Tuesday, December 21, 2004

My Heroes

In my opinion, Pablo Paredes is a courageous young man whose recent actions, his public refusal to carry out assignments relating to the war in Iraq, puts him in that class of people I call heroic.

For those who still mistakenly believe that heroism, and the very word hero, is inextricably bound to the willingness to do violence on demand, I want to tell you the story of a genuine hero, a war hero, yet who never did or intended to do, harm to anyone. Her name was Mathilda Agees, Tilly to those who knew her. She never carried a gun.

She helped carry two Jewish children through the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. A serious 'crime', punishable by death. She and other family members undertook this dangerous personal/family mission, simply because it was the right thing to do. Because good people must resist evil and violence. And because in their minds, the moral survival of her occupied homeland depended on such acts of quiet, persistent Resistance.

'The boys' as Tilly called the young brothers, did survive the war along with the rest of Tilly's family. Last year, 'the boys' sent money from Holland, to buy Tilly a computer so she could stay in touch via email and trade photos.

One of the boys had blond hair and blue eyes and though every bit as Jewish as his dark haired brother, looked a stereotype little blond Dutch boy.

Tilly worked as a grade school teacher and passed the blond boy off as her younger brother that she took care of. Not an uncommon situation at the time and place.

One day she and the boy were accosted on the street by a German SS Colonel. The Nazi stopped her to inquire about the boy. Tilly was scared to death and was sure their time was up, visions of her family went through her mind but she stayed cool. A power she never lost.

The Nazi officer wanted to congratulate her for producing this fine example of young Aryan manhood. He lifted the boy up, admired him and set him down with an affectionate pawing of his blond hair.

She told me she did everything exactly as usual that day. She got to work on time, as always, but was "absolutely distracted for the whole day. It was embarrassing."

She and her family lived under constant threat of exposure and death through the entire Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Tilly, her family, and many, many others like them are what I call heroes and I do not use the word lightly.

Tilly Agees died Thursday, the 16th of December, at 2:00 A M, at the age of eighty five.
Ms Tilly's entire life consisted of teaching and helping. She never shirked responsibility.
Something good has gone out of the world and I wonder who will take her place. She was, in the truest sense, a war hero. She never picked up a weapon or wore a uniform or hid behind a flag.

Today in Iraq, the average age of the American soldier is 19 and 1/2. Nineteen and a half years old.. That means a significant number are even younger. No matter what these teens are being told, no matter what excuses they believe, when they get there, they will be fighting to stay alive and to keep their brothers alive. They will follow orders from the political bunglers as best they can, while fighting to stay alive.

In those terrible circumstances, some men will stand out for their courage and for their commitment, not to the war but to their brothers. Truly courageous men will sacrifice themselves, not for our Fearless Leader but for the survival of their comrades, in combat.

Such heroism can not be denied. Nor should it be forgotten. Neither should it be degraded by self serving politicians who interpret these acts of personal heroism as political support for Fearless Leader and his personal crusade to make war on the world.
It is a shameful political rite.

Back to Pablo Paredes: There are heroes who do not carry guns and do not threaten anyone. Just as my friend Tilly did, Mr. Paredes represents that variety of genuine heroism. I have linked this Democracy Now
video interview with Pablo in a previous article. As well, here is a link to an audio file of the Statement that Pablo recorded before turning himself in to Naval authorities. The tape was played to a rally of supporters on the same day, the 18th of Dec. 04.

I'm focusing on Paredes today because I believe he represents the very kind of heroic people that are needed in abundance, if America is ever to regain any moral stature in the world.
Pablo Paredes had nothing to fear from his job. Petty Officer 3rd Class Paredes operated a ships defensive missile battery. He made it clear that his job put him in no combat danger.

His motivation is a serious matter of personal conscience. A social and moral conscience that developed while the young man 'grew up' in the Navy. Like many of today's soldiers, Pablo had a recruiting officer on his case, making regular calls and invitations to come to the recruiting office, meet for lunch or coffee etc. since before he finished high school. Recruited as a child, a teenager, Pablo came to maturity in the Navy.

An obviously working class, self educated, self directed young man, his is the face of honest question, honest doubt, and straight up, all American opposition to something most all Americans will eventually agree was a stupid, deadly mistake. There is courage and boldness in this young man that is not characterized by egocentric outbursts or angry diatribes.

I see and hear a thoughtful, constrained, intelligent young man that understands what he has set himself up for, and why. I feel sure we will see him again when his ordeal with the Navy is over. We need young people like him, very badly.

I would like to leave you with this thought. Pablo Paredes found himself faced with a moral choice that many of us will never really face. The consequences of his choice are real and immediate. He could have, more easily and more safely, finished up his remaining time (18mths) in his not dangerous job and spoken up after getting his honorable discharge and the benefits accrued.

But Petty Officer Paredes, a tiny cog in the great war machine, developed un-borg like self awareness. As that awareness developed and matured, Pablo found he was no longer willing or able to perform as an un-individuated cog. Because he knew what the big machine was actually doing to the world.

Pablo appeared at the dock where his unit was boarding their ship. He was dressed in civvies, wearing a black tee shirt that said in big white letters, "Like a Cabinet Minister, I Quit".

The cog had found its humanity and its natural dignity. The cog had found its own voice and the moral courage to use it. A simple human statement that perceives its own worth and reacts with the most rational personal course, "I quit!" I know what I am part of and I will no longer play that role.

For those interested in keeping up with developements in Pablo's situation in the Navy, you can find information at
GI Fightback , Citizens for Pablo, and at Peace Redding , you will have to do a search at Peace Redding but the site is worth a look if you are not familiar with it.

In the early spring of 1969, my favorite personal inside joke was to loudly declare, "I quit", at absolutely every thing that irritated or oppressed me. It was a joke only because a lowly airman first class has no option called 'quit'. It isn't a job.

Toward the end of my stay with the Air Force, I was shouting it aloud at any moment that seemed appropriate. The flight line was hellishly noisy. I could sometimes scream my slogan directly into the faces of Majors and Colonels I was strapping into the F4s, without being heard.

So, I was moved by the simple claim and declaration made by Mr. Paredes. "Like a Cabinet Minister, I quit"


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