Journal of a "Model Officer"

In February 1990, I was a model officer of the U.S. Army. In 1984, I had graduated from West Point as a Distinguished Cadet, 23rd in my class of about 1,000. In 1988, I graduated from New York Medical College as a member of the national medical honor society, AOA. In 1989, I had completed my internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the most prestigious Army Medical facility. I then became an Army Flight Surgeon.

Yet, I was very unhappy. The thought of further voluntary Army service disgusted me. I did not believe in what I was doing. I knew I had to change.

At 27 years of age, after years of learning about militarism and imperialism from the inside, I had realized the truth behind the lies and propaganda.

War is never imperative, it is always a matter of choice. War is never more than an option taken by military and political commanders. In this sense, war is a cost-benefit analysis. Our authority figures use religion, propaganda, bigotry, racism, and appeals to our sense of nationalism and patriotism in attempts to con us into assisting them in these schemes, or at least voluntarily taking part in them.

Beware! Doing what we are told and doing what is right are not the same thing. If they were, there would never be wars. The German people did as they were told. They did not question their authority figures. They were conned into believing that the war and everything involved in it was necessary and good, albeit sometimes unpleasant. Similar logic can be (was) applied to Saddam Hussein, George Bush, and the Persian Gulf war.

The authority figures were convinced that the cost-benefit analysis was in their favor. The loss of some innocent lives was less important than the possible benefits gained from war. Hitler was only one man. Saddam Hussein is one man. George Bush is one man. Their power was multiplied millions of times because almost everyone else did as they were told. They all followed orders.

Once the loss of innocent life was justified, any atrocity could be rationalized. That allowed the genocide; the same concept by which all war is fought, by which all genocide occurs. 100,000-340,000 children will starve to death and die of preventable disease this year as a direct result of the U.S. bombing of Iraq. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of other deaths as a result of the war, the suffering and disease and starvation, and destruction of homes, property and the environment.

As individuals, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem (the status quo). We must listen to our consciences, and do what is right. If necessary, we must refuse to do as we are told.

No person has a moral obligation to do something immoral.

What can one person do? Consider Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa, etc. Are these not humans like ourselves, differing only in their willingness to try, and in their stubborn refusal to conform to and accept tyranny and injustice? We revel in their brave expressions of freedom and brotherly love. Are we not free to do the same?

Realizing all of this was a long, painful process, and a result of much introspection and reflection upon all I had experienced and learned. I could no longer be a part of the U.S. Army or any military force, and continue contributing to killing, starvation, suffering, disease, and the eventual annihilation of the human race.

On February 27th, 1990, I walked into my Battalion Commander's office and asked to be discharged from the Army as a Conscientious Objector. Ironically, my subsequent experiences were to become unpleasant confirmation of my convictions.

Army regulations required an investigation. My chain of command stalled, lied, intentionally omitted important documents, and showed complete disregard for Army regulations, the law, and any sense of personal ethics in the process of denying my application.

My chain of command repeatedly told me that it was within their power as commanders to violate Army regulations. Once my battalion commander demanded, "Who do you think writes these regulations anyway?"

I told my company commander, "You can't just do anything you want." He said, "As a commander, yes I can." In their opinion, their orders and desires were above the law. The law was only important insofar as it reinforced their decrees.

Although the Conscientious Objection Review Board (CORB) admits that I believe that war in any form is immoral, they denied my application because I did not provide "moral substantiation" for my beliefs. Even before the CORB reached its decision, I was ordered to deploy to the Middle East. I said I had no objection about going to the Middle East. It would be a nice place to visit, but I would not, in any manner, participate in any warfare there. I pursued the matter in federal court.

Judge Smith said that it would be fine if he conducted the hearing while I was in the Middle East. On November 30th, I was notified that he had decided to postpone his decision indefinitely, and that he would not hold it against me if I violated my beliefs and fought in the war pending his decision. (As of September 1991, he still had not made a decision.)

Judge Smith's opinion showed that he has no understanding of freedom or conscience. He is an ideal tyrant's judge.

When I heard the judge's decision, I began a hunger strike. No one could convince me not to start acting in defense of my beliefs. I would not let the Army label me and other conscientious objectors "cowards" or otherwise discredit us. I would never be forced to fight in a war or otherwise violate my beliefs.

My commanders' furor grew as the publicity increased. Only a few weeks before, I had been a well- respected, hotshot flight surgeon. Now I was a pariah. I had to personally check in and out with my commander. My security clearance was revoked. I was given extra assignments filing papers, etc., to keep me away from the press. I was threatened with court-martial on several occasions. Old "friends" walked the other way when they saw me coming.

I responded by shaving my head to stand out on post. I exploited every opportunity to publicize my views. I spoke at peace events in Austin, and peace vigils were held at my home.

Other soldiers at Fort Hood called me for advice on how to resist the war. A few applied for CO status themselves. At an intelligence briefing a few days before I left, an intelligence officer revealed in an alarmed and concerned manner, "Believe it or not, there is a significant and growing peace movement in the Fort Hood area. We think we know who the ringleader is." He glared at me. He said "peace movement" like a military officer might say "communist movement." I chuckled. He did not seem amused.

I left for Saudi Arabia on December 17, 1990. I continued to fast.

My story appeared in the Stars and Stripes, the official publication of the U.S. military. I began getting death threats. On one occasion, a West Point classmate confronted me. He told me, "You have embarrassed us. You have a lot of balls to do this. Do you know how many of our classmates would like to see you dead? Take my advice. Do not turn your back on them, or me."

On 23 December, my commander hospitalized me in preparation to order me to eat. A psychiatrist from the Surgeon General's office examined me. The Surgeon General was to visit, and I was to meet with him. The visit was cancelled.

It was Christmas Eve. [Joint Chiefs Chairman] Colin Powell came by to shake everyone's hand. In a bizarre scene, the mass ended with all the soldiers singing the hymn "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

The next morning--Christmas--I left the hospital. Two days later I was given the order to eat. I complied.

I had decided to weigh my options. My wife, family, and friends feared for my health and wanted me to try some other method of protest. I ate, but I soon realized that this decision was a mistake.

As war drew closer, I often heard the soldiers say they were looking forward to "wasting" their first "raghead," or to "wiping the Iraqis off the face of the earth." The pilots would speak of "shooting anything that moved." These "manly" thoughts were reinforced by the commanders' casual statements and formal briefings. Later, the pilots and soldiers would come to me for treatment of minor illnesses saying, "I don't want to miss any of the action. I've been waiting my whole life to do this." I realized that by keeping these willing combatants healthy, I was essentially loading their guns.

In violation of the Geneva Conventions, my commanders began forcing the medical personnel to be armed perimeter guards. I reported the situation to Army headquarters, but no action was taken.

I wrote a letter to the President saying that I would refuse orders and encourage others to do the same if he started a war without congressional approval. Congress authorized war. I responded by resigning my commission, and asked that my pay be terminated. I resumed my fast in violation of written orders not to do so.

My commanders refused to take any action, and told me I could starve as long as I continued to do my job. The next day, I entered a major intersection for military vehicles heading to the front lines, removed my uniform to my long underwear, and stood blocking traffic in all directions. A sergeant major tried to remove me from the intersection. I sat down, closed my eyes, and refused to speak. Military police eventually carried me out of the intersection.

I was relieved from duty and placed in a military hospital for psychiatric observation. I was found to be "sane" and the Army attempted to return me to duty. Again I resigned. I notified the Army that I would be available if a humanitarian need for medical services arose, then I quit going to work.

The Army decided to court-martial me. For the third time, I was placed in the hospital in a kind of pre-trial confinement. Two days before my trial, I was released from the hospital and was told I had an unspecified personality disorder. Nonetheless, I spoke in my own defense at the court-martial. I cross-examined witnesses, gave opening and closing arguments, and read a great deal of evidence into the record documenting the crimes against humanity caused by the U.S. bombing of Iraq.

On April 17, 1991, I was convicted, dismissed from the Army, and fined $25,000. I had to pay this by April 17, 1992, or be subject to one year confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

I would be happy to speak or write about my experiences and the nonviolent perspective at any time.

Agape and peace!

Your rating: None
David Wiggins's picture
Columns on STR: 12

David Wiggins is a West Point honor graduate and an honors graduate of New York Medical College. He left the Army as a Conscientious Objector, resigning his commission as an Army Captain on the Iraqi front lines during Operation Desert Storm. He is currently an Emergency Physician.  Visit his website at