Thursday, March 24, 2005 | The story of Pablo Paredes continues without a lot of fanfare, and I suspect the Navy likes it that way. It’s a difficult problem for the brass hats, and when the brass hats are uncomfortable, it isn’t wise for a guy wearing a little round white hat to get in their way.

But, Paredes, a five-year veteran didn’t follow that bit of wisdom. He not only got in their way, he got in their faces. The young sailor decided to “resign, just like a cabinet member” when his ship, the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard, set sail last Dec. 6.

The young man didn’t want to go to war. That’s not surprising because lots of folks don’t. War is a dangerous place. But Paredes had little to fear because any danger he would face in his part of the war was less than a sailor would face in any joint in National City if a fight broke out.

The young man, a fire control technician, worked on electronic things, and he did it in a comfortable, air-conditioned compartment. In the current war, not many crew members on amphibious assault ships get killed or wounded, at least by combat.

That’s not true of their principle cargo, assault Marines. The grunts and their equipment are carried to their part of the war by ships like The Bonnie Dick, and war for the grunts is dangerous indeed. The Bonnie Dick was heading to the Gulf with its cargo. Paredes made his decision and refused to go along. He didn’t want any part of helping send men to die in what he felt was an unjust war.

Now, lots of folks, especially veterans, didn’t consider his act as courageous, but I disagree. Believe me, even disagreeing with the skipper makes the ol’ heart thump wildly. I never once told one that I would refuse to do what he said.

According to letters to military papers, like Navy Times, few veterans appreciated the guts it took for him to “resign” as he insisted he was doing. Ollie North called it “an act of cowardice.”

Now things are coming to a boil, and we may see the resolution of it soon. The young man has requested conscientious objector status. According to an e-mail from his brother in New York and a Web site dedicated to him, various recommendations are heading up the chain of command.

One was by a chaplain who wrote, “It is my recommendation that Paredes be granted Conscientious Objector Status 1-0 and separated from military service … his convictions are deeply rooted on religious, moral and ethical values … I believe it is morally imperative that his request be granted.”

A psychiatrist examined him and wrote, “It is the impression … that the member’s statements were sincere and genuine. He maintained respectful composure and apparent conviction throughout the examination.”

After such reports, will the Navy take a compassionate look at the young sailor? In the opinion of one who served 22 years, 9 months, and 11 days: not likely. Decisions are almost always made, not according to right or wrong, but rather how will the decision affect the military establishment.

Would letting the young man out without penalty cause a wave of other requests? What if the particular target was of extreme importance, but would surely involve killing a lot of innocent civilians? Could combat infantrymen opt out? If not, what if they cited a precedent, one where a sailor didn’t want to send Marines to die?

It’s a tough call for the brass to make and I’m sure that no matter what, there’ll be lots of second guessing. How about Paredes? Has he second guessed himself? No, I just asked him if he was willing to accept the consequences. He replied, “Oh yes. I have said so many times. I fully accept them.”

So much for that claim of cowardice.

Keith Taylor is a freelance writer living in Chula Vista.

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