August 01, 2008
No longer a hippie haven....
AWOL in Canada
July 11, 2008; Page A14
If you want to desert from the U.S. military, you will soon have to find a different refuge than Canada. Ottawa's government has decided to send American deserters back to the U.S. for possible court martial and dishonorable discharge, and Americans should be grateful.
The issue has come to a head over the agitation of Corey Glass, a 25-year-old sergeant in the California National Guard. He's lived in Canada since 2006 after serving in Iraq, and he was facing deportation after failing to leave Canada. Activists and veterans gathered Wednesday at 14 Canadian consulates in the U.S. to protest Canada's decision to deport him, though in the end he was granted a stay of deportation pending a court hearing. ABC News has since reported that Mr. Glass was discharged after he went AWOL in 2006, and is not now considered to be a deserter. But in any case he clearly doesn't want to return to his native land.
The Pentagon defines a deserter as a member of the Armed Forces who has been away without leave for 30 consecutive days or more, or has sought asylum in a foreign country. Since 2003, there have been 15,718 Army soldiers, 4,957 Marines, 9,037 Navy sailors and 177 Air Force personnel reported as active duty deserters. The number living in Canada is unknown, but earlier this year the New York Times cited the War Resisters Support Campaign estimate of more than 200.
Canada was a popular refuge for deserters during Vietnam, and last month the House of Commons voted 137-110 to allow "conscientious objectors... to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada." So give Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government credit for ignoring that nonbinding display of anti-Bush Administration sentiment and starting to deport American deserters as early as this month.
Vietnam-era draft dodgers were breaking the law, but at least they could claim to be avoiding conscription. Today's U.S. soldiers and reserves are volunteers, who enlist knowing full well that they could be sent overseas and into combat. Military recruiters don't hide this detail. In return for their service, volunteers often get substantial education and other benefits. Fulfilling their service tour is part of the deal.
War is hell, and no doubt some of these deserters are responding to the trauma of their experience. But a military can't succeed in its mission if soldiers can decide on their own when and whether to obey orders. The Army officially describes desertion or going AWOL as "crimes that not only affect the soldier, but in a time of war, put other soldiers' lives at risk. Not only do these crimes go against Army values, they degrade unit readiness." This is why, in previous eras, deserters were simply shot.
The Harper government's decision to send the Yanks home shows respect for the U.S. military and our rule of law. It also honors those Canadians who are serving, and dying, as part of the NATO force in Afghanistan. American deserters need to return and face their responsibilities.
Copyright 2008 - The Wall Street Journal