'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Jeremy Hinzman and Christmas deserters 

Don't know how long it's been up, but it's come to my attention that Iraq War conscientious objector Jeremy Hinzman has a spiffy website that you might want to keep tabs on if you're interested in his story.

The rightwing has been all atwitter with Hinzman bashing lately -- I think, Limbaugh's been mentioning him -- harping on the fact that he volunteered and that deserting is more serious than mere draft-dodging, etc. This Toronto Sun op-ed by Peter Worthington is representative of the genre and more palatable to me than linking to some drivel by Michele Malkin.

Here's Gary Reid in Canada Free Press responding to Worthington's piece with some holiday cheer:

Mr. Worthington tried to draw distinctions between a conscript army and a volunteer one. In his view, desertions from a conscript army are understandable (forgiveable?). He thinks deserters are worse than draft dodgers. He claims that deserters who do so before combat are worse than ones who do it after being worn down in combat. He believes that society generally detests deserters.

[ ... ]

Surely, Worthington is wrong about the merits of desertion. A soldier who deserts his unit in the heat of Fallujah has to be a more egregious offender than one who simply does not show up for the flight to Iraq. From a legal standpoint, there is no difference between a conscript deserter and a volunteer deserter. And, while deserters are treated more harshly than draft dodgers there is a practical reason for that. If every soldier did what Jeremy Hinzman did, there would be no more war, therefore no need for an officer corps, and what a disaster that would be.

At this time of year, it is instructive to reflect on the greatest military desertion in history. Two days before Christmas, 1914, five months into a war that was supposed to be over by then, and after one million soldiers had died, a German infantry company lobbed a wrapped chocolate cake across no-man's land into British trenches. Along with the cake was a request for a one-hour ceasefire to celebrate a German Captain's birthday. The British agreed, then stood up and applauded at the appointed hour upon hearing the Happy Birthday song.. When they saw the whole German line lit up with Christmas trees, they abandoned their rifles and machine guns and crossed over to wish the Germans a Merry Christmas. The Germans did the same. By the tens of thousands they all stood together in the mud and blood of no-man's land and sang Christmas carols, traded cakes and sweets for cigarettes, and played pick-up ball games.

It took the panicked commanding officers days to regain control and get the armies back to fighting. Another seven million soldiers died before the armistice in 1918. The deserters had ended the war four years earlier, but deserters are a bad lot, so it didn't count.

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