AWOL means Absent Without Leave. During World War One, American and British soldiers sometimes called it "French Leave," suggesting it was a more common practice among French troops.
In the US military, there is a specified number of days in which the missing soldier, sailor or marine is guilty of this fairly routine crime, with a wide range of light punishments. A soldier who voluntarily returns to military control while he or she was just AWOL -- perhaps on an extended drunken bender -- can get through the routine punishments that are most likely to follow.
But remaining outside military control beyond this period of time renders the soldier, sailor, marine or Air Force member a deserter -- in all militaries at all times, particularly during times of war, the most serious of crimes. In wartimes not very long ago, desertion was routinely punished by execution. In all times, the deserter is perceived as an outlaw to all society, a pariah, someone who has wandered beyond the Pale.
And yet every war spews its deserters. Wars are not waged democratically even in a democracy, but deserters vote against the war with their feet.
There is also the serious military crime of Missing Shipment. When a soldier fails to be at the dock or the airfield when his unit deploys to a combat zone, he or she can expect a serious and unpleasant court martial. Military service ordinarily demands fairly little of the individual soldier, but you don't want to Miss The Boat; that's a Major Fuckup.
Desertion rates are an indicator of the state of military morale and support of a particular war by the serving troops. Desertion rarely begins as a purely political statement, although in the last few years of Vietnam, largely political desertions became more and more common. While Canada made itself a haven for Americans evading military conscription, desertion was quite a different legal matter, and Sweden -- politically and diplomatically hostile to America's role in Vietnam -- granted its hospitality to American servicemen who deserted during the Vietnam war.
Note here, however, the Army's apparent willingness to quickly discharge the noisy deserter and get the whole mess over with quickly. Desertion is a public headache the military wishes not to dwell on. This may be an indicator the military has a lot of deserters.
During the Iraq war when US combat forces have been stretched nearly to the breaking point, the frequency of combat rotation leads to the breakup of marriages and families, exhaustion, increases in alcoholism, and inevitably an increase in hard drug use, despite the US military's program of drug testing. Officially, the military does everything it can to downplay and underpublicize these consequences of an unpopular war and a military stretched thin, and sent to wage a war far different from the wars it trained for or is well equipped to fight. Rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- "shell shock" and "combat fatigue" from earlier wars -- are particularly high, yet the US military itself has been criticized for its unwillingness to recognize or treat the high incidence of PTSD.
A combat soldier's primary psychological loyalty is to the other soldiers in his small combat unit, platoon or company. During wartime, desertion is a severe blow to unit morale.
The Democracy Now! interview that follows the AP story has the flavor of Vietnam-era antiwar efforts. The intro suggests US military desertion to Canada has become common, and that there are private political American support programs for deserters to Canada.
The Associated Press
Tuesday 3 October 2006
Surrenders in Kentucky
by BRETT BARROUQUERE
RADCLIFF, Kentucky -- An Army soldier who fled to Canada rather than redeploy to Iraq surrendered Tuesday to military officials after asking for leniency.
Specialist [no class provided] Darrell Anderson, 24, said he deserted the Army last year because he could no longer fight in what he believes is an illegal war.
"I feel that by resisting I made up for the things I did in Iraq," Anderson said during a press briefing shortly before he turned himself in at nearby Fort Knox. "I feel I made up for the sins I committed in this war."
Anderson, of Lexington, returned to the United States from Canada on Saturday. He could face a charge of desertion.
Attorney Jim Sennerty of Chicago said Anderson will be interviewed by military investigators, given a uniform and assigned to a barracks while his case is processed. In three to five days, he will be given a discharge of other than honorable. At that point, he should be free from his military commitment and face no other charges, Sennerty said.
"He's not a criminal," Sennerty said.
Fort Knox public affairs officer Connie Schaffery has said officers had been in touch with Anderson but she couldn't say what would happen until after he surrendered.
Anderson joined the Army in January 2003 and went to Iraq a year later with the 1st Armored Division. He was wounded and received a Purple Heart in 2004.
He fled to Canada in early 2005 after receiving orders to return for a second tour of duty in Iraq, becoming a highly visible war critic and spokesman for Canadian peace groups.
Anderson's mother, Anita Dennis, said the military failed in its responsibility to take care of her son after he returned from war.
"They treated his physical wounds, but they left his emotional wounds untreated," Dennis said through tears. Anderson said he suffered from nightmares and was unable to get the treatment he needed by the time he was ordered to redeploy.
- 30 -
© 2006 The Associated Press
Tuesday 3 October 2006
War Resister Darrell Anderson
Returns From Canada
to Face Possible Charges
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Specialist Darrell Anderson came back from Iraq nearly two years ago with a Purple Heart and an order for a second deployment. Instead, he fled to Canada where he's been until this week. Specialist Anderson returned to the United States where he could face charges. He'll be turning himself in to the military later today. He joins us on the line from Lexington, Kentucky. [includes rush transcript] Army Medic Agustin Aguayo, Specialist Mark Wilkerson, Specialist Suzanne Swift, Lt. Ehren Watada, and Sgt. Ricky Clousing. Those are just some the American service members we have interviewed recently who are refusing deployments to Iraq. Well today, we bring you a new voice. Specialist Darrell Anderson came back from Iraq nearly two years ago with a Purple Heart and an order for a second deployment. Instead, he fled to Canada where he's been until this week. Specialist Anderson returned to the United States where he could face charges. He'll be turning himself in to the military later today. He joins us on the line from Lexington, Kentucky.
* Spc. Darrell Anderson, Purple Heart veteran of the Iraq war. Fled to Canada in January of 2005 and returned just this week. He is turning himself in to the military today.
This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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AMY GOODMAN: Today, we bring you a new voice. Private Darrell Anderson came back from Iraq nearly two years ago with a Purple Heart and an order for a second deployment. Instead, he fled to Canada, where he’s been until this week. Private Anderson returned to the United States, where he could face charges. He’ll be turning himself in to the military later today. He joins us from Lexington, Kentucky. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
DARRELL ANDERSON: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us why you’re turning yourself in today?
DARRELL ANDERSON: Basically it was -- I just couldn't live up in Canada no more without work permits and healthcare and the support of my family, while dealing with post-traumatic stress from Iraq and everything. And also I feel that I want to put on my uniform and stand on a military base and resist the war, because it was something that I wasn’t strong enough to do before.
AMY GOODMAN: Why don't you tell us when you went to Iraq, when you returned, and why you decided not to go back?
DARRELL ANDERSON: Well, it was just -- as soon as I got to Iraq, it was obvious that everything we were doing there was wrong, and there was no justification of it. And I believe that if I returned to Iraq and followed military procedures and orders, that there is no way around it: I would eventually kill innocent people. And I believed it was my human right to choose not to do so, and it was my military duty to resist this war.
AMY GOODMAN: Where were you in Iraq, and at what point when you went to Iraq did you decide that you felt you couldn’t fight there anymore?
DARRELL ANDERSON: I arrived in Baghdad in January of ’04, and it was in April of ’04, when I was ordered to open fire on a car of innocent civilians, and I refused. And my superiors told me that it was military procedures, if a car comes though a traffic stop, you are ordered to open fire. And I just didn’t agree with our procedures we were doing there, ’cause if I followed them I would be killing innocent people.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened?
DARRELL ANDERSON: I refused. They told me if I refused again, I’d be punished. But I was still a fresh troop on the ground, so no action was taken. And just events like that just kept occurring, until one day I saw a couple of my fellow soldiers get hit, and I pulled my trigger while pointing it at an innocent child. But my weapon was on safe, and then I realized what I was doing, and I just realized that no matter how good or [inaudible] you believe you are, when you’re there, that you’re eventually -- you know, the evil in this is going to take over, and you’re going to kill people.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Private Darrell Anderson, you came back to the United States. You were deployed again. How did you escape to Canada?
DARRELL ANDERSON: Actually, I’m Specialist Anderson, I was a Specialist in the U.S. Army. It just -- it came that -- at the time I went AWOL there was no support in the U.S. There wasn’t that big of antiwar movements, and I couldn’t get support from the military to deal with the nightmares, and the only place I found support was in Canada through the War Resisters’ Support Campaign [Campagne d'appui aux résistantEs à la guerre]. And that was pretty much the only thing that saved my life at the time, with all the stuff I was going through.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you leave your base to even go to Canada?
DARRELL ANDERSON: Oh, I was home for Christmas leave in Kentucky from Germany. And it was then that I decided with my family that going to Canada was our best option. My family drove me to Canada through the night. So I was actually in Canada before I was even AWOL from the Army.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did you live in Canada over this last year and a half?
DARRELL ANDERSON: Working under the table, cheap labor, construction, cooking, just scraping by with -- I also had support from the Campaign up there. I took a -- I went to a psychiatrist a few times, but I just couldn’t afford the transportation to get there anymore. And so, I wasn’t living very well, but I had my freedom for the time I was there.
AMY GOODMAN: Darrell Anderson, you were wounded yourself in Iraq. Describe what happened.
DARRELL ANDERSON: It was -- we were in a howitzer and one of my fellow soldiers took shrapnel from an RPG, and I took his place on top of the vehicle through a hatch, and it was like an hour or so later that two IEDs blew up, and I took shrapnel on my side. And I felt the burning, and I pulled the piece of metal out, and I saw the blood. And just like the guy before me, I fell back into the vehicle, taking all my gear off, you know, asking my fellow soldiers if I’m going to die, am I going to be okay? And once they decided -- the sergeant said, "It didn’t go in. You’re going to be okay." And he went to take my place, and I grabbed him by his gear, and I pulled him down, and I went back up and stood my ground after I had been hit.
AMY GOODMAN: You won a Purple Heart for this.
DARRELL ANDERSON: Yes. I was awarded a Purple Heart when we returned to Germany. Some major pinned it on me, and there was a big ceremony and stuff like that. But it didn’t really mean much, ’cause the same guy that got hit the same day I did who was severely injured, he was up in his room, isolated from all the other soldiers, and they’re putting me on display, because I was injured, but I was able to continue. So, as soon as they gave me my Purple Heart, it really didn’t mean anything to me, ’cause they weren’t giving my friend his Purple Heart ’cause he was getting kicked out of the military.
AMY GOODMAN: So what happens to you today?
DARRELL ANDERSON: I turn myself in. I make my last stance, and I take whatever’s coming. The last couple of months I believed I was going to do a year or two in jail on my return, but through my lawyer talking to Fort Knox, they said that they’re going to release me in three to five days and not court-martial me and everything. So, right now, I’m kind of just hoping they stay to their word and I can get out in a week and start more counseling. But I don't know exactly what’s going to happen ’cause the military is known for telling you one thing and doing another.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. And we will continue to follow your case.
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