War resister at home, speaking out
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rod Ohira
The soft-spoken, well-groomed man in the dark suit greeted with a standing ovation by more than 350 people at Church of the Crossroads did not look anything like the war resisters who gained sanctuary there nearly four decades ago.
Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, a 1996 Kalani High School graduate who faces a court-martial early next year for refusing an order to deploy to Iraq, spoke publicly about his case for the first time in Honolulu last night at an event organized by World Can't Wait-Hawai'i at the Mo'ili'ili church.
Before taking the stage, Watada spoke with The Advertiser.
When asked what he would say to critics who call him a coward, Watada said: "I'd say: 'Why are we focusing on me and the personal issue? The issue is about the war and people need to educate themselves about everything that's going on about the war. They need to take a position one way or another. If people agree with me or disagree with me, I really don't care.' "
He added, "What people need to do is take a stance. And if they truly believe there is something wrong with this war — that it's immoral and illegal — they should ask themselves what are they willing to sacrifice in order to stop this war?"
His position has affected close friends and relatives, Watada said.
"In the beginning, a lot of them said: 'Why'd you sign up if you're not willing to go?' And then they came to realize that's not the issue," Watada said. "The issue is that the war itself is wrong and that those who started the war in the first place have done a grave injustice to the American people and they need to be held accountable. That's primarily what I'm speaking out against."
Watada's parents were in attendance last night. Bob Watada, who was against the U.S. fighting in Vietnam and Iraq, supports his son's stance.
"What we did in Vietnam is kill 3 million people and that's what we're doing in Iraq," Bob Watada said. "For the most part, this war is about oil and gaining domination of Iraq to make certain the multinational corporations ... get their resources over there."
Shannon Monkowski, of Kona, came to Church of the Crossroads on University Avenue, to support Lt. Watada.
"I think he's a hero," Monkowski said. "He has the courage to stand up and say that he's not going to participate in Bush's illegal war. What we're doing in Iraq is shameful, worse than Vietnam."
In 1969, Judy Austin was among the volunteers at Church of the Crossroads who helped set up a sanctuary for GIs opposed to fighting in Vietnam and draft protesters.
Austin, whose last name is now Rantala, stood at the church's office entrance and refused to allow government officials to seize documents.
"Men and women have the right not to fight if their conscience tells them it is not right," said Rantala, who was in attendance last night. "I think Ehren is pointing out to us that this is possible to do. It brings back some old memories."
Last summer, Watada refused to deploy to Iraq with his Stryker brigade, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., and made comments critical of the war that were reported in the news media. He is charged with missing troop movement and conduct unbecoming an officer. A pretrial hearing is set for Jan. 4 and a trial is scheduled for February.
If convicted of all charges, Watada could be sentenced to six years confinement and be dismissed from the service.
Reach Rod Ohira at email@example.com.