The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Jail, Exile, or Iraq

By Lee Nichols, August 6, 2004, News

In a situation fraught with terrible irony, a local peace activist faces a call to Iraq – as a member of the U.S. military. Carl Webb, 38, joined the Texas Army National Guard in August 2001, despite also having been active in the peace movement since at least a year earlier. He signed up for a three-year enlistment that would have been up on Aug. 22. But as part of the Pentagon's "stop-loss" program – the same program that John Kerry derided in his Democratic presidential nomination acceptance speech as a "back-door draft" – Webb's commitment is being involuntarily extended; he must report to Fort Hood on Aug. 15 and was told to expect mobilization to Iraq in November.

Being highly opposed to the war in Iraq, Webb says he's leaning toward resisting the order. "I've been counseled that my only options are to just go; refuse and go to jail; or permanent exile," Webb says. "I'm not considering exile. I've traveled, I lived in Mexico for like five months and I like it, and I've traveled to Europe and Asia. But all my family and friends are in the States, and I like this country. I'm thinking about exploring the second option, the jail time." Webb said that although execution is on the books for desertion in times of war, it hasn't been used since World War II, and five years in prison is the standard penalty.

"Prison is something that I never thought would be easy," Webb says with obvious nervousness, noting that his brother is in Louisiana's infamous Angola prison for armed robbery. "It never sounded nice." Webb emphasized that he was not admitting guilt, but only recognizing the futility of the legal fight ahead of him. "I most likely will lose."

Conscientious-objector status is not really an option, Webb says, noting the high standard that must be met – basically, opposition to all acts of violence, period. "I'm not a pacifist. ... But I've always been politically opposed to U.S. militarism."

So how did someone of Webb's political leanings end up in the National Guard? "I was broke," he admits. "I fell behind on some bills. And I was also a veteran before that. I first joined the Army in '82, and I'd been out, back and forth since. I had like six years on active duty in the regular army. ... After this seven-year breach in the service I was a pretty solid civilian, but I had some financial problems that came up, and I said, 'Well, we've invaded everybody we could possibly invade, it's relatively peaceful, what could possibly happen?' That was August 2001, and three weeks later, 9/11 happened and we were all on alert."

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