Sunday, March 28, 2004

Reading For Truth

The Sunday Commercial Appeal carries this story about an Army deserter running to Canada. (Link goes to another site. The story isn't on the CA site.) First and briefly, the headline choice is interesting. In other papers across the country (the story is a Cox wire feed), it's called: "US soldier seeks refuge in Canada," "Anti-war soldier defends choice to flee to Canada," "Deserter defends run into Canada," and "Deserter defends fleeing to Canada."

The CA chose "U.S. deserter finds niche in Canada." Niche? There was no place for him here and he found it in Canada? That's not really supported by the story. I have to wonder what the headline writer was thinking, to be so different from colleagues.

Which is really what I wanted to look at. The story tries hard to support sympathy for a man who admits to being a deserter in a time of war. Read the whole story before we go any further.

Hinzman says:
"I feel so strongly about the Iraqi war and not wanting to be a part of it that whatever the consequences, so be it," Hinzman said.
Those consequences?
Hinzman knows if he returns to the United States he will be arrested and sent to jail. If convicted at a military court-martial of deserting in a time of war, he could face lethal injection.
No soldier has been executed since WWII for deserting, but you can see the seriousness.

Unfortunately, rather than stay and face those consequences, he's high-tailed it to Canada. His actions belie his words. Even his words belie his words. In a part of the story you can read at the link, but didn't get into the CA version (due to space consideration, most likely; gotta run those ads), he says:
His decision to join the Army, he said, was an effort to provide some structure to his life and to get money to attend college. He admits now he was naive about what he would be doing. "I don't want to come off as having no idea as what the Army was about," he said. "I was just totally ignorant about what it takes to make a person a killer."

Although he had dabbled in meditation and Buddhism, Hinzman said his views about nonviolence did not crystallize until after he arrived at Fort Bragg in August 2001 and began attending meetings at the Quaker House in Fayetteville with his wife, Nga Nguyen, who was born in Laos to Vietnamese parents.

In August 2002, Hinzman applied for conscientious objector status. He was not interested in getting out of the Army, but in performing some noncombat role. In fact, he said, he enjoyed Army life.

"I've never felt as close to a group of people as I did when I was in the Army," he said.

When his unit, the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, received orders for Afghanistan several months later, Hinzman said he had no problem going.

"I just didn't want to go in a combat role," he said.

He was required to carry an M-4 rifle wherever he went, and admitted to his superiors that he would use it if his unit or the camp came under attack. In his mind there was a significant difference between offensive actions and defending his home and friends.

"It's premeditated murder as opposed to having your house broken into," he said.
I'm sure that every soldier who served in the European theater during World War Two will be happy to hear he was a "premeditated murderer."
But that admission, he believes, led to the denial of his conscientious objector application. When his unit returned to Fort Bragg after eight months in Afghanistan, he knew it was only a matter of time before it would be sent to Iraq.

Those orders came on Dec. 20, 2003, and by Jan. 1 he had made up his mind to go to Canada.

He said he has no doubts now, and no regrets. He is not encouraging others to join him, but said of his decision: "I'm confident what I've done is the right thing for me."
I'm sure he does.

This guy was a mess. I'm happy he's found some convictions, but sorry he doesn't have the courage of them, to face his consequences rather than run from them, to spend his life knowing he ran and that some other soldier may die in his place now.

The article also goes on to look at numbers from the Vietnam era on desertion and draft-dodging, which was considerable. An estimated 90,000 went to Canada alone; total AWOL/desertion is estimated by the Pentagon at 1/5 million!

That was then, though, and this is now. What's the desertion rate to Canada today? If you don't skim the article too quickly you'll learn that it's...two. Including Hinzman. In a two-million strong armed force.

Read farther along and you'll see:
Hinzman and the others are a very small group ? one that isn't expected to grow significantly. In fact, Pentagon figures show that the desertion rates have dropped over the past three years.

"Most of our soldiers want to serve. They volunteered for this," Army spokeswoman Andrea Takash said.
Which is the whole point I want to make. Aside from issues of false sympathy, the article is comparing apples and oranges. The Vietnam era Army was a draft force. Today's Army is all-volunteeer, which changes things pretty dramatically. I don't have any sympathy for someone who signs up for the Army, goes through months of training, and is then surprised to find out they may have to kill someone! Or someone like Hinzman who claims his only duty is to the Constitution, forgetting he also has a duty to his superior and commanding officers, and the civilian politicians who set the policy and orders they must follow.

The article is a slight bit of deception and a lot of muddle that blurs fairly clear issues. He signed on to do a job, one that a lot of other folks depended on him to do, and then bailed. If Hinzman won't face the consequences of his actions, preferring to run from them, but proclaims otherwise, I have no room for him. If Canada wants that kind of man, they can have him.

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