THE BLOG
07/31/2006 11:07 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What if they Say No?

The intense Hezbollah-Israeli fighting these last days keeps the Iraq War off the front pages, despite the fact that, as Frank Rich points out in the New York Times, the ongoing daily Iraq casualty count far exceeds the death toll in Lebanon and Israel. Columnist Rich even quotes my new friend, Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, to emphasize what he perceives as America's fatigue with bad news from Iraq: "It is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror," O'Reilly told his July audience. "I mean, it's summertime."

So the American troops in Iraq soldier on, more and more out of the limelight, their vulnerability and sacrifice growing. Growing too is the rebellion in the ranks that I document in my book Mission Rejected. A timely example of how the war is tearing at the conscience of the troops came in an email I received the other day from a conflicted soldier. He is an army reservist, a counterintelligence agent who served in Afghanistan, where he was awarded two Bronze Star medals for his valor.

"My unit may be deploying to Iraq in January and I am contemplating not going," he wrote. "This is somewhat complicated by not being a conscientious objector, which limits my options."

This reservist requested my assistance steering him toward sources that can provide him with credible information about the alternatives open to him and the ramifications of refusing orders. (One of the best of those sources is the G.I. Rights Hotline.) His situation is not unlike that of Lt. Watada, now facing charges for refusing to deploy to Iraq despite the fact that he is no pacifist and said he would gladly serve in Afghanistan, a fight he believes is legal and moral.

An increasing number of soldiers with the pedigree of my correspondent are considering destroying their careers and enduring prison time because they oppose the Iraq War. At the same time, the Bush Administration says it needs more troops on the ground in Iraq. Reality is again contradicting the Washington propaganda machine: this time the loud public proclamations suggesting a troop withdrawal of consequence by the end of this year (to coincide, of course, with the November elections) voided by the quiet announcement that tours of duty are being extended. Some 4,000 soldiers scheduled to rotate out of Iraq after a year in the war zone have just been given the bad news that they must stay at least four more months.

Imagine the courage it takes for a soldier - such as the reservist who requested a referral - to reject the mission, and instead respond to the calls of conscience and say no to the Iraq War. There are some 127,000 U.S. soldiers on duty today in Iraq. Plenty of them undoubtedly support the Bush policies that sent them armed to the cradle of civilization. But all indications are that exhaustion is setting in even among many of those who arrived in Iraq gung ho. As we watch the casualty list lengthen there and along the Israel-Lebanon border, it makes an old Vietnam War-era cry resonate with hope: What if they gave a war and nobody came?

That's why Lt. Watada and his ilk are so important to the peace movement. That's why soldiers such as the reservist who wrote to me need to be encouraged to question authority. With them in the ranks of the peace movement and influencing other soldiers, maybe the day will come when "they" give a war and too few of us come to start one more war.