This last weekend, I had to decide exactly how radical I wanted to be. I was put in a situation where I stood between an AWOL soldier and the military police, who very much wanted to arrest him. If only I had a nickel for every time this happened, I’d have close to five cents. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t exactly a classic “What would you do?” moment, but it was interesting just the same, and I thought y’all might be interested in hearing about it.
A conscientious objector, who has been trying to get out of the Army for more than two years, was facing a deployment on Friday night. He had applied for CO status and was denied … twice. While he was in Iraq the first time, he refused to load his weapon even when on patrols. When he got back he filed a Habeas Corpus in federal court, challenging the ruling, and was denied … thrice (if you count appeals and temporary restraining orders). He made it very clear to his chain of command that he was not going to go back to Iraq under any circumstances. They hadn’t even gotten him to pick up his weapon for about a year. His commander, however, wasn’t taking no for an answer. So, Agustin made himself “unavailable” during the final deployment formation (aka he went for a drive at an undisclosed location). Saturday morning, he went to the military police station and turned himself in.
At that point, he expected to be court-martialed, given a dishonorable discharge, put in jail for 5-9 months, and then move on with his life. I’m not sure why he expected this to happen. Maybe because that’s what his military counselors, his lawyers, and current precedent suggested would happen. It was not to be, though. He was instead brought back to his house where his wife, two daughters, and I were hanging out, and he was told to get his gear. He explained that there was no point, because he wasn’t going to deploy. The First Sergeant was like, “Okay, whatever.”
An hour later, though, he was brought back again. Apparently the company commander was not okay with such insubordination. “He’s going to Iraq, even if we have to handcuff him and force him on the plane.” (This was known to happen during the first Gulf War, but to my knowledge has never been tried during the current Iraq War.) Agustin had to make a choice: “allow” himself to be forced onto a plane to Iraq or figure out a way to disappear. He chose the latter. While we hung out with the MPs in the livingroom, Agustin jumped out of his bedroom window, ran out the front gate of the base, and disappeared into the German afternoon sunlight.
After 30 minutes or so, the MPs started to wonder what was taking so long. When they realized he was gone, they freaked out. It was actually kind of humorous. They were completely blind-sided by the whole thing and started running all over the house and the apartment complex trying to find him, interrogating random children who were rollerblading by, etc.
Anyway, that was Saturday, and he is still in hiding somewhere, trying to figure out how best to proceed. I can’t really go into much detail at this point, but you’ll probably be seeing stuff about him in the news in a couple weeks or so.
It was one of those situations that I’ve read about, but it seemed quite different when I was involved. War resistance has been an issue that Anabaptists have dealt with for hundreds of years. Since the founding of the United States, “peace churches” have struggled with how to respond to the forced military service. We have great stories of our ancestors refusing to fight during the Civil War, struggling to be recognized as conscientious objectors during World War I and World War II, and refusing the draft during Vietnam. But today there is no draft; there is no forced conscription, just an all-volunteer military. In many ways, it was the end of our interaction with the military. We stand outside the bases occasionally and express our opposition in the form of a pithy phrase or two, but our country’s wars no longer require any sacrifice or struggle on our part. At the start of the current war in Iraq, we were told to go on with our lives as before. I specifically remember being told to “keep shopping.” And so we do.
People like Agustin Aguayo are a reminder that there is a war going on, with real people fighting, dying, and being changed by their experiences. The front line of conscientious objection is no longer in our churches or in the courts. The front line of conscientious objection is within the professional military. I hope that we, as life-long conscientious objectors who no longer have the big personal investment in our nation’s wars, can remain active in the struggle, by supporting those who come to their beliefs through their wartime experiences. It’s one way we can actively respond to the wars we are funding. Agustin needs our help, and we can provide him and others like him with something other than bullets for their M-16s.
More details about his case and how you can help will soon be available at AguayoDefense.org.