Honor the Deserter

deserterIn many parts of the world, statues have been erected commemorating the work of soldiers. According to these memorials, men and women in uniform are respected and admired for their courage and devotion to their country, at great personal sacrifice to themselves, often giving their lives for their beliefs in these lofty ideals.

However, the truth of the matter isn’t so pretty; wars are started by corporate profiteers, the goal of whom is always to make money. Controlling governments, they cause those governments to send young, idealistic and sometimes just desperate young men and women to fight an invented enemy, to assure profitable trade routes, access to coveted raw materials, or new markets for their goods.

Yet not all young people heed the disingenuous call to ‘serve’ country. They refuse or, after joining or being drafted, depart. Desertion has almost universally been viewed through the skewed lens of war-makers, as indicating either cowardice or treachery, or both. The resister or deserter, these war profiteers claim, put his/her own physical safety above the good of the nation.  Or perhaps he/she conspires with the ‘enemy’ (always defined by the war-maker), to thwart all that is just and good.

All countries have a long history of desertion from their militaries. In Israel today, for example, the phenomenon of shiministim is growing. This is the term that indicates the refusal of young Israelis, who are mandated by law to participate in the Israeli army, to do so. They recognize the illegality and brutality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and refuse to participate in it.

In the United States, tens of thousands of young people who enlisted in the military have departed illegally since the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. They have recognized the illegality of U.S. actions in those nations, understand that these imperial adventures have nothing to do with U.S. security, and refuse to risk their lives for corporate profiteers.

Where are the statues to these brave young men and women? The United Kingdom has such a monument, the ‘Shot at Dawn’ statue, commemorating World War I deserters, and Austria has one for soldiers who deserted from the Nazi army. Germany has seven such monuments.

deserter2Yet it is almost impossible to go to any public park in most of the world’s cities without seeing a monument to war.  Why are there not more monuments to those who seek to uphold the peace, or at least refuse to kill and die for corporate profits?

To move beyond war we must move beyond the blind admiration for those who wage it. We must respect, admire and recognize the courage of those who refuse to partake of war, and of those who, once participants, have come to recognize it for what it is, and who refuse any further participation.


–Thanks for the above to Robert Fantina, author of Desertion and the American Soldier, 1776-2006


Here’s a project to honor all peace makers.

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