Deserter - a duty and a human right

It is high time that we make the right to refuse to take another life a Human Right.

By Mikael Witte - 2001

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In war, a soldier is in danger of being hit by the enemy´s bullet. According to the Haag covenant of 1907, war must be conducted in agreement with the international covenants adopted by the respective governments; a regular declaration of war or an ulimatum with a conditional declaration of war must be given before aggression may begin. To conduct a decent war appears to be the ideal of governments.
As in all technology, the technology of war is also expanded and developed. In the name of effectivity the weapon systems are expanded in order to win over the opponent .When the opponent also expands its weapons the arms race becomes a reality.
The use of use arms against civilians seems to be the future. Statistics document that in a growing extent, war is costing comparatively more civilian lives. Terror against civilians has been experienced in Coventry, in Dresden, in Hiroshima, in Sarajevo,Grosnij, in Rwanda, in New York, in Kabul-just to name a few of the mass graves.
And the deserter? He has always been certain to be shot. No system shows mercy toward the soldier who deserts in a war. It is punished by death. A soldier must obey orders unconditionally. However, a deserter follows his conviction that one must not kill. And therefore he resists the authoritive commando system, the majority, the lies and smear campaigns.
To insist on deserting is to hold on to hope for the impossible; the deserter grasps on to human decency. The deserter is terrified and knows the consequences for himself/herself. But the deserter risks paying for his/her life in order to refuse to kill a fellow human being.
The United Nations was established after the Second World War with the intention of creating a better world for all people; since then the United Nations has lost its effectivity, among other things, because of the confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union.
UN pact, article 2, section 4 states "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat ore use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."
Entering into NATO
It was Danish policy to hold Denmark out of the superpower blocks. In May of 1948, Prime Minister Hedtoft declared that " the world today is characterized by a split between two systems: the American capitalism and the Russian forced collectivism. The Nordic Social Democratic workers movement wants neither of these".
From September 1948, Demark, Norway and Sweden investigated the possibilities for a defence community. When the US government stated that an independent, Scandinavian defence union could not expect American arms assistance, the plans fell through.
By Danish request, Danmark became founding member of NATO, and on April 4 1949 Foreign Minister Gustav Rasmussen could sign the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington. Denmark declared itself on the side of the USA.
The NATO treaty, article 1 states: " The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat ore use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."
Pretty Words
Through NATO membership, Denmark thereby became co-responsible for the many wars conducted by the allied forces around the globe.But the most direct incidence of this co-responsiblility came on March 24, 1999, when NATO chose to attack Jugoslavia. With a rain of cruise missiles and computer guided bombs, NATO carried the war out into the world. Or rather, down over the world.
With NATO's adopting the so-called musketeer-oath in connection with the terror attack of September 11, 2001 against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Denmark is once again become a warring nation. USA wants to obligate the NATO partners. The actual war in Afghanistan is conducted by USA Great Britain and Afganistan´s Northern Alliance (And now, April, 2002, Denmark has troops in active combat. M.W.) with logistic, intellegence service, and political support from the allies.
From a Danish human rights perspective, a red thread runs from the Kosova-war to the Afganistan war-and that thread is red from blood. The thread binds inconmprehensible suffering together.
During the days after September 11, Many expressed deep empathy for the victims in USA. A very few expressed their empathy with the victims in Afghanistan; although the Afgans have been long suffering under the Taliban and are now being bombed by USA.
As a NATO alley, Denmark has not only violated pretty words in the NATO treaty, it has also violated the UN prohibition against threat and use of force when with Danish support, death rains down upon the people of Jugoslavia and Afghanistan.
Denmark at War
Regardless of what the high ranking politicians in the USA, EU, NATO or FN adopt, regardless if they state it is dealing with self-defence or police action, regardless if president Bush claims that he is conducting a war against terror and terrorists and not against Islam and Afgans- it does not help the people who are hit.
When a war is decided upon by popularly elected politicians, they thereby claim that the war has a democratic legitimacy. But it is just the opposite: The popular elected lose their legitimacy when they vote for war. When the Danish parliament has voted to conduct a war, we Danes cannot merely follow it with ordinary empathy- we must follow it with feelings of guilt. Because Denmark is in the line of war; Denmark is at war.
All know that war is horrible. All should know that NATO's smartest planes and shields, bombs and missles which are forced directly into the headquarters of the enemy; clinically, precisely and without our seeing the corpse; all know that these weapons mutilate people, kill, murder. They may be civilians or they may be soldiers, but soldiers are also human beings.
The peace movement must always demand ceasefire, because this is the only light which can guide us out of the dark night. We must demand ceasefire because we believe in life, because we will defend the life of all, because the right to life is the most important human right.
Arms do not make peace
For a long time arms have shown how useless they are in making peace.Terrorism cannot be bombed away. Nazi misanthropy did not disappear by bombing.
It is a dream to believe that hate, Nazism, and terrorism can be bombed away; this is the same thinking as that a fever would disappear by smashing the thermometer.
Terrorism has deep roots. It is here we must concentrate our energy. Bombs are only good at smashing, killing and making a show that politicians are doing something, while at the same time pointing out global scapegoats and villians.
The peace movement must support the democratic opposition, although it is also hard hit by war. Many will reject this as utopia and claim that the opposition is non-existent, that it cannot be done. Yet it is here we must work, by providing information, dialog and a culture of peace and reconciliation.
Even in the horrifying Nazi Germany, there was a military resistance in the form of deserters- that is to say, those simply being absent from the military. Tell this to those who have lost hope. Tell about the soldiers who have discovered that weapons become even more powerful if they are destroyed.
The actual number of soldiers refusing to follow the "shoot to kill " orders of Hitler is unknown and will never be known. But at the end of the Second World War, 50 thousand German soldiers were sentenced as deserters and military objectors. About half of them were executed, the others were sent to special punishment bataljions. Only a few survived the war, but these knew that another way could be found.
The peace movement must learn from their story. These deserters were apparently completely ordinary people, but they refused to continue Hitler´s war. And that was quite unusual.
Some escaped to Denmark, a very few were helped to Sweden. The Danish resistance movement didn´t really understand what position to take toward these deserters. From this we must learn.
Continued Injustice
The peace movement must also learn from the way lawyers constructed the new West Germany: They declared the NAZI horrorsentences as legal. In this way the tyranny became legitimite with a retrospective effect. After Nazism was allegedly crushed, the victims of Nazi justice remained on record as being previously convicted.
Fifty years later, in December, 1995- during a hearing in Bundestags committee of justice, Otfried Keller, CDU/CSU-faction spokesman declared that the sentences at the time were without a doubt conducted in accordance with constitutional law. Keller himself had been an military judge during the Nazi regime.
The Federal Republic reappointed judges and officers who had worked for Nazism. One had also learned to show respect for the victims of Nazism: Dead Jews, and homosexuals, priests, socialists and communists were silent and thererfore could participate in the legitimitization of the Federal Republic.
But the deserters, the few who still lived, were not allowed to be honored. It was argued again and again that these survivors had a crimminal record and sentenced in court, therefore their claims for pention and compensation were placed on a lesser level. They had, after all, been in prision, rather than working and saving toward their old age, it was officially stated.
In the 1995-debate concerning deserters, the majority in Bundestag rejected a proposition for rehabilitation. CDU/CSU-members repeated that the deserters had hurt their comrades and the Wehrmacht, and were therefore refused rehabilitation.
A half-century after Nazi Germany was crushed, the majority of German popularly elected politicians still regarded the deserters as being criminal.
Public discussion made the situation even more embarrassing. On October 18,1996, the German Federal Republic Council at long last passed a statement :"Rehabilitation, compensation and relief for deserters, military objectors and saboteurs under the nationalsocialistic tyranny."
By way of introduction, the Federal Republic Council ascertained that the Second World war had been criminal and aggressive war against international law. Next the Federal Republic Council wrote that many of those who participated in the war had not understood the full consequenses of this, or had not seen the possibility of refusing to participate in the war.
The Council demonstrated political correctness toward deserters, Germans and the outside world--and consideration for former soldiers, their decendents and veteran organizations. The Council´s statement was made 51 1/2 years after the Nazi regime was defeated and after many of the deserters had suffered and few were still alive.
An American propaganda radio now at present, calls on taliban soldiers to desert.During the war in Kosova, in the same way through fliers, NATO called on Serbian soldiers to desert. But NATO calls soley upon enemy soldiers to desert.
It is not unusual for military leaders to call upon enemy soldiers to desert; in this way using them as something between 5th column people and prisoners of war. When the one part calls on the opponent soldiers to desert, it happens as part of the war; the call is a part of psychological warfare.
I call upon all to say goodby to arms.Therefore, I must be explicit when I say the right to desert means that I am defending deserters on both sides of the front: Under the Second World War, the English, American, and Russion soldiers should have laid down their arms- not just the German.
Betrayed by NATO
The Serbian deserters from the Kosova war were betrayed by NATO; many were sent back to punishment and continued to be forced in the participation of war. But when the war ended, the German peace movement continued its support of the deserters and put pressure upon the German politicians. The peace movement has something to learn here.
In the German town of Münster (where the West Falster peace put an end to the religious war 353 years ago), the city council invited the Serb deserters to the city. On November 12,1999 two deserters received 1 years visum.
Previously the German embassy had demanded that Münster promise that the city would take on all expenses for the deserters. In December 2000, the Serbs´ visum was extended until Jugoslavia passed a law of amnesty.
In the same way, in 2000, the majority of the town council of Göttingen (after a suggestion from PDS and The Green), decided to invite Serb deserters. The German Foreign Ministry, however, refused to give the necessary visa. Also the city councils of Müchen, Bonn, Freiberg/Breisgau, Erfurt and Rostock followed Münster´s examle; their decision was also stopped by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. Other German city councils (for example Potsdam and Osnabrück) agreed to invite Serb deserters, but they did not put names on the invitations, so the Foreign Ministry was not required to deny any visum.
German peace activists are agitating for solidarity with the deserters from the wars in Jugoslavia. They demand unconditional residence and work permits, and protest against the fact that the German government in reality punishes the people who had the backbone and moral to refuse to fight. Many deserters now live in deplorable conditions in Hungarian refugee camps. They have no possibility to return to Jugoslavia, because Milosevic supporters still dominate the bureaucracy and because Jugoslavia has still not legally protected military objectors. On March 3, 2001, an amnesty law was passed. And yet a deserter who attempted to return to his mother country was detained.
Deserters in Israel and Chechnya
There are other deserters. More and more young Israelis refuse to serve their conscription; reservists are also saying no when they are commanded to serve in occupied areas. It is extremely difficult to resist the demands of an army which is supported by the courts of a militarized Israel.
Military objectors are usually imprisoned, and after two weeks behind bars the officers try to persuade the objector. If this does not succeed, he/she is locked up again. There is a significant peace movement and growing objector organizations. The best known are " New Profile"," There is a Limit", "Gush Shalom", and "The Other Israel".
During the five years of the first Intifada, 180 soldiers preferred prison to service in the occupied areas. During the Libanon war 170 chose this path. It is estimated that ten times as many came to a compromise with the army before they went as far as to be put in prison.I dont have any recent numbers from Israel.
There are also deserters in Chechnya. The war rages on, although we do not hear so much about it in the mass media at present. It is important to be concrete in our support of deserters, military objectors and the mothers of soldiers. Deserters use themselves to demonstrate that war does not solve any conflicts, but merely serves to create new ones.
Both deserters and mothers of soldiers, both Russians and chechnyans have a claim on support because they have demonstrated the greatest of human courage.They have shown the way toward the solution of conflict.
Desertion as a Human Right
We hear and read about the contempt for deserters. "Deserters are those who fail when it counts, they are afraid and think only of themselves, it is desertion because the aid the enemy."
This conception of the deserter is the result of authoritarian thinking, of the thinking of power. If the peace movement wants to regain faith, hope and understanding and perhaps lead the way to love, then we must work against such alligations.
The right to life is a human right; it is almost the cornerstone for all human rights. Long has it been high time to make the right to refuse to take another human life a human right. Allow me to restate the United Nation´s agreement in article 2, part 4, that member countries must refrain from threat of force, or use of force.
The Danish constitution in paragraph 81 detemines that "every male person able to bear arms shall be liable with his person to contribute to the defence of his country under such rule as are laid down by statute.". This is the usual conscription and it is built upon the idea that men with weapons must fight other men. This warthinking has dominated all of Danish constitutional law ever since the constitution of June was passed in 1849 during the first Slesvig war.
When I propose that we write a new constitution, a democratic constitution which protects human rights in Denmark, the peace movement must demand that the war thinking must give way to the desire for peace. The peace movement must demand that the constitution protects the right to refuse to serve in the military and protects deserters, who with their lives at stake refuse to kill a fellow human being.
The peace movement must demand that the Danish foreign policy is built upon non-violence. If it becomes a part of of the debate and a part of the new Danish constitution, the military must be completely renovated, so that it is based upon principles of non -violence, reconciliation and development. Insted of training in the use of arms, the conscript must cultivate love and knowlege of humanity. Only in this way can we change the world to the better. It is a long process, but somebody has to begin.
In this way we settle accounts with war thinking, protect the right to desert and make it a duty to respect the diversity of life.

This presentation was given by Danish author and translator Mikael Witte at the hearing on militarization of EU: goal, conseqenses and the Danish proviso. Held at Borups Højskole, Copenhagen, Denmark on November 3, 2001. Mikael Witte published in 1999 "Proposal for the Danish constitution-on the republic for human rights". His book NAZISME (1999) is in the process of being translated into English. Translated from Danish by Marti Williams.

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