US MILITARY DESERTION RATE HIGHEST SINCE 1980:
After six years of the war in Iraq, with no end in sight, US soldiers are deserting at a rate not seen since 1980. Since the invasion in 2003 US Army desertions have increased 80%. Since last year the rate has jumped 42%. This is still lower than during Vietnam years when a draft was in effect, but the rate has steadily increased over the past fours years. In the fiscal year ending September 30th 2007 4,698 US Army soldiers deserted as compared to 3,301 last year. The Army bears the brunt of the war in Iraq, enduring increasingly long tours of duty in a war that is becoming more and more unpopular as 'victory", however that might be defined, receded further into an indefinite future. In addition to outright desertion soldiers can get out of the Army in other ways ie
*being unable to meet physical fitness requirements (the old "shoot yourself in the foot" tactic)
*being found unable to adapt to the military (this may be the most painful of all as prison is a more likely result)
*declaring that they are gay, and being discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Other branches of the US military, the Navy, Marine Corps and Airforce, have either seen the numbers of deserters decline or remain steady. When soldiers do desert from the Army there is little effort to search them down, and if they are caught some are allowed to return to their units while others are given dishonourable discharges. Actual prosecutions are rare.
Unlike during the Vietnam War US soldiers who desert may not find refuge in Canada. This week the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Army deserters Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughes were not entitled to refugee status in Canada despite their argument that the US invasion of Iraq was illegal. The full text of the decision can be seen at http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/index.html . Despite this setback Canadian supporters of deserters from the American forces continue their efforts to provide help. Demonstrations were held in numerous cities in Ontario and BC yesterday to protest the ruling. The War Resisters' Support Campaign intends to continue their efforts to change the official policy. Their website gives details of their effort as well as general information on the issue. They have also initiated a petition to the federal government asking that deserters be allowed to stay in Canada. You can access and sign this petition at http://www.PetitionOnline.com/resister/petition.html . In these efforts they may have the support of the average Canadian citizen. I recent poll found that 64% of people in Ontario want the government to allow war resisters to stay in Canada.
In the USA there are also a number of organizations devoted to helping soldiers who desert from the military. The most prominent is the G.I. Rights Hotline that offers advice for people caught in the situation of not wanting to participate in the present illegal war. More information about the struggle for soldiers to follow their consciences can also be found at sites such as the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, Counter-Recruitment.Org and the Iraq Veterans Against the War.