War Resister, Army Spc. Daniel Birmingham, Wins Honorable Discharge
February 24, 2012
Michael Prysner / Michael Moore.com & Spc. Daniel Birmingham / March Forward
"My name is Daniel Birmingham. I am a specialist in the United States Army and I am a conscientious objector." In February 2012, Army Specialist Daniel Birmingham won a major victory for soldiers' rights after successfully receiving an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector. Birmingham's basis for applying as a CO was not religious, but was based on his experience in Iraq and his belief that US presence was an immoral and indefensible war against the Iraqi people.
Victory! War Resister Army Spc. Daniel Birmingham,
Wins Honorable Discharge
Decision sets important precedent for all US service members
Michael Prysner / Michael Moore.com
"My name is Daniel Birmingham.
I am a specialist in the United States Army
and I am a conscientious objector."
FORT LEWIS, Washington (February 21, 2012) -- US Army Specialist Daniel Birmingham, a March Forward! member stationed at Ft. Lewis, Wash. who did an infantry deployment in Iraq, won a major victory for service members' rights this week after successfully receiving an early honorable discharge as a conscientious objector. Over the course of applying for conscientious objector status, Spc. Birmingham's unit received orders to deploy to Afghanistan, which he also successfully averted.
Spc. Birmingham's basis for applying as a conscientious objector (CO) was not a religious one, but based on the fact that he did not agree with the wars that the US military is engaged in, and therefore had the right to not take part in them. His approval as a CO sets an important precedent for all US service members, as polls show that a large majority also oppose the war.
Becoming a War Resister
Daniel Birmingham is a 21-year-old from a working-class upbringing in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he grew up living in his grandparents' two-bedroom house with over 10 family members, with not enough beds to go around. His mother has been a factory worker in an auto parts plant his entire life, and his father has spent most of that time unemployed after becoming disabled on the job as a union painter. At 18 years old, Birmingham, with few options for college and in a state with high unemployment, enlisted in the US Army.
During his 2009-10 tour in Basrah, Iraq, Spc. Birmingham's first-hand experience as an occupying soldier--in a country that had just been decimated by a war that took the lives of upwards of 1.3 million Iraqis--made him question the morality of his participation in the occupation.
Upon returning home in 2010, Spc. Birmingham wrestled with the moral conflict of having participated in an occupation that he no longer agreed with and considered a crime against the Iraqi people. He knew that he would inevitably have to deploy to the other unpopular war the US military was engaged in, the other occupation that was taking the lives of countless innocent civilians, the other war that he didn't agree with.
So Spc. Birmingham did what every US service member has the right under military law to do: file for honorable discharge as a conscientious objector, for moral opposition to participation in US foreign policy.
Taking a Stand
As Spc. Birmingham was waiting for his CO paperwork to be processed, he didn't stay quiet. He was instructed to keep quiet to other soldiers about what he was doing, and pleasing his command was important to get a favorable decision on his CO application.
But he knew there were others in uniform experiencing similar moral dilemmas, and wanted to reach them with the message that they, too, had the right to refuse their orders to Afghanistan. Spc. Birmingham wrote a public statement, "I will not go to war again," [See Spc. Birmingham's statement below.] explaining why he exercised his legal right to be honorably discharged, and called on all other soldiers who agreed to do the same.
March Forward! worked to make his message heard throughout the military, and circulated a petition in support of his stand to rally public support, which was signed by thousands across the country (including many members of the active-duty military).
And in fact, soldiers responded -- soldiers who were deployed in Iraq. On a base in Baghdad, several (anonymous) soldiers not only decided to become COs, but started refusing to pull guard shifts, and began distributing anti-war leaflets on their base with information on becoming a CO. Service members elsewhere in the country began contacting us saying that they, too, wanted to exercise their rights as Spc. Birmingham had. Several of them have already averted deployments to Afghanistan.
Spc. Birmingham also took his message to the streets. To mark the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan this past October, Spc. Birmingham joined other March Forward! members in Washington, D.C., and marched in uniform as an active-duty soldier in the mass anti-war demonstrations.
He told his story to thousands gathered to establish Occupy Freedom Plaza, took part in the first General Assemblies at Occupy DC, and was even pepper-sprayed as he was on the frontlines of a protest against the drone propaganda exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum.
Spc. Birmingham not only took a stand for his own life, but put himself at great risk of disciplinary action and other repercussions by taking such public action -- he put his own interests on the line to reach out to others questioning the war, and put his body into the gears of the war machine as a physical participant in protests that rocked the capital on a historic anniversary.
As a result of his courageous stand, several other active-duty soldiers have successfully refused to deploy to Afghanistan, become COs, disrupted the war machine on the front lines, and become anti-war activists.
A Victory for All Service Members
While Spc. Birmingham's CO paperwork was being processed, his unit received orders to deploy to Afghanistan. He successfully exercised his right to not go. Then, after months of waiting for a decision, his CO status was approved. Last week, Spc. Birmingham terminated his contract early and was honorably discharged, retaining full veterans benefits.
Spc. Birmingham's successful stand as a CO sets an important precedent for US service members. There is the generalization that CO status is reserved for service members with a religious or spiritual opposition to war. But Spc. Birmingham's CO status was explicitly non-religious.
His rationale was simple: If he believed the wars were wrong, then being a participant in them conflicted with his personal morals, and therefore he had the right to the legal separation from the Army afforded under military law.
The approval of his CO paperwork is an extremely significant acknowledgement by the US military that the legal right does exist for any service member who disagrees with the war in Afghanistan to refuse to participate.
Polls show that more than 70 percent of active-duty service members oppose the war in Afghanistan. All of them have the right to refuse deployment to Afghanistan as conscientious objectors, as proven by the approval of Spc. Birmingham's CO status.
And Spc. Birmingham wants them all to know that fact. Upon receiving his honorable discharge, he said, "This isn't the end. We will continue to inform other soldiers of their rights and the options they have, that they will never be informed of otherwise. The outcome of an informed military can be the end of these meaningless wars."
Any service member who is one of the thousand who doesn't agree with the war in Afghanistan, and is considering exercising the same rights that Spc. Birmingham did, can click here for information, assistance and support.
“I Will Not Go to War Again”
An Iraq War Veteran Turned Conscientious Objector Speaks Out
Spc. Daniel Birmingham / March Forward
(September 8, 2011) -- The following was written by a March Forward! member who is a 21-year-old active-duty soldier in 1st Battalion, 377 Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Lewis, Washington. After deploying to Iraq in 2009-10, he saw the reality of the wars we are sent to fight and developed a strong moral opposition to what our role is in the US military.
He has taken a heroic stand and become a conscientious objector. Not only that, he is speaking publicly about his decision, telling other soldiers that they too have the right to refuse to take part in wars they do not agree with. Share his story widely so it can reach active-duty troops stationed across the country and the world.
My name is Daniel Birmingham. I am a specialist in the United States Army and I am a conscientious objector. A lot of you may not know what that is. Neither did I six months ago. It is something the military does not want you to know about, something they will never tell you about, so I will. This may save your life and save you a lot of trouble and finally let you be proud of something you are doing.
A conscientious objector as stated in AR 600-43 is a person with firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, because of religious training or beliefs. I began to question my role in the military while I was in Iraq in 2009-10.
I was raised in a low-income family, but never had witnessed living conditions like I saw in Iraq. I joined the military thinking I was doing a great thing that I would be proud of and that quickly changed.
We are told that we are helping people and fighting for our freedom. Instead innocent people are being killed, I have lost most of my freedom and we have done nothing but generated more hatred in the world. The people I have waved rifles at have never done anything to me or you. Some do choose to fight back, but you have to put yourself in their position.
If another country invaded the United States of America, we would do the same. They beg for water, wash their bodies in water filled with chemicals and live in destroyed villages. They are far from a threat to the people of our country and need actual help, not war.
When I returned from Iraq I was not the same person I was when I first joined the military. I began to look at situations from a different perspective. All my motivation for being a soldier was gone and I knew I could not do it any longer.
As I tried to find my way out, I felt trapped as I contemplated going AWOL. I felt trapped just like a lot of others have before and still do.
Eventually I refused to work; I did not show up and when I was called I told my chain of command I was done working for the Army. I did agree to go and talk to my first sergeant later that day. I was very surprised that he listened and understood. However I was still not told about the option of being a conscientious objector.
I then met with counselors and a psychiatrist, but still was not told. Then when I was explaining my beliefs to one of my NCOs from Iraq he asked why I had not applied to be a CO. After speaking to him and a chaplain I did my research on it and finally found what I had been looking for the entire time.
My beliefs are not based on religion; they are based on personal morals. I cannot kill a person who has a harder life than I do, who has never done anything to affect myself or my family. I cannot be morally happy with myself being a part of this organization.
I had a conscience long before religion was ever introduced to me. I never had to read a Bible or Quran to know that killing another human being was wrong -- especially in wars that we know the politicians are lying about, wars that the majority of the American people oppose. That is psychologically embedded into us from the beginning as we all have emotions.
I worked on my CO paper for a little over a month before I was ready to submit my application. I was told not to tell people about what I was doing but I could not follow that order. I explained my situation to anyone who was willing to listen because one day soon they could have views like mine. I want to let as many people know that they do have power and do not have to fight in these unethical wars if they do not want to.
I want these new soldiers to ask themselves if their life is worth $35,000 of deployment money. Ask themselves if they have any idea of why we are in these other countries because there is not a good answer to that question, nobody has one.
There are so many people who go AWOL, do drugs, or, even worse, choose to take their own lives because they cannot deal with that what they have seen or done and they know they cannot do it again. You do not have to resort to any of these drastic options, you just have to have the courage to stand up and say no. You can stand up for your beliefs and make a true impact, and that is your right. You still have a voice.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.