Tuesday, November 14, 2006

AWOL: Maybe the right choice

Category: Issue 4

One day in 1990 I got into an argument with the Drama teacher, Mr. Murphy, at my high school. The odd part of this is that I wasn’t a Drama student nor was I in a Drama class. The last class of the day, for me, was World History. The Drama teacher didn’t have a class in the final session of the day so he sat in on the World History class. Now you know how our paths crossed.

The Drama teacher was a former hippie turned educator and I was a testosterone filled teenager who had just enlisted in the U.S. Army. I was due to ship out for basic training within two months of the end of the school year, which itself was just a couple of months away.

At the time we were studying the Vietnam war. In our class discussions the topic of soldiers that went AWOL and headed to Canada during the war came up. I labeled these soldiers as deserters and cowards that didn’t deserve our sympathy or support. As far as I was concerned they could stay in Canada or go to hell. Either one was fine with me. The Drama teacher was old enough to have been in the age range of the draft during the last years of the war and he took exception to my views. He saw the war as illegal and immoral. He was believed the war was “wrong” and that our soldiers should not have been there and we should show full support for those that stood up for what they believed in by going to Canada.

That was the only time I can remember yelling at a teacher and not getting in trouble for it. He and I had a shouting match. He was screaming about morals and crimes while I was screaming about duty and honor. Looking back on it now I believe he and I provided a rather good example of arguments that took place around the U.S. during the war in Vietnam. Neither one of us was willing to give an inch to the other. We both knew we were right and that the other was fool for not understanding that.

Things have changed in the last sixteen years. I haven’t seen Mr. Murphy since I graduated and I don’t know if he has retired or if he is still teaching. I did my time in the Army and was even in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War. I still feel that America’s involvement in the first Gulf War was justified. I don’t agree with everything we did there though, but that’s another topic for another day.

Now we, America, are back for Gulf War II and I find myself filling the role of the Drama teacher. When our troops first moved into Iraq to remove president Hussein from power the government had my full support. Had we left once he was removed I would be a happy guy. The problem was that we didn’t leave. We’re still there and we’re fighting different enemies. Iraq is on the verge of exploding into a civil war over religious differences and our troops are still there dying every day. We once again have soldiers leaving their units and running to Canada seeing refugee status.

I see things differently today. Those soldiers that go to the war are doing what they feel they must do and I support them for that. Those soldiers that go to Canada are doing what they feel they must do and I support them for that. Soldiers that go AWOL because they feel the war is wrong are viewed as criminals. I no longer believe in this war and I don’t believe my government has been completely honest with me.

I understand what Mr. Murphy felt now. I no longer see him as wrong but I don’t see him as right either. The same applies to me. He and I had different views for different reasons. It was due to our inability to try to see the other person’s view point that we did not make any progress. Although he and I would be on the same page today there are a lot of people out there who would argue with us.

The biggest problem for me is trying to figure out how to deal with these soldiers that go AWOL. I understand their decision and I don’t want to have them jailed or exiled for it but I do feel that some form of punishment is needed though.

When you enlist in the military you do so with the knowledge that should there be a war you will be expected to go. At no point is it said “If there is a war you must go, unless you don’t agree with it. Then you can sit that war out and wait for the next one.” It is asked of you at your time of enlistment if you understand you will be required to go to war should one happen. If you object at that point the military will not take you. I think those soldiers that decide to leave the military because they object to the war should be allowed to do so. I also think the discharge should be less than honorable and any enlistment bonuses repaid because they did not meet their obligation.

But what happens when it’s not the soldier’s fault? Consider a news report done by ABC News recently that shows where recruiters were caught lying to potential recruits. This would be a hard case to prove for a soldier that has already gone through training and reached a duty assignment. If a soldier could prove he or she was lied to by the recruiter then I feel they should be allowed an honorable discharge with no penalty at all.

I believe that this war is wrong and we need to get our troops out. Until we do more and more will go AWOL. Until we do more and more will die each day.

Posted by thetraveler on 11/14 at 12:19 AM | Permalink
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