War & Peacenik

Ever heard of a West Point graduate seeking a conscientious objector discharge? Meet Major Ann Marie Tate

A small town with its fair share of bullies, particularly certain upperclassmen apparently displeased by the relatively new presence of women on the previously all-male campus (the first women cadets enrolled in 1976).

"A few individuals there terrorized me," she says, "and I'm not referring to the typical academy hazing routines. I kept a lot inside myself during those years."

Chien Johnson says her daughter "is a sweet girl, but she's tough. I told her at one point she could come home with me, but she said that meant the people who wanted her out would win. She's not a quitter."

Phung Huynh
Major Ann Marie Tate
Major Ann Marie Tate

Ann Marie says she was disturbed by more than the Neanderthals.

For example, the cadets spent hours doing "Jody calls" — traditional chants done in military cadence during drills ("Jody" is a recurring character in the call-and-response).

"Many of our Jody calls were about dehumanizing Asian people, Vietnamese people," she says. "Gook! Chink! I wouldn't say them aloud because it was too close to my family, devaluing their lives like they were nothing."

Ann Marie says she also thought the bayonet training, with the chants of "Kill! Kill!" and "Blood makes the grass grow greener," was absurd.

"I don't know if it was denial or naiveté or the belief that I was ultimately doing greater good than harm by my profession," she says. "But in hindsight, I missed many opportunities to more accurately equate being in the Army as being in a profession of killing."

About a year after she graduated in 1993, Ann Marie went to work as a quartermaster lieutenant for E Company, 123rd Main Support Battalion, running a warehouse with a platoon of 55 soldiers at a base in Ober-Olm, Germany.

"I found great personal value in being a reasonable and compassionate boss for the soldiers working for me," she wrote in her conscientious objector petition. "I also discovered I was a good problem-solver. I believed both of these traits to be beneficial to the Army and nation."

But Ann Marie had decided a career in the Army wasn't for her.

In December 1995, she was set to leave active duty under the "early out" program, which allowed West Point grads to be discharged after three years instead of the usual five. (These days, with the war effort in Iraq going strong, it's more like "never out" for Army officers.)

But duty called. Her unit was about to be deployed to Bosnia on a peacekeeping mission after the late 1995 cease-fire there.

"I felt like I couldn't abandon my guys," Ann Marie says.

She decided to stay on active Army duty for a while, and was stationed for months near Tuzla, a city in northeast Bosnia that had been the site of an infamous massacre years earlier.

"As the convoy commander, I definitely thought about the possibility of coming under attack," Ann Marie says. "At the time, I felt willing to protect myself and my soldiers if it meant firing. I tried picturing what needed to be done to keep any situation from escalating. Ultimately, even at that time, I never actually pictured specifically firing at a person."

After she returned from Bosnia safely, the Army released Ann Marie Johnson from active duty in April 1996. But she still owed what she thought would be five years of service as a reservist, which she says she was prepared to fulfill.

While living near Los Angeles and working as a pharmaceutical sales rep for Abbott Labs in late 1996, Ann Marie says she first happened upon Pacifica Radio.

"There were shows on alternative healing and on different points of view, and I found myself really open to these," she says of the politically liberal, free-speech programming.

Concurrently, she says she really got to know the Vietnamese side of her family. Some of her mother's relatives also had immigrated to California, and the stories they related about their difficult lives moved her.

"As I started to hear accounts of their experiences living in a war-torn country, I gained a deeper appreciation for the individual suffering of innocent people," she later wrote. "I learned from family members who had spent time as prisoners from the war, and what happened to their families while they were in prison. I have family members who to this day suffer tragedies due to the carcinogenic nature of Agent Orange. I heard stories of hunger and helplessness. Hearing about my family's experience as victims of war has changed the way I view war."

Ann Marie also honed in for the first time on the Confucianism that is an essential part of Vietnamese culture.

"In Confucianism, there is a lot of emphasis on duty to family, authority and state leaders," she says. "Obedience is a moral imperative. I grew up with little regard toward my own autonomy and independence. Even when I wanted to chart my own course, I never considered doing it outside the system."

That, she says, started to change in the late 1990s, even though Ann Marie continued to report for reserve duty. (During this period, she also earned a master's degree in Human Relations from Cal State-San Bernardino.)

During reserve training in Barstow, California, in 1998, she met another Army officer, South Carolinian Mitch Tate. The two started to date the following year.

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My Voice Nation Help

She is a coward... she cried and moaned at the academy and then when she was trying to get out she learned she had to repay all that tuition money she then had to take her assignment.... Peace is designed as a means for all people to enjoy freedoms... but when one person uses it as a catalyst for being a coward then it doesnt sound as good as they make it out to be.....

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