If I went to the United States border crossing right now, I would be arrested. That’s right. As a matter of fact, a couple of weeks ago a man hired to transport my vehicle back to the United States was held at gunpoint by a U.S. border guard because he was suspected of being me. Am I really that dangerous?
My being here in Canada is a true blessing. It’s a lot better than being in a prison in the United States.
By now, you are probably very curious about what my crime is. Well, in short, I am guilty of desertion. That’s right, I deserted the United States Army. But if one digs a little more deeply into what I have done, they may learn the truth of the matter: I am a victim of an unjust system.
I joined the U.S. Army on August 28, 2006, after learning that not only would I be serving my country, as every young man should, but that I would also be receiving benefits such as: Tricare universal healthcare, a $400,000 life insurance policy, a $37,000 Montgomery GI Bill, a $10,000 signing bonus, a dependable monthly income, and, last but not least, career training for when my contract reached its completion. As a 19 year-old kid recently independent from his parents, one might say that I needed what they were offering me. And I took it.
I went through the system fairly smoothly. No discipline problems. No UCMJ actions. No Article 13s. I was just another private swimming through a sea of conformity, trying not to stand out. (Although, when you read Voltaire on your breaks, I guess you’re going to stand out a little). I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. A soldier in A Company, 1/67 Armour, 4th Infantry Division, I soon became a central focus for many jokes. I was referred to by my fellow soldiers as a "hippie", "commie", and "faggot" – just to name a few. Times were, well, quite depressing.
Then came the stories from Iraq. Men in my unit who had already served in Iraq were one day explaining the various situations that they had encountered while "down range". One Sergeant explained how he shot a man in an alleyway just for being out after dark. He expressed how easy it was to kill "hajjis" once you did it for the first time. I listened as one soldier told how a specialist in my unit kept a human finger in his wall locker during his entire tour of duty. The laughing ensued as I heard the story of a soldier in another company eating the charred flesh of an Iraqi civilian, the unfortunate victim of an IED attack aimed at American forces. I thought about how callous these men had become, and how horrified I was at the idea of disrespecting human life in such a manner. This is when doubt began to flood my mind.
I began to regret ever signing the dreadful contract that imprisoned me. I became a recluse from my family. I began a rebellion of the mind, realizing that I was no longer a staunch defender of my nation, but that I now wore on my shoulder an emblem of hate and greed. I found alternate news sources to rely on, seeing that up until this point in my life I had relied on conservative news reports. I was building a new me, and the new me could not become an animal, accustomed to the needless loss of human life. So, when I realized that my tour of duty in Iraq was soon approaching, I immediately asked my chain of command for conscientious objector status. I was laughed at.
After repeatedly being told that my claim would be denied, I began researching alternate methods of living freely, without the guilt of forcing the will of imperialism on an innocent people. And then I learned of Canada. Dearest Canada. Pierre Trudeau described Canada as being a "refuge from militarism." After all, hadn’t over 100 000 Vietnam era draft resisters fled to Canada? And what better place to go than a place with over 50 000 of those original "war resisters" still living and prospering within its borders. And so the decision was made. I was preparing for Canada.
Nervous is an understatement to describe the way I was feeling when I arrived at the Canadian border. But I had confidence, knowing that thousands of Americans crossed into Canada every day. There was no need for me to worry. But later, as I was being driven to the Surrey jail in handcuffs, I understood that something was amiss.
I had been drilled at the border. An officer by the name of Marcotte had interviewed me and told me how I would be in jail during my entire brief stay in Canada, until American authorities would come to pick me up. The acting superintendent, John Cumblidge, asked me repeatedly to return to the United States of my own free will, and that there was no point in attempting to stay in Canada. But I knew in my heart that I belonged here. I knew that I had a mission, and that was to fight for my right to moral choice. So, after a gruelling refugee application process, and a two-night stay in jail, I was released. I stepped into the Vancouver rain as a new, free man. I was different, no longer able to be subjected to the rising tide of conformity. The time had come for me to take a stand.
Yes, I had volunteered. Yes, at the time, I completely agreed with the mission in Iraq. No, I did not understand the full scope of things, and how horrific the situation truly is. I know, I should have never signed my contract. But at the time, I knew no better.
A change of heart, some would call it. A change of soul is more like it. For today, as I sit here in Vancouver, Canada, I am a different person. I no longer consider myself to be an American, for my country, in not granting me the freedom to moral choice, has betrayed me. And seeing that, so far, the Canadian government has denied the refugee claims of others like me, I guess that I am at loss for a country to call my home. But it is a lot better for me to be without a nation than to be a war criminal.
This Saturday, January 26, is a pan-Canadian day of action in support of U.S. war resisters, with events planned in at least ten cities. To find the war resisters support action near you, check out resisters.ca.