Thursday, June 14, 2007

CO Watch: Perry O'Brien

PERRY O’Brien is a 26-year-old former US Army medic who won Conscientious Objector status after serving a tour in Afghanistan, and was honorably discharged in November 2004 after three years and two months of service.

Emily McNeill portrays O’Brien’s journey from medic to CO in an engaging two-part article posted on Campus Progress. Click <here> and <here> for her profile.

Deployed to Afghanistan in January 2003, McNeill writes, O’Brien’s medical work consisted mainly of tending to Afghan civilians. “It felt,” he told her, “like the Peace Corps with guns.”

The good vibes quickly changed, however, when he discovered that many of the civilians he treated were victims of internecine tribal conflicts and US military bombing campaigns — not the terrorists “Operation Enduring Freedom” was supposed to be counteracting.

Once his Afghan hitch was completed in August 2003 and he returned to the US, O’Brien, still in the military, began reading Buddhist works, particularly those of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese-born monk and peace activist.

“If the Afghanistan war was wrong — and presumably the Afghanistan war was started for good reasons,” O’Brien told McNeill, “I wondered what other war could be right, could be successful, morally speaking. I came to the conclusion that really wars are never morally successful. They always create more problems than they solve.”

During the course of the final year of his enlistment contract, O’Brien applied for CO status. Unlike many others who apply while in the military, he encountered superior officers who treated his convictions as serious.

O’Brien is currently studying political theory at Cornell University, and plans to apply to MFA programs in creative writing when he graduates next year. In the meantime, he has established a Web site for people considering CO status, and is active with Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

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