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Just Say No: The Beauty of Unilateral Defiance
by Chuck Richardson
November 10, 2004

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If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth, - certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

-- Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

The Soviet AGI, an alluring target, bobbed between the buoys on the horizon. Our boat’s new captain, a lunatic lifer, ordered all ahead flank. From my vantage point on the boomer’s sailplane, the imagined knob in his khakis was exposing his delight at having spied his foe.

The year, of course, was 1984. The place was King’s Bay, Georgia, and we were heading out to sea. Scuttlebutt had it the Old Man, the first one we’d had who’d actually fit the bill, had turned down numerous promotions to carry on dominating whatever submarine fell under his control, a task he loved deeply. Another rumor had it he’d been forced to take charge of an old boomer because he was too much of a maverick for another fast attack. Both seemed likely.

When he took over, the guy threw a big outdoor party and ingratiated himself as one of the men and officers. Alarm bells went off, however, when during crew turnover he began popping up unexpectedly to grill us with questions about our jobs. Apparently, he intended to show that he knew more than we did about our respective fields, and for the most part, he did. This, of course, put us on our toes. We were going to be four-oh. (1)

The sub gained speed, and the dolphins -- always good omens -- easily kept pace. As joyful, galloping sea horses, they pulled our chariot loaded with up to 112 nuclear warheads out to sea. Clearing the final set of buoys, we missed the fishing trawler turned spy ship by about 500 yards. That may not sound close, but at sea it’s very close. We were all shaken, except for the Old Man, of course; he loved it.

A month or so later, with the crew increasingly anxious about the captain’s fetish for conflict and battle, we deviated from our patrol routine to participate in war games. Some history: Ronald Reagan was President and Mikhail Gorbachev had yet to take power in the USSR; Reagan had called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and had joked on the radio about a surprise, first-strike nuclear attack when he’d allegedly thought the microphone was off; tensions were very high and Reagan was putting tactical nuclear weapons in Europe to counterbalance the Warsaw Pact’s apparently overwhelming conventional superiority, a highly controversial move; and on the home front, the nation wasn’t yet pulling out of its malaise. It was the darkest hour before the dawn of morning in America. To those of us on that boomer, it seemed a very real possibility that we could actually be ordered to launch our payload. We were carefully screened and monitored to ensure the greatest likelihood of our compliance with such commands.

Pride and professionalism ran deep, if not sanity. I was a SONAR technician, and our division’s leading petty officer, stressed out by an omnipresent, heckling captain, was bunk-ridden, sedated and suffering from depression or a nervous breakdown. At least two other shipmates were on the verge of such collapse when the war games began.

The apocalyptic exercise unfolded, with the Old Man breathlessly reading news reports over the 1MC, or ship’s intercom: the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, under intense domestic pressure, decided to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, which was launching an invasion of those countries; NATO is responding by strengthening its conventional forces along the Iron Curtain; anticipating an Allied attack, the Soviets are striking first, overrunning our severely outgunned forces; to prevent the hemorrhaging, the US is launching a volley of tactical nuclear attacks; the Soviets are responding in kind, man battle stations missile. We then simulated the launch of all 16 of our ICBMs, each with up to seven multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles -- or bombs --each one many times more powerful than what was droppped on Japan in 1945. Had this been the real thing, chances are a Soviet fast attack would have spotted us, and getting off our load wouldn’t have been so easy. But every submarine in the fleet supposedly did the same, and our captain was elated by it. Some, however, were unhappy that we'd launched first. Our mission was supposed to be for a strategic second strike only. That’s how many of us justified what we were doing. We were a deterrent.

The Old Man threw a ship-wide party, at sea, once the mission was accomplished beyond even his expectations. Everyone was getting a ribbon, but not all, as I said, were cheerful.

“We’ll do that for real over my dead body,” said a senior petty officer, sitting at our table as usual on the mess deck. The rest of us, we knew, could count on each other to follow his lead. Pride and professionalism ensured no practice was necessary. It also helped because he was in charge of the gun locker during battle stations, and popular.

So there you have it, had our captain, whose sanity we seriously questioned, ordered a preemptive nuclear attack, he would have most likely faced an armed rebellion. There would have been a mutiny. The legitimacy of our insubordination would have hinged upon the legality of the order, which would depend upon whether one was being told to knowingly break the law. On the spot psychiatric diagnoses wouldn’t cut it, so such a move would have required we mutineers to follow orders of a higher nature, if not to rationalize it for our courts martial, then to at least justify it to ourselves. To disobey, a warrior must be ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good, as s/he perceives it.

All this leapt back into memory with the recent news out of Iraq that a squad of National Guard soldiers refused to deliver allegedly tainted jet fuel to an air base, through miles of hostile territory with bad equipment and no armored cover. Their reason: it was a suicide mission.

Is suicide legal? No. Is it lawful to issue an order that sends troops on a suicide mission? Yes. The legalities here are complex; to say the least the soldier who disobeys a direct order does so at his or her own risk. After weighing the pros and cons, these South Carolina guardsmen decided their lives meant more to them than their mission. Whether or not other troops were endangered by this refusal has yet to be determined, but seems unlikely. So, was the suicide mission a heroic one? Only for the sake of political gamesmanship, which brings me to my point: following the unilateral ethics of their commander-in-chief, who ignores the law, taking his orders from a higher power than the Constitution, which he swore to uphold, these troops decided to take it upon themselves to obey what they considered a higher law -- their survival instinct.

After the patrol I just told you about, I went to a chaplain to consider filing for conscientious objector status. During these discussions, a fellow SONAR tech fell in the shower and broke his leg. That meant we were two men short and would have to adjust our watch schedule at sea, making a grueling routine even more difficult. My loyalty to my shipmates won out, and I dropped my efforts to get off the sub. In my opinion, “suicide missions” are lawful when those sacrificed will save more lives. My situation wasn’t that grave, but I thought my presence onboard might help save a mind or two by relieving some stress. I was willing to risk my own sanity to preserve the same for one or more of my friends. This chosen rationale killed any chance I would fall victim to cognitive dissonance. I was doing my duty, and following the proper orders. I may not have been a good sailor, but I was, speaking relatively, a decent human being. The same can be said for the vast majority of American volunteers serving in Iraq today.

So how does a decent human being behave decently in such an indecent situation?

The absurdity of war ensures that troops disobey orders at immense personal peril, and often obey them at equal risk. Saying that one was “just following orders” hasn’t cut it since Nuremberg, and there’s the rub. The side that wins puts the losers on trial and decides whether or not actions the losers committed in the heat of battle, and otherwise, were legal or not. If the United States government was truly confident of winning its global war on terrorism, etc., it would not be afraid of signing on to the International Criminal Court (2), which it opposes vehemently on the grounds it would expose American military personnel and political leaders to enforceable war crime charges. This, friends, makes this war winner take all -- the loser will have to surrender unconditionally, as did Germany and Japan after World War II.

The war in Iraq is considered, even by regime hawks, like Richard Perle, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, to be a violation of international law. If we lose, all of our troops may become subject to war crime charges. No order issued in an illegal war is lawful. It doesn’t matter what our legal precedents are. We lost. They will decide. Hopefully, we’ll get out of this mess as cleanly as we did Vietnam.

Luckily, that’s still a hypothetical situation. There’s still time for those Americans, not only troops, who are sick and tired, even physically endangered by the Bush regime’s decisions, both foreign and domestic, to revolutionize a system that corrupts our labor by spending our tax dollars this way. Following the lead of Thomas Jefferson, we might “altar or abolish” the corporate political-economic regime because the Republicrats have destroyed many of our inalienable rights thanks to the legality of corporate personhood, and the prevalence of the libertarian spirit informing those non-human entities.

What is our responsibility as rational and moral human beings in the face of such injustice? To deliberately ignore Caesar’s edicts because our pursuit of justice is inalienable, or instinctive, and true freedom means pursuing one’s happiness, however one personally defines it in the deepest sense. It’s not only reasonable, but likely, that nature will select the truest way for you. And then you must decide for yourself, based on the quality of your perception, what to do, if you’re truly a free person. A society comprising such individuals is the strongest community imaginable. (3) It’s this vision, in my opinion, that makes America unique among nations. In the end, this is the core value our behavior as a people has always pursued in friction against the elite power brokers who pull the purse strings.

When a government supports evil, it is the duty of its citizens to defy its violently backed power. A small group of elite white men has always used the government to advance their private interests by making war and stock markets to win human capital. A government that knowingly enacts injustice, and maintains it while spouting off about its glorious ideals, eventually becomes a tragic, global joke.

One should not respect the law if it wages war and protects corporate libertarianism, nor should one honor a Supreme Court that recognizes corporate personhood and has violated the Constitution by selecting George W. Bush as President. One should not respect a Congress that won’t ratify the Kyoto Protocol because its members are sponsored by corporate persons that profit, in the short term, from raping the planet. One should not believe the mainstream news media, which is bought and sold by corporations on a daily basis. One should not obey their bosses, if they work for a corporation, because even if that boss wanted to, he is required by law to put stockholder interests above personal ethics. As Thoreau once said: “The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free.” (4)

What America needs now more than ever is men and women, adults, who are willing, for the sake of their country, children, and future generations, to take the risk and obey a law higher than the rule of the majority. We must rule ourselves to set our government free. That’s the innate responsibility that comes with our inalienable rights. In the end, it doesn’t matter so much what the founding fathers meant by their 18th Century language, but that we truly think for ourselves while we follow our heart. If your
grandfather signed a deal with the devil, why must you fulfill it?

The most important vote any American can cast is with their behavior. If you no longer support the incorporated government, cut all your ties to it. Quit your job if it’s the only way you can avoid paying federal taxes. Become a conscientious objector, not just with regards to the military, but the entire American Political Economic System (APES).

Do not fear violence. Even if it does occur, it will succeed at nothing but creating a guilty conscience on the part of those thinking and feeling people who commit it. The only way to avoid such feelings of guilt is to be right in one’s own mind. Violence is as valid as its aim is immediate. In other words, if you commit violence in self-defense, and it has to do with your immediate survival, instinct rules. If one truly follows one’s conscience, they risk conflict with those in power, which history shows are likely to attack them. Instinct will command you whether to flee or fight, your conscience will then tell you how. That’s what your brain evolved it for.

And why did the human mind create government, no matter its form? What kind of government is APES when it fails to signify the finest facilities of the human mind, body and spirit, and by extension ignores natural law?

The halls of power are morally vacuous because they are filled with corporate lackeys, who do not represent the people on behalf of justice. In light of this reality, there seems to me nothing more beautiful than when a human being, awakened to a larger, truer reality, engages in an act of unilateral defiance against the system.

Be a Bush, just say no to those who oppose your private interests. Then be yourself, and celebrate the consequences.


Chuck Richardson’s writing is archived at His first book, Memos from Apartment 5, is now available in many online bookstores. Copyright (c) 2004 Chuck Richardson.


1. “Four-oh.” In military parlance, that’s the highest job performance rating. It’s a perfect score.

2. ICC: January 2, 2001, MEMORANDUM TO: OPINION LEADERS; FROM: GARY SCHMITT; SUBJECT: International Criminal Court: the preservation off a decent world order depends chiefly on the exercise of American leadership. For both geo-political and constitutional reasons, we should not be in the business of delegating that leadership or compounding the difficulties of its exercise by creating unaccountable, supra-national bodies. See: Summary of Statement Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, by John R. Bolton: “For some, faith in the ICC is motivated largely by an unstated agenda of creating ever-more-comprehensive international organizations to bind nation states in general, and this nation in particular -- It is not clear that the international search for “justice” is always consistent with the attainable political resolution of serious political and military disputes, whether between or within states. This is not to argue that the South African approach should be followed everywhere, or even necessarily that it is the correct  solution for South Africa. But it is not too early to conclude that the approach now being followed there is radically different from that contemplated by the proposed ICC...Moreover, it may be that, under some circumstances, neither exact retribution nor the whole truth is the desired outcome of the parties to a dispute. In many former Communist countries, for example, citizens are today wrestling with the question of how to handle the involvement of fellow citizens in secret police activities of the prior regimes. These societies have chosen a kind of national “amnesia,” at least for some time into the future. One need not agree with the decisions made in South Africa and in some former communist states to have at least some respect for the complexity of the moral and political problems they must face. And one need not fully agree with those decisions to recognize that a permanent ICC may actually hinder or prevent the comprehensive resolution of internal or international problems in such complex cases...The ICC and the UN Security Council: With virtually no debate in Rome, the ICC has been created as an organization outside of the United Nations system. In so doing, the Rome Conference has substantially minimized, if not effectively eliminated, the Security Council (and the veto power of the U.S. as one of the Council’s five Permanent Members) from any role in its affairs. Since the Council is charged by Article 24 of the UN Charter with “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” it is incongruous that the Council and the ICC are to operate virtually independent of one another. The Council, as a result, now risks having the ICC interfering in its ongoing work and further confusing the appropriate roles of law, politics and power in settling international disputes. Much of the media attention to the American negotiating position on the ICC concentrated on the risks perceived by the Pentagon to American peacekeepers stationed around the world. As real as those risks may be, especially under the concept of “universal jurisdiction,” our real concern should be for the President and his top advisers. The definition of “war crimes” includes, for example: “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.” A fair reading of this provision leaves one unable to answer with confidence the question whether the United States was guilty of war crimes for its aerial bombing campaigns over Germany and Japan in World War II. A fortiori, these provisions seem to imply that the U.S. would have been guilty of a war crime for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We are considering, in the guise of the ICC Prosecutor, a powerful and legitimate element of executive power, the law-enforcement power. Law-enforcement is a necessary element of national governments. To my knowledge, never before has the U.S. been asked to seriously consider placing any law-enforcement power outside of the complete control of our national government and done so in a way so at odds with our own standards of constitutional order. Briefly stated, the American concept of separation of powers, imperfect though it is, reflects the settled belief that liberty is best protected when, to the maximum extent possible, the various authorities legitimately exercised by government are placed in separate branches. In continental European parliamentary systems, these sorts of checks are either greatly attenuated or even entirely absent. Europeans may feel comfortable with such a system, but the U.S. should never consciously accept such an approach. The Statute’s Prosecutor is vested with enormous law enforcement powers but is accountable to no one. The Statute of Rome is, in fact, a stealth approach to eroding constitutionalism. Americans should find this unacceptable.

3.   Lee Dorothy, Valuing the Self: What We Can Learn from Other Cultures (Prentice-Hall, 1976; Waveland Press, 1986): Discussing how the Dakota Indian tribe revealed the importance of simultaneously setting tasks for children and teaching them, recalls: “The boys and mature men, whose autonomy leave me agape, are expected to obey and do obey; boys perform terrific self-initiated feats, fired by the desire to please their fathers (but should they not try to please themselves instead?) Parents offer unsolicited advice, information, directions, and their sons take no offense. Instead of letting their
children discover the path of self-discipline through trial and error, floundering along, adults set tasks for them. Men and women perform little pampering services for their sons who are perfectly capable of  doing them themselves. Yet I see that autonomy remains undimmed.

4. Thoreau, Civil Disobedience.

Other Articles by Chuck Richardson

* Will it be R/Evolution or Civil War?
* Morality Without Religion
* Revolutionize the Boot Stamping News Media!
* Looking for a Death Bed Conversion
* Vetted: Lockport Journal & Buffalo News Doing PR Work for FMC Corp
* Are Democrats Avoiding Reality, or Concealing It?
* You Are What Consumes You
* Can Dr. Frankenstein “Secure” this November’s Election?
* Fahrenheit 9/11: An Authoritarian View of American Fascism