Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been reprinting Daniel Lakemacher blog posts, the following letter was sent to the producers of Sir! No Sir! by his wife.
Adam (and everyone who was part of "Sir! No Sir!"),
My husband, Daniel, and I just finished watching "Sir! No Sir!", and my first impulse was to immediately write to you all. Daniel is in the middle of attempting to obtain a discharge from the Navy as a conscientious objector, and I don't feel like I can adequately express how meaningful it was for me to watch the film and realize that we're not alone.
After having "served" for six months in Guantanamo Bay, Daniel came home as a very subdued and troubled version of his former self. For more than a year, he and I struggled with how to make sense of the things that he had witnessed and experienced there. I include myself in his struggle because of the fact that he received no validation of his questioning from the limited mental health resources that were made available to him upon his return home. This meant that I was his sounding board, safety net, and psychologist for the past year and a half, hardly roles that I am well equipped to fulfill, especially while trying to maintain my own sanity. Watching him try to make sense of his participation in war has forced me to question so many of the things that I have been taught about war, government, America, and obedience. I've done a complete 180 in my views and was actually the one who suggested that he research conscientious objection because of how distressed he was over his continued involvement with the military.
Despite this, I have often felt very alone in this process. Daniel wasn't part of a unit that was sent to Guantanamo Bay; he was essentially loaned out by himself to another command. This meant that there was no one who had gone through it all with him to talk with about it when he came home. Filing for conscientious objector status has proven to be a rather solitary experience as well. It was months after he made the decision to file before he found another sailor who had successfully obtained a discharge. As a fairly introverted person, I've found it similarly difficult to find people who were sympathetic enough to the situation that I could speak freely with them.
And then we watched "Sir! No Sir!" In one sense, it was horrifying to know what sorts of atrocities were perpetrated by the U.S. government against both innocent foreigners and its own citizens. At the same time, I felt relief wash over me as I realized that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who have, at the very least, risked imprisonment rather than fight a war. There was an entire movement that forced the U.S. government, with all its impressive technology, to retreat. I was born almost a decade after the Vietnam War was over, so I have no first-hand knowledge of that time. As you're well aware, the "history" that I was fed in government schools is significantly different than the events that you presented. It gives me so much hope to know that the American people themselves have ended at least one war before, which means that they can do it again. It's gotten a lot harder because the government has gotten better at managing its image, has created a perception of a "voluntary" military, and has isolated many people from being face to face with the consequences of their participation in war. Still, seeing the courage of those who were willing to be ridiculed, beaten, court-martialed, and imprisoned for their insistence that they would not participate in immoral actions was incredibly encouraging. It caused me to think that there must be additional ways for me to actively oppose the current wars that the U.S. government is perpetrating. I don't feel quite so alone now, and I feel like I've had the drink of cool water that I needed to keep going in a stressful situation.
Thank you again for speaking out about the experiences of so many others who have been in even more difficult situations and come through with their integrity intact.
Last week I received an email from Daniel J. Lakemacher, who is applying to be administratively discharged, by the Navy as a Conscientious Objector. To honor, and hopefully draw attention to his refusal I am reprinting his blog posts describing the twists and turns of extracating oneself from the machine. These posts were originally posted to warisimmoral.com
Friday May 22 (Day 19) Obedience as virtue?
"A child who grows up in an environment where only obedience is rewarded with survival gets very black and white about authority."
I recently heard this said by Paul Gibbons on the Complete Liberty Podcast - Episode 66, and it resonated with me deeply. I say this not because of any unique parenting to which I was subjected, but as a result of the fact that my experience of having obedience so readily instilled in me would be considered not just normal but praiseworthy in our culture. Arguably, it is this principle of following authority that has been more thoroughly ingrained in me than any other.
Whether it was obedience to God, parents, church, state, teachers, adults, person's wearing special clothing, or any number of the other seemingly endless categories to which I had to gratefully submit, the issue was not to whom you were being obedient but that you were obeying. The highest compliment was, "You're such an obedient little boy," not "You consistently discern what's right and act accordingly."
Think for yourself; did your very first lesson involve learning that disobedience would result in physical pain? I would venture that, for most of us, one of the earliest concepts we came to comprehend was that disobedience = physical beating. Don't put the toy down when told, beating. Don't pick the toy up and put it away when told, beating. And my personal favorite for guaranteeing that you won't obey: don't sit quietly without moving, beating. I'm guessing that many of us literally had insult added to injury when, as we got older, we not only were beaten, but first it was explained to us that not only were we deserving of a beating given our lack of obedience, but the physical pain that was to be inflicted on us against our will was for our own good. This of course meant that while we gingerly avoided sitting down, we should feel a humble gratitude toward whatever individual had so generously chosen to come to our aide in this way.
Of course, I do realize that there is a term more generally accepted for this type of action, but like many words, it serves only to legitimize what would otherwise cause significant dissonance between action and stated belief. The word in question is spanking, but seeing as I've never heard of a case of domestic abuse where a spouse was accused of spanking another person as a result of disobedience, I chose to use the term that is applied in the latter situations, since in these cases, the same action is rightfully portrayed in an unfavorable light.
Seeing as my parents and hopefully many who know them will likely read this post, I wish to be explicit that although I remember being the recipient of corporal punishment at their hands, it was done to no greater degree or in any greater frequency than would be accepted as normal and appropriate in our culture. My point is not to draw attention to my parents, whom I love and respect deeply for all that they've given me. Instead, I wish to speculate that the level of unquestioning obedience modeled by the workers in places like GTMO isn't surprising given the primal level on which such a severe physical and emotional conditioning toward obedience has been ingrained.
Thankfully, the incredible influence that stems from a human desire to be obedient is not one that has gone unstudied. In his landmark social psychology experiment, Stanly Milgram "measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience." Although Milgram's focus certainly wasn't on determining the causal factors of such obedience, to my knowledge, there exists no more clear and indisputable evidence of just how far people will go in order to obey.
Through his experiment, Milgram unexpectedly made public the shocking reality that most people need no more incentive than that of obedience to cause extreme physical pain to the point of presumed unconsciousness in someone else. In his study, the incentive to obey by presumably giving high voltage electrical shocks to another human being was provided by nothing more than a stranger in a lab coat who authoritatively told the unwitting test subjects that "the experiment requires that you go on." At a mere 11 pages in length, Milgram's summary article, The Perils of Obedience(pdf), is undoubtedly one of the most priceless modern contributions toward understanding the nature of human social interaction. Although I can't offer a high enough recommendation for reading the article in it's entirety, I know my own busy schedule, and so I'll quote paragraphs 111-112.
"The essence of obedience is that a person comes to see himself has the instrument for carrying out another persons wishes, and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical shift in viewpoint has occurred, all the essential features of obedience follow. The most far-reaching consequence is that a person feels responsible to the authority directing him but feels no responsibility for the content of the actions that the authority prescribes. Morality does not disappear—it acquires a radically different focus: the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority.
Language provides numerous terms to pinpoint this type of morality: loyalty, duty, and discipline all are terms heavily saturated with moral meaning and refer to the degree to which a person fulfills his obligations to authority. They refer not to the “goodness” of the person per se but to the adequacy with which a subordinate fulfills his socially defined role. The most frequent defense of the individual who has performed a heinous act under the command of authority is that he has simply done his duty. In asserting this defense, the individual is not introducing an alibi concocted for the moment but is reporting honestly on the psychological attitude induced by submission to authority."
On the eve of this Memorial Day weekend, let me ask you, how many times have you heard military members praised for their loyalty, their fulfillment of duty, and their discipline? How many times have you heard them praised for their specific actions, such as "I'm so proud of you for dropping those bombs and killing all those people"?
Is there a similarity in principle between the choice of words used to describe how children are "spanked" and how military personnel are lauded for their "loyal fulfillment of duty"? I don't intend that as a rhetorical question, and so in personally answering it, I admit to having consoled myself innumerable times on the manner in which I was "honorably serving" and "doing my duty for my country." However, I can no longer distract myself with such meaningless conglomerations of words. After all, I will not deny that I have violated others' liberty in order to obey someone else's authority, and of one thing I am sure, there is no honor in that. ADDENDUM:
I received an email containing additional information in regard to the following sentence I had written about Stanley Milgram.
"Although Milgram's focus certainly wasn't on determining the causal factors of such obedience, to my knowledge, there exists no more clear and indisputable evidence of just how far people will go in order to obey." EMAIL: "Milgram did go into detail on this point in Obedience to Authority . . . In the second half of the book, after he's finished with his description of the experiment, Milgram does a cybernetic analysis of how hierarchical structures subvert individual people's agency and autonomy. I would very much recommend it to your attention
Thursday May 21 (Day 18) Diagnosis Free
For reasons too complex to be worth explaining, I was authorized by my Chain of Command to have 24 hours of "Special Liberty," beginning at 0700 today and ending at 0700 tomorrow. I will leave it to you to decide whether you think it possible for any one human or group of humans to actually grant liberty to an individual and say simply that "Special Liberty" means that a Sailor doesn't have to report for duty.
In any case, my "Special Liberty" granted me the benefit of sleeping in this morning, as well as allowing for the comfort of wearing civilian clothes while I underwent the extremely intrusive process that constitutes any valid psychological evaluation. Although the clinical psychologist assigned to me could not have been more pleasant or professional, such a procedure requires answering questions about the innermost details of one's psyche, to include talking about all of the following topics as well as many others:
frequency, quantity, and purpose of having ingested various substances into one's body fears
nature of, and preferences about, one's social life
grades in school
changes in appetite
physical, emotional, and sexual abuse history
past mental health treatment
Undergoing such a process myself was rather ironic in that it is the very task that the Navy has assigned for me to perform on those persons currently confined to the Navy's only boot camp, Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois. I found it very interesting to be the one on the proverbial couch for a change, and I can even say that I gained insight from the experience. Even better, at the end of the process, the doctor confidently pronounced that I am free of any psychiatric illnesses or personality disorders. She also assured me that in addition to explaining her diagnostic conclusions, she would express in her report that she found me to be very forthright, open, and honest in answering her questions. Additionally, she said that she would make clear her belief that I am sincere in my request to be classified as a conscientious objector.
With another box checked off the list, the next step is for an "Investigating Officer" to be assigned to my request and for that person to conduct an informal hearing. If you missed my earlier post on the process or just want a refresher, reread Day 11 - A How-To Guide (see Shutting down the Machine - The Conscientious Objection of Daniel J. Lakemacher [Week 2 below]) and scroll about half-way down the post to view all the information I have on what these next events will entail.
Wednesday May 20 (Day 17) "The fate of detainees"
Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." I wonder what it is that Franklin would have said is deserved by those who forcefully limit the essential liberty of some for the sake of their own feeling of temporary safety?
With that idea in mind, I've thought it interesting to read, hear, and see that that the actions of the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay have again become headlines. However, GTMO as a buzzword sadly hasn't equated to any critical questioning of what is morally right concerning the liberty of the individuals confined there. This is clear from the following byline of a Miami Herald article that reads:
"With the fate of detainees still up in the air, the president will try to reassure the nation that his plan to close the prison camps at Guantánamo Bay will not put US citizens at risk."
First, I think it's crucial to recognize that the phrase, "the fate of the detainees," refers to the life, liberty, and potential for pursuing happiness of hundreds of fellow humans. After all, every "detainee" is an individual person with friends, family, and loved ones, much like you and I. With this understanding, the explicit meaning of the sentence in which the phrase is used becomes vitally important. After all, the sentence makes clear that "the fate of the detainees" doesn't hinge upon the question of what is right or wrong, but rather, it rests on the perceived safety risk to those individuals who have been classified as citizens of the United States. What do you think? Should moral concerns about infringing on others' liberty lose their precedence when confronted with the pragmatic requirements deemed necessary to keep one specific people-group safe?
I believe this question alone has potentially monumental ramifications, but even still, I wonder if it was this same criterion of not wanting to "put US citizens at risk," by which the government decided to label those persons as "detainees" and confine them in the first place? And, was it this same avoidance of perceived risk that prompted the invasion of Iraq? What of Afghanistan? The list, of course, could go on ad infinitum.
However, beyond the possible insight to be gained from following this reasoning backward, I believe there's a more crucial question to ask. Whose liberty will next be violated, not on the basis of right and wrong, but as the result of an action being planned by government right now, in order to keep you safe.
Tuesday May 19 (Day 16) Service or Slavery
Several statements made by Art Carden in his article Conscription of Men, Women, and Resources caught my attention yesterday, and I have quoted the two key excerpts that I credit as the inspiration for today’s post.
“We can sing the praises of the ennobling and embiggening effects of time in the military or time in the peace corps, but this loses its luster when the ennobling and embiggening are done at the point of a gun. "Service" extracted at the point of a gun is not honorable. It is tragic.”
“Some may argue that this is an exercise in incendiary rhetoric, but it is also correct: compulsory service is slavery by definition. Call a spade a spade. Milton Friedman did when he referred to the conscripted army that was fighting in Vietnam as an army of slaves. They were: they went to Vietnam as a result of threats against life and limb. Some who took a principled stand against the war and in line with their convictions, like Muhammad Ali, were stripped of some of the most productive years of their lives.”
As opposed to conscription in American history, I will instead focus on the current nature of military service and the government sanctioned “contracts” that bind members of the Armed Forces to their employer. Specifically, I wish to address the nature of my own "contractual" relationship with the Navy.
First, I wish to unequivocally establish as fact that I, being of sound mind, did enlist into the Navy by my own choice and not as the result of the coercion of any person or group. An equally true statement is that I no longer wish to remain employed by the Navy, yet I’m unable to quit my job without the potential penalty of imprisonment.
I admit and accept that my desire to no longer fulfill the terms to which I agreed may rightly call into question the trustworthiness of my word. I have weighed this potential cost to my reputation, and I’ve found it definitively lacking in comparison with the price required to support an organization and a cause that I believe is unjustified in its termination of countless human lives.
In my own mind, I’ve considered the question of which mistake I would rather confess to any children I may one day have. Would I rather tell them how I failed to live up to the specified number of years that I had promised to labor for a given employer, or that I continued to work for an organization even after I came to believe that it existed for an immoral purpose?
To me the choice is easy, and so I acknowledge that I personally, and no one else, am to blame for my decision to have enlisted in the Navy. I also recognize that I individually bear the responsibility for the fact that I wish to break my word and end my employment. That I have no intent to deny accountability for my desire does not mean that I think the government is justified in holding me to my promise under the threat of imprisonment.
In summary, although I haven’t broken my word, I have definitively expressed that I do not wish to live up to my promised tenure. This expression has been in the form of a request to be released from the terms to which I originally agreed.
Although I no longer desire to do so, each morning I report for duty as ordered, and I complete my assignments without protest. This, however, doesn’t equate to truly being there by choice. A person choosing between prison and work cannot be said to have freely chosen to work. I was not conscripted, but since I now remain employed against my will, is there really any difference?
Monday May 18 (Day 15) SECDEF on safety
The following message from the SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) was forwarded to my entire Chain of Command today. I found the last paragraph to be particularly interesting.
(PARA) THE ?101 DAYS? BETWEEN MEMORIAL DAY AND LABOR DAY IS A PERIOD IN WHICH LEADERS NEED TO INTENSIFY THEIR SAFETY EFFORTS. IN THE SUMMER OF 2008, THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE TRAGICALLY LOST 87 SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN IN PRIVATE MOTOR VEHICLE COLLISIONS. OVER HALF OF THESE COLLISIONS OCCURRED ON MOTORCYCLES.
(PARA) DURING THIS PERIOD OF HIGH RISK, I URGE LEADERS AT ALL LEVELS TO REMIND THEIR SOLDIERS, SAILORS, AIRMEN, MARINES, AND CIVILIANS TO EXERCISE GOOD JUDGMENT AND DRIVE SAFELY. WE ALL KNOW THE KEY ELEMENTS FOR SAFE DRIVING, BUT THEY BEAR REPEATING. NEVER DRINK AND DRIVE. MAKE SURE ALL VEHICLE OCCUPANTS WEAR SEATBELTS. IF YOU RIDE A MOTORCYCLE, WEAR YOUR PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT-IT SAVES LIVES. FINALLY, USE THE AVAILABLE TOOLS AND RESOURCES TO SAFELY PLAN FOR SUMMER TRAVEL.
(PARA) TAKING CARE OF OUR PEOPLE IS OUR HIGHEST CALLING. WE CAN AND WE MUST DO MORE TO STOP THIS NEEDLESS LOSS OF LIVES.
SINCERELY, ROBERT M. GATES
Sunday May 17 (Days 13 & 14) A Presidential quote
"War will exist until the distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today."
It came as a surprise to me that this was written in a letter to a Navy friend by the late President, and one-time Sailor, John F. Kennedy. The quote is referenced on the website of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum about a third of the way down the page. I'm certainly not looking for prestige, and I've had the expectation from the start of this process that some people would undoubtedly hold me in quite the opposite regard.
Nevertheless, I do hope that the publication of my request is the cause of at least some questions as to why it is that we, as humans, wage wars, and what are other actions that can be morally justified and thus rightly instituted instead. If JFK was right in believing that war doesn't have to exist, what else is there?
While I believe that any war is immoral, my present situation makes the Iraq and Afghanistan wars particularly prescient for me. Therefore, I plan to share just one possible scenario by which American lives could have, and still can be, protected, without going to war. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but the fact that this possible solution still has not been implemented makes it particularly relevant in my mind.
In this brief discussion, I wish to suspend the very important, although not justifying, factors that prompted the 9/11 hijackers to enact their evil plans. My goal is to postulate just one possibility of what might have mitigated their evil, after their plans were already underway. I believe the answer can be found in two words, words that I believe are also the key to protection without war, individual self-defense. If there had been even one pistol in each of the cockpits of the hijacked planes, I think the damage done by the hijackers could realistically have been limited to the loss of their own lives. However, thousands of people died that day, and multiple times more have died since then.
Although the hijackers bear 100% of the responsibility for their actions, who is responsible for having limited the self-defense capabilities of the rest of the individuals aboard those planes? The answer, of course, is the United States government. The government, in claiming a monopoly on defense, so limited the capabilities of the other passengers and crew, that they were incapable and/or didn't feel responsible to try and defend themselves. In the aftermath of this tragedy, the U.S. government has remained unwilling to relinquish any power, and has instead expanded its restrictions on passengers and crew, while simultaneously ordering thousands of service members to use deadly force in two different wars that have resulted in an untold loss of human life.
I don't intend this to be an all-encompassing solution of a morally justified response to the disaster of 9/11, but I do hope that it has made you think and consider what might be an alternative to war in this, or any situation.
This post owes much to the writing and podcasts of Wes Bertrand, specifically Chapter 2, section three, of his book Complete Liberty. Available for free online reading here, or as a free podcast on iTunes.
See also The Myth of National Defense edited by Hans-Herman Hoppe.
Yesterday I received an email from Daniel J. Lakemacher, who is applying to be administratively discharged, by the Navy as a Conscientious Objector. To honor, and hopefully draw attention to his refusal I am reprinting his blog posts describing the twists and turns of extracating oneself from the machine. These posts were originally posted to warisimmoral.com
Friday May 15 (Day 12) I've been linked
Yesterday's careful rereading of the MILPERSMAN 1900-020 caused me to question whether it would be a problem that my psychological evaluation is scheduled with a civilian clinical psychologist. The cause for my concern was the statement from the instruction prescribing that the chaplain and the mental health professional be "members of a regular or reserve component of any of the Armed Forces." Since my appointment is currently scheduled with a civilian, I spoke with someone from the legal office today to confirm that this would not pose a problem. The legal representative stated that since the clinical psychologist is employed by the Navy, all requirements are met.
In this same conversation, I also inquired as to the identity of the Investigating Officer, whose role I detailed in yesterday's post. I was informed that I would be told this person's identity only after the psychiatric evaluation, which will determine whether or not I'm suffering from any "psychiatric disorders which would warrant recommendation for appropriate administrative action." Unless there are any unexpected developments, it appears my request is in limbo until my mental health appointment next Thursday.
On a slightly different note, my website has apparently attracted the attention of at least one person whom I hadn't directly contacted about it. Check out this reference to my request at The Holy Cause: A Christian Perspective on Liberty. I think those of you with an evangelical background will find this article and the comments to be particularly interesting
Thursday May 14 (Day 11) A how-to-guide
I offer today's post as an overview of what the military has dictated to be the process through which a service member may request to be classified as a conscientious objector.
The Department of Defense regulations regarding this issue are found in DOD Directive 1300.6, and the Navy guidance comes from MILPERSMAN 1900-020. All quotations within this post are from MILPERSMAN 1900-020. Before I begin my overview, I would like to respond to a few emails that I have received by highlighting the fact that the existence and nature of these instructions leave no question as to the following points:
A request to be classified as a conscious objector is a completely legitimate, regulated, and accepted action that any enlisted person or officer may choose to exercise. A request for leave (vacation) is no more acceptable or legitimate than a request to be classified as a conscientious objector. Although leave requests are obviously made more frequently, both are rights guaranteed to the service member by the military itself.
If I am classified as a conscientious objector and discharged, I would not be discharged simply because I wanted it to happen. If it happens, it will be done "by reason of Convenience of the Government - Conscientious Objection," and it will be an honorable discharge. According to the government's own rules, I cannot of my own volition terminate my employment; in other words, the government makes clear that I cannot break my contract. I hope that this makes clear to any interested persons that according to the rules and language of the military, I have not violated, backed out, broken, dishonored, reneged, or otherwise failed to fulfill the terms of my enlistment. The military is absolutely clear that if I'm discharged, it will be as a "convenience" to them, not as a favor to me. I wish to make the disclaimer that this response is strictly limited to the terms and conditions set forth by the military itself, and it is not an attempt to address the legitimacy of military employment contracts in principle.
Implied within the previous two bullets is the fact that the military doesn't obligate itself, nor is it obligated by any other governmental body, to fulfill my request. Should I not be classified as a conscientious objector the military will continue my employment.
That said, after a member has submitted a request, (mine is viewable here) she or he will undergo two interviews, one with a Chaplain and another with a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. About these interviews:
"a. . . . "A written report must be provided by both and attached as enclosures and part of the case file. If the applicant refuses to participate, is uncooperative, or unresponsive in the course of these interviews, this fact will be included in their statements.
b. The chaplain will provide opinion of the nature and basis of the applicant's claim, sincerity, and depth of conviction in the claim of conscientious objection, and a recommendation of disposition with the rationale for the conclusion.
c. The psychiatrist or clinical psychologist will provide a report or psychiatric disorders which would warrant treatment or disposition through medical channels or such personality disorder which would warrant recommendation for appropriate administrative separation action. Comments concerning the sincerity or credibility of the applicant's claimed convictions may also be included."
My interview with the chaplain has been completed and is the topic of my post, Man of the Cloth. The expected date of my evaluation by a clinical psychologist is 21MAY09. In addition to these interviews a "lieutenant commander or above will be appointed, by the commanding officer (CO), as the Investigating Officer (IO)." In addition to a few other administrative tasks, the IO:
"(2) will conduct a hearing on the application to afford the applicant an opportunity to present any evidence desired in support of the application. This will help the hearing officer to ascertain and assemble all relevant facts to create a comprehensive record, and to facilitate an informed recommendation to the CO.
(3) will actively and critically examine the applicant's beliefs, and any failure or refusal to submit to questioning under oath or affirmation. Should the applicant fail to appear, the IO may proceed in the applicant's absence as the applicant is considered to have waived the right for appearance."
Numbers (1) and (4) pertain to the IO obtaining guidance from different Navy resources and counseling the applicant as to the potential loss of veteran's benefits that could result from refusing "to perform military duty or otherwise to follow lawful orders of competent military authority". The instruction describes the hearing as follows:
"The hearing will be informal in character and the rules of evidence employed by a court-martial do not apply, except that all oral testimony presented shall be under oath or affirmation. Any relevant evidence may be received. Statements obtained from persons not present at the hearing need not be made under oath or affirmation."
Also I was most comforted to read that "the hearing is not an adversary (sic) proceeding." The IO is next tasked with providing a written report that summarizes the hearing. All the documentation is then organized and a copy is given to the CO and to the applicant. The applicant then has five working days to submit a rebuttal to the investigating officer. After reviewing the record for "completeness" and adding "comments and recommendations," the CO is to "forward the completed case file to NAVPERSCOM". It should also be noted that "comments are restricted to those matters contained in the record." As for who or what is the mysterious NAVPERSCOM, it's the abbreviation for Navy Personnel Command, located in Millington, TN, and tasked with handling the assignment of personnel within the Navy.
Thus the process ends, and I will either be discharged as a conscientious objector, or I won't. A final quote makes this point abundantly clear:
"Determination by NAVPERSCOM is final with respect to administrative separation."
Wednesday May 13 (Day 10) A visual explanation
I'm physically and emotionally exhausted after my past two nights of introspection and writing that culminated in yesterday's post. My mood is somber, but peaceful, after having admitted to what I believe was my contribution to the injustice that continues in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
As for the progress of my request, I again have nothing to report. I'm waiting to find out who the Command will assign as the "investigating officer" of my conscientious objection, and so for now, the next anticipated event in this process will be my psychiatric evaluation on the 21st of May. If there is no other news tomorrow, I plan to post an overview of the conscientious objection procedure as detailed in the Department of Defense and Navy instructions.
After so many written words attempting to explain my beliefs, I'll end this entry with what I think is an excellent visual explanation of the ideas behind my action.
Tuesday May 12 (Day 9) Reflections on GTMO
I have no word on the progress of my request.
The good news is that I believe that today's post offers my best explanation of what I believe to be true regarding the question of the justification of both my personal actions, and the overall military operation, at the Detention Center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After having spent six months deployed as a member of the medical team assigned to the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I can easily say that GTMO is the most hate-filled place I have ever experienced. The animosity I felt in the "camps" on a daily basis was almost palpable, and it often required a very conscious effort not to escalate the hostility. Almost any other place in the world where sworn enemies are in such close proximity, the aggression leads to death, whereas, in GTMO the hatred just festers.
As I look back more than a year later, I believe it was predominantly these extreme emotional factors that prevented me from being able to more objectively question the justification for GTMO while I was still there. Although it lacks any reference to the complexity of the issues, perhaps the most applicable metaphor is that I couldn't see the forest for the trees. Or in this case, I wasn’t thinking about why all those men were “detained”, when the man in the cage in front of me was screaming obscenities and pounding on the wall.
Honestly, I cannot imagine what the outcome would have been if my beliefs had changed while I remained on the island. How could I have coped with the motto, “honor bound to defend freedom,” while I daily worked in support of restricting others’ liberty? Thankfully, in coming home, the intermittently reinforced pattern of adrenaline, heightened emotions, and hyper-vigilance subsided. Personally, I believe it was only after this that I could begin to question the meaning of all that I saw and experienced.
As I suspect is typical of any shift in a life-long and emotionally charged belief, the largest obstacle for me to overcome was my own natural instinct to be personally defensive instead of objectively analytical. To this end, I think my best defense was simply not talking about my experience unless prompted by others. Thankfully, given all the news stories, op-ed pieces, and many people's eagerness to get on their own personal soapboxes in conversation, there was little possibility of avoiding the topic of what was happening in Guantanamo Bay.
As a result of these promptings, on multiple occasions I passionately and sometimes heatedly defended the fact that I hadn't tortured anybody. Furthermore, when pressed, I expressed how I thought it very unjust that I had to serve at the beck and call of "detainees". My talking points on this specific aspect of GTMO emphasized the audacity of "detainee" complaints. After all, I had to bring them medication on their whim and not make noise during their "Call to Prayer". When home, I expressed my outrage at having felt forced to cater to the very "detainees" that I was taught to believe were the enemy who would stop at nothing short of the annihilation of my entire culture. Throughout these conversations, I gave innumerable illustrations of other matters that I felt were unjustified in favor of the “detainees”. One such example was that the “detainees” had complained that the coffee was cold by the time it arrived from the galley. To my chagrin, the guards were given a coffee machine in the camp from which to directly dispense coffee for the “detainees”.
There is likely no better testimony of the power and influence of the propaganda involved, than that it was the ingratitude of the “detainees” that so infuriated me. In stark contrast, I can now at least theoretically understand how infinitely inconsequential such matters as coffee and Advil are in comparison to the isolation the “detainees” experience everyday. What value are all the medicines in the world if you live in a concrete cell, thousands of miles away from where you were abducted by people of a different race, who came to your country armed with weapons capable of true mass destruction?
Although this is an extremely poignant question, for months I remained too emotionally attached to my personal experiences to even begin to formulate it, let alone entertain it as valid. Instead, I clung to my adamant defense of my role in GTMO, even after I accepted that war is immoral. To me, the reality was that I had personally participated in confining others against their will, and I knew that if I were to admit to myself that I had not done this in support of a just cause, there would be a high price to pay within my conscience. Since coming to that realization, I have repeatedly tried to dispel such doubts by telling myself that even if war is immoral, surely the confinement of criminals doesn’t violate the concept of liberty I have come to cherish.
Nevertheless, my growing skepticism of government, and my critical thinking about GTMO, has led me to the following three questions that I think should be used to decide the issue once and for all.
1. Are the "detainees" in GTMO, or anywhere else for that matter, guilty of crimes that merit the past and continuing restriction of their liberty?
2. Are there objective grounds upon which the guilt referenced in the first question has been established? If not, is evidence to this end being sought, and is it just to restrict their liberty whilst the question of their guilt remains unanswered? The latter question references the commonly recognized feature of the American judicial system that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Does such a principle apply to all humanity, or should it only apply for the citizens of a country in which the government enumerates it, as in the United States?
3. The final question is much more subjective, and I don't believe it has the practical application value that the previous questions offer; however, I believe it is no less powerful or important to understanding the issue. What would you do if tens of thousands of people, armed with deadly force, and from a completely different culture than yourself, suddenly moved within miles of where you lived, worked, and raised your children?
Having established these three questions as my standard, I admit that I do not have, nor am I aware of anyone having, all the information necessary to determine the guilt or innocence of each detained person. Therefore, I honestly confess that I have no basis on which to claim justification for my personal actions in continuing the confinement of fellow human beings in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Monday May 11 (Day 8) Question
As is not altogether unexpected, I have no progress to report as regards my request, and in fact I didn't even have a single interaction with either of the Chiefs or anyone else directly involved in the process. That said, I still wanted to share what had me so preoccupied as to not actually make this post last night. In responding to an email that I had sent out to a number of friends and family alerting them of my website, and my request to be discharged, one person wrote back and made the following statement:
"(I) have thought of you often since you enlisted, and wondered at how you, or anyone, could be at Guantanamo and not rebel at the immorality of what was taking place there,"
The implied question made me do a double-take for multiple reasons, and I spent the remainder of my waking night thinking and writing a response. Although there is still more work to be done on my reply, I wanted to at least give a preview of my future post.
In addition, I want to use this post to focus on the significance of the fact that in all my interactions, there has been only one individual who made personal the moral question of my involvement in GTMO. That this is the case, speaks much of the unthinking manner in which so many people acquiesce and accept any action of the U.S. government as justified. Or, at least as is more common in my circles, the automatic acceptance of any military action, even if social and fiscal policy are exempt from this blind approval.
Although the media frequently questions the government's justifications for GTMO, what is unusual, and significant, is that it's so rare for an individual member of the military to be questioned about their personal justification for her or his involvement and actions. After all, what action could the U.S. military take, without the obedience of myriad individual service members?
Sunday May 10 (Days 6 & 7) Offline Application My official request to be classified as a conscientious objector is now available ... by clicking the title of this post. ... In making my application public, I expect readers to gain a basic understanding of how my beliefs about war have crystallized. Even more so, as opposed to reiterating the many and frequent inquiries into the justification of a specific military engagement, I hope that my application will bring to the forefront the rarely asked question of whether or not war is moral.
To this end, I encourage you to further the discussion of this issue by commenting on this or any of my posts. If I receive enough interest and response I will look further into adding a discussion board to my website. In the meantime, I would also enjoy hearing your thoughts and questions via email at
Yesterday I received an email from Daniel J. Lakemacher, who is applying to be administratively discharged, by the Navy as a Conscientious Objector. To honor, and hopefully draw attention to his refusal I am reprinting his blog posts describing the twists and turns of extracating oneself from the machine. These posts were originally posted to warisimmoral.com
Friday, May 8 (Day 5) Memorandum for the Record
Only minutes before ending an otherwise uneventful workday, Chief Robinson approached me with a typed page in hand. The page read as follows:
06 May 2009 Memorandum for the Record
From: Leading Chief Petty Officer, Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes USS TRANQUILLITY
To: HM2 Lakemacher
Subj: FAILURE TO USE CHAIN OF COMMAND
1. The following is provided for documentation purposes:
On 01 May 09 at or around 1400 HM2 Lakemacher entered the Command Suite of NHCGL with intentions to submit a request directly to the Commanding Officer. In the absence of the Commanding Officer the member submitted the request directly to the Executive Officer. HM2 Lakemacher did not use his Chain of Command in this process and is well aware of the Navy's policy on using the Chain of Command and submitting request (sic).
05 May 09 at or around 10:16 am HM2 Lakemacher drafted and sent an email to the Executive Officer without the consent or knowledge of his Chain of Command.
2. This memorandum is to inform HM2 Lakemacher that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. Consistent behavior of this type may result in disciplinary actions.
S. M. ROBINSON
Copy to: Member
After reading the document, I was unsure what to do next and several moments of silence elapsed as I waited and looked at the Chief. He eventually stated that I needed to sign the page. Looking at the document (replicated exactly above, including the absence of the Chief's signature), I was perplexed as to where to sign, and what exactly my signature was supposed to represent; however, I certainly didn't want to risk prolonging what felt to me to be a somewhat awkward situation. Therefore, despite my lack of clarity, I made my best guess about why I was asked to sign, and then printed "RECEIVED 08 MAY 09", followed by my signature and lastly my printed name, all penned under the last word on the page "Member".
The few minutes in which this exchange took place is the full extent of the interaction I had today with my Chain of Command regarding my application. With my Memorandum in tow, I left the base. Week one completed.
would like to thank you for taking the time to read about what's happening in my life, and I am appreciative of the ever-increasing feedback I have been receiving in email. I'll do my best to respond to each of you. Despite how firmly I now believe that war is immoral, I was still rather nervous about the reactions that friends and family would have to this news. I'm truly grateful for the respect, concern, and support that everyone has shown thus far. Thank you.
Thursday, May 7 (Day 4) Man of the Cloth
I was thrilled at 10:27 this morning to receive an email from my Chief telling me to report to Command Legal. Action. Unsure exactly what to expect, I headed promptly from my office to report as ordered on the other side of the base. After introductions were made, I was informed that my application had been reviewed by the Command, but there was yet one more form requiring my signature. The legalese I readily endorsed was as follows:
"The authority to request this information is derived from 50 U.S.C. 456j and 38 U.S.C. 3103, and 5 U.S.C. 301, departmental regulations. The purpose of this application is to allow myself to apply for conscientious objector status. This application is completely voluntary; however, failure to provide the required information would result in an inability to process this request and I would not be able to receive the requested status."
Exciting prose, I know. Better news awaited in the conversation that followed, as I was directed to meet with the Chaplain. The Chaplain interview is a prerequisite for being classified as a conscientious objector, whether or not religious reasons are listed as the grounds for discharge. In the words of the Department of Defense Instruction 1300.06,
"The applicant shall be personally interviewed by a chaplain who shall submit a written opinion as to the nature and basis of the applicant's claim, and as to the applicant's sincerity and depth of conviction. The chaplain's report shall include the reasons for the conclusions contained within the report."
Given the above description, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from this interview, but as it turned out, I left pleasantly surprised at how well it had gone. The Chaplain began by explaining that he found the essays I had written for my application to be so detailed and thorough that he honestly had very few questions regarding what it is that I believe. After further conversation, he made the very deliberate statement that he was convinced that I believed my world view had changed, and he thought that I was honestly trying to align my actions with that change. I clearly understood the not-so-subtle implication of his obviously Christian world view to be that he believed I was going through a phase that would eventually fizzle out, whether in my lifetime or when I faced "the Christian Deity" on judgment day. The ominous insinuation that there may be fire and brimstone in my future if I don't change my ways didn't have me breaking a sweat, nor do I hold it against him for doing what he thinks is best and right. In fact, I feel only gratitude to the Chaplain for his assurance that he would endorse the authenticity of my beliefs and thereby my application.
To add to the fantastic news of the day, I also scheduled an appointment for my other mandated interview, this one with a clinical psychologist. I wonder if anyone has ever felt so much anticipation for a psychiatric evaluation? In any case, if there's no other news, there will be more on that tomorrow.
Wednesday, May 6 (Day 3) Review
There is no news today regarding the progress of my application, and therefore, I'll devote today's post to Turproviding some additional information on the events of the previous two days.
Day 1 - The Executive Suite
When I submitted my application on Monday, it seemed as though my having brought it directly to the office of the Commanding Officer wasn't appreciated. My suspicions were confirmed later that day when a person of higher military rank, with the title of Chief Robinson, confronted me about why I would have possibly gone to the office of the Commanding Officer. Despite his apparent consternation, I did attempt to explain that the Navy instruction stated that the application's recipient is Navy Personnel Command via the Commanding Officer. After this confrontation, I felt that perhaps my actions had been misunderstood, and it was with that thought in mind that I went to bed.
Day 2 - Incommunicado
The workload Tuesday morning kept me very well occupied through the first few hours of the day; however, my stomach was uneasy as I still had some very serious doubts about how the apparent boldness of soliciting the Commanding Officer may have been perceived. It was out of this concern that I sent the following email to the Executive Officer:
To: Executive Officer
CC: Chief Robinson
Subject: Explanation of Action
It seemed that there was some confusion regarding my submitting my conscientious objector application directly to you yesterday. I would like to offer an explanation to you and my Chief, in hopes that my action will not be misunderstood as disrespectful or in defiance of the Chain of Command. Over the past months, I have spent numerous hours creating that application, and throughout the process I have been counseled by a lawyer from the Center on Conscience and War (http://www.centeronconscience.org/home.shtml).
This application is extremely personal and meaningful to me, and therefore, I heeded the lawyer's advice in submitting it directly to the Commanding Officer. The lawyer explained to me how she has counseled numerous other military members through this process, and she confidently advised that turning in the application to the CO was best. Even still, I checked, and as far as I could find, there is no Navy or NHC instruction that directs a Sailor to do otherwise. I recognize that my action was unconventional, but I hope that my motivation and reasoning are now clear.
I readily accept that yourself, or the Commanding Officer, may wish to have the application reviewed by legal or other parties in the Chain of Command. I wish to be of assistance in any way possible. Thank you very much for accepting my application yesterday, and please let me know if I can answer any questions you may have.
HM2 Daniel J. Lakemacher
Unfortunately, despite having the best of intentions my email was clearly not well-received, at least not by Chief Robinson, and I have yet to receive any response from the Executive Officer (XO). I sincerely hope that the message was at least read by the XO so that she has the benefit of understanding first-hand the type of person that I am. As regards Chief Robinson, he talked with his supervisor, Chief Deshazor, and then I was instructed to meet with the two of them in the office of the Senior Enlisted Advisor. At their request, I recited for them my entire Chain of Command from myself to the Commanding Officer, after which, the gist of their discourse was that I had not utilized the Chain of Command properly. I was informed that the military, like Microsoft or any other successful organization, does not let people at the bottom simply talk or communicate with those in high-ranking positions. My final instructions were that I was not to email, show up at the office of, or otherwise initiate communication with anyone above them in the Chain of Command. Explicitly mentioned were the Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and Command Master Chief. After eagerly confirming for them that I had heard everything they said, I was dismissed. On exiting, I asked if they wished for the door to remain open or closed, and I was promptly informed that I need not concern myself with the condition of the Chief's "hatch."
It remains my goal to make my application for conscientious objector status available as a link from this blog, but that first requires the removal of some publicly unnecessary demographic data. While I hope to report progress tomorrow, if there is none, uploading the application will likely be my plan.
Tuesday, May 5 (Day 2) Application Submitted
While this site is yet in the making, my application to be classified as a conscientious objector was submitted a little over 30 hours ago. After a small amount of run-around, I personally handed it over to the Executive Officer of Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes on 04MAY09 at approximately 1300. The waiting has begun.
There have been a few conversations of note since I began this process, but I'll need to delay in relating them here due to the amount of time that has been invested in getting this site operational. It's also my intent to make my application available online for the benefit of friends, family, potential subscribers, and most of all, any struggling military members trying to sort through these issues themselves.