Thursday, December 23, 2004

Sixty years ago today, Dwight Eisenhower confirmed the death sentence of Private Eddie Slovik, making him the only American executed for desertion during World War 2, and the first since the American Civil War for same. There have been none since.

Eddie Slovik was a ne'er-do-well. He was involved in petty-theft, breaking and entering and disturbing the peace. He spent time in reform school for stealing candy, cigarettes and some cash from the drug-store he worked at. After reform school, he went back to prison for auto-theft.

In 1942 he got a job, got married and appeared to be settling down. 4-F in the draft due to his prison record, it looked like maybe the settled life would continue for Eddie Slovik.

His luck didn't last. Due to manpower shortages and the need for replacements, his draft status was re-classified 1-A at the end of 1943 and he was inducted into the US Army. Bad timing for a guy who had trouble following society's rules. Two things worked against Slovik - he was familiar with prison life and running afoul of the law...and he didn't want to fight.

He reportedly didn't want anything to do with guns and had to be walked through grenade training by his instructors.

When he got to France, he "became separated" from his replacement group making their way to join the 28th Division at the front and spent about six weeks with a Canadian Rifle Company before being turned over by them to officers of the 28th. He was gone again within hours, turning himself in to the authorities in Belgium.

A lot of guys would have been afraid to desert. They would have feared the label of dishonor and the possible jail consequences. But not Eddie Slovik. A guy who'd been in and out of jail as he had wasn't afraid of consequences, and certainly not of being labeled by society as "dishonorable." During training, he had written to his wife:

You are sick darling, but what am I going to do? Oh, darling, I don't know what to do to be with you again. I am so dam sick and tired of this place. I feel like going AWOL. I'm sorry I didn't go to jail for six months, then I know you could come to see me anytime you wanted to.

During the war, 21,049 soldiers were sentenced for desertion, 49 of them to death. Only Slovik was executed. He was the wrong guy, making the wrong choices at the wrong time.

He signed a confession in which he insisted that he would leave again if forced to go back. He was offered, to the last moment, the chance to avoid trial if he'd just re-join his unit. He opted for trial, assuming he'd be sent to prison. He assumed wrong.

At the time of his final desertion, the problem of men leaving their posts, or suffering from self-inflicted wounds to avoid combat was a growing one in Europe. The 28th was about to engage in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest - a meat-grinder of a debacle in which many, many boys who did not do as Slovik did found their end. The quantity of mercy for a guy brazenly looking for the "easy" way out was becoming decidedly thin.

He was sentenced to death by a military court. The trial took an hour and forty minutes. The sentence was decided by secret ballot and voted on three times. It was a unanimous decision at each vote.

More bad timing for Slovik. By the time his final appeal came before Eisenhower, sixty years ago today, the Battle of the Bulge was in full swing, and thousands of young men who had stayed to fight were being overrun and mowed-down. According to Stephen Ambrose, "Eisenhower never backed away from his decision. He thought the case about as clear-cut as one could get."

As it was. At first they thought they might have trouble finding a firing-squad. They need not have worried. According to two of the soldiers who performed the duty:

Two members of the firing squad later summarized what many front-line soldiers thought about the execution of Eddie Slovik. One reportedly declared: "I got no sympathy for the sonofabitch! He deserted us, didn't he? He didn't give a damn how many of us got the hell shot out of us, why should we care for him?" The other soldier said, "I personally figured that Slovik was a no-good, and that what he had done was as bad as murder."

He was executed on January 31 and buried, along with 94 other American Soldiers in a special, secret cemetery in France set aside for those shot for rape and murder. Graves were marked only with numbers - no names. His wife spent the rest of her life trying to clear his name, but to no avail. Not until 1987 did an interested party finally succeed in having his remains removed and placed next to Slovik's wife in their final resting place in a Michigan cemetery.

The reason I bring this up, though, is to point out the basic decency of America when compared to our enemies - even an America at war. Ambrose points out:

...whatever the merits, it helps put the Slovik execution in some perspective to mention that during the course of the eleven-month campaign in Northwest Europe, when Eisenhower had one deserter put to death, Hitler had 50,000 executed for desertion or cowardice.

Imagine the difference in character between an army that 's cold enough to reward failure and human frailty routinely with death, and one that agonizes over the fate of one trooper. Why would men, treated mercilessly themselves, treat occupied people any better? It's no wonder that the Germans who looked to surrender ran west instead of east - Stalin treating his men hardly better than Hitler treated his.

After all, how could an army that fails to recognize the humanity in its own, be expected to recognize it in anyone else? And that is, in the end, another of democracy's strengths, a source of democratic nations' basic goodness - each individual and their family is recognized as possessing value - an individual that serves by consent of himself in cooperation with his fellows. No dictator could ever hope to have as strong a fighting force...or one that fights as humanely.

Today our armed forces agonize over whether every single soldier has the proper body-armor and safe vehicles. Our own forces investigate their own abuses, worry over whether a hood over a dangerous prisoner is a violation of their rights, an enlisted man can publicly question the Secretary of Defense and not fear retribution and it takes them over a year to bring a soldier accused of murdering his fellows to trial.

Our enemies recruit children, care nothing of whether they slaughter their fellow Arabs and Muslims nor how many innocents they murder and aspire to suicide as the only sure way of meeting God.

To whom will nations turn?


History Channel

The Execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik

Eddie Slovik

The Sad Story of Private Eddie Slovik

Wikipedia: Eddie Slovik

Cemetery Project

Citizen Soldiers - Criminals and Deserters

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Treating Our Own.

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I had meant to note that yesterday marked 63 years since the execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik. I thought I'd take the opportunity delve back into the archives and re-run the essay I wrote on the subject a little over... Read More


You should post this on

Thanks, but I don't really know anything about posting over there.

This was not one of President Eisenhower's best decision along with his extramarital affair with his WW2 US Army driver Kay Summersby(Anatomy of a divorce @ ), Open Skies of the 1950s, and remarks regarding the dangers of the US military industrial complex. The US Military Industrial Complex IS more powerful now than during the Eisenhower Administration. The SLOVIK execution decision to stand, went out of the realm of conviction-into-intolerance. Keep in mind that not everyone is a George S. Patton, Jr. I would had been equaly a coward as Pvt. Slovak. Study President U.S. Grant, Thank you for this site.

I liked your article. I dont believe anyone wants war...but sometimes war is invevitable. Tyrants and terrorists dont see the world the way we do. They dont care about civil liberties or humane treatment. We cannot use our narrow vision because they dont have the same vision we do. We are the enemy and must be destroyed. We are the infidel and zero tolerance is their protocol.

For these reasons, I cannot understand why we give these terrorists and insurgents more rights than we give our own people. Why does Sadaam Husseing get a trial and lawyers? Why do we treat them as if they deserve justice? They do not and we should execute direct retribution. They should be made to understand that America will not tolerate them crossing our lines.

If we show compassion to the terrorists, trust me, they will take advantage of it and laugh. I know this because I was raised in the Middle East and spent 6 years as a U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent. I grew up with people who thought like this.

It is unfortanate that we live in a world such as this, but this is the reality. I am a peaceful loving person, but I love my country and I believe that this country will not last much longer if we keep pussyfooting around and giving our enemies due process.

Thank you!

I was told that private Eddie Slovak and his wife lived on Donnelly Street in Garden City, Michigan when he was excuted. Could you confirm this?

As an Army Infantry Replacement Rifleman posted to Germany in the spring of 1945, I still lose sleep over this ritualized human sacrifice, the US Army's most shameful official act. Ike was supposedly covinced to approve this by his staff as a measure to prevent desertions at that critical time, but if that was the case, why was it mostly kept secret? Was the 28th Division the only one with a desertion problem? The SOP for WWII firing squad executions, which I obtained from the Superintendent of Documents refers to the "ceremony", which if completely followed has the prisoner led in with a band playing "March of the Dead"... after completion of the "ceremony" the band marches out, playing a "lively tune". Unbelievable!! The SOP was signed by General George C. Marshall. Thankfully, they at least did not do that (the marching band) with Eddie. He actually never deserted, only threatened to do so, not a good thing of course, but he only went AWOL for one day, then turned himself in with note saying he had deserted then and also earlier, when he was with the Canadians. But even then, he was serving the military..

There is something in you writing that appears untrustworthy and uncaring, so I will only referecne your work to speak directly to you. Some sixty years after the fact, you, lead your readers to believe, that you, have considerable knowledge of the mental capacity of Slovik. If you were a "caring" person, you would be advocating for the safety of the brave young women and men who put their lives on the line for people like you. Not, as you do, advocate for those who put brave young men and women at risk, by re-classifying and "inducting" mentally handicapped people.
I am certain (positive) that The President of the United States of America (Chief) would not want, a person like you defending his or her honor (actions) by drawing comparsions to Hitler.
Think before you babble! Shame on you...!

Eddik Slovie

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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