By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
Take Joshua Key, who grew up in a trailer in the tiny town of Guthrie, Oklahoma. A burly welder with tattooed arms, Key, 30, grew up admiring his grandfather who fought in the Korean War. By age twelve he was shooting snakes with AK-47s and Glocks, and ten years later he joined the Army after struggling to support his wife and children on his earnings from KFC. A country boy who recalls his wife saying, "You get 'em, Josh, before they get you. Even if it's a kid. They're terrorists, too," Key never dreamed that after a tour in Iraq he'd be living in self-imposed exile, the author of a book titled The Deserter's Tale.
Ryan Johnson, a slight, bearded 25-year-old from California's Central Valley who looks more like an organic farmer than a soldier, says he enlisted because he was tired of working factory jobs at places like Frito-Lay and couldn't afford college. His mother, a homemaker, and his stepfather, a UPS driver, kept yellow-ribbon bumper stickers on their cars and voted Republican.
Dale Landry, a 23-year-old from the Dallas area who deserted in 2007, joined the Air Force his senior year of high school. Besides the fact that it would enable him to go to college, he figured the military could be a good path out of low-income, red-state America and into a career in Democratic politics. His mother was a waitress who raised him alone except for a series of husbands who came and went, and he wanted his life to look as different from hers as possible. It does, but he couldn't have predicted that would mean watching from Canada as the first Democrat to win the presidency since Landry was eleven years old took the oath of office.
Another difference in the deserter generations seems to be their level of combat experience. John Hagan, a sociologist at Northwestern University and the author of Northern Passage, a book about the migration of Americans to Canada during Vietnam, says 80 percent of the 25,000 draft-aged men who fled to Canada bailed after receiving draft notices and never actually fought. Now, while the Army's Hall maintains that most deserters are junior troops who leave their units early intheir military careers for personal, not moral or philosophical, reasons, the Toronto deserters don't fit that description. Most served for at least two years. Patrick Hart, a former sergeant from New York who served with the 101st Airborne Division, was an active-duty soldier for nearly ten years and did one tour in Iraq, while Dean Walcott, of Connecticut, served the Marine Corps for nearly five years and did two Iraq tours. Unlike soldiers in Vietnam, who only did one tour unless theyre-enlisted, today's troops are deployed multiple times, which is making for a new, more battle-tested type of war deserter. Phil McDowell of Rhode Island, for example, joined the Army in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and fled to Canada in 2006 because he received stop-loss orders back to Iraq after he'd already done one tour there and had been discharged.
Regardless of differences between the deserter generations, today's deserters in Canada have a similar unwillingness to fight in an unpopular war. To Zaslofsky, they are even more courageous than he and his peers were. "In a way I value them a lot more than my generation," he says. "We had this vast antiwar movement to support us and inform our decisions. They don't have that. They've come to this individually, not because of some mass political indoctrination."
It's nearing the end of "Let Them Stay Week," and Rivera, Mario and their three children are being honored with a dinner at the pacifist Quaker House near the University of Toronto. While Mario holds their two-month-old, Katie, in the living room of the cozy Victorian, Rivera sits around a wooden table with a dozen other people eating stew, salad and scalloped potatoes. Nearby sits Naba Hamid, an Iraqi woman who used to teach at Baghdad University and is now seeking refugee status in Canada. An elegant woman wearing a pink sweater and large pearl earrings, Hamid hears Rivera is from Texas and explains that she's involved in a number of women's rights organizations and was supposed to attend a conference in the Southern state. "I couldn't go," she says. "My visa expired, and my refugee status is pending."
"I wanted to get involved in a refugee group here," Rivera tells her. "But I didn't know if I'd be accepted, you know, as someone who says, I have trauma because I afflicted you. I just went and saw a counselor. As long as you keep talking about it, it's not so bad." She's quiet for a moment and seems to be lost in faraway thoughts. Earlier she'd mentioned that she still sees little girls who remind her of that two-year-old Iraqi at the gate, but right now she recalls other incidents that continue to cloud her thoughts. "The soldiers went out on raids every night; the people didn't have electricity; the markets were getting blown up every day."
Hamid nods, her eyes brimming. "There was a raid in my neighborhood after I left," she says. "They came to my house. My neighbor said nothing was disturbed, but I don't know." She asks where Rivera was stationed while in Iraq.