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May 21, 2004
Herbert Rehabilitates Camilo Mejia

Normally I skip over Bob Herbert in the New York Times as he reliably demonstrates a complete lack of understanding on almost anything he writes. However, today's column covers the story of Sgt. Camilo Mejia, whose story I noted in a post late last night. As expected, Herbert insists on rehabilitating Mejia by excusing his desertion on the basis of ... well, on the basis of his working for Rumsfeld, as Herbert concludes:

When there is time later to reflect on what has happened, said Sergeant Mejia, "you come face to face with your emotions and your feelings and you try to tell yourself that you did it for a good reason. And if you don't find it, if you don't believe you did it for a good reason, then, you know, it becomes pretty tough to accept it to willingly be a part of the war."

A military court will decide whether Sergeant Mejia, who served honorably while he was in Iraq, is a deserter or a conscientious objector or something in between. But the issues he has raised deserve a close reading by the nation as a whole, which is finally beginning to emerge from the fog of deliberate misrepresentations created by Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al. about this war.

The truth is the antidote to that crowd. Whatever the outcome of Sergeant Mejia's court-martial, he has made a contribution to the truth about Iraq.

And what of his desertion of his unit by going AWOL while on leave, abandoning them to their front-line mission while he hid out for five months? Herbert writes that off as just a normal reaction to the "horror" of serving in Iraq:

Sergeant Mejia told me in a long telephone interview this week that he had qualms about the war from the beginning but he followed his orders and went to Iraq in April 2003. He led an infantry squad and saw plenty of action. But the more he thought about the war including the slaughter of Iraqi civilians, the mistreatment of prisoners (which he personally witnessed), the killing of children, the cruel deaths of American G.I.'s (some of whom are the targets of bounty hunters in search of a reported $2,000 per head), the ineptitude of inexperienced, glory-hunting military officers who at times are needlessly putting U.S. troops in even greater danger, and the growing rage among coalition troops against all Iraqis (known derisively as "hajis," the way the Vietnamese were known as "gooks") the more he thought about these things, the more he felt that this war could not be justified, and that he could no longer be part of it.

Sergeant Mejia's legal defense is complex (among other things, he is seeking conscientious objector status), but his essential point is that war is too terrible to be waged willy-nilly, that there must always be an ethically or morally sound reason for opening the spigots to such horror. And he believes that threshold was never met in Iraq.

Not to overstate the obvious, which Herbert never addresses, but those are decisions that Mejia doesn't get to make. Mejia volunteered for the Army, which means that he agreed to follow orders and to report where assigned, when told to do so. He doesn't get to sit around and create a personal calculus of what duties fulfill him and which do not, or when a war is justified or when it isn't. He swore an oath to follow the direction of the command structure established by the Constitution and the political leadership of the United States. Moreover, this isn't just some green recruit -- this is a non-commissioned officer, who had grave responsibilities for leading his unit in battle, and the US relied on his presence to maximize their chances of survival under fire.

The way Herbert tells the story, Mejia is some sort of hero for bugging out and hiding from the Army for five months. Nonsense. Let's make this clear. We have an all-volunteer armed services. No one enlists under duress or draft any longer. Part of the reasonable calculation of enlisting should be that you may wind up in combat. People who don't think this through aren't heroes, they're idiots. The heroes are the ones in Iraq, putting their lives on the line, not the ones slinking over the hill at the end of a furlough.

Yesterday, I noted sarcastically that Mejia would have a bright future in politics after serving his sentence in a reference to John Kerry's experience in slandering his "band of brothers" on his return from Vietnam. Mr. Herbert, I was joking. You sound like you'd gladly serve as his campaign manager.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 21, 2004 7:32 AM

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