Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
The following profiles, by Maggie Gilmour, were posted to Toronto Life, July 2009
To avoid serving in Iraq, 300 American soldiers have left their homes and families and fled to Canada, 75 of them to Toronto. Many assumed they’d get a visa, settle down and live a normal life. But the federal government has rejected their refugee claims and ordered them deported. Some go into hiding; others wait for appeals and judicial reviews of their cases. In the meantime, they’ve put down roots, taking temp jobs and raising children, nostalgic for a time when Canada was a haven for conscientious objectors.
PHIL MCDOWELL, 29
HOMETOWN: Warwick, Rhode Island
ARRIVED: October 14, 2006
STATUS: Refugee application denied, appealing to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for protected person status
I went to a small college in Poughkeepsie, New York. After 9/11, I wanted to do something useful to defend my country. I graduated with a degree in IT and joined the army a month later. I believed, we all believed, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I went to Iraq in February 2004, and when we first drove into Baghdad you could taste burning tires and garbage in the air. My job was to set up communications networks at bases. One day I saw Donald Rumsfeld on TV saying that we were no longer looking for weapons of mass destruction. I thought, Then what the hell are we doing here? My commanding officer told us we were spreading democracy and freedom. I got suspicious and ordered books off Amazon: Bush at War by Bob Woodward, The 9/11 Commission Report, American Soldier by Tommy Franks. We had been lied to, and we did so many things wrong in Iraq. When we held detainees at our base, they’d be put out in the sun for hours at a time, hands zip-cuffed, hoods on their heads.
My tour ended in February 2005. I got home and spent time with my girlfriend, Jamine. By June 2006, I’d fulfilled my four-year contract, and I was done. I was so happy to be out, and I started a five‑month hike on the Appalachian Trail. When I was in New Hampshire, I got the call that I’d been stop-lossed and had to report back to base to deploy for another 15 months. I told my commanding officer I didn’t support the war and asked if there was something else I could do in the army to avoid going back to Iraq. He said no. I called my congressman and my senator’s office; I called a civilian military officer and a lawyer. They all said, “There is nothing you can do. You have to report back.” I couldn’t continue to serve in a war that I was morally opposed to, so I picked up clothes from my parents’ house and drove north.
At first I lived with a Toronto family who belong to a group of war resisters; then I got my own apartment at Broadview and Danforth. Jamine joined me in November 2006, after we got married. Jamine plays lacrosse, and she’s coaching at U of T. I have a work permit and install solar thermal heating systems. If things work out and I get a visa, I’d like to keep working in my field; the new Ontario Green Energy Act has created a lot of interest. One day when we met officials about our refugee application, there were people from Zimbabwe in the waiting room who had probably fled their own wars. We showed up in our Ralph Lauren shirts—people laughed at us.
PATRICK HART, 35
HOMETOWN: New Bedford, Massachusetts
ARRIVED: August 20, 2005
STATUS: Refugee application denied, deportation order postponed
I decided to join the army in 1992, after graduating from high school by the skin of my teeth. I served for three years in Germany as a warehouse guy, operating a forklift. I left at the end of that tour, thinking that with my military record I’d be able to get a job. I made tacos, did construction work and got laid off from a job at a steel factory. I married my wife, Jill, in March 2000 and rejoined the army that year because I needed an income to start a family. For the first three years, I worked in the motor pool at my base in Fort Riley, Kansas, and it was nine-to-five, pretty relaxed. My son, Rian, was born in 2002, and a year later I was sent to Kuwait to do maintenance on all the trucks and machines. There was a lot of just sitting around, shooting the shit. When we found out there were no weapons of mass destruction, I felt like I was putting my life on the line for nothing. I returned to the U.S. in March 2004 and told Jill that I wanted to leave the army, but she convinced me to stay for the health care, since our son has epilepsy. We argued about it a lot, but I couldn’t convince her, and I decided to leave without telling her. I knew that if I’d told her I was deserting, she would have turned me in and I would have gone to jail.
I left for Canada in August 2005; my parents drove me over the border. We told the border guard we were going to the CNE. When the army found out I had left, they sent military police to look for me at our home on the base. They ransacked the place in the middle of the night, looking for signs I was still living there. They went into Rian’s room and turned the light on and dumped all the dresser drawers out on the floor. They scared Jill pretty badly. I think she realized then that they were the bad guys, and she and Rian joined me in Canada a month later. We moved into a co-op near the lake. When I first arrived, I worked for a while at Lula Lounge running food and helping out at the bar, but my work permit ended. I keep busy by playing in a Misfits tribute band; we sometimes perform at the Bovine and the Rivoli.
When you apply for refugee status, you have to meet with a border services agent who asks if you’ll leave if you’re ordered deported. My lawyer told me that if you waver, if it seems like you are lying, or if you’re dumb enough to say no, they take you into custody at that moment and keep you in a hotel room near the office. So I said yes. My mother and father always say, “We’d rather visit you in Canada than at the cemetery.” My wife once asked my commanding officer what happens to soldiers who go AWOL. He said, “We put them on guard duty in Iraq with no ammo in their weapon, no plates in their bulletproof jacket, and just see what happens.”
CHUCK WILEY, 37
HOMETOWN: Frankfort, Kentucky
ARRIVED: February 11, 2007
STATUS: Refugee application denied, applied for consideration on compassionate grounds to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration
The military is a big deal in my family. Of my father’s eight siblings, seven went into the military. My dad was immensely proud of me when I started basic training after Grade 11. I went in first as a classified communications electronics technician, which is a fancy name for someone who fixes radios. I did that in Louisville for three years, then signed on for full-time active duty in the navy; I maintained and operated nuclear reactors on ships. In 2004, I was assigned to serve on the USS Enterprise, where the planes rest between bombing missions. We were situated near the Persian Gulf, in the Strait of Hormuz. The summer of 2006, I asked one of my buddies in weapons why our F‑18s were returning covered in bullet holes, and he told me how the army was surrounding areas with suspected insurgents at dawn and flying F-18s right over the heads of the villagers to create as much chaos and fear as possible. Whoever fled was deemed a “person of interest” and rounded up. The fourth Geneva Convention details the treatment of civilians. It says you need to protect them from conflict, and you can’t treat all civilians as if they are the enemy—but that’s what we were doing. When I complained about it, I was told to just follow orders and not ask questions.
In mid-October 2006, we turned around and headed home to Norfolk, Virginia. I asked to be put on a ship going to any mission other than the Middle East. Instead, I was ordered to serve on the George Washington, which was headed for Iraq in four months. I spoke to a lawyer, who told me I had to report for duty or go to jail. Instead, I left for Canada.
I now live in a basement apartment at Donlands and Danforth and have a job maintaining the heating and cooling systems at a private school near Yonge and St. Clair. After nuclear reactors, it’s pretty easy. I’ve been giving anti-war talks at Ryerson, Queen’s and the University of Waterloo. I had never experienced cultural diversity until I moved here. Most Americans in small towns have never met a Muslim. Here, I have a Muslim colleague who works in IT. When you’ve met Muslims, worked with them, got into serious conversations with them, it’s a hell of a lot harder to follow orders to kill them.
DEAN WALCOTT, 27
HOMETOWN: Saratoga, New York
ARRIVED: December 6, 2006
STATUS: Refugee application denied, waiting to be granted a judicial review of his deportation order
I joined the marines in 2000 to put some discipline in me. My parents didn’t like it, but they weren’t too worried: 9/11 hadn’t happened, so no one thought I’d go to war. At basic training, they beat the shit out of you, fist in the face, kick you in the gut, throw you up against walls. My first posting was in Okinawa, Japan. I repaired electronics, sang karaoke, and drank a lot of Habu sake, a crazy drink made with snake venom.
In 2003, they sent me to Iraq to be a gunner. We’d travel in convoys down the road, from one base to another. I sat in the turret of a Humvee with a machine gun, looking out for the enemy. In a border town called Safwan, we saw some kids who had been beaten up by British and American soldiers. They had slogans written on their foreheads in black permanent marker: “terrorist in training” and “camel jockey.” A year after my tour in Iraq, I was sent to an army hospital in Stuttgart, where I processed paperwork for injured soldiers. Some of them were missing all of their limbs; some had survived being set on fire but were a red and black mass that looked nothing like a human being, families standing around their beds screaming and crying. We did whatever we could for the soldiers—got them a pizza or an Adam Sandler movie, whatever they asked for. I was sent back to Iraq again and stayed there until March 2006. When I returned to the U.S., I couldn’t sleep because of my nightmares. When I’d talk to the guys in my unit, they would just say, ”Shut up, you’re a wimp, stop whining.” I became a recluse and spent all my time chatting with my rabbit, Lunchbox, who I’d bought at a mall.
One night, I typed “war” and “get out” into Google and found a war resisters Web site. I dropped Lunchbox off with a friend, got on a Greyhound bus and came north. Now I live in Parkdale with two other resisters and have a temporary work permit for my job at Reboot, a non-profit that repairs donated used computers and gives them to low-income families. I go to Galaxy Donuts for coffee and have beer with my friends at the Cadillac Lounge. I like it here; there is an attitude of live-and-let-live. I’m still in touch with my parents through e‑mail, and they’re proud of my decision.
KIMBERLY RIVERA, 27
HOMETOWN: Mesquite, Texas
ARRIVED: February 18, 2007
STATUS: Refugee application denied, judicial review of her deportation order is scheduled for July
Army recruiters called my house 20 times when I was in high school, and I knew that the only way I’d be able to afford an education was if I joined. My sign-up bonus would be $8,000, and my college and health care would be covered. I was 17 when I joined the reserves. Five months into my training, I discovered I was pregnant. They gave me an honourable discharge, and I moved in with my boyfriend, Mario. We had our first child, Christian, then our second, Rebecca. We had no health insurance, and the stress made me a terrible person: I threw shoes at my husband, threw the TV off the balcony. In January 2006, I rejoined the army. Mario and I got married that same month.
That October, my unit left for Iraq, and I spent three months patting down civilians as a gate guard. Most of my fellow soldiers treated me like a sister, but not all of them. Some of them would hound me: “You look so fine, I want to get with you.” It was the most attention I’d had in my whole life. When I got back to Mesquite from Iraq, I realized how much I missed Mario and how badly I wanted out of the army—it was too hard on our relationship. We left Texas in January 2007 and drove north. By the time we got to Kansas City, I was having second thoughts. I wrote out a pros and cons list. If I left, I’d lose my furniture, which was at the base in Fort Carson, Colorado Springs, and my salary—$1,200 every two weeks. If I went back to Iraq, my marriage wouldn’t survive, and I’d lose my peace of mind.
We crossed at the Rainbow Bridge, said we were going shopping, and the guards waved us through. For three months, we lived with a family in Oakville who had volunteered to house resisters. That April, we moved to a one-bedroom apartment at King and Jameson. For nine months, I worked at Cobs Bread in Kensington; then I had my third kid, Katie. Mario took a course to operate a forklift, but neither of us has a work permit. We sit around waiting for the government to decide what to do with us—they put a stay on my deportation order this past March. When we first arrived in Canada, I still felt paranoid and unhappy—like I was back in Iraq. Now it’s our home.
This article, by Maggie Farley, was originally published by the Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2008
When U.S. soldier Corey Glass decided two years ago that he would rather be a criminal for fleeing the Iraq war than be a criminal by staying in it, there was one obvious place to go -- Canada, a refuge for Americans who had fled the Vietnam War draft.
But instead of being welcomed, he became the first deserter to receive orders to leave the country -- and ended up a symbol of Canada's conflicted sentiments about the war.
On Tuesday, Canada's House of Commons passed a motion urging the government to allow deserters to stay. The measure, though nonbinding, could lead to a last-minute reprieve for Glass and nearly 40 others who have asked for refugee status. Perhaps 200 more war dodgers are living in the country unannounced, waiting to see how Canada will ultimately declare itself, the War Resisters Support Campaign says.
Glass, 25, has lived for two years as though ready to bolt, his belongings stuffed in backpacks and boxes in a small Toronto apartment he shares with other resisters. He has fielded death threats and hate-filled e-mails from Americans who consider him a traitor and a coward.
Though pleased by the day's victory, he wonders whether anything can happen before his June 12 deportation deadline that would keep him from being sent back to the U.S., and perhaps to prison.
"Things never end up the way I expect," he said after the Parliament vote. "I didn't think I would end up in Iraq. I didn't think I would be asked to leave Canada. And I didn't think my case would end up here."
Glass joined the National Guard after high school in Fairmount, Ind., in 2002, with assurances that he wouldn't face combat, he said. He thought he would be sandbagging levee banks or quelling riots.
"They told me the only way you'll see war is if foreign troops storm the shores of Florida," he said. "I believed that."
But a year later, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and in 2005 he was sent north of Baghdad and pressed into service as a military intelligence officer.
"There were a lot of things -- crimes -- going on that I can't talk about," he said. "It convinced me that the war was illegal and immoral, and I didn't want to be a part of it."
When Glass told his commanding officer that he couldn't continue fighting in a war that he didn't believe in, he was sent home for a two-week break. He never returned.
After Googling "desertion," Glass found his way to Toronto, to a semi-underground railroad for war resisters run by Lee Zaslofsky, an avuncular 63-year-old who had traveled the same path in 1970 to avoid the Vietnam War.
The Canada of that era was an idealistic place, led by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who declared the country "a refuge from militarism." Zaslofsky applied for residency at the border, and 50,000 to 80,000 other Americans sought sanctuary here.
Although another Liberal government sought to stop the Iraq invasion, present-day conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stood firm with the Bush administration in supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and imprisonments at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But the opposition parties that carried Tuesday's vote, 137-110, over Harper's conservatives are hoping the motion will help persuade the government to accept war resisters.
"Canada has always been a place that welcomes those who seek peace and freedom," said Bob Rae, a Liberal Party member of Parliament. "We want to see it remain that way."
So far, the government seems unmoved.
"The emotion in the House does not change the law in the country," Diane Finley, the minister for citizenship and immigration, said after the vote. "Once someone has gone through the legal process, we expect them to respect the results and leave the country when asked."
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada denied Glass and five others refugee status, ruling that they had not exhausted legal alternatives in the U.S., and would not face persecution if they returned.
But Canada's government, confronted with a swell of support for the resisters, could put a quiet hold on Glass' deportation order, or choose not to immediately carry it out, said Jack Layton, leader of the leftist New Democratic Party, who helped push the motion.
At a post-vote celebration at an Irish pub near Parliament, Glass and dozens of resisters who came from Toronto on a bus hoisted mugs of beer.
There was Phil McDowell, who was discharged, then "stop-lossed," told that he had to go back again. And Linjamin Mull, a social worker from Harlem who joined up because poverty gave him no other choice. And Josh Keys, who fled to Canada with his wife and three children without bidding his mother goodbye, and still has violent nightmares.
All are in legal limbo.
"We used to joke about who is going to be the first to be deported," Mull said.