Katherine Jashinski is the first female soldier to refuse to participate in the Iraq war. Her refusal could change the face of the anti-war movement. By Marisa Handler, AlterNet. Posted December 5, 2005.
“The thing that I revere most in this world is life, and I will never take another persons life,” said 22-year-old Army National Guard Specialist Katherine Jashinski, reading her statement to the press in Fort Benning, Georgia this past month.
“Just as others have faith in God, I have faith in humanity. I have a deeply held belief that people must solve all conflicts through peaceful diplomacy and without the use of violence.”
Jashinski has been on active duty with the 111 ASG since January of this year. In 2004, she applied for discharge as a Conscientious Objector. The Army recently denied her claim. forcing Jashinski to chose between her legal obligation to the Army and what she called her “deepest moral values.”
After her claim was denied, Jashinski was ordered back to weapons training and deployment on Thanksgiving day. She didn’t go. “Ill be given Article 15, which is a form of non-judicial punishment, such asextra duties, or theyll take away rank or pay. Ultimately I want a discharge, so Ive requested trial by court martial instead,” says Jashinski, who is currently in Fort Benning on administrative holdover.
Jashinski entered the Texas Army National Guard at 19. When she enlisted, she believed killing was wrong, but war was inevitable. It was her travels and reading while in the Army that changed her mind. “Ilearned about the world and made up my own mind,” says Jashinski. War, she decided, was no exception to the immorality of taking human life. “Any person doing any job in the Army contributes in some way to the planning, preparation or implementation of war,” she says.
Conscientious objection (C.O.) has a long history in the U.S. military, dating back to as early as colonial times. According to the Center on Conscience and War, there were 37,000 objectors in World War II, 4,300 in the Korean War, and 200,000 in the Vietnam War. While there has always been a policy on draft objectors, until 1962 there was no official policy on C.O. within a voluntary force, according to Bill Galvin of the Center of Conscience and War.
In 1970, the Supreme Court ruled that a conscientious objector need not have a religious basis for objection. Curently, the policy holds that while the military must remove C.O. applicants from combat, it is not obliged to transfer them out of combat units. The U.S. military also requires that objection not be specific to a particular war, but rather an objection to all war.
While Jashinski is the first woman to publicly refuse in this war, she’s not alone. According to a report released by the Pentagon in December of 2004, at that time over 5,500 servicemen had deserted since the start of war in Iraq. The GI Rights Hotline, which counsels soldiers looking to leave the military, reports that it received over 32,000 calls in 2004. According to Steve Morse, G.I. Rights Program Coordinator, “This year were about on the same track, averaging 2600-2700 a month. October, we were up to 2,807 callers.”
The military has not released official numbers for how many soldiers have applied for C.O. status since the war began. “They keep those numbers close to their chest,” says Aidan Delgado, who filed for and eventually won C.O. status after three months in Iraq. He has been supporting Jashinski through this process. “I’ve heard figures of 200-500. But 95% of these are not successful. There’s a lot of subtle pressure on officers not to have an objector under their command.”
While there are far fewer women than men in the military, they also dont get placed in combat units. And they are way out on the periphery when it comes to the recruitment radar. “As a self-selecting index, women have a much stronger reason to join,” says Delgado. “They’re less likely to sign up on a whim.”
At first glance, Jashinski seems an unlikely candidate for the first feamle soldier to take a public stand objecting to the war in Iraq. She’s slight, reticent, and soft-voiced. Jashinski’s legal counselor is Aimee Allison, who objected to the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and has since worked as a counselor to other soldiers considering refusing to serve. “Mostly I work with soldiers who never go public,” says Allison. “Nine out of ten in the military have never even heard of the conscientious objector option.”
While Jashinski’s case meanders through the various strata of bureaucracy, she has been placed in the operations office at Fort Bragg. “I don’t do much,” she says. “I shred paper, sweep, take out the trash. The main mission of the unit here is to get people deployed. That’s not my job or training, so they have to find something for me to do.” She sighs. “It’s pretty dull. They’re supposed to keep me for eight hours, but after awhile they just let me go back to my room.” The hardest part, Jashinski maintains, is simply being on a military base. “People are looking at me sideways or staying away,” she says.
Jashinski’s experience in an administrative office has been relatively easy though, compared to that of the male soldiers who have objected to the war in Iraq. “As soon as I filed [for C.O. status], my commander told the unit,” says Delgado. “I was ostracized. The vast majority thought I was a traitor, a coward, and didnt want to sit or eat with me. They wouldnt grant me home leave because I was a flight risk.” Delgado was subjected to verbal and physical assaults by fellow officers.
Delgado maintains that Jashinskis gender will serve to her advantage when it comes to both the military and the media. The military has taken a very condescending attitude, saying poor girl, shes been manipulated by the peace activists and conscientious objectors. And the media will be very sympathetic. “Americans don’t want to see a young pretty white girl go to jail,” he says. He points out that Jashinski is facing nothing like the animosity experienced by fellow objectors Camilo Mejia, a Nicaraguan, and Pablo Paredes, a Puerto Rican. “This is going to be a difficult battle for the military to win. It’s going to make them look like the big bad wolf. People always assume men are naturally fit to be hunters, soldiers. Its a crime when they dont want to fight; their masculinity is questioned. For a woman, her femininity is asserted when she doesnt want to fight.”
Because Jashinski is female, young, white, and pretty that she may ultimately provide a powerful boost to the anti-war movement. Just like Cindy Sheehan grabbed the attention of women and mothers, a lot more young women may be personally affected by Katherine Jashinski. Its so much easier to empathize with someone who has your face.
Meanwhile, Jashinski twiddles her thumbs in Fort Benning. “It’s lonely and isolating,” she says. “I dont know when or how it will end. I was doing okay last week but now its starting to wear on me.” When asked about the future, her tone brightens considerably. She plans to return to school and study water resources in developing countries. “Eventually I want to work in South and Central America ensuring access to clean drinking water. Until then, its paper shredding and taking the trash out.” But Jashinski remains firm in her conviction that shes on the right path. “I don’t have a traditional religious faith. My faith comes from people. Every person I meet who supports me gives me more conviction in what I’m doing. More people coming out and speaking against the warespecially in the military will make our representatives think about what it is were doing there, how were are wasting our resources and lives on this unnecessary unethical war.”
Marisa Handler’s first book, “Notes from an Activist: Tales from the Global Justice Frontlines” will be coming out with Berrett-Koehler in February 2007.