Quoth The Craven

A while ago, I mentioned that for some reason Joel Schwartzberg of the PBS “news” show NOW had decided that I simply couldn’t live without getting e-mailed details on each and every program before they aired. Last time, he was touting their “examination” into ways the Republicans were trying to deny people their right to vote.

That public drubbing didn’t do a damned bit of good, though, ‘cuz he keeps sending me them. And yesterday, he sent me one that made me almost throw up in my mouth a little:

Please see below long and short listings for NOW #333

Short listing: 8.24.07
Soldiers against the war: They went to Iraq, but decided the war was wrong. Next on NOW

Long Listing: 8.24.07
Choosing to go to war is both a government’s decision and one made by individual enlistees. But changing your mind once you’re in the army is a risky decision with serious consequences. On Friday, August 24 (check your local listings), we talk to two soldiers who went AWOL and
eventually left the Army, but who took very different paths. NOW captures the moment when one man turns himself in, and when another applies for refugee status in Canada, becoming one of the 20,000 soldiers who have deserted the army since the War in Iraq began. Each describes what drove him to follow his conscience over his call to duty, and what penalties and criticism were endured as a result.

“I see things differently having lived through the experience,” former army medic Agustin Aguayo tells NOW. “When I returned from Iraq, after much reflection I knew deep within me I could never go back.”

The NOW website at www.pbs.org/now will offer more insight into the case made by conscientious objectors, as well as more stories of desertion in the ranks.

Joel Schwartzberg

In the old days, desertion in time of war could earn one a trip in front of a firing squad. We live in a more enlightened time, however, and that sort of thing wouldn’t fly too well.

A while ago, I talked about Dr. Mary Hanna, an Army doctor who — just as she was finishing her training and about to become a fully certified anesthesiologist, decided that she was a “conscientious objector” and could not in any way support the military — not even by treating wounded soldiers here in the United States. In the end, the Army let her go with a promise to repay her debt.

My suggestion was a bit harsher — that Dr. Hanna return all the pay she had accepted from the Army, repay the money they Army had spent on her education, and then pay that same amount again as “punitive damages,” as well as to pay for her replacement until her educational money can be used to train another doctor. I also suggested she should be banned from accepting any government money, funding, grants, or payments.

I think that’s a decent starting point. Those who are convicted of desertion today should serve the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment for the remainder of their term of service.
  • Restitution of all pay received prior to their service in war.
  • Loss of right to vote.
  • Lifelong forfeit of any government loans, grants, payments, salary, or any other form of financial assistance or compensation.

I don’t care about your position on the war or not. The principle is clear here: these people willingly signed a contract and made a commitment to our nation, and now they are running out on that deal. No one gets into the military unless they want to be there — we haven’t had a draft in over 30 years — and that’s a huge commitment.

The best definition I’ve ever read of “freedom” was from David Gerrold’s “A Matter For Men:” “Freedom is being responsible for your actions.”

These people that, I’m fairly comfortable in predicting, NOW will portray in as sympathetic light as they can, freely made their choices to commit several years to the United States armed forces. In return, they were given certain compensations and considerations by the United States. Now, they are freely choosing to renege on that commitment, and there should be very severe penalties for that action — not gushings of pity and softball treatment by a news program paid for by the same taxpayers who are being cheated out of these people’s agreed-upon service.

Joel (and I’m fairly comfortable in assuming you’ll read this, especially since I’m going to e-mail you a note about it, and you commented the last time I kicked around your show), if you want an idea for your next story on people in the military who have had it rough, might I suggest you invest a bit of that money of mine you take and look into the story of Specialist Alison K.? Her full name isn’t given, but with her first name, rank, unit, and the details of her experiences certainly ought to make tracking her down no challenge for a news organization of NOW’s caliber.

I realize that she might not exactly fit your ideological bent, but it could be a very compelling piece. And she’s certainly more worthy of the treacly sympathetic portrayal I’m confident your story on the deserters will receive.

Update: Joel just sent me a link to an excerpt from the show. Amazingly enough, I was right. (See the extended version for the video)

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