The Fun-filled Days of the Third Reich
Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. ...voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
Suppose that on September 11, 2001, Bush '43 (instead of flying off to an undisclosed location) had gone to Washington and, after assessing the damage to our country (and our national psyche), had announced that our country had been attacked by a group of international criminals hiding in Afghanistan and that the resources of the finest law enforcement agencies in the world were being mobilized to bring them to justice. Meanwhile, airline security (which was woefully lacking) was being dramatically upgraded to ensure the safety of traveling public. Would we still be 10 years surfing on a torrent of blood, both foreign and domestic?
Official sanction of the indefensible requires a warping of the human psyche that evokes (or at least releases) the worst kind of depravity of which humans are capable. The alternative is insanity. Nazi field commanders who attended the Wansee Conference on the 'final solution' complained to Heydrich that field units charged with shooting Jews (and other undesirables) in Eastern Europe were experiencing 'serious morale problems' since their behavior had more in common with execution than combat. The concern was not for the victims but rather 'field readiness'.
To enlist in the armed forces is to invite indoctrination. Discipline is defined as 'instantaneous compliance with orders'. Each soldier has, not only the right, but the obligation to refuse an illegal order. But what if the prism through which you receive those orders is shaded by vaunted authorities as auspicious as the White House. How long before you believe that torture is acceptable..or if you reject the spiel (and nonetheless collaborate) before you go insane? Is there a third way?
No soldier takes his oath with the intention of abandoning it. Each (that enters into combat) will see things too horrific to talk about 'back in the world'. Most will do his (or her) duty. Unfortunately, many will be faced with a moral quandary. Each of that number has a choice to make. Too often, that choice is wrong. When it is right, it is (usually) severely punished.
There are few words in spoken language with the stinging connotations of 'traitor'. Too often, that epithet is hurled by people who have never picked up a weapon in the interest of defending their country. But it is important to remember the heavy use of that word by the British forces who were attempting to suppress the rebellion of the colonists who eventually became us. Demonizing the enemy (by the combatants) may feel personal but, oddly enough, it isn't.
“If people say that here and there someone has been taken away and mistreated; I can only reply: You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”
There's a twenty-something kid languishing in a brig for an act of conscience.
Sanction him if you must.
Treat him kindly because you can.
Release him because it is the right thing to do.
We are Americans. If that means nothing, then we are no better than what we condemn.