U.S. soldiers refusing to fight in Iraq can now embrace new compatriots: Israeli soldiers refusing to fight in Lebanon. The news from Israel is that today's war is popular with most Israelis. That may be true, but there are some Israelis opposed to the war, and some Israeli soldiers rejecting the call to duty.
Amir Paster is a captain in the Iraeli Army Reserves, and a student at Tel Aviv University. He's serving a month in a military prison for his rejection of the mission, calling Israel's attacks in Lebanon contrary to the values he was brought up to believe because of the heavy civilian casualties. His is the first report of a soldier refusing to cross into Lebanon for the current Middle East war to fight what nevertheless continues to be a popular battle among Israelis.
The number of Israeli refuseniks is small, but not inconsequential. Anti-war soldier support groups say some 160 Israeli soldiers have gone to prison rather than to war since the current Intifada started.
Meanwhile here in the United States a CNN-commissioned poll suggests that 60 percent of Americans now oppose the war in Iraq.
As is the case in Israel, a growing number of U.S. soldiers are refusing service in a war they too consider contrary to their values: the Iraq War. As I travel the U.S. talking about the soldiers opposed to the war I profile in my book Mission Rejected, I am repeatedly asked the question: How many soldiers in the services are against the war?
It is an impossible question to answer accurately, but it is possible to get an idea of why soldiers are rejecting the war and how they are expressing their opinions. Some blog home their complaints. Others file for conscientious objector status. A score or more have deserted to Canada publicly and a lawyer for many of them is convinced that at least ten times that number are underground north of the border. There are those who serve out their tour of duty and then come home to protest the war with techniques that vary from street demonstrations to running for elected office.
An example is Dave Bischel. "The whole time they're trying to kill us." Dave Bischel is telling me about his 11-month tour of duty in Iraq. "We've been mortared. We've been shot at on a regular basis." Dave is a beefy G.I. who served in the first Gulf War invasion of Iraq in 1991 and was called back to fight in the Iraq War. He's a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and we meet to talk about his opposition to the war on the set of a Link TV talk show I'm anchoring.
Dressed in a striped polo shirt and blue jeans, Dave looks relaxed as he talks about the endless stress of duty in Iraq. "The morale starts to crash and you want to blame it on somebody. You start getting angry. You start to argue amongst each other. Pretty soon you start developing this hatred almost - this hatred of Arabs. It's scary because I'm not that kind of person. I'm not that kind of person at all."
Dave Bischel tries to explain how he can be a good soldier and against the war at the same time.
"Because I believe in serving my country doesn't mean I have to believe in the current occupation of Iraq - which I'm totally against. I understand when you enlist in the military you take on a certain responsibility to defend our interests and defend our country," he explains slowly and carefully to the nationwide television audience, quickly adding, "however the overwhelming evidence is this is a war based on lies." Dave immediately was challenged by viewers of the talk show when I invited the audience to participate in the program by telephone.
Chris called from Mississippi to complain, "He comes on TV and knocks our military down and knocks our soldiers down."
Dave is specific with his reply. "This is an unjust, immoral war based on lies," he explains. "Our soldiers are being killed and wounded for nothing."
But Chris is not satisfied. "It just seems to me anytime the government needs to make a decision, we have naysayers out there who will second guess them. We don't need our military coming out and downgrading our military."
Dave listens politely, and politely repeats that it is his support of his fellow troops that fuels his work against the war.
For every Dave Bischel, how many soldiers are there opposed to the war who are just quietly serving out their time, hoping to get home in one piece and rebuild their former lives? Again, we do not know.
What we need is a poll of the military to see how many of our enlisted men and women oppose the war. Let's find out how many soldiers agree with that 60 percent of the folks back home that this Bush adventure is a tragic mistake.
Soldiers opposed to this war are on the front lines of what is probably the most important battle of their military careers: the battle for America's soul. It is a lonely job that takes fantastic courage. They are up against their government, the military, and extraordinary peer pressure form fellow troops. They are a critical element of the anti-war movement because their credibility cannot be impugned. They've been there. They've seen what works and what doesn't work. And in some cases they perpetrated what doesn't work. Imagine the moral support they would feel were they to know just how many other soldiers also oppose this illegal and immoral war.
A scientifically reputable contemporary poll of active duty soldiers regarding their support or opposition to the war would be of great value as we analyze where our society sits: Does the majority of our Armed Forces support the war, is it sitting on the fence, or do soldiers agree with civilians that this mess is simply wrong.