The case of Lt. Erin Watada provides a good example of why our American ancestors opposed a standing army. You’ll recall that Watada is the U.S. military officer who refused orders to deploy to Iraq on the ground that to do so would constitute the war crime of waging a war of aggression. The U.S. Army prosecuted him for refusing to obey such orders but then screwed up by agreeing to the granting of a mistrial after Watada’s trial had already begun. Since another trial would have violated the constitutional provision on double jeopardy, U.S. military officials have recently decided to drop the charges. Still pending are charges relating to Watada’s criticism of President Bush.
Why did Watada incur the wrath of his superiors? One reason and one reason alone: Making an independent judgment that President Bush’s war on Iraq violated both the U.S. Constitution and international law, he refused to obey orders to deploy to Iraq. It’s that simple. In the eyes of the Pentagon, that’s not what a soldier, especially an officer, is supposed to do. A soldier loyally and obediently follows the orders of his commander in chief, no questions asked.
Look at the national torture debate. The CIA is saying, “Don’t prosecute us. We were just following orders.” And look at all the people who are sympathetic to their position. The idea is, “Hey, they’re the patriots. They were just doing their job by following orders. If anyone is at fault, it’s got to be the people who ordered them to violate the law, not those people who loyally and obediently obeyed the orders.” (Of course, never mind that many of those same people are saying that those who issued the orders shouldn’t be prosecuted either.)
But the point is that the military mindset is such that everyone, especially the officers, is expected to loyally and obediently obey the orders of his commander in chief. That’s what most of them define as fulfilling their oath to “support and defend the Constitution.” When they loyally and obediently follow the orders of their commander in chief, in their mind they are defending our freedoms, fighting for our country, keeping us safe, and supporting and defending the Constitution. And people like Watada, who follow their conscience and the law, are considered bad people who deserve to be prosecuted and punished as common criminals.
What happens if the president issues orders that violate the Constitution or statutory law? Theoretically, the soldier, especially the officer, is supposed to refuse to obey such orders. But as a practical matter, that’s not what happens. In the real world, the soldier is not supposed to make that type of determination. He is simply expected to loyally and obediently follow the orders of his commander in chief.
What better proof of this phenomenon than the Watada case? It is undisputed that Iraq never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. It is also undisputed that President Bush never secured the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war against Iraq. It would be difficult to find a better example of an illegal and unconstitutional war, which is precisely why Watada refused to obey orders to participate in it.
But the U.S. military considers him to be the bad guy, which is why they prosecuted him as a criminal. In the eyes of the military, the good guys are the officers who loyally and obediently obeyed the president’s orders to invade and occupy Iraq, just as the good guys are those CIA agents who loyally violated the laws against torture.
The upshot of all this is that the president essentially has an enormous personal army at his disposal, one that is prepared to loyally and obediently carry out whatever orders he issues. That’s not a good thing when it comes to a free society. The Founding Fathers understood that principle, which is precisely why they opposed a standing army for the United States.