October 19, 2012 | 14 Comments
There was an episode of All in the Family in which one of Archie Bunker’s conservative friends was coming to dinner. Archie, the lovable reactionary curmudgeon, was horrified when one of Meathead’s friends was coming, too. Meathead’s friend, you see, was a deserter who had fled to Canada during the Vietnam war. Archie’s friend had lost his son in the war.
In the poignant climax, the truth is revealed to all at dinner. Rather than lash out at the deserter, Archie’s friend embraces him. We have lost enough sons, he tells us, we do not need to lose anymore.
On September 20, Kimberly Rivera, war resister and mother of four, was deported and subsequently arrested at the United States border. She had sought asylum in Canada, but after a long battle, was ordered out. Her young children were not with her when she left the country, as she did not want them to see her arrested.
Forty years ago, we had lost too many sons. Last month, these children lost their mother.
In 2009, Parliament passed a non-binding motion to grant asylum to all American war resister. A non-binding motion is as significant as it sounds, and the motion was correctly ignored by our immigration system. Such meaningless Parliamentary gestures should not set policy.
Nonetheless, such a policy is the right policy for Canada. We should formally declare that we will grant refugee status to all war resisters. It would be a policy shift that gives a nod to our past support for deserters and reflects the western liberal underpinnings we claim to hold.
For years during the 1960s and 1970s, Canada accepted American deserters and draft dodgers. In the early stages of the Vietnam war, immigration officials frowned upon such people, but by the end of the 1960s, the government changed course. In the first instance of a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, American asylum seekers were no longer asked about their military status. As many as 30 000 Americans were granted sanctuary during the Vietnam war.
America’s current military engagements are not dissimilar from the Vietnam war. In each case, we see a prolonged conflict with no real hope of anything resembling true victory. Each war is conducted halfway around the world, against nations that did not attack America or its allies. In each conflict, America is fighting a proxy war against a perceived existential threat. In Vietnam, they were battling communism. Today, it is the Global War On Terrorism.
The main difference, of course, is that America had instituted a draft for the Vietnam war. Conscription, abandoned decades earlier by Canada, is and authoritarian tool rightfully shunned by most democracies. The majority of the deserters and draft dodgers that made their way to Canada half a century ago had not volunteered for military service. They were to be forced into their role in the war. No such enslavement occurs currently in the United States.
Regardless, the United States is hardly blameless in this. They may not have drafted anyone, but coercion certainly existed. The United States government launched an illegitimate war by lying to the American people. In one of the few recorded displays of personal integrity being sacrificed for military ambition, we all watched Colin Powell present false “proof” that the Iraq government was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Powell and the U.S. lied not only to their people, but also to the United Nations and to Canada.
It was in the wake of this shameless propaganda that people like Ms. Rivera volunteered to “protect” their country. Buying into the vacuous existential threat posed by Iraq, Ms. Rivera enlisted, choosing to be grease for the wheels of America’s military industrial complex. Yes, she made her choice, but she was manipulated and coerced by her government.
Further, the United States accepts enlistees as young as 17. One not even need be an adult to volunteer to kill people in far off lands. The United States is capitalizing on the impetuousness, and desperation, of its youth in order to fill the ranks for its military misadventures
The war in Iraq is incredibly unpopular in Canada, as it should be. There was little stomach to enter into it in 2003, and there is even less so now. The entire entanglement is a blunder of such tremendous proportion that even the former Iraq hawk, Stephen Harper, had to incredulously deny his past support for Canadian involvement if he were to have any hope of becoming Prime Minister. As a nation, we know that the war in Iraq is wrong. We know that the war in Afghanistan should not be continuing. We know that the American government lied to its people, and now expects us to police its citizens who no longer have a taste for blood. We should say, no more.
No more will be a party to muscular policy failure of the United States. No longer will we play sidekick to a war hungry neighbour. No longer will we arrest people within our borders simply because they no longer want to kill people.
Adopting such a policy would, no doubt, pose potential harm to our relationship with the United States. Such diplomatic concerns are always worthy of consideration. However, such realpolitik considerations should not cost anymore young men and women their lives.
We have lost enough sons; we do not need to lose anymore.