The Execution of Private Slovik

Article excerpt

THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE SLOVIK, William Bradford Huie, Westholme, Yardley, PA, 2004, 249 pages, $14.95.

After nearly a decade, the Judge Advocate General's office agreed to release records of U.S. Army Private Eddie Slovik's execution. With the Department of Defense's full cooperation, William Bradford Huie tells the story of the only soldier executed for desertion during World War II. In fact, Slovik has been the only soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War. Huie questions why Slovik, a 24-year-old draftee from Detroit, met such a fate.

During World War II, approximately 40,000 soldiers deserted. Of these, 2,864 were tried by general courts-martial, and 49 death sentences were handed down. Slovik was the only one to be executed. What did he do that was so bad? The question remains unanswered at the end of the book, but not because Huie did not try. His extensive research draws on personal interviews, official Army documents, and Slovik's correspondence with his wife. Slovik's opinion was that he was being singled out because he was an ex-convict and his execution would make a good example. But was Slovik a hardened criminal? According to him, he was convicted "for bread and chewing gum I stole when I was twelve years old."

In 1943, the United States reconsidered its draft policy and allowed men who had criminal records to be drafted. Slovik reported for duty, but often wrote his wife that he would not fight. After arriving in Europe, he and his escort fell under heavy shelling. …