On desertions and conscientious objection

The rate of desertions from the US army “skyrocketed” during the 12-month period ending September 30, according to this report in the semi-official Army Times. Reporter William McMichael noted that 4,698 soldiers were declared deserters during that year (which, in US government parlance is known as “Fiscal Year 2007”.)
He wrote that that was a 42.3% increase over FY2006– and “More disturbingly, the pace of Army desertions appears to have increased even during fiscal 2007: 63.6 percent of the year’s 4,698 desertions were recorded from April through September, according to Army data.”
He added this:

    The Army has borne the brunt of the contentious Iraq war. Thousands of troops are on their second, third and even fourth deployments. Soldiers currently deploy to Iraq for 15 months and come home for 12; leaders at all levels lament the lack of “dwell time,” saying troops need more time to rest and reconnect with families as well to properly train for the next deployment.
    Troops in mobilized, deployed and deploying units who have reached the end of their enlistment contracts fall under the ongoing “stop-loss” program and cannot be discharged.
    That strain largely explains the rise in desertions, said Lawrence Korb, formerly a senior Pentagon personnel official in the Reagan administration and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “It’s a combination of not enough dwell time, and having to go back [to the war] as well as the type of people you’re taking in,” Korb said.
    The increased rate of desertions in fiscal 2007’s second half, he said, coincided with the surge of troops sent to Iraq. “A lot of them probably didn’t want to go back,” Korb said. “And don’t forget, you’ve lowered your standards of people you’re taking in.”
    In an effort to boost recruiting, the Army granted moral waivers for past criminal behavior to 11.6 percent of new recruits in fiscal 2007, and accepted more recruits who dropped out of high school or scored low on entrance tests.
    … Desertion is a felony, punishable by death under military law if committed in wartime.
    While it’s still treated seriously, that maximum punishment may be a thing of the past. The last service member executed for desertion was Pvt. Eddie Slovik, who was shot by a firing squad in France on Jan. 31, 1945, following his conviction for desertion under fire.
    … A death penalty for desertion “obviously has struck [military] convening authorities and juries as excessive,” said Eugene Fidell, an attorney specializing in military law who is president of the National Institute of Military Justice. “We rely more on positive incentives for our personnel to remain with their units, rather than fear of death.”

On a related (though dissimilar) note, I want to once again draw attention to the website of Quaker House, in Fayetteville, NC, which counsels individuals seeking to register their conscientious objection to participation in war. The website has been upgraded a lot over the past couple of years: it has a large amount of very informative material on it.
Including the numbers for the “G.I. Rights Hotline”: +1-877-447-4487 (toll-free) and +1-919-663-7122.
One of the cases Quaker House worked on was the application of Jeremy Hinzman for asylum in Canada, on the grounds that he would face persecution in the US on account of his (mid-service) application for CO status in 2002 and his subsequent refusal to be shipped to Iraq. Yesterday, however, the relevant court in Canada turned down the asylum applications from Hinzman and fellow CO, Brandon Hughey, and today the Candian Supreme Court refused to hear the two men’s appeal against that judgment.
These are tragic stories that involve serious issues of principle as well as families bing torn apart and men being punished for trying to follow the dictates of their conscience.
All the more reason, then, to strengthen the campaign to bring the troops home now and– most certainly– not to launch the US military into yet another (quite avoidable) military maelstrom any time soon, or indeed ever. War wreaks terrible things on everyone who is involved in it, whichever end of the gun barrel they stand.

3 thoughts on “On desertions and conscientious objection”

  1. More disturbingly, the pace of Army desertions appears to have increased even during fiscal 2007
    Why more disturbingly? I find it very encouraging actually. And why EVEN during “fiscal 2007”? What improved during “fiscal 2007” that that year should not have seen an increase in desertions? Nothing as far as I can see.
    What if they gave a war and no one showed up?

    According to a report released in May 2007 by aid agency Save the Children, “Iraq’s child mortality rate has increased by a staggering 150 per cent since 1990, more than any other country.”
    The report, entitled State of the World’s Mothers 2007, said that some 122,000 Iraqi children – the equivalent of one in eight – died in 2005, before reaching their fifth birthday. More than half of the deaths were among newborn babies in their first month of life.
    “Even before the latest war, Iraqi mothers and children were facing a grave humanitarian crisis caused by years of repression, conflict and external sanctions,” said the report.
    “Since 2003, electricity shortages, insufficient clean water, deteriorating health services and soaring inflation have worsened already difficult living conditions.”
    The study listed pneumonia and diarrhoea as major killers of children in Iraq, together accounting for over 30 per cent of child deaths.

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