Friday, February 11, 2005

Desertion & The Firing Squad?

According to Pentagon records, 5,000 military personnel abandoned their duty last year. This number may sound like a lot...but we should put it in context with numbers from the two previous wars. 40,000 during the four years of WWII and in 1971 alone 33,000 deserted during Vietnam. Desertion is a crime that, technically, is still a capitol offense.

Sgt. Charles Jenkins -you remember, the little old man who had fled to North Korea and remained there for 40 years...his sentence was 30 days in jail.
Roughly two-thirds of deserters are caught (most common way: stopped for speeding) and of those returned to military custody only 7% faced court martial.

"Today's deserters typically are young and poorly educated, with histories of delinquency...and they are more apt to flee for personal and financial reasons than moral objection to the mission. Commanders have the latitude to consider the circumstances, usually leading to less-than-honorable discharges, nonjudicial penalties such as cuts in pay or rank --or just a quiet welcome-back for the prodigal."

In 1944 Sgt. Eddie Slovik was charged with two counts of desertion. He was sentenced to be "shot to death with musketry." There were 2,864 deserters tried during WWII -from that group 48 were sentenced to death...and 48 executions were stayed. This would not be the case for Slovik though. On January 31, 1945, in a French village, Slovik was strapped to a post in a courtyard and shrouded in a black hood. His crimes were read -along with his last rites --then 20 soldiers with M-1 rifles took aim from 20 paces back. "Death was pronounced even as rifles were being reloaded."
Eddie Slovik was then buried in a numbered grave -in a section of a French cemetery among 95 American soldiers that had been hung for violent crimes (such as rape and murder).

No one can be sure why it was this 5'6" boy (formerly classified 4-F because of his criminal background before the need for replacements grew) was chosen to be 'the example', but now there are people looking to secure clemency for him. They have petitioned each President with their request from Reagan to Bush 43.

Many of you may have been aware of Sgt. Slovik's story and already have an opinion. Truthfully, I am not sure what I think... a part of me wants to say pardon him. Another part can't help but think about 6,000 members of Pennsylvania's 28th Infantry Division (Slovik's division) that died in the Hurtgen Forest Campaign and the 19,000 that were killed in the Battle of the Bulge --both of which happened while Slovik was refusing to fight....would clemency to him be fair to the families of those who fought and died?

Do those of you in the military want these loose cannons next to you in a fire fight or should be there be a way they can be weeded out --even if it is in theater?

AWOL/Deserters: "The rate has declined to less than 1% in the 1.2 million member armed forces today. The trend is attributable to the volunteer makeup of the military, plus a post-9/11 fervor to fight terrorism."

(source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, "Slovik execution haunts after 60 years" by Oliver Pritchard, 1/30/05 -Thanks to Justrose for bringing me this article...)

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