A year and half later I found myself working in a field clinic in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As a company of medics, my unit saw the worst consequences of war: mutilated children, traumatized civilians, dead soldiers. Even then, at least for the first few months of my deployment, I didn't take time to consider the implications of what I was doing; I was too busy doing my job. It was the Afghani children that finally got me thinking. No matter how many casualties I saw, there was always a sense of universal wrongness when a 5-year-old child came into our clinic with a ragged amputation. "How are all these kids getting hurt," I wondered, "Why are people letting this happen? What's wrong with this country?"
Then we heard figures, that up to 3,000 innocent civilians had been killed by American bombs. How many had been injured?
I thought to myself, 3,000 is about the number of people that were killed on 9/11. Were we getting even? I started to feel like an Army mechanic, fixing things that my comrades in the Air Force and Infantry had broken. But they weren't "things," of course, they were people, and after they left our clinic they were going home to their families. How many would return to devastated craters, or get home only to learn that one of their sons, fathers, or brothers had been spirited away by American soldiers?
We used to see those prisoners, too, doing medical checkups to ensure that the Afghanis didn't develop any new injuries during their stay with us. Of course, we never knew what happened to them before they got to Kandahar. During the examinations the prisoners were naked, shivering even if it was warm, with hands zip-tied and eyes covered. Sometimes they had sandbags over their heads. Sometimes they had been tortured by the Afghani militia and needed more extensive care. If these guys weren't terrorists before, I thought to myself, they sure might be leaning in that direction after we released them.
What were we doing here? I used to accept the idea of a war on terrorism, but isn't war a form of terrorism? Are we just laying the groundwork for another attack, and another war, and on and on? Have wars ever solved more problems than they created?
I left Afghanistan with many troubling questions, and it took me over a year to find satisfactory answers. When I did, I filed to become a conscientious objector. I was lucky. I had the education to present a clear, coherent case, and my unit was supportive, even if they didn't exactly agree with my philosophical perspective. I was given an honorable discharge in November of 2004.
There are many, many soldiers in all branches who feel the same way I do about war. Most of these soldiers are not aware that the option of discharge or alternate service as a conscientious objector is available to them. Of those who come to the conclusion that war is unethical, many feel their only options are insubordination, deception, or desertion. Some of them face imprisonment without ever realizing that there is a perfectly legal mechanism within the Army to recognize their opposition to war.
Last week, I, along with several other conscientious objectors from across the country, launched www.peace-out.com, a comprehensive online resource for soldiers wishing to become CO's. Peace-out.com, which was generously designed and launched by The Difference Machine, includes a step-by-step guide to the complex CO application process, including the complete text of my application, and a list connecting prospective CO's with those who have successfully been through the process.
I feel that it is particularly important for those of us in the peace movement to give aid and support to soldiers, regardless of how they feel about war. As much as we are antiwar, we must also be pro-soldier.