Those serving in the U.S. military know the harsh realities of what it means to be a soldier. Being in the military today means you may have to watch your friends die, lose your own life or limbs, or kill other human beings. There are countless traumas that today’s soldiers often endure during a tour of duty, a major reason for the record rise in suicides.
But beyond the mental trauma, there is also a moral dilemma. Once a soldier realizes that all the suffering he or she inflicts—or experiences—only serves to secure profits for U.S. corporations, there is the immediate question: What should I do? Many succumb to disciplinary pressures and fear tactics, and reluctantly continue to serve, thinking there are no other options. But others take a principled stand and refuse to take part in an illegal and immoral war.
A long and proud history
There is actually a long and proud history in the U.S. military of refusing to fight the government’s criminal wars. Since the colonial invasions of Mexico in the 1840s and the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century—and in every imperial war since—U.S. soldiers have refused to fight on moral and ethical grounds. The genocidal invasion of Vietnam inspired over 500,000 soldiers to desert the military. This number does not include the thousands of soldiers who stayed in the military to organize against the war, sabotaging equipment and refusing to go on missions.
Because so many young people in and out of uniform refused to take part in the brutal Vietnam War, the Pentagon actually had to shift their strategy from ground missions to mainly air strikes. They began to rely heavily on Navy ships posted along the coast of Vietnam. But even the sailors on the ships circulated petitions against the war, held sit-ins and rebellions that halted missions, and sometimes destroyed vital equipment that crippled the ships’ ability to wage war.
Ultimately, this rank-and-file military opposition to the horrific crimes of the Vietnam War was a pivotal factor in bringing about the war’s end. The U.S. government’s vast technology and carefully crafted imperialist strategies were useless if soldiers refused to fight.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are making billions of dollars for a wealthy few, while the lives of millions of Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families have literally been destroyed. Every individual serving in the U.S. military has the moral right to refuse to participate in crimes against humanity. For those who are worried about legal repercussions, there is an entire community of organizations and activists who will stand behind every war resister.
These are not our wars. They are the wars of the banks, Wall Street and U.S. corporations. All soldiers, sailors and marines should refuse to take part in these wars, waged for the rich, but with the blood of working-class youth.