Courage to Resist. September 12, 2007

Derek Hess is an Army veteran who was recently discharged after resisting deployment to Iraq. While tens of thousands of servicepersons have simply gone AWOL in the last few years, Derek’s story is one of nearly infinite versions of passive-aggressive resistance. He ended up with a medical discharge, under honorable conditions. After his conscientious objector discharge was denied, Derek threatened to kill himself if deployed—and he was serious about it.

“Like most veterans, I believe that the war in Iraq is an illegal, lying, and immoral war,” says Derek summing up his opposition to deploying. “By refusing to fight this war, I believe I upheld the US constitution by refusing to participate in actions that could possibly open me up to a court martial for war crimes. And I believe it is my choice as a human being to deny my participation in the slaughter of innocent human beings.”

Hess joined the Army in 2005 on the delayed entry program while he was going to Lakeside High School near San Diego, California. “My primary motivation for joining up was just fear of my future, and not knowing where to go or what to do after getting my diploma equivalency. I wanted an honorable profession, where I could show my parents I was able to make it on my own, and make my family proud.”

During Army basic training, however, Derek began to question the legality and morality of the war in Iraq. During his Advanced Infantry Training (AIT), Derek explains, “we weren’t training for any set mission in Iraq, just for survival. We weren’t properly trained even by Army standards.”

After AIT, his unit was sent to Europe, with Iraq next. “I realized that they were going to deploy me in two months with little training, outdated gear, and jamming weapons to fight a war that wasn’t worth the cost—not US soldiers, and certainly not the Iraqis,” Derek says.


Derek came to believe that the real purpose of the war is to “keep rich people rich,” and his conscience would not allow him to fight in such a war. In January of 2007, he applied for conscientious objector status. Like most applicants, his application was denied.

“All men are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and our occupation is only hindering the Iraqis from choosing their own destiny. Our presence in Iraq contributes to the wholesale slaughter and oppression of that nation. Now it’s nothing but a bloodbath,” Derek says, in part, based on his conversations with returning soldiers from Iraq.

He told his superiors “that I would kill myself if I was sent to Iraq—so there would be no way I could used as a weapon of mass destruction for the US government.” Because Derek had a history of anxiety and depression induced by his experiences in the military, the Army took his threat seriously, had him examined by a psychiatrist and ultimately discharged him for “failure to adapt” to the military. He ended up with a medical discharge that’s classified as “honorable in character.”

Derek says, “Supporting the troops does not mean supporting the war. It means actually listening to what we have to say, instead of discrediting us. It means ending this illegal war, and letting us go home, because that is really just all we want. My plans now include being active to bringing my brothers and sisters home—those that were not as lucky as I was. I want to be part of the anti-war movement, and I hope others will have the courage to resist and say NO to Iraq.”