Sunday, February 11, 2007

An American Hero

An American Hero, Lt. Ehren Watada, has won a round in his principled opposition to the Iraq war. This case highlights two important moral and legal principles.

The first principle is that, while our armed forces demand the obedience of its members, even in the face of death, it does not morally or legally demand blind, unquestioning obedience; indeed it is the clear moral and legal duty of any member of the armed forces to disobey an unlawful order. And just as a member of the armed forces must obey any lawful order even at the cost of his life or liberty, a threat to his or her life or liberty cannot excuse the obedience of an unlawful order.

The second important principle is that even if the government of a democratic society is acting immorally or unlawfully, any citizen who proposes to disobey that government for reasons of conscience must voluntarily submit himself to the judgment and punishment of his society if his action is to have any moral persuasiveness. An individual cannot plead conscience to merely defend himself individually from enforcement of the law. While there are circumstances where it is moral (or at least not very immoral) to silently disobey the law, one (except in unusual circumstances) cannot claim any sort of heroism or substantial moral praise for doing so.

By both asserting his moral and legal principles to resist the war in Iraq, as well as voluntarily submitting his moral choice to the judgment of society, Lt. Watada truly deserves the title of hero.

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