- "Deserter" redirects here. For other uses, see Deserter (disambiguation)
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (August 2010)|
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning. "Absence Without Leave" (US: AWOL; Commonwealth:AWL) can refer to either desertion or a temporary absence.
Absence without leave 
In the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, military personnel will become AWOL (//; U.S.: Absence Without Leave ) or AWL (pronounced the same; U.K., Canada, and Australia: Absent Without Leave) when they are absent from their post without a valid pass or leave. The United States Marine Corps, United States Navy and United States Coast Guard generally refer to this as Unauthorized Absence, or "UA". Personnel are dropped from their unit rolls after 30 days and then listed as deserters; however, as a matter of U.S. military law, desertion is not measured by time away from the unit, but rather:
- by leaving or remaining absent from their unit, organization, or place of duty, where there has been a determined intent to not return;
- if that intent is determined to be to avoid hazardous duty or shirk contractual obligation;
- if they enlist or accept an appointment in the same or another branch of service without disclosing the fact that they have not been properly separated from current service.
People who are away for more than 30 days but return voluntarily or indicate a credible intent to return may still be considered AWOL. Those who are away for fewer than 30 days but can credibly be shown to have no intent to return (for example, by joining the armed forces of another country) may nevertheless be tried for desertion. In rare occasions, they may be tried for treason if enough evidence is found.
In the United States, before the Civil War, deserters from the Army were flogged; while, after 1861, tattoos or branding were also adopted. The maximum U.S. penalty for desertion in wartime remains death, although this punishment was last applied to Eddie Slovik in 1945. No U.S. serviceman has received more than 24 months imprisonment for desertion or missing movement since the beginning of the post 9-11 era.
A US service member who is AWOL/UA may be punished with non-judicial punishment (NJP), or by Court Martial under Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for repeat or more severe offenses. Many AWOL/UA service members are also given a discharge in lieu of court-martial.
Missing Movement is another term which is used to describe when a member of the armed forces fails to arrive at the appointed time to deploy (or "move out") with their assigned unit, ship, or aircraft; in the United States military, it is a violation of the Article 87 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The offense is similar to absence without leave but can draw more severe punishment.
Failure to Repair, consisting of missing a formation, or failing to appear at an assigned place and time when so ordered. It is a lesser included offense within Article 86 of the UCMJ.
U.S. War of 1812 
The desertion rate for American soldiers in the War of 1812 was 12.7%, according to available service records. Desertion was especially common in 1814, when enlistment bonuses were increased from $16 to $124, inducing many men to desert one unit and enlist in another to get two bonuses.
Mexican–American War, 1846-48 
In the Mexican–American War, high desertion rates were a major problem for the Mexican army, depleting forces on the eve of battle. Most of the soldiers were peasants who had a loyalty to their village and family but not to the generals who conscripted them. Often hungry and ill, never well paid, under-equipped and only partially trained, the soldiers were held in contempt by their officers and had little reason to fight the Americans. Looking for their opportunity, many slipped away from camp to find their way back to their home village.
The desertion rate in the U.S. army was 8.3% (9,200 out of 111,000), compared to 12.7% during the War of 1812 and usual peacetime rates of about 14.8% per year. Many men deserted in order to join another U.S. unit and get a second enlistment bonus. Others deserted because of the miserable conditions in camp, or were using the army to get free transportation to California, where they deserted to join the California gold rush.
Several hundred deserters went over to the Mexican side; nearly all were recent immigrants from Europe with weak ties to the U.S. The most famous group was the Saint Patrick's Battalion, about half of whom were Catholics from Ireland. The Mexicans issued broadsides and leaflets enticing U.S. soldiers with promises of money, land bounties, and officers' commissions. Mexican guerrillas shadowed the U.S. Army, and captured men who took unauthorized leave or fell out of the ranks. The guerrillas coerced these men to join the Mexican ranks—threatening to kill them if they failed to comply. The generous promises proved illusory for most deserters, who risked execution if captured by U.S. forces. About fifty of the San Patricios were tried and hanged following their capture at Churubusco in August 1847.
American Civil War 
The Union Army faced large scale desertions. The total number of Union deserters far exceeded that of the South. This has been partly attributed to southern soldiers fighting a defensive war, on their own ground, rather than an offensive war of invasion, giving the southern soldiers a sense that they were defending their homeland. Through late 1863, the South had more victories than did the North, leading many northern soldiers to believe that the war was a lost cause. In three Northern states alone, desertions exceeded 86,000. New York suffered 44,913 desertions by the war's end, Pennsylvania recorded 24,050, with Ohio reporting desertions at 18,354. These are in addition to desertions faced by the other northern states. The total number of Confederate deserters is estimated to be 103,400.
Desertion was a major factor for the Confederacy in the last two years of the war. According to Weitz (2000), Confederate soldiers fought to defend their families, not a nation. He argues that a hegemonic "planter class" brought Georgia into the war with "little support from non-slaveholders" (p. 12), and the ambivalence of non-slaveholders toward secession, he maintains, was the key to understanding desertion. The privations of the home front and camp life, combined with the terror of battle, undermined the weak attachment of southern soldiers to the Confederacy. For Georgia troops, Sherman's march through their home counties triggered the most desertions.
Adoption of a localist identity caused soldiers to desert as well. When soldiers implemented a local identity, they neglected to think of themselves as Southerners fighting a Southern cause. When they replaced their Southern identity with their previous local identity, they lost their motive to fight and, therefore, deserted the army.
One example of desertion in the Civil War was Confederate soldier Arthur Muntz, who was killed by his fellow soldiers after deserting at First Manassas. In many cases, in the early years of the war, the Confederate Home Guard dealt with deserters. For a time, the Confederate government offered a bounty to be paid for the capture and return of deserters. However as the war progressively got worse for the south, often Home Guard units would deal with desertion as they saw fit, whether that be by execution or imprisonment. The lynching of Bill Sketoe, a Methodist minister from Newton, Alabama who had allegedly deserted the Southern army in late 1864, is a case in point.
In Arkansas, many units deserted completely when rumors spread that local Indians had raided towns and scalped citizens, with the soldiers feeling their place was at home rather than fighting in the war. There were also instances across the southern states where whole units deserted together, banding together and living in the mountains, at times fighting against Union Army regulars if forced to do so, but also raiding civilian farms to obtain food or supplies. Many Confederate units had signed on, initially, for a one year service, and felt completely justified in walking away when they'd reached their breaking point. By the war's end, it was estimated that the Confederacy had lost 103,400 soldiers to desertion.
World War I 
"306 British and Commonwealth soldiers [were] executed for...desertion during World War I," records the Shot at Dawn Memorial. "During the period between August 1914 and March 1920 more than 20,000 servicemen were convicted by courts-martial of offences which carried the death sentence. Only 3,000 of those men were ordered to be put to death and of those just over 10% were executed...."
World War II 
Of the Germans who deserted the Wehrmacht, 15,000 men were executed. In June 1988 the Initiative for the Creation of a Memorial to Deserters came to life in Ulm. A central idea was, "Desertion is not reprehensible, war is". (See also German resistance)
Order No. 270, dated August 16, 1941, was issued by Joseph Stalin. The order required superiors to shoot deserters on the spot. Their family members were subjected to arrest. Order No. 227 directed that each Army must create "blocking detachments" (barrier troops) which would shoot "cowards" and fleeing panicked troops at the rear. The Soviets executed 158,000 soldiers for desertion.
Soviet desertion in the Afghan Civil War 
Many Soviet soldier deserters of the Afghan Civil War explain their reasons for desertion as political and in response to internal disorganization and disillusionment regarding their position in the war. Analyses of desertion rates argue that motivations were far less ideological than individual accounts claim. Desertion rates increased prior to announcements of upcoming operations, and were highest during the summer and winter. Seasonal desertions were probably a response to the harsh weather conditions of the winter and immense field work required in the summer. A significant jump in desertion in 1989 when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan may suggest a higher concern regarding returning home, rather than an overall opposition towards the war itself.
Inter-ethnic explanation for desertion 
In the beginning of the Soviet invasion, the majority of Soviet forces were soldiers of Central Asian republics. The Soviets believed that shared ideologies between Muslim Central Asians and Afghan soldiers would build trust and morale within the army. However, Central Asians’ longstanding historical frustrations with Moscow degraded soldiers’ willingness to fight for the Red Army. As Afghan desertion grew and Soviet opposition was strengthened within Afghanistan, the Soviet plan overtly backfired.
The personal histories of Central Asian ethnic groups – especially between Pastuns, Uzbeks and Tajiks, caused tension within the Soviet military. Non-Russian ethnic groups easily related the situation in Afghanistan to Communist takeover of their own states’ forced induction into the USSR. Ethnic Russians suspected Central Asians of opposition, and fighting within the army was prevalent.
Upon entering Afghanistan, many Central Asians were exposed to a Koran for the first time uninfluenced by Soviet propagandist versions, and felt a stronger connection towards the opposition than their own comrades. Highest rates of desertion were found among Border Troops, ranging from 60-80% during the first year of the Soviet invasion. In these areas, strong ethnic clashes and cultural factors influenced desertion.
As Afghan soldiers continued to desert the Soviet army, a united Islamic Alliance for the Liberation of Afghanistan began to form. Moderates and fundamentalists banded together to oppose Soviet intervention. The Islamic ideology solidified a strong base of opposition by January 1980, overriding ethnic, tribal, geographic and economic differences among Afghans willing to fight the Soviet invasion, which attracted Central Asian deserters. By March 1980, the Soviet army made an executive decision to replace Central Asian troops with the European sectors of the USSR to avoid further religious and ethnic complications, drastically reducing Soviet forces.
Soviet disillusionment upon entering the war 
Soviet soldiers entered the war under the impression that their roles were primarily related to organization of Afghan forces and society. Soviet media portrayed the Soviet intervention as a necessary means of protecting the Communist uprising from outside opposition. Propaganda declared that Soviets were providing aid to villagers and improving Afghanistan by planting trees, improving public buildings and “generally acting as good neighbors”. Upon entering Afghanistan, Soviet soldiers became immediately aware of the falsity of the reported situation.
In major cities, Afghan youth that originally supported the leftist movement soon turned to Soviet oppositional forces for patriotic and religious reasons. The opposition built resistance in cities, calling Soviet soldiers infidels that were forcing an imperialist Communist invasive government on Afghanistan’s people. As Afghan troops continued to abandon the Soviet army to support the mujahideen, they became anti-Russian and antigovernment. Opposition forces emphasized the Soviets’ atheism, demanding support for the Muslim faith from civilians. The hostility shown towards soldiers, who entered the war believing their assistance was requested, grew defensive. The opposition circulated pamphlets within Soviet camps stationed in cities, calling for Afghan freedom from the aggressive Communist influence and a right to establish their own government.
The native Afghan army fell from 90,000 to 30,000 by mid-1980, forcing Soviets into more extreme combative positions. The mujahideen’s widespread presence among Afghan civilians in rural regions made it difficult for Soviet soldiers to distinguish between the civilians they believed they were fighting for and the official opposition. Soldiers that had entered the war with idealistic viewpoints of their roles were quickly disillusioned.
Problems in Soviet army structure & living standards 
The structure of the Soviet army, in comparison to the mujahideen, set the Soviets at a serious fighting disadvantage. While the mujahideen structure was based on kinship and social cohesion, the Soviet army was bureaucratic. Because of this, mujahideen could significantly weaken the Soviet army by the elimination of a field commander or officer. Resistance forces were locally based, more ready to address and mobilize the Afghan population for support. The Soviet army was centrally organized; its regime structure emphasized rank and position, paying less attention to the well-being and effectiveness of its army.
The initial Soviet plan relied on Afghan troops’ support in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. The majority of the Afghan army support crumbled easily as forces lacked strong ideological support for Communism from the beginning.
The Afghan army, comprising 100,000 men before 1978 was reduced to 15,000 within the first year of the Soviet invasion. Of the Afghan troops that remained, many were considered untrustworthy to Soviet troops. Afghans that deserted often took artillery with them, supplying the mujahideen. Soviet troops, to fill Afghan soldiers’ place, were pushed into mountainous tribal regions of the East. Soviet tanks and modern warfare was ineffective in the rural, mountainous regions of Afghanistan. Mujahideen tactics of ambush prevented Soviets from developing successful counterattacks.
In 1980, the Soviet army began to rely on smaller and more cohesive units, a response to mirror mujahideen tactics. Decrease in unit size, while solving organizational issues, promoted field leaders to head more violent and aggressive missions, promoting Soviet desertion. Often, small forces would engage in rapes, looting and general violence beyond what higher ranks ordered, increasing negative sanctions in undesirable locations.
Within the Soviet army, serious drug and alcohol problems significantly reduced the effectiveness of soldiers. Resources became further depleted as soldiers pushed into the mountains, and drugs were rampantly abused and available, often supplied by Afghans. Supplies of heating fuel, wood, and food ran low at bases. Soviet soldiers often resorted to trading weapons and ammunition in exchange for drugs or food. As morale decreased and infections of hepatitis and typhus spread, soldiers became further disheartened.
Soviet deserters to the Mujahideen 
Interviews with Soviet soldier deserters confirm that much of Soviet desertion was in response to widespread Afghan opposition rather than personal aggravation towards the Soviet army. Armed with modern artillery against ill-equipped villagers, Soviet soldiers developed a sense of guilt for the widespread killing of innocent civilians and their unfair artillery advantage. Soviet deserters found support and acceptance within Afghan villages. After entering the mujahideen, many deserters came to recognize the falsity of Soviet propaganda from the beginning. Unable to legitimize the unnecessary killing and mistreatment of the Afghan people, many deserters couldn’t face returning home and justifying their own actions and the unnecessary deaths of comrades. Upon deserting to the mujahideen, soldiers immersed themselves into Afghan culture. Hoping to rectify their position as the enemy, deserters learned the Afghan language and converted to Islam.
Vietnam War 
Approximately 50,000 American servicemen deserted during the Vietnam War. Some of these migrated to Canada. Among those who deserted to Canada were Andy Barrie, host of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio's Metro Morning, and Jack Todd, award-winning sports columnist for the Montreal Gazette. Other countries also gave asylum to deserted U.S. soldiers. For example, Sweden allows asylum for foreign soldiers deserting from war, if the war does not align with the current goals of Swedish foreign policy. Deserted U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were given asylum in Sweden.
Iraq War 
United Kingdom 
United States 
According to the Pentagon, more than 5,500 military personnel deserted in 2003–2004, following the Iraq invasion and occupation. The number had reached about 8,000 by the first quarter of 2006. Another report stated that since 2000, about 40,000 troops from all branches of the military have deserted, also according to the Pentagon. More than half of these served in the US Army. Almost all of these soldiers deserted within the USA. There has only been one reported case of a desertion in Iraq. The Army, Navy and Air Force reported 7,978 desertions in 2001, compared with 3,456 in 2005. The Marine Corps showed 1,603 Marines in desertion status in 2001. That had declined by 148 in 2005.
Legal status of desertion in cases of war crime 
"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."
Although a soldier under direct orders, in battle, is normally not subject to prosecution for war crimes, there is legal language supporting a soldier's refusal to commit such crimes, in military contexts outside of immediate peril: In 1998, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights document called “Conscientious objection to military service, United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77” recognized that “persons [already] performing military service may develop conscientious objections” while performing military service.
This opens the possibility of desertion as a response to cases in which the soldier is required to perform crimes against humanity as part of his mandatory military duty. This principle was tested unsuccessfully in the case of U.S. Army deserter Jeremy Hinzman, which resulted in a Canadian federal court rejecting refugee status to a deserter invoking Nuremberg Article IV.
See also 
- Canada and Iraq War Resisters
- Conscientious Objector
- Decimation (Roman army)
- Draft dodger
- Eddie Slovik
- List of Iraq War Resisters
- Nuremberg Principle IV
- Resistance Inside the Army
- Shot at Dawn Memorial
- War resister
References cited 
- "Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition)" (PDF). Library of Congress. US Government Printing Office. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
- Peter S. Bearman; "Desertion as Localism: Army Unit Solidarity and Group Norms in the U.S Civil War" Social Forces, Vol. 70, 1991
- Ella Lonn; "Desertion during the Civil War" University of Nebraska Press, (1928 (reprinted 1998)
- Aaron W. Marrs; "Desertion and Loyalty in the South Carolina Infantry, 1861-1865" Civil War History, Vol. 50, 2004
- Mark A. Weitz; "A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War" University of Nebraska Press, 2000
- Mark A. Weitz; "Preparing for the Prodigal Sons: The Development of the Union Desertion Policy during the Civil War" Civil War History, Vol. 45, 1999
Further Reading 
- Charles Glass; "Deserter: the Last Untold Story of the Second World War", Harperpress, 2013.
- "Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition)" (PDF). Library of Congress. US Government Printing Office. Retrieved 13 December 2012., Article 86, Absence without leave
- "Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition)" (PDF). Library of Congress. US Government Printing Office. Retrieved 13 December 2012., Article 85, Desertion
- Branum, James M. (2012). US Army AWOL Defense: A Practice Guide and Formbook. Oklahoma City, OK: Military Law Press. p. 11. ISBN 9781300302841. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
- "Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition)" (PDF). Library of Congress. US Government Printing Office. Retrieved 13 December 2012. , Article 15, Non-judicial Punishment
- Branum, James M. (2012). US Army AWOL Defense: A Practice Guide and Formbook. Oklahoma City, OK: Military Law Press. p. 128. ISBN 9781300302841. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
- "Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition)" (PDF). Library of Congress. US Government Printing Office. Retrieved 13 December 2012. , Article 87, Missing Movement
- J.C.A. Stagg, "Enlisted Men in the United States Army, 1812-1815: A Preliminary Survey," William and Mary Quarterly, 43 (1986), 615-45, esp. pp. 624-25, in in JSTOR
- Douglas Meed, The Mexican War, 1846-1848 (Routledge, 2003), p. 67.
- see Edward M. Coffman, The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784-1898 (1988) p 193
- Paul Foos, A Short, Offhand, Killing Affair: Soldiers and Social Conflict during the Mexican-American War (University of North Carolina Press. 2002) p 25, 103-6
- Foos (2002) p 105-7
- "Desertion In The Civil War Armies". Civilwarhome.com. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
- "Confederate Desertion". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
- Bearman, P. (1991). Desertion as Localism: Army Unit Solidarity and Group Norms in the U.S. Civil War. Social Forces, 70(2), 321-342. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier Database.
- "UK | Tribute to WWI 'cowards'". BBC News. 2001-06-21. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
- Mark R. Hatlie (November 19, 2005). "Memorial to Deserters in Ulm". Sites of Memory. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
- "Vienna to honor deserters from Hitler's army". Associated Press; The Guardian. April 20, 2011. Retrieved Jan 12, 2013.
- "Vienna to honour Austria's Nazi army deserters". BBCNews Europe. 23 April 2011. Retrieved Jan 12, 2013.
- Text of Order No. 270
- Roberts, Geoffrey. Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN ), page 98
- Roberts, Geoffrey. Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN ), page 132
- Patriots ignore greatest brutality. The Sydney Morning Herald. August 13, 2007.
- Artyom Borovik, “The Hidden War, (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990), 175.
- Adbulkader H. Sinno, “Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond', (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2008), 157.
- Sinno, Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond, 157.
- Sinno, Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond, 158.
- Gregory Feifer, “The Great Gamble", (New York: Russ Intellectual Properties, 2009), 104.
- Feifer, The Great Gamble, 104.
- Feifer, The Great Gamble, 97.
- Feifer, The Great Gamble, 105.
- Henry S. Bradsher, “Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, New and Expanded", (Durnham: Duke University Press, 1983), 214.
- Feifer, The Great Gamble,105.
- Bradsher, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, New and Expanded, 214.
- Sinno, Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond, 186.
- Feifer, The Great Gamble, 98.
- Feifer, The Great Gamble,97.
- Bradsher, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, New and Expanded, 213.
- Bradsher, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, New and Expanded, 209.
- Bradsher, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, New and Expanded, 208.
- Kakar, Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-198, 136.
- Feifer, The Great Gamble,104.
- Hasan M. Kakar, “Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982", (Berkeley: University of California, 1997), 175.
- Bradsher, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, New and Expanded, 206.
- Sinno, Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond, 187.
- Feifer, The Great Gamble, 106.
- Borovik, The Hidden War, 175.
- Borovik, The Hidden War, 178.
- Borovik, The Hidden War,178.
- Vietnam War Resisters in Canada Open Arms to U.S. Military Deserters. Pacific News Service. June 28, 2005.
- "Vietnam War Resisters, Then and Now".
- "At least 1,000 UK soldiers desert". BBC News. May 28, 2006. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
- "Deserters: We Won't Go To Iraq". CBS News. December 6, 2004.
- Nicholas, Bill (March 6, 2006). "8,000 desert during Iraq war". USA Today. Retrieved 15 July 2009.
- "40,000 US Troops Have Deserted Since 2000". Truthout.org. 2006-08-05. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
- Nicholas, Bill (March 6, 2006). "8,000 desert during Iraq war". USA Today. Retrieved 15 July 2009.
- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (April 22, 1998). "Conscientious objection to military service; Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77; see preamble "Aware..."". United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
- "Conscientious objection to military service; E/CN.4/RES/1998/77; See introductory paragraph". UN Commission on Human Rights. April 22, 1998.
- "Conscientious objection to military service, Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77, Navigation to document: press "next" four times, see bottom listing, and at the right choose letter for language ("E" for English) Document: CHR 54th 4/22/1998E/CN.4/RES/1998/77". United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 1998.
- D. CHRISTOPHER DECKER, AND LUCIA FRESA (29-MAR-2001). "THE STATUS OF CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION UNDER ARTICLE 4 OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, 33 N.Y.U. J. INT’L L. & POL. 379 (2000); See pages 412-424, (or PDF pages 34-36)". New York University School of Law, Issues - Volume 33.
- "Hinzman Decision, Full Text Decision". IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE BOARD OF CANADA (Refugee Protection Division). March 16, 2005. Retrieved 2009-03-21.