One Man's Deserter, Another Man's Hero
I was mildly tempted, but wasn't against the war enough to desert the Army right after joining. I was eager to get through basic training and start the projector repair school I enlisted for. I never forgot that guy, though, and after that day I never saw him again. He may or may not have deserted, but I have no way of knowing other than never seeing him again.
During basic training a lot of my fellow trainees were having difficulty adjusting to military life, especially the ones who were married. They feared they would lose their wives, and the drill sergeants reminded them continually with call-and-response cadence calls about a mythical character "Jodie" who was fooling around with their wives and girlfriends. Some guys, married and not, cracked under the pressure of basic training. One guy went AWOL (absent without leave), another guy went catatonic, and others broke down in smaller ways. The guy in the bunk next to mine was a young lower-middle-class type from St. Louis who missed his wife dearly. He stopped following orders one day, and the drill sergeant for our platoon shifted into a mode where the situation was escalating towards MPs (military police) being called to take him away. He eventually gave in, and completed basic training with the rest of us.
I had my own situation where I refused to follow orders. One morning the company of about 160 trainees was "fallen out" with rifles and steel pots - helmets - at 3 a.m. to run in formation for about an hour, singing "I want to be an airborne ranger, live that life of death and danger." We completely soaked our fatigues in sweat, and then were marched to the air-conditioned mess hall for breakfast. After that we had a pretty easy day of doing makework tasks, but I started feeling weak.
By evening I had a fever, and was fading fast. We were all supposed to be cleaning our rifles and getting ready for the following day's inspection, but I went to bed. The trainee "platoon guide" and squad leader tried to order me to get back to work, but I told them I wasn't doing anything, and that I should see a doctor. They threatened me with "jail," as if they had the power to do anything beyond saying "left-face" or "right face," but I was too weak to get out of bed. They found a drill sergeant from another company to come in, and he put his hand on my forehead, then yelled at them to call an ambulance or they were going to jail. I had a temperature of 104 degrees, and spent the next three days in the Fort Leonard Wood hospital. Patients were required to sweep and mop their rooms and the hallway.
It was certainly better to be sent to "Germany" than "Vietnam," but it was a surreal place. Because of World War II and NATO there was a massive "U.S." military presence there. It's smaller now, but still huge. Military installations were former German army and air force (Luftwaffe) barracks, and had a kind of concentration camp character, with barbed wire fencing on curved concrete posts ala Dachau and Auschwitz to prevent unauthorized entry and exit.
The Army itself was a lot sleazier than what I had experienced in training. Petty harassment, "pulling rank," a lot of makework, tedious inspections all made for a tense and unfriendly atmosphere. Terrible food too, sometimes rancid. The animosity between "first-termers" - draftees and draft-induced enlistees - and "lifers" - career Army NCOs (non-commissioned officers - sergeants) - was palpable, and over time got worse. In "Vietnam" troops were killing their sergeants and officers by "fragging" - rigging or throwing fragmentation grenades at them.
Kaiserslautern, a depressing place. Guys who were "short" - short-timers who were getting out soon - would fill out calendars to mark off the days they had left. Someone had made a mimeograph stencil of a short timer's calendar in the shape of a Playboy bunny with a grid drawn for 210 days to mark off. I had 1050 days left, which would have taken five calendars. It was so depressing to mark off days that I quit after about a week.
I had a monthly crisis where I felt I had to get away. I considered going to "Sweden," but that wasn't a very attractive prospect either. Though I hated the Army, going to "Sweden" would have been a very difficult step to take. It would be a crossing of the Rubicon of sorts, with no turning back. At least that's the way it looked. I trudged through, and after nine months got "levied" to Heidelberg to work as a projectionist in the conference room of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR). My projector repair MOS saved me.
While I was in Kaiserslautern my office-mate and bunk-mate did desert. He went home on 30-day leave, and didn't return. I never heard from him, but was told he went to "Canada." He gave no warning about his intentions, but he hated being in the Army more than I did. Plus, he enlisted at the age of 17, most likely given the choice of the Army or jail for a marijuana arrest. He was from California, and a study of desertions would for sure indicate a higher desertion rate from there than other states.
Others deserted on their way to "Vietnam" after being "levied" from "Germany." Though it was reputed that many deserted by going to "Sweden," I don't remember anyone I knew or knew about going there. Desertions were rampant in the Army overall, though, especially "stateside," and mostly soldiers going to "Canada," which at the time welcomed them. The "Vietnam" war was unpopular all over the world, but our government pushed on.
Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who may or may not have deserted his unit in "Afghanistan," was captured by the Taliban, and freed in a trade for five Taliban prisoners at the Guantanamo prison our government operates in "Cuba" against the wishes of just about the whole world, not the least of which is the government of "Cuba," on whose land the prison was built. You can't make this stuff up.
I have an easy answer to the questions raised about Bowe Bergdahl. If he deserted, he deserted from an illegal occupation of "Afghanistan" waged by Air Force National Guard deserter George W. Bush. We never had any legitimate business there. The "911" attacks would not have happened if it weren't for the ACTIVE negligence of the deserter Bush and his cronies in crime. The supposed purpose of the invasion of "Afghanistan" was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, but the effort to do that was minor compared to the overall obliteration of the Taliban, and the capturing and whisking away to Guantanamo of who knows how many.
Then the deserter Bush ginned up the invasion and occupation of "Iraq," lying about Saddam Hussain's possession of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify his "Shock and Awe" invasion. About a million people are now dead because of the actions of the deserter Bush. And, of course, we are now seeing the inevitable result of the deserter Bush's phony war.
So, should Bowe Bergdahl be prosecuted as a deserter? Hardly. We have yet to hold the deserter Bush responsible for his many murderous crimes, so to prosecute a troubled young soldier for walking away would bring hypocrisy to a new level.
Convicting him would be highly unlikely anyway. All we know is that he left his unit. At most that was AWOL. Technically, desertion is when a soldier doesn't return after thirty days of being missing. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban before he had a chance to return, so his five years in captivity wouldn't count as time of desertion. He could always say he intended to come back, but couldn't.
More important than the fate of Bowe Bergdahl is the way the circumstances of his freedom are being portrayed in the news media, particularly in the "right wing" hate-o-sphere. The five Taliban prisoners he was traded for are depicted as the worst of the worst, more dangerous than humanly possible, likely to go back to "terrorism" against NATO forces, i.e., us.
In fact, the Taliban prisoners have been tortured for about thirteen years. They likely were "waterboarded" hundreds of times, forced to stand for days at a time, beaten, hung on hooks, had electric shocks applied to their genitals, had their fingernails and toenails pulled out, sodomized with broomsticks, whipped, flogged, put in stress positions, stretched, burned, and God knows what else. They would be of little use in leadership, planning or executing "terrorism" against "U.S." forces. They won't even be released from detention in "Qatar" for another year. By that time "we" should be long gone.
What we could do to correct the wrongs of the past decade-or-so is to put the real criminals on trial: the deserter Bush, his henchman Dick Cheney (draft dodger), Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Ricardo Gonzales (remember him?), Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, and numerous others. There would have been no invasions and occupations of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq" if they hadn't cooked up their evil plans. Had the 2000 presidential election not been stolen there would have been no attacks of September 11, 2001. No one was held responsible for that crime either, and in fact the theft was enabled by the "U.S." Supreme Court. We can hold them responsible now.
This of course won't happen. Our "leaders" are too big to fail. Too big, at least, for themselves, which is all that effectively matters. Our ruling class does not hold itself responsible for anything. To do so would make their entire house of cards fall down.
It is falling down anyway, an unsustainable overstructure of wealth, greed, environmental destruction, increasing inequality, worker displacement and obsolescence, massive incarceration, bigotry and purveying of violence. Its days are numbered. We should be planning for its replacement.
Other Army stories can be seen here, here, here, here, and here.
Here's an appropriate song. This too. Here's a song from Jesse Winchester, who went to "Canada" rather than submit to being impressed into military service. Arlo Guthrie sang this classic about the draft. And of course, veteran Country Joe McDonald. Phil Ochs. The Chad Mitchell Trio. Graham Nash. Bob Marley. Here's a song for the best day of the year.
I've been writing a bit here and there about the VA waiting list scandal. Here's a version that got published locally. I take no responsibility for some of the edits. I elaborated in a comment to a local story on the issue, and to a National Public Radio story.
On the most recent All Things Considered on NPR, the criminality of the invasion of "Iraq" is suggested. A similar suggestion was made on PBS's News Hour.
Robert Fisk provides a good analysis of the "Iraq" situation here.