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Pandering to the base

November 29, 2010

While grading a paper from one of my classes at the HTWK Leipzig recently, I was checking a source and ran across this year’s winners of the Panter Preis sponsored by the taz, a newspaper solidly planted on the far left side of the German political spectrum. One of this year’s winners–of the reader prize–was André Shepherd, a deserter from the U.S. Army.

Before I continue, let me establish several things:

  1. politically, I am about as liberal as an American can get
  2. I have opposed the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since they were conceived in Cheney’s warped mind. While not a pacifist, I oppose nearly all wars, other than those with a clearly just cause, such as opposing the Third Reich. All others are about power and the industrial military complex, and the losers are civilians.
  3. I served in the military, and was coincidentally living in Germany during the first Gulf War in 1990-1991. Had I been recalled (I was on inactive reserve status due to being on a grant in Germany) to serve in a combat zone, I would have seriously considered seeking asylum in Germany, since I felt that that war was both unjust and in violation of the contract I signed when I joined the military.

All that said, I was appalled that taz readers would award this prize to Shepherd. Many liberal Germans have a reflexive anti-American bent, so one could read this award as a rebuke to American policy. Fine, I’m all for that, but glorifying Shepherd is not the right channel, and reeks of naiveté. What gets lost here are some common-sense facts. For one, the United States military is entirely a volunteer force. Those enlisting should read their contract before signing, and be prepared for the consequences it brings. In my case, that meant being prepared to violate the law if asked to serve in an unjust war, before serving in that war.

The other salient point is that Shepherd volunteered in the middle of a war that clearly was being waged on false pretenses (remember WMDs?) and was causing mayhem and carnage among civilian populations. Unless he lived under a rock, he knew this; as he has said in interviews, he knew he would be sent to fight in one of the wars when he enlisted. I am glad to see that he has since developed a conscience, and respect his right to desert and face the consequences, but to allow himself to be lionized by the German left is shameful for all parties involved.

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