A war resister speaks from the heart

by Rodney Watson

Rodney Watkin
photo by Ian Azariah

• My name is Rodney Watson; I am a U.S. Army Iraq war veteran who went AWOL after serving my country in a one-year deployment to Mosul Iraq, from October 2005 to October 2006. During my deployment, my eyes were opened to the fact that we should never have been there at all. I was willing to risk my life just like many other brave souls who thought we were doing the right thing by taking part in protecting America’s freedoms, but I found out the hard way that I was risking my life for a lie.

My reasons for joining were honourable and even though there was no draft like the past Vietnam War, I was caught up in a personal economic draft due to the fact I could not find a job shortly after 9/11. After I lost my job of seven years in Kansas City, a long-time childhood friend offered to get me started in the illegal drug trade and even fronted me some free work, but this was against everything I believed in. Selling death to my own community was not the destiny I wanted for myself so while driving back home I got on the highway and prayed for a better way to make money. I threw the drugs out of my car window went home and prayed again and fell asleep with a now clear conscience.

The very next morning, I got a phone call just minutes after I opened my eyes. It was the older brother of my friend who fronted me the drugs I had thrown away and in a sad voice he told me to turn on the news; his brother had been shot that morning and was dead. I attended his funeral and shortly afterward I flew to New York to visit my cousin to clear my mind because it felt like some sort of tragic sign from above.

Out of work and living off money I had saved up that was running out fast, I needed a job urgently. While I was in New York, I saw where the Twin Towers had fallen. Tears fell from my eyes and the pain was great. I saw U.S. Navy sailors during Fleet Week that same day and I felt something I had never felt before – a feeling of it being my duty to serve my country like others in my family had done during WW2. I later ended up staying with a friend of my cousins in Stamford Connecticut and tried applying for some jobs one last time before making my decision to see an Army recruiter. With still no luck finding work, I made the decision to join up and serve my country as an Army cook to help out and to support our brave troops in some way even if it wasn’t infantry. I wanted to serve in some way and possibly open up my own diner after my service was completed.

I was sent to Fort Hood Texas after boot camp only to find myself in the field training for a deployment to Iraq in the near future. I understood that I was a soldier first and that I might even die over there, but I had already seen much violence and death back in Kansas City and I was not afraid of losing my life for what I thought at the time was a noble cause. But there was no cooking for me at all and I ended up in Iraq searching thousands of Iraqi civilian vehicles for explosives. It felt like I was playing Russian Roulette with my life, but I performed my many duties without fear. At first I felt lied to for not being given the job I signed up for, but I just followed orders from my chain of command and I did my job very well.

A Sergeant from another unit passed me an eye opening DVD that he let me borrow with his personal little DVD player. It opened up my eyes to the lies of no weapons of mass destruction and to the fact that many were back home still suffering from hurricane Katrina while billions were being wasted as well as many lives in Iraq for something other than justifiable reasons. I was very upset and I started to view the whole Iraq war in a very different perspective. As my deployment continued, my unit came under military C.I.D investigation for drug trafficking due to an undercover agent who bought some drugs from a black guy in my unit late at night and couldn’t fully make out his identity. The next day, our First Sgt. called a formation for just the black soldiers in my unit to wait in the hot sun to be fingerprinted and photographed, in order to find the soldier who was in violation.

After feeling racially profiled for the exact same thing I refused to take part in back home – selling drugs – here I was being treated like I was a potential criminal by white men in the military C.I.D. It was one thing after another during my deployment. I made a friend who was a civilian contractor and then, boom, just like that his helicopter taking him home was shot right out of the sky while taking off from our base of operation, I had to watch racist white soldiers and civilian contractors beat and call unarmed Iraqi men sand niggers and hear them tell me that they mean no disrespect to my people, that we are all brothers in the same fight. I couldn’t report anything due to the fact I would be labelled a snitch so I had to keep my mouth shut even though I saw different racist cops back home do the same thing to my black peers, calling us niggers.

After my one-year deployment was finished, my unit received orders to return to Iraq within four to six months. I had seen a couple of guys in my unit become victims of Stop Loss, forcing them to be deployed well beyond their contract agreement and after my experience in that unjust war based on lies, I knew I did not want to be another one of former president George W. Bush’s cannon fodder or casualty. I just thank God I didn’t spill any blood over there because that would have really weighed heavy on my mind after discovering the truth. There is a time and a season for everything, but Iraq was neither the time nor the season for us to go to war with in my new personal opinion.

Instead of returning to Fort Hood Texas after my two-week leave, I left for Canada thinking it would be better than risking my life again or killing for unjust reasons. The Canadian people were very kind and I fell in love and had a beautiful child with a Canadian citizen. I had a job and then after living free with a clearer conscience for three years, I received a letter of deportation from the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper when my son was only months old. The date of my deportation, when I was to leave Canada and my new Canadian family, was September 11, 2009. That date felt like a giant slap to my face and it fuelled a fire within me to fight like crazy for my Canadian wife and son due to the fact my wife begged and cried for me to stay. I did the unthinkable and requested sanctuary at a local Vancouver church to give my lawyer time to help me remain with my wife and son. Canada made me very proud when I heard of the massive protest against the Iraq war and that it took no part in that war, but these actions taken against me and other Iraq war resisters felt like a slap in the face. Former president George W. Bush cannot even travel to certain countries without being arrested for war crimes and even Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly called the Iraq war an absolute error.

Deep in my heart, I know it is an absolute error to punish resisters of that unjust war. I have been living in the sanctuary of this church for over three years now and I will not give up fighting the good fight for peace, truth and for love. I now have a new petition in the Canadian courts and I don’t know how this will all turn out, but I’m walking by the same faith that kept me alive in Iraq because my wife and son are my heart and soul.

For more information, please visit www.vancouverwarresisters.org with links to Rodney’s Facebook page “War Resister in Sanctuary” and his blog “Soul in Sanctuary.” The War Resisters Support Campaign is a national organization.

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