In the military sense, the very word conjures up the worst emotions and thoughts for the perpetrator. With few exceptions in history, deserters and traitors have always been, rightfully I might add, dealt with harshly. Because it’s not simply walking away from one’s post for any self-serving purpose; the soldier on your right or left was depending upon you as you had been depending upon them. By the act of willful desertion, others are put at exponentially increased risk of danger, often including death. So yeah, “enlightened” excuses aside, desertion is not harmless, nor is it isolated to the offender, and it deserves harsh consequences.
The reasons for desertion vary. Fear, mental illness, and lots of other excused appeasements. Some have and do say that it happens so often, it isn’t fair to make an example out of one deserter every so often.
With that said, let’s have a look at some history. The last time a US Soldier was executed for desertion was during WWII when Private Eddie Slovik was shot by a firing squad on January 31, 1945 after being found guilty of willful desertion; to this day, there is controversy surrounding that incident. Much of that controversy surrounds what led up to his charges and execution. Without needlessly drawing out all of the details in living color, Eddie Slovik was essentially a putz who was not exactly a candidate for citizen of the year and did a lot of stupid stuff in his mostly miss-spent youth. However, the contrast between him and S/Sgt Bowe Bergdahl could not be more stark.