I arrived in Montreal in February 1968. Montreal was everything that it was rumoured to be; cold and buried in snow, and very cool. I was 20 years old and I was scared; in a new country, starting a new life and unable to return to the country where I was born. I was soon to be drafted into the U.S. Army at the height of the war in Vietnam. Over 500,000 American troops were fighting in Vietnam and I wanted no part of it.
I was unable to return to the United States for nine years. President Jimmy Carter granted draft dodgers amnesty in 1977.
My years in Canada have been good to me. I completed university. I have worked for over thirty years in high tech positions. I have been active in my union for about 25 years. I have a daughter, Rachel, who does research on women’s health issues. My son-in-law, Olivier, is an architect. I have two grandchildren, Alexandra and Sebastien. I have published articles and a book on unions and politics. I plan to retire soon. I have a wide circle of friends. My life in Canada has been a good life.
Canadians instinctively understand the simple fact that as young men, we were cannon-fodder in yet another aggressive American venture far from home. I have never been challenged or opposed or yelled at in my 40 years in Canada because of my decision to come to Canada.
The young men and women who are currently leaving the U.S. Forces for Canada are in exactly the same predicament. The context, the political culture and the legalities might have changed, but the fundamental truth remains. They are refugees from an American military machine that has gone out of control. The political masters have lied and young men and women are expected to pay the price. The contract with the military is null and void when the decision makers lie and mislead. 1964 gave us the lie of the Gulf of Tonkin when the Lyndon Johnson Administration charged that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy. The outcome was the Congressional Southeast Asia Resolution, to defend Southeast Asian countries from “communist aggression”. The resolution gave Lyndon Johnson the legal framework for the escalating American involvement in Vietnam.
I clearly remember Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon who spoke eloquently and organized relentlessly against the lies. Johnson also lied about the cancelled Vietnamese elections in 1956, revealed later by President Dwight Eisenhower, who wrote that it was anticipated that 80% of the vote would have gone to the forces led by Ho Chi Minh. They lied every day; about building democracy in Vietnam, body counts, and predictions of victory. We learned about the full extent of their mendacious ways with the publication of ‘The Pentagon Papers’, secret documents collected and published by the heroic Daniel Ellsberg. The New York Times behaved like a real newspaper and took on the U.S. Justice Department in the courts to defend their right to publish. And won.
Why should young people pay with their lives and their souls because of deceitful and illegal behaviour by their political masters? Why should young men and women pay the price for the blatant lies of the Bush administration?
Three years ago I went to a fortieth high school reunion in Queens in New York City. About 75 people were there. The spirits and camaraderie were very high. We were all so happy to see each other. I ran into a high school buddy who was in Vietnam for two tours. I told him what I did, and was a bit apprehensive about his response. He told me that what I did was smart. He also told me that he left part of his soul in Vietnam and that he would never get it back. This haunts me still.
To this day I still refer to Robert McNamara’s memoirs, In Retrospect, published in 1995. McNamara was a well-known principle architect of the war. He was U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1961-1967. Later, he publicly felt remorse for his actions. He wrote in the preface, “We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why”. Those future generations include the young men and women seeking refuge from the U.S. military machine today. Canadians understand that. Let them stay.