On deserters and personal responsibility

Well, it's the end of the line for Robin Long. The US Army deserter is set to be deported after a long legal fight to stay in Canada. Fearing he would be sent to Iraq, Long fled to Canada in 2005 and applied for refugee status. Yesterday, a Canadian judge made the call: there is no evidence to support Long's refugee claim, and he must return to the USA and face the music. Military justice music, which I understand is rather taciturn and whimsy-free. Many folks in Canada are furious with the decision. But I don't have a lot of sympathy for Mr. Long. His supporters are quick to point out that Canada was a haven for deserters during the Vietnam war, and sending Long back is a violation of this principle. This argument falls apart quickly. During the Vietnam conflict, American citizens were being forced into the army and sent overseas. Mr. Long joined the Army voluntarily, so the idea that his situation is analagous to a Vietnam deserter is rather silly.

There's an old saying: if you can't do the time, don't commit. Long joined the army of his own volition, all set to defend his country in Iraq. True, the justifications for that war were lies, and he believed them. But there was no shortage of information circulating prior to the Iraq War that the whole thing was bogus. Canada, and the US Military, can't really be held responsible for Long not doing his homework. If you don't want to end up fighting in an illegal foreign war, spend some time on the Internet. Read. I knew the Iraq War was bull, and I had access to the same info Long did. So the whole "innocent dupe of a vast propaganda machine" excuse rings a little hollow.

Armies are not moral agents. They are the coercive instruments of state power, and anyone who expects them to behave differently is hopelessly naive. And the US Military, like all armed forces, doesn't have a "only if you agree" clause. You sign the contact and agree to its terms, and you are obligated to follow it. It appears Long made a tragically bad decision. But that decision was his, and he has to face the fallout. If he refuses to fight, that's his choice; it's a choice I would probably also make in his situation. But choices have consequences, and you can't escape them.  It's unreasonable to expect that Canada should somehow give him a free pass from punishment.

People need to be responsible for their actions, and the actions of their nations. Robin Long is finally facing up to his, whether he likes it or not.