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A Memorial to Draft Dodgers?

Via Former Pawn, the CBC reports that activists are planning to erect a bronze sculpture honouring draft dodgers in Nelson, BC:

The memorial, created by artists in Nelson, B.C., ties into a two-day celebration planned for July 2006 that pays tribute to as many as 125,000 Americans who fled to Canada between 1964 and 1977.

“This will mark the courageous legacy of Vietnam War resisters and the Canadians who helped them resettle in this country during that tumultuous era,” Isaac Romano, the director of the Our Way Home festival told a news conference in Nelson Tuesday.

While I applaud pacifists, and respect anyone who chooses to resist a military draft, are these people really deserving of a statue? Protesters who remained in the US certainly do, as do the soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam. Serving and questioning your country are both admirable acts.

Draft dodgers fled. They undertook a generally non-perilous journey and waited out the war north of the border. What part of that act is worthy enough to merit a statue? As far as I know, none of them died. Now, those who continued the struggle against the war in Canada deserve commendation, but that was surely a small percentage of all the draft dodgers.

When we erect dubious public art, we weaken the impact and meaning of all the truly legitimate memorials out there. If I lived in Nelson, I’d be encouraging my city council not to permit this statue on public property. I wonder what local veterans will think when they spot homage to the “courageous legacy” of draft dodgers?

30 Responses to “A Memorial to Draft Dodgers?”

  1. donna

    I suppose it depends on your view of protestors. For example, if there was a draft that I was eligible for, you bet your booties that I’d desert. Draft dodging in itself is a form of protest. Staying in the US wasn’t going to help them protest too well — they’d be shipped off to vietnam. Harder to protest from vietnam.

    Do they deserve a statue? Hell, who DOES deserve a statue? I figure… whatever. Give ’em one if they want one. *Shrug* And if the vets are offended, I’d say that would be one of the beauties of freedom of speech. I have the freedom to be offensive. Conveniently, the vets have the freedom to ignore me and build their own statue.

  2. Darren

    I think it’s unfair to draw a direct parallel between draft dodgers and protestors. The vast majority of dodgers were not protestors…they were fleeing the draft. As such, they had interest only in their own well-being.

    Plenty of courageous people stayed in the USA and protested Vietnam. Send went to war, some to jail and a few died. It’s also important to note that only a fraction of the draft eligible population went overseas, and only a portion of those people saw combat duty. I’m not arguing for a draft, but, generally speaking, you were unlikely to get drafted to begin with.

    I also don’t concur your logic on who should get a statue. Our culture dedicates monuments to people and ideas who are worthy of respect and public memory. I’m arguing that draft dodgers shouldn’t fall into that category.

  3. kk+

    You gotta admit though, if you’re gonna flee your country and hang out for several years until a war blows over… Nelson would be the place to do it. :P

    kk+

  4. Justin

    I think it’s unfair to draw a direct parallel between draft dodgers and protestors. The vast majority of dodgers were not protestors…they were fleeing the draft. As such, they had interest only in their own well-being.

    I agree with much you say, but I believe your failure to accept a direct parallel in this case is a superficial way to consider what many people did by fleeing the draft. Sure there were plenty of people who fled for fear of their own mortality. That simply ignores people who fled because they refused, under any circumstances, to become part of the military complex that would support the ‘war’.

    It is also a fact that at least a few dogers fled knowing they would never see active combat; their skills would be utilized to manufacture weapons, chemicals, bombs and other devices for the sole purpose of killing the ‘enemy’. By many beliefs, it doesn’t matter if you personally pulled the trigger. Ideology determines whether or not you wonder how Bush sleeps at night, or how you can look in the mirror and consider your own contribution to a ’cause’.

    It’s true that some only fled to save their own skin–nothing more or less–but to say draft dogers were not protesting in at least one form or another is beyond reason. Not everyone protests by yelling loudly, attending marches, or handing out leaflets. Protest is “a formal and solemn declaration of objection” which is an accurate definition for draft dogers regardless of their motavation. There are plenty of dogers who’s quality of motavation one could easily debate, yet their declaration of objection remains clear.

      

    As for a memorial for American draft dogers on Canadian soil? I think if Americans want to pay tribute to whatever contribution one might believe came from draft dogers, power to them. Canadians need a memorial to US protests, as much as they need to have George Washington on the Loonie.

    What a heavy thing to think about, today of all days.

  5. julie

    I agree with Darren on this. Canada is not the place to erect a statue about Americans who avoided being drafted. What they may have done if they did join the service is a mute point.

    They fled, not because they lived in a dictatorship where they would be executed if they didn’t do as the government told them. They did it to avoid military service, the possibility of going to war and more than likely prison time.

    I take a slightly harsher view of draft dodging – I think running to another country is cowardly, considering the potential consequences they faced if they didn’t fulfill their obligation. The idea they “protested” in another country just doesn’t sit well with me, it negates their “protest”. imho

  6. [d]

    american draft dodgers and an obscure religious sect of russian communal farmers were the two primary 20th century cultural influences in the West Kootenay region of B.C. (of which Nelson is the micro-urban hub). their impact on the region has been enormous, helping to create a subculture of activism, protest, creativity and alternative lifestyles that many ‘intentional’ communities could only dream about.

    as a resident in the region from 2000 to 2002, i came to love and appreciate the rarity and beauty of a population that is more concerned with personal freedoms and creative expression than with passing fads and consumerism. the social and political legacy of the draft dodgers has been key in shaping this unique place and therefore deserves to be celebrated and acknowledged.

    in this way, it is definitely appropriate for the people of Nelson to erect a monument to their ‘founding fathers’ as it were (much less a monument in recognition of valid political protest and resistance against a tyrannical goverment).

  7. 'nee

    Let’s not forget, also, that these men truly believed that they would never see their families again: they believed that they would NEVER be able to enter the United States again. It wasn’t just an “until this blows over” thing. It’s no small thing to leave your entire life, your friends and the people you love. It would have been easier for these guys to plead “conscientious objector,” but they didn’t.

    With conscientious objection, the following applies:

    “Any person. . . whose claim is sustained by the local board shall, if he is inducted into the armed forces. . . be assigned to noncombatant service. . . or shall, if he is found to be conscientiously opposed to participation in such noncombatant service. . .perform … civilian work contributing to the maintenance of the nxtional health, safety, or interest. . . ” -Section 6(j) of the Military Selective Service Act.

    These guys didn’t have to leave to be safe. But they did anyway. Draft dodging really wasn’t cowardice or a concern for one’s one skin, except in a minority of cases.

    Jimmy Carter offered amnesty to draft dodgers in his first act as president, but these guys had no way of knowing that would happen. (And draft dodging was certainly safer than deserting: only in 1995 did Clinton pardon the remaining deserters and allow them to return to the US – prior to that, military law could have had them shot).

  8. Andrea

    I don’t feel I’m in a position to question the acts of young men faced with death and dismemberment in a war they didn’t feel was necessary. Sure, you’re not helping to change the system or help anyone else if you flee your country (and no longer have a vote). But you are preserving your own future. Can I question that, if I haven’t faced the same situation?
    Canada also recruited young Americans to cross the border. When I worked for Immigration Canada, there were lots of archived recruitment materials for draft dodgets — and our HQ office was decorated with pictures of these young men. The feds loved the draft dodgers, because most of them had university educations but were still young — a dream for any immigration official. Although these dodgers eventually received amnesty, many stayed in Canada anyway. Many of them shaped the small communities that welcomed them — Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Nelson, etc.

    I’m not saying that draft dodging is a good thing. But how many of us can be sure that we wouldn’t flee a war, if we had lost friends and family members in that war? What is it good for?

  9. Chris

    Julie says “I think running to another country is cowardly, considering the potential consequences they faced if they didn’t fulfill their obligation.”

    The potential consequences? This was Vietnam, not WW2. The potential consequences of the US pulling out of Vietnam earlier would have been… fewer American and Vietnamese dead. It’s not like Amerca was being threatened by the Vietnamese, or that if China had taken Vietnam they would have controlled the world. It was an unjustifiable war, and I would have not had ethical qualms running from it.

    (Like someone else said, I probably wouldn’t have been on the front line since I’m technically skilled, so it wouldn’t have been a life or death decision for me, but instead the people would have died by my works.)

  10. Andrea

    Incidentally, draft dodging is a thing of the past. This past year, US Congress passed the Universal National Service Act of 2003. Under this, all 18-26-year-olds are required to perform military or civilian service for national defence. Women and college students are not exempt. And the “Smart Border Declaration” means Canada has to tell the US about anyone coming across the border.
    Project Censored recently named “reinstating the draft” one of the top 25 under-reported news stories of the past year.

  11. [d]

    that reminds me a song from Pedro The Lion:

    “there once was a time one could flee to the north,
    but Canada’s not what she used to be,
    boycott the war? well, she could not afford to,
    thanks to the New American Dream”

  12. julie

    “potential consequences” from their own government. Not the potential consequences of going to war. The point made was there wasn’t a reason to flee to another country considering what their government would do to them if they refused to serve (as nee pointed out). Guess I’m in the minority here. I’m as “anti war” as they come but I think if your called to “duty” by your government – you go. I don’t think refusing to serve is noble or honourable. Serving is about self sacrifice for the “greater good”. Note: I also don’t think the Vietnam war was needed.

    I’m sure this wont sit well with people (it doesns’t sit well with me) because it’s about war, death, dying, injustice. That’s what war is about. What people are focusing on is the “anti war” aspect of the issue. Sure the cause was just, but how is their protest any more “important” than that of the countless peace protesters who were also fighting in their own way? For example, how about the students who were killed and wounded at Kent State or at Jackson State College? Have they been honoured? (ironically the Kent State students were given a plaque (on the ground) near the huge may 4th memorial for those killed during the Vietnam war at Kent State).

    As for the draft dodgers; I believe if your going to fight for what you believe in you do it on your home turf. Face up to the consequences of that fight, at home. Running from the “fight” to another country is an act of cowardice.

    Why aren’t we honouring those Canadians who went to the USA to fight in the Vietnam war? Why do the Americans barely acknowledge that we did so? There were more Canadians who went south than there were draft dodgers who came North.

    I used to live in Nelson as well(from 1986 to 1988) and I think the Doukhobor’s are more deserving of a memorial after what the British Columbia government put them through in the 1950’s (around that time. Based on a dodgy memory) Just as the Japanese were given for being forced into interment camps during the second world war.

  13. Andrea

    I’m not sure if draft dodgers qualify for a statue — but maybe Nelson figures it will be a tourist draw. :)

    As for the Doukhobors, you’re thinking of the Sons of Freedom sect. They refused to pay taxes or follow BC education guidelines for their children. 600 Sons of Freedom were arrested in the early 30s and held until the mid-30s. About 10-15 years later, after some of these people bombed and set fire to BC schools, the BC government’s royal commission decided that the Sons of Freedom kids be sent to BC schools. In 1953, 170 of these children were forcibly placed in a residential school in New Denver (isn’t that where the Japanese internment camps had been?) — and kept there until 1959. During this time, Sons of Freedom protested by burning down their houses, setting off bombs, and stripping in court. Something like 800 of them walked from the Kootenays to Agassiz and lived at the gates for 10 years, until their imprisoned relatives finished jail terms. The Sons of Freedom were not typical Doukhobors and were generally seen as terrorists, compared to their pacifist counterparts.

  14. julie

    Yes I’m referring to Sons of Freedom – specifically what the government did to their children and yes they were held in New Denver at a Sanatorium. Wonder should the children pay for what the extremists in the sect did?

    BC Ombudsman Report

    Violating UN conventions on the treatment of children. Children abused (physical and psychological) by the staff, beating them, whipping their hands until they couldn’t use them for weeks. Inadequate medical care (one boy broke his leg and the nurse refused to send him to the hospital until a janitor made a stink about it and threatened to go higher up) etc. Another example:

    “[The boy] was at New Denver Dormitory for two years and was four times in hospital with pneumonia, but it was only after the parents and delegation complained to me that their son was not receiving proper medical treatment, and my immediate request to the District Supervisor of Welfare for a medical report on the lad that it was found, in Vancouver, that the child had a tumour of the left lung and requires a major operation. This was of course no fault of the School Principal Mr. … who is doing an outstanding job, so much so, that I understand he is having what is commonly called “Black-outs” with the strain and tension to which he is subject, and which few appear to appreciate, if he does get these attacks, such warning should not be ignored.”

    It’s all there if you want to read it, from the midnight raids to life at the sanitorium.

    All in an effort to “canadianize” a group. Any reasonable person knows you can’t do that by force.

    Shouldn’t they get some recognition?

  15. John L. McEwan

    Dear Andrea,
    Reinstating the draft is one of the 25 underreported stories of the year because the draft has not been reinstated. Any new law in the US requires a positive vote of both houses of Congress and the signature of the President. The proposal is in committee and will remain there. We have more volunteers than we need to staff our military forces.
    I find the erecting of a stature to our draft dodgers and deserters completely odious, as do many of your fellow Canadians. I served in Vietnam with many Canadian non-combatants, who were there as part of an International Commission to guarantee the agreement that separated Vietnam into two countries after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. We both bailed out the French. Now you want to celebrate the people who condemned 10 million South Vietnamese to the tender mercies of the Communist North, to say nothing of the 3 million Cambodians that were dispatched at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Erect your statue, even dance around it for a few days, but know with an absolute certainty that in the long term Nelson, BC, will pay dearly. Many of us have long memories. I have to drive through St. John, NB, to get to other parts of the Maritimes. I don’t stop there, I don’t eat there, I don’t buy gas there. They welcomed the Loyalists, our deserters of the 1770’s, and celebrate them as an honorable part of their history. Nelson, BC, welcome to the club.

    John McEwan
    Meredith,NH, USA
    Son of Canadian immigrants

  16. nelson resident

    To set the record straight, the city of Nelson has NOT in any way backed or supported this proposal. This “statue/memorial”, is the brainchild of an American who has been in this area for less than a year. He also has ambition to make a doccumentary (Michael Moore wannabe?). Weird that he has promoted it two full years before the event? Not likely given the U.S. election. Its all a lot of political posturing and his own private ego trip. Don’t worry, the locals won’t be duped! And I seriously doubt that any resister who came here needs to have their “contributions” recognised when they remember their friends, relatives or fellow countrymen who couldn’t contribute because they didn’t have the luxury of their lives to do it in!

  17. Les Randall

    It sickens me to see these American cowards honored like some kind of heroes for running to Canada and hiding so they don’t have to stand up for their own country. If Canada is ever attacked, where will they run and hide next, France?
    Nelson, BC will never see any of my tourist dollars. The only reason I would go there is to piss on their ridiculous statue.What an embarrassement to our Country.

  18. Tony Nozzi

    Dear Sirs/Madams:
    As a Vietnam veteran I honestly do not have resentment against draft dodgers if they truly claim the conscientious objector status. The Vietnam War was a mistaken tragedy and Vietnam veterans have to honestly recognize this.
    However, I will never forgive “Ultimate Cowards” like Ted Nugent who now waves the flag with a pro-war attitide. This is a letter that I recently submitted to the Chicago Sun Times.

    Sincerely
    Tony Nozzi
    pitman10@verizon.net

    Flag-waving coward

    Publication: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
    Date: June 8, 2006
    Author: Tony Nozzi The Chicago Sun-Times
    Section: Editorials/Letters
    Edition: Final
    Page: 38
    Word Count: 235

    Another picture of Ted Nugent posing with America’s military heroes as if he’s one of them [QT column, June 1]? Evidently he’s since changed the crusty, urine-soaked pants that he wore to his draft board physical or the National Guardsmen would have been posing with their military-issued gas masks.

    Nugent claims he’s paid his dues for avoiding the Vietnam draft. How so? By playing his guitar and getting rich while over 58,000 men bled and died for his right to wave his guns around?

    Lacking the courage that even conscientious objectors exhibited, he bragged to the Detroit Free Press in 1990 that, “30 days before his draft board physical, he stopped all forms of personal hygiene. The last 10 days he ingested nothing but Vienna Sausages and Pepsi; and a week before his draft board physical, he stopped using bathrooms altogether, virtually living inside pants caked with his own excrement stained by his own urine.”

    Nugent’s flag-waving rhetoric won’t change what he did. I’m sure the military men and women with whom he frequently poses are unaware of Nugent’s cowardice. As a Vietnam veteran, I am not swayed by his pathetic justification for his hypocrisy.

    Why do the country music stations continue to attack the Dixie Chicks and Jane Fonda while Nugent is idolized as a patriot? Jane Fonda and the Dixie Chicks have more guts and cleaner panties than this phony has-been.

    Tony Nozzi, Durand, Ill.

    Copyright (c) 2006 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

  19. Bill McCoy

    I am an American currently working in Afghanistan along side a bunch of really great Canadian Soldiers (I am not a soldier, but I was last year in Iraq). Aside from the daily razzing done by these guys…and the constant pain of watching them put mayonaise on everything…they are really great. We are all stuck over here and we are curious….what happened to the memorial? Did it go up at all? I applaud Canada for being a country willing to take care of America’s misguided few. My father was in Vietnam. I am an Iraqi war vet. None of this bothers me. The only thing that really bothers me is what someone else pointed out, is that this was an American idea…of course it was! If it goes up, it will be a slap in the face to people who deserve it. Oh yeah, and someone in this blog stated they had the right to be offensive…well, if you come to my state in the US, being offensive in public will net you a stay in jail. Food for thought…say what you want…but be respectful about it. Oh yeah, one more thing. Michael Moore is a Stupid Fat White Man. Thank you.

  20. Mickey

    I am a Viet Vet. Does anyone know if those with the cajones to go to prison as draft dodger/objectors were pardoned as well as those that fled the country? I admire anyone that would go to Leavenworth as a stance and that have the courage of their beliefs; they are heroes, too!

  21. Aurelio Lozano

    I think that you are dead wrong. Why don’t you think about the position that you’re in when you get drafted? You either go to a war that you don’t even believe in and die for a country that will outcast you when(and if) you return home. You will be spit on and called a baby killer, or you could flee the country that you have called your home for 18 years to a foreign land with no one by your side, and you don’t think that this takes some courage. Damn right they deserve a memorial. I just have one question. Were you drafted into the Vietnam War?

  22. Brian

    Dubious my ass. I remember my friends and their brothers talking about “Killing a Commie for Mommy.” When I was about 14 I was even in a right-wing group of little dweebs with some bullshit patriotic name. It broke up when the head of it had his older brother not come home from the Parrot’s Beak.

    It’s always a lot easier to “do what you’re told,” than to do what’s right.

  23. Frank Blackstone

    Those Un sung Heros of mine , Those that Never went .Stood up to a Country Gone Mad…Deserving of admiration in my opinion . Do Not Like War as the USA Is So Very Fond Of Creating and expecting everyone to think its Just…It Just Is Not So

  24. Micahel Lee Johnson

    I was, in fact, a Vietnam War resister in Canada, you can find my credentials by simply typing “Michael Lee Johnson” into Google. I’m a business owner and poet and returned to the USA after 10 years in self-imposed exile in Canada. I loved Canada; I loved their health care, I loved their basic policy of non-intervention. We all do different things at different times in our lives especially when 19-23 yrs of age. Do I regret many of the things while in Canada, yes. Do I regret taking a costly stance against the Vietnam War after all these years-No! I feel the same today in 2011 as I did in 1970. Vietnam was a total waste of American lives, American soilders (many of which I knew), a lost for those who evaded the draft 10 yrs or a lifetime out of their lives, and the American public who know realize the folly of that futile war. I run a business for many years now after returning to the Usa (where I still feel intervention in other countries leads to hatred, that carrying a gun around is not a right, and health care should be affordable for every American. I stand my my convictions. You can view my extensive poetry contributions on Google my simply typing in my name. Please don’t interpret this as a disrepect for the men in service-we all lost in a bad time in a terrible place in history.

  25. Michael Lee Johnson

    I was, in fact, a Vietnam War resister in Canada, you can find my credentials by simply typing “Michael Lee Johnson” into Google. I’m a business owner and poet and returned to the USA after 10 years in self-imposed exile in Canada. I loved Canada; I loved their health care, I loved their basic policy of non-intervention. We all do different things at different times in our lives especially when 19-23 yrs of age. Do I regret many of the things while in Canada, yes. Do I regret taking a costly stance against the Vietnam War after all these years-No! I feel the same today in 2011 as I did in 1970. Vietnam was a total waste of American lives, (many of which I knew), a lost for those who evaded the draft 10 yrs or a lifetime out of their lives, an American solders and the American public who know realize the folly of that futile war. I run a business for many years now after returning to the USA (where I still feel intervention in other countries leads to hatred, that carrying a gun around is not a right, and health care should be affordable for every American. I stand my my convictions. You can view my extensive poetry contributions on Google my simply typing in my name. Please don’t interpret this as a disrespect for the men in service-we all lost in a bad time in a terrible place in history.

    Some Guy Reply:

    Conscription is the greatest evil the world has ever known. The Draft says, “We will defend your freedom by forcing you to become killing machines and die in a miserable land thousands of miles from your home whether you like it or not.” Is someone missing something?
    By refusing to be molded into murderers, Draft Dodgers have the courage to stand up for what they believed in, and for that, they deserve the finest statue the world can afford.

  26. Some Guy

    I have a question for all of you who say the draft-dodger were cowards because they “refused to serve their Country”.
    How is it that the millitary fights to “defend our freedom” if they use the draft to ROB us of our freedom? America didn’t give me the right to freedom of speech or anything else. I always had that right. All America did was avoid trampling the right I already had as a human being. Bravo.

  27. Some Guy

    As far as all this “Canada is not the place for a statue” buisness, I think it is of little consequence what country the statue is errected in. It’s highly likely that if it errected in America, it will shortly be torn down by ‘patriots’. First ammendment, anyone?

  28. Some Guy

    A note about the whole ‘Conscientious Objector’ thing. There have been plenty of conscientious objectors who, upon submitting their paper work to the draft, shortly found it conveniently misplaced. Without records of their status as conscientious objectors, they were drafted into the millitary.
    America, the beautiful… why are we better than the rest of the world again?

  29. Some Guy

    Okay, so yes, draft dodgers could have stayed and been thrown in prison. To what end? Hard to make a statement with a shank sticking out of your forehead. Draft Dodgers couldn’t fight America, so they left it.

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