The few. The proud. The non-Marine.
That sums up Stephen Funk, the young man from Seattle who was just found guilty of an unauthorized military absence.
Stephen failed to report when his unit was activated for the Iraq War in February. His California-based unit was mobilized to load ships and planes bound for the Middle East.
Stephen went through basic training. The Marine reservist did well, excelling as a marksman. But during boot camp he underwent a change of heart about pulling a trigger and taking a life.
So the lance corporal, said, no, he would not go. As a conscientious objector, he wanted no part of a U.S. war machine seeking to consolidate its power in the Arab world.
Now the graduate of Nova High School will be sentenced to six months in prison and demoted. He also will receive a bad-conduct discharge.
The military jury, which made its decision Saturday, didn't strike with full force. It found Stephen innocent of desertion, a charge that could have landed him more time.
I wrote about Stephen in April and said he was a Marine who could not betray himself. I said his decision to stand up to the government took as much personal courage as the valor shown by Marines who stuck to their guns and served.
Blasphemy, some of you said.
But that was back then, when many Americans were eager to eliminate "the enemy." Our country was wrapped up in the flag and awash in President Bush's jingoistic mantra of us versus them.
This is now: Bodies of American soldiers are coming home in caskets. U.S.-backed forces in Iraq are under repeated guerrilla attack and suffering from low morale. And the war on Baghdad that was supposed to make us feel safer has not.
We still don't have Saddam. We still don't have Osama. We still don't have weapons of mass destruction.
We have a yellow terror code and thousands of dead Iraqi civilians.
Viewed through this prism of current events, Stephen's moral stance should fall on more receptive ears.
Stephen and I met during his recent visit to Seattle, just before he went to New Orleans for his court-martial. He was introspective and impassioned. He wanted people to know that he loves this country and democracy and American values that allow for debate and dissent.
He came across as a bright young man who made the decision to serve after a military recruiter sold him on an "adventure." He also wanted money for college. It's a common tale.
Sure, Stephen was trained to kill. But he never thought he would have to kill. If anything, that makes him guilty of failing to connect the dots. "I didn't seriously think we'd go to war," Stephen told me, sounding na´ve but painfully honest.
Given his age -- he's 21 now -- Stephen would hardly be the first young person to make an ill-advised choice based on not thinking things all the way through.
In a different context, young people who are 19 or 20 get into cars in which the driver has been drinking. They don't always grasp the full scope of the potential consequences.
In Stephen's mind, the military seemed like a summer camp with guns, a heady vision quest depicted in slick ads that show a guy climbing a rock until he reaches the ultimate plateau of military fulfillment.
The ads don't show the body bags, the soldiers with missing limbs, the heartsick parents.
For Stephen, the gravity of his situation only hit him after his commanders in basic training instructed recruits to chant "kill, kill" over and over. It was brainwashing, pure and simple.
Last fall -- months before his unit was activated -- Stephen wondered how he could legally leave the military.
He should have reported to duty and then declared himself a conscientious objector.
Twenty-seven other Marines did exactly that and were not prosecuted.
Stephen says he had some fears that he could be punished before his application could have been put together -- and that's not a farfetched concern. In addition, there are no guarantees: Of the 27 Marines, 16 were granted CO status, five were denied and six are pending, according to The Associated Press.
After reflection, Stephen even 'fessed up to his own failure and took responsibility for his fate. "There are very serious questions people must ask themselves before joining the Marines," Stephen testified. "I did not ask myself those questions."
However, that failure hardly makes him the artful dodger a Marine prosecutor described this way: "A kid who thought he could beat the system. ... This conscientious objector stuff is nothing but a made-up bedtime story."
If the prosecutor and jury looked deeper into Stephen's heart they would see more than just "stuff."
They'd see a person who fully follows his conscience once he finds clarity, who stands for his beliefs at all costs.
Stephen showed this aspect of character when he recently said he was gay.
He's shown similar fortitude in the past.
When he was a student at Washington Middle School a fellow male student got in trouble for wearing a skirt.
Stephen thought the punishment was ridiculous, especially since men in some cultures wear skirts. So he organized a skirtfest at school to support the student.
Now Stephen is the one being punished, though his lawyer will seek a reduced sentence.
The jury nailed Stephen for an incontrovertible fact -- he failed to report in a timely way.
But the jury, whether it intended to or not, has sent another unfortunate message: In times of war, human values take a back seat to military zeal.
Robert L. Jamieson Jr is a Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist.
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