18. The False Story of a Wrongly Executed WWII Deserter
The Execution of Private Slovik, a 1974 movie starring Martin Sheen, posthumously catapulted Eddie Slovik, a US Army private executed for desertion during the Second World War, to fame. It also made his fate, which was depicted in the movie as a miscarriage of justice, into a cause célèbre. To the extent that people today know of Eddie Slovik, most associate him with the miscarriage of justice depicted in the film. That portrayal is false. Whatever one’s position on the death penalty, Slovik’s fate was one that he brought upon himself. His conviction and execution stemmed from a cynical scheme he had tried to carry out, that ended up backfiring in spectacular fashion.
Edward Donald Slovik (1920 – 1945) was a delinquent and troublemaker from early on. Fighting, stealing cars, breaking into and burglarizing homes, were just some of the crimes he did, and did time for. Indeed, his record was so bad that when he tried to enlist in the Army in 1942, he was designated 4F on grounds of being morally unfit for service in the military, and rejected. A year later, by which time Slovik had gotten married, the military began to feel a growing manpower crunch, and had second thoughts about people like Slovik. So he was reclassified as fit for service and drafted.