Ex-Army captain says he served by protesting WAR IN THE GULF

January 16, 1992|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

David Wiggins, when he was an Army doctor and a captain, spent the Persian Gulf War in one-man demonstrations against it.

L "I think I served my country by resisting the war," he says.

Wiggins, now 29, was court-martialed. Dismissed from the Army, he now lives in Garrett County and works a night shift in the emergency room of Garrett County Memorial Hospital.

The turmoil that continues in the gulf region "basically proves my point" about the war, he says. "It didn't accomplish what it set out to accomplish -- peace and stability in the region."

Wiggins' conversion from warrior to an advocate of non-violence was like a divorce, he says, "a long, painful process."

When Wiggins graduated from West Point in 1984, George Bush, who was then vice president, handed him his diploma. Wiggins had entered West Point thinking "it was the greatest thing in the world," he says, but gradually became troubled at the inability of the trained soldier to make independent moral choices.

"Army people don't fight for any reason," he explains, "but because they're ordered to."

While serving his medical internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, he consoled himself with the thought that as a physician he would not make war but heal its ravages. But eventually he concluded that just about anyone in the service could conceive of a similarly tortured absolution.

"You put them all together, you can fight a pretty good war," Wiggins says.

His final break with his military mission occurred after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in late 1989, mostly by non-violent means. "That was the eye-opener," Wiggins says. "If it's possible there, it must be possible in other places."

In February 1990, while at Fort Hood, Texas, Wiggins applied for conscientious-objector status. Army investigators initially concluded that he qualified, and sent his claim to Washington for final approval. There it sat until August 1990 when, just after the American war mobilization, Wiggins received word that his claim had been denied.

The reason, he suspects, is that "they wanted me to help carry out their war, which I said I was against six months before."

In November, his air cavalry unit was ordered to Saudi Arabia. Wiggins began a hunger strike and kept it up after being shipped overseas. He ended his fast after 28 days, he says, because the Army command in Saudi Arabia threatened to force-feed him.

Wiggins then tried to resign his commission. No one would accept his resignation, however.

"By that time I was on the front lines, and my superiors basically ignored it," he says.

His next move was to plunk himself in the middle of an intersection at a huge military camp. While tying up tank and truck traffic for miles, Wiggins stripped off his officer's clothes, down to his Army-issue long underwear.

Tank and truck drivers called out, "'Why are you doing this?' " he recalls, "and I said, 'Why are you doing what you're doing?' "

Wiggins was sent behind the lines to a military compound in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where he read books, posted anti-war material in the mess hall and avoided reporting for duty to the medical clinic where he was assigned. No war casualties were taken there.

Soldiers who suffered fevers or minor injuries would come to his room now and then for treatment, he says.

Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Wiggins had hoped all along that his public protests would stimulate a popular resistance to the war among the troops. So, when the planes took off to start the bombing a year ago, he felt like a failure. "It didn't seem like anything I had done had been worthwhile," he says.

For the rest of the war, he says, "basically, I was sitting around waiting to get court-martialed."

The court-martial took place last April 17, while he was still in Riyadh. The judge was lenient, Wiggins says. He was fined $25,000 and dismissed from the Army.

Wiggins has sued in federal court to overturn the denial of his application to be classified as a conscientious objector.

His final discharge has not yet been issued. Wiggins expects it to be dishonorable, or a "general" discharge at best, although, he says, "I believe it should be honorable."

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