Eddie Slovik: Execution of an American Deserter

On January 31, 1945, twelve soldiers raised their rifles, pointed them, and fired. Fifteen minutes later, private Eddie Slovik was dead. He remains the only U.S. soldier executed solely for desertion since the Civil War, when it was a disturbingly common punishment. Why did Slovik suffer this fate?

Desertion during World War II?

“The person that is not willing to fight and die, if need be, for his country has no right to life.” ~ Colonel James E. Rudder

While armchair historians often tout World War II as “the Last Good War,” not every combatant agreed. Back in those days, service in the U.S. military wasn’t voluntary…it was mandatory. Even worse, those who went AWOL from a war they’d been forced into fighting risked the maximum punishment…death. Although exact AWOL numbers remain unknown, more than 21,000 people were sentenced for desertion during World War II. 49 of those individuals were given the death sentence. Out of those 49 people, a single person was executed…Eddie Slovik.

The Execution of Private Eddie Slovik?

Prior to the war, Slovik was “a small-time thief and ex-convict who was originally classified as unfit for military service.” But he was drafted anyway and in August 1944, found himself in France. During the horrific Battle of Hürtgen Forest, the U.S. Army suffered 33,000 casualties. Eddie Slovik barely managed to survive and afterward, decided he “wasn’t cut out for combat.” He requested a reassignment away from the front lines. His request was denied so he deserted, along with hundreds if not thousands of other Americans. After being caught, he refused to return to his unit. Summarily, he was convicted of desertion and sentenced to death. Shocked by the severity of the punishment, he appealed to General Eisenhower for clemency. But Eisenhower refused and on January 31, 1945, Eddie Slovik was executed via firing squad.

“They’re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I’m it because I’m an ex-con. I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that’s what they are shooting me for. They’re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old.” ~ Eddie Slovik

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

35 American soldiers were executed during World War I, all for the crimes of rape and/or murder. 102 American soldiers were executed for the same reasons during World War II. But Eddie Slovik remains the only soldier in either war (or in any military engagement since the Civil War) to be executed for the sole crime of desertion. But why?

Clearly, General Eisenhower and other military leaders decided to make an example out of Slovik. American soldiers were dying in terrifying numbers in hotly-contested France. As such, mass desertions had become a major problem. Eisenhower apparently believed the execution of Eddie Slovik would be enough to make soldiers think twice before deserting their units. Of course, the execution had little to no impact and desertions continued for the duration of the war. Incidentally, desertions continue today as well with roughly 40,000 members of the U.S. military going AWOL between 2000 and 2006).

In the end, Slovik’s offer to serve in a noncombatant capacity was denied. Thus, he was murdered for refusing to fight in a war that he’d never wanted any part of in the first place. As Bernard Calka said in 1987 when bringing Slovik’s remains home from France, “The man didn’t refuse to serve, he refused to kill.”

Nazi Soldiers…in America?

On February 15, 1944, Private Dale H. Maple picked up two passengers in Colorado, and headed for Mexico. He was promptly arrested and charged with treason. Why? Because the two passengers weren’t Americans…they were Nazi prisoners of war.

The 620th Engineer General Service Company: Nazi Sympathizers…in the U.S. Military?

After enlisting in February 1942, Maple was deliberately assigned to the infamous 620th Engineer General Service Company. In a real-life example of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” the 620th was made up of suspected Nazi sympathizers. By keeping them in one location and denying them access to weapons, the military hoped to maintain control over the sympathizers and make it difficult for them to hamper the war effort.

But Maple had his own ideas. And when the 620th was assigned guard duty at Camp Hale, a prison for Nazi POWs, he decided to take action. After buying a car, he picked up two Afrika Korps Sergeants from work detail and drove toward the Mexican border. The car broke down 17 miles short of the goal so the three men hoofed it the rest of the way.

The Trial of Dale H. Maple?

But after arriving in Mexico, they were quickly arrested and sent back to America. Maple was originally charged with treason. Later this was changed to “relieving, corresponding with or aiding the enemy.” He was found guilty and given a sentence of death by hanging. However, the Army Judge Advocate General intervened and convinced President Roosevelt to imprison Maple instead. Maple was released in 1951 and apparently passed away in the early 2000s. Here’s more on Maple and the 620th from Foreign Policy:

Yep. Gather round, little grasshoppers, and I will tell the strange tale.

I know it sounds like the reverse of a Quentin Taratino movie, but it is true: During World War II, the Army intentionally formed a unit chockablock with fascisti and their suspected sympathizers. What a sensible idea — much better than kicking them out into society and losing track of them.

This is all discussed in the new issue of Army Lawyer , where Fred “Three Sticks” Borch has a fascinating article about PFC Dale Maple, a brilliant young man who was born in San Diego in 1920 and who graduated from Harvard with honors but then, because he was bad, was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead…

(See more on Maple, the 620th, and Nazis in America at Foreign Policy)

Ancient Minoans: Death by Volcano?

Around 1450 BC, the famed Minoan civilization suddenly collapsed. The disappearance of these people remains one of history’s greatest mysteries. So, what happened to them?

The Strange Collapse of the Minoan Civilization?

One particularly intriguing theory about the collapse has come to light over the last few decades. About fifty years beforehand, a volcano erupted on the island of Thera. Sixty miles away, the Minoan civilization on Crete was struck by a sudden, ruinous tsunami. A volcanic winter likely followed, leading to years of crop failures. Starving and angry, the Minoan people might’ve turned on their leaders, leading to political turmoil. Weakened and divided, the Minoans would’ve proved an easy target for the Mycenaeans.

Here’s more on the Minoan Collapse from the BBC:

Three and a half thousand years ago, the tiny Aegean island of Thera was devastated by one of the worst natural disasters since the Ice Age – a huge volcanic eruption.

This cataclysm happened 100km from the island of Crete, the home of the thriving Minoan civilisation. Fifty years after the eruption, that civilisation was in ruins. Did the volcano deliver a death blow to the Minoans? It’s a whodunnit that has haunted historians and scientists for decades…

Early 20th-century archaeologists knew of the devastating volcano and some concluded it must have snuffed out the Minoan civilisation almost instantly. But was it really as simple as that?

(See the rest on the Minoan Collapse at the BBC)

The Drug War’s Strange Origins?

Today, the Drug War is a part of American life, just like the War on Terror, the War on Poverty, and any other number of “Wars on Concepts.” But how did the Drug War originate?

The Origin’s of America’s Drug War?

Few people realize the Drug War is a very new invention, launched in 1914 with the highly-questionable Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. Here’s more on the dubious and racist origins of the Drug War from Jacob H. Huebert over at Lew Rockwell

Bigotry and xenophobia were another major factor leading to drug prohibition. Chinese immigrants were partly responsible for spreading opium use in America, so prohibitionists found a receptive audience among whites who feared the prospect of their daughters being lured into the Chinaman’s opium den. Early anti-opium laws in western states explicitly discriminated against Chinese immigrants.

Absurd fears about cocaine-crazed blacks fueled support for cocaine prohibition. Dr. Hamilton Wright, the leading anti-drug crusader during the Theodore Roosevelt Administration, told Congress that cocaine “is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the Negroes,” despite a lack of evidence for this or even for the proposition that blacks used cocaine more than whites. Still, Southern Senators especially bought into the widespread myth that black men on cocaine essentially became crazed zombies who were – yes, some people believed this – invulnerable to .32 caliber bullets.

Professional and industry groups, most notably the American Pharmacological Association, also helped enact drug prohibition. Big pharmaceutical companies did not like competition from patent medications, and pharmacists did not like it that people other than themselves could sell drugs. Regulation of drug distribution, even if it imposed costs on pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists to some extent, could be worthwhile to them if they could bear the costs while their smaller, less diversified competitors could not.

(See the rest on the Drug War and its strange origins at Lew Rockwell)

A Handbag…designed by Leonardo Da Vinci?

Leondardo da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, writer, scientist, inventor, and many others things. Now we can add one more profession to Leonardo da Vinci’s list: fashion expert.

Leonardo da Vinci & the Pretiosa Handbag?

Around 1497, Leonardo da Vinci took time away from his normal activities to sketch a unique and beautiful handbag. It was later discovered by Carlo Pedretti in 1978, along with thousands of other drawings. Now, thanks to the Gherardini fashion house, the Leonardo da Vinci handbag can be yours. It’s called Pretiosa, or Precious, and will be sold in an extremely limited edition (at this point, only 99 actual handbags are expected to be produced).

“Leonardo was no ordinary man. It doesn’t surprise me that he did not conform to the fashion trends of the time. He had his own style, thus he was indeed very fashionable.” ~ Raffaello Napoleone, Pitti Immagine CEO

Here’s more on Leonardo da Vinci and the Pretiosa from Discovery News

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) was an artist, inventor, scientist, architect, engineer, writer and even a musician. Now we know that he was also a fashion designer.

After several months of meticulous research, scholars have reconstructed some fragmented drawings of a unique bag designed by the Renaissance genius around 1497.

The sketch was first published in 1978 by Carlo Pedretti, a leading Da Vinci scholar, who identified it among the Atlantic Code’s tens of thousands of drawings.

Overlooked for more than three decades, it has been reconstructed and reassembled by Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, where da Vinci was born in 1452…

(See Discovery News for more on Leonardo da Vinci and the Pretiosa handbag)

The Mysterious Disappearance of Glenn Miller

On December 15, 1944, a plane carrying jazz sensation Glenn Miller vanished while flying over the English Channel. The plane, its crew, and the passengers were never seen again.

What happened to Glenn Miller?

The disappearance of Glenn Miller is one of the great unsolved mysteries of history. For decades, researchers have questioned whether the plane even flew the intended route. Now, almost seven decades later, we may finally have an answer.

It turns out a 17-year old kid named Richard Anderton was living in Woodley at the time, just eight miles from Maidenhead, Berkshire. On December 15, 1944, he logged a Norseman plane flying in the sky. It was east of his position and on a southeastern heading. In other words, Anderton’s books indicate the plane carrying Glenn Miller was heading in the correct direction at the right time. If true, this would appear to eliminate other theories about where the plane might have flown.

Here’s more from BBC News on the mysterious disappearance of Glenn Miller:

The most recent discovery started with a 17-year-old plane-spotter in 1944, who meticulously logged each plane he saw flying overhead while he worked at an airfield in Woodley, Reading.

The now deceased Richard Anderton had two small notebooks filled with details of the locations of passing aircraft, estimated altitude and directions of flight. On 15 December 1944, he logged a UC-64A-type aircraft passing on the horizon to his east and flying below the fog in a south-easterly direction.

It was not until his brother, 77-year-old Sylvan Anderton, brought the books into the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow TV programme 67 years later that the entry came to light…

(See BBC News for more on the mysterious disappearance of Glenn Miller)

100-Year Predictions…that Came True?

You’ve probably never heard the name John Elfreth Watkins, Jr before. But in 1900, he made a series of predictions…predictions of the future. Did any of them come true?

John Elfreth Watkins, Jr.: Predictions of the Future

Of course, some of Watkins’ predictions of the future were hilariously wrong (“A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling”). Still, Watkins correctly predicted things like digital color photography, television, prepared meals, and cell phones. Here’s some of Watkins’ correct predictions of the future from The Saturday Evening Post

…Yet each new year, a new batch of predictors offer us their forecasts for the future. Most are promptly forgotten. One who deserves to be remembered, though, is John Elfreth Watkins, Jr., a Post writer in the early 20th Century. Back in December 1900, he wrote his ideas about “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years” for the Post’s sister publication, the Ladies’ Home Journal….

Where Watkins was correct…he was unusually far-sighted.

  • Americans will be taller by from one to two inches.
  • Photographs will reproduce all of nature’s colors… [They will be transmitted] from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later.
  • Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn.
  • Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span.
  • Rising early to build the furnace fire will be a task of the olden times. Homes will have no chimneys, because no smoke will be created within their walls.
  • Refrigerators will keep great quantities of food fresh for long intervals.
  • Fast-flying refrigerators on land and sea will bring delicious fruits from the tropics and southern temperate zone within a few days. The farmers of South America… whose seasons are directly opposite to ours, will thus supply us in winter with fresh summer foods which cannot be grown here.

What is the Oldest Human Fossil?

Scholars generally agree that anatomically modern humans first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago. But do human fossils go back that far?

What is the Oldest Human Fossil?

In truth, the fossil record doesn’t exact support the so-called “Out of Africa” theory. In fact, its quite skimpy in this regard. Complicating this is the fact that many older human fossils show traits from both humans as well as more primitive members of the Homo genus. This could mean the earliest Homo Sapiens possessed a wide variety of physical traits. Or it could mean the seemingly human fossils in question belong to some other hominid altogether. With that said, here’s more from the Smithsonian on the earliest known human fossil (which predates the Skhul human fossil shown above by about 100,000 years).

Omo I and II (195,000 years ago): In 1967, a team led by Richard Leakey discovered possible Homo sapiens fossils in the Kibish Formation near the Omo River in southern Ethiopia. Originally the fossils, Omo I (a partial skull and skeleton) and Omo II (a partial skull), were thought to be 130,000 years old, but a dating reanalysis in 2005 revealed they were much older—195,000 years old, making them the oldest fossils assigned to Homo sapiens. Over the last 45 years, the species status of the fossils has been debated. Researchers largely agree Omo I was a modern human; it had the human hallmarks of a flat face, fully formed chin, high forehead and globular braincase. They are less certain about Omo II, which was more primitive with its thicker, more “rugged” cranial bones and sloped forehead. While some paleoanthropologists say Omo II is too archaic to be one of us, others suggest it’s evidence of the great physical diversity of early modern humans

(See Smithsonian.com for more on other early human fossils)

Massive Animal Sacrifices…in Ancient Egypt?

The ancient Egyptians were crazy about animals…or at least, animal sacrifices.

Animal Mummies & Animal Sacrifices?

In ancient Egypt, a whole breeding industry existed just to provide citizens with the requisite number of sacrificial victims. Some animals, like the sacred ibis and the baboon, were possibly even driven to regional extinction by this frenzied activity, leading to the rise of a false mummy market. Here’s more on the ancient animal sacrifice market from Discovery News:

Millions of animals were‭ ‬ritually slaughtered in ancient Egypt to foster a huge mummification industry that even drove some species extinct.‭

As an exhibition‭ ‬at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. shows,‭ ‬almost no animals escaped the carnage.

Although ‬pets died of natural causes before their mummification,‭ and sacred beasts were pampered by adoring priests, most‬ animals in ancient Egypt had miserable, short lives. Many ‬were simply bred to become votive mummies — offered to the gods in the same way that people light up candles in churches today…

(See Discovery News for the rest)

The Horse that Could Calculate?

Beginning in 1891, crowds throughout Europe were spellbound by the amazing feats of the horse Clever Hans. Urged on by his owner William Von Osten, Clever Hans would answer questions by tapping a hoof on the ground. For example, 5 and 9 were once written on a blackboard and he was asked to add them together. Clever Hans proceeded to tap his hoof 14 times. What was his secret?

The Secret of Clever Hans?

It took 16 years but finally, a philosophy professor named Carl Stumpf and his student Oskar Pfungst solved the mystery. It turned out that Clever Hans based his responses on “unconscious cues” provided by Von Osten. In other words, when Clever Hans reached the correct number of hoof taps, Von Osten would unknowingly change facial expressions or lean forward. Clever Hans would stop and then receive a reward for his “guess,” which served to reinforce the behavior.

Incidentally, this is a primary reason that modern psychologists use double-blind experiments or communicate with subjects via computers. Here’s more on Clever Hans from Benjamin Radford at Discovery News:

You may think your dog or cat is smart and amazing, but it’s got nothing on a horse that drew huge crowds in Germany and throughout Europe over a century ago.

The horse, named Clever Hans, was known around the world for his inexplicable abilities. William Von Osten put his amazing horse on display in 1891, and together he and Hans treated crowds to sights never before seen.

Not only could Hans count — something no other animals were said to do — but he could also tell time, read, and spell (in German, of course).

(See Discovery News for the rest on Clever Hans)