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The Example of Private Slovik (1987) (americanheritage.com)
31 points by smacktoward 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments

The military has one overriding priority: that when an officer says "charge" the men charge. If that doesn't happen you don't have an army, just a bunch of people holding guns. Everything is subservient to that one priority. Justice, fairness, honour, life, all are irrelevant except to the extent that they serve that priority.

Slovik's death was one part of maintaining that discipline. Everyone in the army had to know that if they walked away they would be shot, and shooting Slovik showed that the army was serious about it.

But once a retreat turns into a rout that is no longer the case; assuming the general manages to rally the army and re-establish discipline there is no point in shooting half the remaining troops. Maybe he shoots a few of ones who left early, just to make the point, but mostly he has to carry on with what he has got.

An argument about Slovik's case that was not mentioned: were the judges on the court martial themselves afraid of getting court martialed for being lenient.

I only read a single account in a publication from sixties, allegedly from one of those judges who was the career barrister, and it was allegedly a confession written in his last will.

I understood that not to be the case, for the article author, at least.

reminded me of https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050825/ , especially when it comes to the kangaroo court of military justice. Great movie by Kubrik with Kirk Douglas.

Also, "The Execution of Private Slovik" (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071477/) starring Martin Sheen.

Ask yourself a question, what would happen if allies shot every deserter and dereliction of duty offender?

The death count will go into hundreds of thousands, a far from small part of the whole allied force.

Soviets, on other hands, possibly executed close to a million of own troops, including generals, but it did not stop the extreme desertion rates.

What is your data source of the Soviets executing millions of own troops? Just curious.

The attitude in USSR at the time was that anyone, and any activity, not actively advancing the interests of the Party and the Revolution was not just useless, but actively harmful: mercy, justice, humanity included. I.e., showing evidence of concern for any of those was to demonstrate divided loyalty.

It was very dangerous to suggest not exterminating any person or group. Eagerness was evidence of commitment. Everybody needed to provide such concrete evidence of commitment, or be labeled a class enemy.


The official wartime data is 10000 troops in "penal forces," and 158000 by post-war Soviet count, which is already a giant number, and does not include penal troops whose execution were never recorded, or ones who died in human wave attacks or after being ordered to stand ground under fire from, some times friendly, artillery.

The entire losses of penal battalions may range from 100k to 300k by calculations of historians.

But executions and fatalities from de-facto penal actions were not only limited to penal forces. Any war veteran who served in an any much sizeable unit can tell of battalions loosing up to one in ten men to "disciplinary actions" akin ones practiced by penal forces.

There were few well written about cases (which I cannot remember much about though) when entire deemed "low morale" units were sent for certain death, being "spent," drawing artillery fire or ordered to march on enemy armour in the open without any anti tank weaponry.

My dad fought in 1945 as German soldier on the Eastern front when he was 17. He told stories that the Russians would come in two waves. There was the frontline and then a second line who would shoot anybody who turned around. Not sure how true this is but I have read similar stories before.

I am struck by similarities between this and L'Etranger

A matter of fact trial and execution

As if there wasn’t already enough death in that god forsaken war.

That "god forsaken war" was both started by, and ended, white fascism in Europe. I can name you plenty of examples of "bullshit wars." The Allies' effort in WW2 was a noble fight.

The American war, which the OP is actually about, was arguably a fight against Japanese aggression in the Pacific, and arguably caused by a US blockade targeting oil imports to Japan. The entry of the US into the European war happened well after the rest of the allies had been fighting their hearts out for years.

My point however was the killing of a person by their own government during a time of war. This guy could have gone on to do all sorts of things to support the effort. He self reported his own desertion. Killing him was sick.

And you can contradict me all you like, but the whole article is about how the people that actually made the decision and had it carried out, regret it.

But even for all that, a huge fraction of deaths were needless. E.g. British bomber crews who died early in the war died because the hole to bail out by was too hard to get through with a parachute on. And, no one was able to detect any difference in German weapon production resulting from bombing, so arguably everybody who died in or defending a bomber died for nothing.

German production of aircraft increased every month right up to the end of the war, although they ran out of pilots to fly them. Armor and infantry won that war. Fighter planes blowing up locomotives had some effect, toward the end.

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