ImageApplied in June 2004 for a conscientious objector discharge in June 2004 but was denied. After nearly three years of appeals, Robert was ordered discharged as a conscientious objector in April 2007 by a federal court judge.

Zabala’s grandfather was awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat during his service in Vietnam; his mother and father were in the Navy, as were all his uncles; and a cousin was a Marine. Looking for some structure and feeling a sense of duty to his country, Zabala decided to sign up for the Marine Corps reserves when he was accepted at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Zabala said he had an ethical awakening after joining the Marines that would not allow him to kill other people in the pursuit of a military mission. Zabala was particularly appalled by boot camps’ attempts to desensitize the recruits to violence.

Zabala told reporters “the response that all of the recruits are supposed to say is ‘kill.’ In unison you have maybe 400 recruits chanting ‘kill, kill, kill’ and after a while that word almost becomes nothing to you. What does it mean? You say it so often that you really don’t think of the consequences of what it means to say ‘kill’ over and over again as you’re performing this deadly technique, a knife to the throat.”

Lance Corporal Zabala applied in June 2004 for a discharge on the basis of conscientious-objector status, but was denied.  In April 2007 a federal judge ordered the Marines to discharge Zabala as a conscientious objector. There is no word yet on whether the Marines will appeal that decision. Zabala says he would go to jail rather than fight in the war and he will repay the Marines for the stipend he received in boot camp.

Robert Zabala is one of the war resisters profiled in Peter Laufer’s Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq, pp. 137-183.