright and Dixon tell of two British Foreign Office employees, Elizabeth Wilmshurst and her boss Michael Wood, who held that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. Wilmshurst resigned. Woods stayed and accepted knighthood.
It is one matter to be silent, but it is a whole other matter to collaborate with the aggression.
Kyle Snyder, a .50-caliber gunner in Iraq went AWOL to Canada. He said, “I support the troops but oppose the war.” This sounds good, but what does it mean? After all, the war would not be waged were it not for the troops following orders and waging it. As long as the troops receive unquestioning support, there is little to hold them back from waging war other than their own consciences. If warring troops were reviled back home, would the troops want to take on pariah status in their society?
Dissent: Voices of Conscience is pertinent. It informs us that there are many people within government, foreign affairs, intelligence, and the military who oppose the war in Iraq. There are people who obey conscience, and take the fall that comes with that stand. Readers must not, however, think that this book is anti-war; it is not. It is anti-the war against Iraq but not unequivocally. Paradoxically, the authors support the military missions in Iraq and do not speak out against the troops waging war there.
- From Roland Bainton, Early Christianity (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1960). Cited in David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (London: Oxford University Press, 1992), 119. Washington saw Indians as wolves: “both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.” [↩]
- See Murray N. Rothbard, “Generalissimo Washington: How He Crushed the Spirit of Liberty,” Ludwig von Mises Institute, February 18 2008. Excerpted from Conceived in Liberty, Volume IV, chapters 8 and 41 (Arlington House Publishers, 1999). [↩]