Book Review: Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to the War in Iraq


12-26-06, 8:44 am

Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to the War in Iraq By Peter Laufer White River Junction, Vermont, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006

Some 6,000 members of the armed forces, according to the Pentagon, have refused to remain at their posts since the Iraq war began in 2003. A few high profile cases such as that of Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada, sailor Pablo Paredes, Army Specialist Jeremy Hinzman, and Army Sergeant Camilo Mejía have brought to the public's attention a growing movement against the war within the ranks of the military itself.

While this military-based movement falls numerically short of such opposition during the Vietnam War (approximately 170,000 draftees refused to fight by registering as conscientious objectors), today's numbers are still significant within the context of a so-called volunteer army. Indeed, many war resisters have been denied conscientious objector status and subsequently punished for their refusal to participate in what they consider an immoral or illegal war.

Journalist Peter Laufer, in his latest book Mission Rejected, records the testimonies of a handful of those war resisters within the military. This book documents their reasons for opposing the Iraq war and the courage they embodied in standing up for their beliefs.

Joshua Key is one such resister who, after 8 months in Iraq and witnessing atrocities committed on Iraqi civilians, fled to Canada and filed for refugee status. Like most new recruits, Key's recruiter promised that his job was both lucrative and safe, and that he would be placed in a 'nondeployable station' because he had three children. Key chose to join the Army after several years of struggling to find decent work at decent wages to support his family. As for most recruits, military service seemed to be the only viable choice. Key was trained as a combat engineer and immediately sent to Iraq in March of 2003. He says that he participated in over 100 home raids that netted no evidence of terrorist activities, stood at traffic control checkpoints at which innocent civilians were frequently killed by trigger-happy and untrained soldiers, and witnessed what appeared to him to be a mass killing and beheading of Iraqi civilians in Ramadi.

Key also recalls that soldiers in his unit were never given enough water, food, or sleep. Promises of more sleep were even used by officers to get private soldiers to do their bidding, Key testifies. On a two-week furlough after 8 months in Iraq, Key decided not to return.

Despite popular support for Key's situation in Canada (Key's family was given a rent-free apartment by a sympathizer), his refugee status in Canada was denied this past November and his case (along with several other American war resisters) is pending appeal before Canada's high court. Key says that he will not return to the U.S. until George W. Bush is forced to serve prison time for starting this illegal war. 'On the day he goes to prison, I'll go sit in prison with him,' Key says.

Then there's Ryan Johnson. Just before being deployed to Iraq, Johnson went AWOL. Like Key, a recruiter had deceived him about his service in the military. Trying to find a good-paying job and at the same time serve his country, Johnson believed his recruiter’s lie that since he was the only child of a family with a deceased father, like the Saving Private Ryan story, he'd never be ordered to Iraq.

When soldiers in his California based unit returned form the war and described in detail numerous atrocities they had either witnessed or participated in – killing unarmed civilians, running over children with trucks, shooting at vehicles that cross checkpoints – Johnson decided that he simply wouldn't do it.

After several months of living underground in California, during which time the Army made only weak efforts to find him, Johnson decided to move to Canada with his wife and seek asylum. Johnson works with the Canadian-based War Resisters Support Campaign to provide financial and legal aid to soldiers forced to leave the U.S. under similar conditions.

Laufer also tells the story of Daniel, an ex-Marine who served two tours in Iraq. Upon learning that his unit was being ordered back to Iraq for a third tour, Daniel sought counseling for mental health issue. He was refused. He asked his company first sergeant to apply to be a conscientious objector; he was refused the chance. Several of the Marines in his unit failed to return from leave before being redeployed to Iraq. Daniel chose to fail a drug test and was discharged with an 'other-than-honorable' discharge.

Now he the Veterans’ Administration is refusing him medical care. Though he is being assisted by the California-based Resource Center for Non-violence in his effort to regain his medical benefits, which he earned during two tours of duty in Iraq, his chances are slight. His counselor at the RCNV says that if Daniel had kept proof that he had sought and was refused help such as counseling, he would have a stronger case in regaining his benefits.

These are just a few of the voices Laufer is able document in this important book. Laufer's stirring account of opposition to Bush's war in Iraq by members of the military and their families deserves wide readership. When we hear right-wing pro-war pundits and even the President himself mouthing 'support for the troops' in order to try to stifle opposition and stay the course in a failed war based on lies, and who also refused to serve when they were called upon, we should think twice.

It is clear that the November 2006 election was a referendum on ending the war. We owe it to Daniel, Ryan Johnson, Joshua Key and the thousands of others who have been forced to make similar decisions to stay out of an illegal and immoral war. We owe peace to the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and Iraqi people killed and wounded.

What we owe the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have served and are serving is simple. When we ask them to make such a sacrifice they must know that it is for a just cause, that it isn't based on a lie and fueled by oil profits and corporate interests, and that we will care for them when they return. Under Bush and in this war, we have been made unable say that.

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at