Doug Smith: DESERTION AND OTHER LITTLE ‘FOIBLES’

28 Jan

WHAT 21ST CENTURY PRECEDENT WILL THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SET?

doug smith

Regular FSP contributor, author and historian, Doug Smith

The US has not executed a deserter since WW2.  Deserters who simply go AWOL or overstay leave, and are caught or turn themselves in years later, are usually treated with disdain.  They are given prison sometimes, and a Bad Conduct or Dishonorable Discharge from the service.  The military does not spend time or manpower trying to find them.

However, as in the case of Pvt Eddie Slovick, who was executed, circumstances alter cases. He deserted in combat, refused to return to his unit, and put his refusal in writing.  It was a matter of good order and discipline, and his stupidity, that got him shot.

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So what about Bowe Bergdahl? Let s settle one thing right up front. He was given Sgt stripes as a matter of course for being a POW. He did not earn them. He was a POW because he deserted. I am not going to call him Sergeant.  So, about Mr. Bergdahl.

Hasn’t he suffered enough by being in captivity?  That is irrelevant. Suppose the robber who puts a gun in your face in the bank wrecks your car, which he stole, running from the cops and loses a leg. So what?  His injuries were the result of his own bad acts.  They do not lessen his responsibility for robbing you with a gun and destroying your car. And you would not be content with his consequences if you were the victim.

So, too, if a soldier deserts his post, lays down his weapon, and is subsequently captured, his guilt is not lessened.  Neither is his effect on good order and discipline.

Wouldn’t it be better to simply boot him out of the Army with a less than honorable discharge and make it all go away? Better for President Obama, perhaps, who is invested in him being a good guy? But not better for good order and discipline.

In the case of Bergdahl, the details of his desertion make it particularly egregious.

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He was vocal about his disaffection for the Army and the war, and his sympathy with the enemy, for some time before he actually deserted. He put down his weapon and made plans to desert and try to find the enemy, so this was not a spur of the moment thing. He did not “snap” and regret it at once. Also, he was deployed in a forward area, and deserted while on guard in a combat area.

As a result of his actions and the circumstances, the Army had to assume he was lost or captured, and in danger. So they sent out patrols to search for him.  Troops died in those operations, lured in and ambushed by the enemy knowing they were coming to look for this deserter.  The enemy and the Army had the situation of knowing that a troop went to the enemy as a blow to morale. (That the enemy did not receive him, that we know of, as a friend, is just bad planning on his part and not an extenuating circumstance.)

The results of his actions are as important to the case as his intent.

Remember, too, that he was a volunteer. He did not get drafted and then suffer PTSD from his war experiences.  He also had other options. If he felt morally opposed to the war and the Army, he could have gone to his CO and said so, refusing to fight.  He would still face disciplinary actions, possibly prison, and certainly a less than honorable discharge.  But he would not have deserted in the face of the enemy, and, by all appearances, tried to go over to the enemy.

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No, what he did was a truly bad act for a soldier. He deserted his post, and his comrades, and attempted to find and join the enemy.  That is the worst thing a comrade in arms in combat can do.  The Army, and the United States, should make a stern example of him and make it clear how totally unacceptable this was.

Should they shoot him? Well, that is for a General Court Martial to decide.  I would fill it with front line Officers and NCO s, and abide by their decision as to his punishment. If they shoot him, it would be just, since he put lives at risk, cost lives, and showed pusillanimous behavior in the face of the enemy.  (That is military speak for cowardice). If they hold with long standing tradition, and do not, then he should at least serve a long prison sentence, forfeit all pay and benefits, and receive a dishonorable discharge.  Send a message.

My guess is that if the Army resists the pressure from the President to overlook his little foibles, Obama will issue a pardon regardless of the sentence, arguing that his captivity was suffering enough. He will be wrong about that, just as he was wrong to trade 5 bad actors back in action against us for one bad actor from our side.

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