As today marked the beginning of Ramadan, I feel that it’s fitting that I talk about the book I just finished this evening. Ramadan is a central part of Islam, and the word Islam literally means “to submit.” Every Muslim gives up normal daily activities for a month and instead chooses to go without food, drink, smoking, and other vices during all daylight hours. Although they could give in and go back to what they know would be easy, they persevere through the hardships for their beliefs. Camilo Mejía is internationally known as the first soldier to publically renounce the Iraq War and refuse to serve in it. His book, Road from ar Ramadi, is the detailed and critically honest story of his time served bravely as a squad leader in the broiling conflict of Iraq in the battleground city of ar Ramadi, as he slowly comes to realize that no one, soldier or civilian, should have to die to further the agendas of Oil and Empire.

I first met Camilo in October 2007, where he was our featured speaker at the Campus Antiwar Network’s national conference in Madison. A quiet, soft-spoken man, he impressed my colleagues and me from the moment he stepped up to the lectern. With the force and passion of his words, coupled with his nine years of experience in the armed forces, he moved the packed auditorium to thunderous applause and cheers. At that time, his book had only been in stores a few months, and I picked up the newly-released second edition days before leaving for Amman, Jordan, only a few miles away from the mountains in which Camilo was stationed in the weeks leading up to the Invasion of Iraq.

Camilo speaks simply to you in the retelling of his time in the military and Iraq, and his book reads almost like a diary, unfolding before you with tales of bravery, brotherhood, friendship, and family. Unfortunately, the story must also reveal to you the treachery of the antagonist – the government and leadership of the United States Army, which reveals its hand slowly throughout the book. The military’s personal atrocities against Camilo mount as time goes on during his five-month stay in Iraq, ranging from careless and practically murderous mismanagement of hardworking infantry such as our hero, all the way up to his eventually trial and court-martial in a military court as the prosecution lies and slanders him as much as possible to bury his name and his story.

Just as they would be in real life, Camilo paints rich, full pictures of his comrades in arms and obviously cares deeply about his squad mates that he led into battle for those five months. At the same time though, he shows his inept and incompetent leadership from his own perspective. He does not attempt to pass judgment on soldiers who have not risen up against the military machine as he did, and truthfully understands it as a personal choice that every soldier must eventually make. The detail and depth of Camilo’s writing bares his soul to his us, especially as he begins to see the ugly outbreaks of cruelty, abuse, and mismanagement as systematic patterns. This book needs to be read by every person who carelessly denounces every “deserter” as a “traitor” who abandoned his duty and his country.

There has to be a first one, a voice that breaks the silence. There needs to be a first one.

Since Camilo publically stated in early 2004 that as a conscientious objector, he would not go back to Iraq, the war has steamrolled forth with more lies, more Iraqi blood, and more unnecessary death of my countrymen, like my friends who are now overseas and like Camilo’s comrades. Meanwhile, the Colonels and Captains who send them into battle sit in their command stations or back in Washington and pin medals on themselves, pushing their pawns in demented circles like a sick war game. The good news is that since then, hundreds more soldiers have publically denounced the war and the administration, and thousands more have shown their displeasure by going AWOL or disappearing underground. The veterans’ support and activist group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) gains new members weekly, and fittingly, Camilo Mejía is now the president of the organization.

Camilo is not a Muslim, and I’m going to assume he does not practice the sacrifices of Ramadan. But, as I live here in Jordan, surrounded by people who choose to follow a higher path than personal pleasure, I think of what it must have been like for him. Camilo was all alone as the first soldier to ever question our government’s rape of the nation of Iraq. He chose to sacrifice the unquestioned brotherhood of his fellow soldiers and the terrible simplicity of “just following orders,” to strive for his own higher path; a road from ar Ramadi, and learn that his morals were something that could not be compromised. Camilo Mejía, as the “grunt” who dared to question the right of Iraqis to live without fear of harassment, persecution, and death, is one of the true heroes of the 21st century.