The perception is that it’s just one disgruntled soldier
February 27, 2015 2:51 AM   Subscribe

NYMag profiles American military deserters in Canada, Germany and the Netherlands.
Desertion is always a solitary choice, but it can be especially so for those who seek refuge in other countries. The deserter in exile is cut off from community, family, and country, knowing there may never be a safe way home. For the alienated troops who fled to Canada in the early years of the Iraq War, the decision seemed to offer solace. The northern border has always welcomed disaffected Americans, from the British Union Loyalists who opposed the Revolutionary War to the draft dodgers and deserters avoiding Vietnam. Between 1965 and 1975, roughly 50,000 U.S. citizens took shelter in Canada, where the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau quietly embraced them. In the first three years of the Iraq War, at least 200 new American troops joined them, believing they would find the same open arms. Most of the new deserters chose to live and work in cities like Toronto and Montreal without revealing their military past; only about two dozen stepped forward publicly to request political amnesty as “war resisters.”
posted by frimble (15 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
the upshot is that, if you want to desert: don't go to Canada! Harper will deport you and the US military will then make an example of you (always fighting the last war).

i wish the journalist had spent a little more time trying to find out exactly how many soldiers deserted the "War on Terror" when it was more active. Of course, the war is still going on so...
posted by at 6:25 AM on February 27, 2015

The Eastern Townships have quite a few Vietnam War deserters. I've met some of them who came up during that time period and never left. I am now sort of curious as to the legality of their status here because of this article. And of course, the Townships were settled by British Loyalists looking to escape a brand new country themselves.*

(*settled as in they made their homes here, not settled in that they were here first. That would be the First Nations people.)
posted by Kitteh at 6:47 AM on February 27, 2015

One of my all-time favorite stories on MetaFilter is humanaire's story of fleeing the country for Canada in the wake of 9/11 and the reaction it provoked.
posted by Mayor West at 7:14 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

The Carter pardons covered draft dodgers, albeit not deserters, so the majority of Americans who sought asylum in Canada during the Vietnam War were allowed, as of 1977, to return. Most didn't. While Canada didn't and hasn't extradited Vietnam War deserters, this does mean that a few have been arrested on trying to cross back into the US.
posted by frimble at 7:43 AM on February 27, 2015

One of my all-time favorite stories on MetaFilter is humanaire's story of fleeing the country for Canada in the wake of 9/11 and the reaction it provoked.

Wow. Hadn't seen that before, and I sure hope this place has changed enough that a comment saying "stay the fuck out of my country, coward" to another member doesn't get 15 favorites.
posted by Hoopo at 8:14 AM on February 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

One of the things that's not mentioned in the article is how much of the desertions to Canada came from the anti-Iraq and Afghanistan war crowd being explicitly and intentionally guided by the anti-Vietnam war crowd, all of whom thought "flee to Canada" was a winning solution, not thinking anything had changed in forty years.

Meike -or maybe the article - also leaves out that her own husband's path was not undertaken on his own, in a vacuum. There was a strong support network of religious stalwarts firmly opposed to war who assisted him and advised him, and he had a lawyer assist him with the entire process. (I believe, though am not 100% sure, that he had the same lawyer as Chelsea Manning later did). There was no way that Glass could have known, not having easy and quick access to a massive German peace network. These things do not wind up successful on their own in a vacuum.
posted by corb at 9:18 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize it's probably just shit reporting. Especially because it presents Shephard and Capps-Schubert as totally unrelated people, despite the fact that they both work together frequently and have participated together at anti-war events.
posted by corb at 9:24 AM on February 27, 2015

I had at least two teachers in my school years who were draft dodgers. Nice dudes.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:46 AM on February 27, 2015

How someone that wasn't man enough to do the duty he signed up for and deserted his fellow soldiers on the field of battle is beyond anything I can comprehend. I guess they break all their mirrors.
posted by garacer at 1:58 PM on February 27, 2015

If you find yourself unable to perform the high-risk job you signed up for, or if those job parameters have changed in a way that your morals or nerve cannot handle, better to accept it and leave the field of battle than to remain there and blatantly risk others' lives (and your own) through your inabilities. If I was a soldier, I'd rather have three around me who shared my drive to get the job done than six with half of them ready to snap or panic or pull a Private Pyle.

For many who join, it's not some kind of sacred duty and quest, or some kind of patriotic fervor welling up in your breast with red-white-and-blue sparkles shooting out of your butt every time you eat beans; it's a job. No more, no less. It's a way out of a small town full of bad options, or of a lack of skills that'll put food on the table, or of a lack of critical thinking regarding what you're REALLY getting yourself into versus the story the recruiters spun. It's a paycheck and a hope that you'll learn things that'll help you get your civilian life straight later on, not a rite of manhood and brotherhood and love of country.

And if you say "America's armed forces couldn't operate if people could just leave it at will," you're right! Which is a lesson in that maybe our armed forces shouldn't operate so often and in places and causes that are quite so questionable.
posted by delfin at 2:28 PM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Delfin's points are solid, and I'd like to add that "man enough" is a pretty toxic, sexist concept. The decision to desert is not taken lightly, and the majority of those who do are motivated concerns other than lack of personal bravery, although that can of course be a factor. Casting aspersions on their manhood (which, you know we have women in the military too these days, right?) is a way to short-circuit any discussion of those other concerns, whether political dissent or issues of mental health.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:37 PM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Additionally, a lot of these people deserted around the time they heard about Abu Ghraib. I'm pretty big on following through on my commitments myself but you bet your ass I'd bail out rather than commit literal war crimes. I don't think there's any conflict whatsoever in a man who enlists to protect his country from violent invaders and that same man deciding not to support his brothers in arms when they rape a man and then attack him with snakes
posted by sandswipe at 7:18 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll say it even more bluntly: deserting is the only ethical choice in the face of war crimes and a war based entirely on lies and propaganda.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:25 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of ethical choices in response to war crimes. One of the most noble I've seen was Logan Mehl-Laituri's response - who offered to be deployed, but without his gun - while he applied for conscientious objector status. Desertion is far from necessary.

Honestly, if you have the courage of your convictions, standing up and being tried is the right thing to do, not running.
posted by corb at 7:16 PM on March 1, 2015

Working through the rest of the article, it's striking that the sure-fire way to get yourself prosecuted for desertion is to speak publicly about it. It seems that desertion is not a big deal in the military today, but dissent is not forgiven.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:36 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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