Veterans Express Their Feelings On War Deserters
MILWAUKEE — During the Vietnam War, Canada became a haven for draft-dodgers. Now, American soldiers fleeing the war in Iraq are turning to Canada again.
Two American soldiers were in different parts of Iraq but came to the same conclusion: Their government lied to them about the reasons for going to war. Now, they're roommates and comrades seeking political asylum in Toronto, Canada.
They said they were forced to fight a war they consider illegal and have the help of a Whitefish Bay native who's spearheading their legal battle…
Jeffry House was a student at the University of Wisconsin during the Vietnam War. It was a heady time on America's college campuses. House, a political science major, rode the wave of rebellion, marching in peace rallies and swearing, 'Hell no, we won't go.'"
"I had pretty well thought about the war in Vietnam and decided I wouldn't do it," House said.
When House got his diploma, he lost is draft waiver. Six months later, his draft notice arrived.
"If the mantra of 'love it or leave it' had any validity, I was leaving," House said. "I got in my Volkswagen car with flowers on it, came to the border and said, 'I'd like to stay.'"
Thirty-seven years later, House still lives in Toronto, and it seems life has come full-circle.
"I seem to be the go-to person in Toronto for American war resisters, conscientious objectors and people of that sort," House said. "They're people who, for one reason or another, feel that it's wrong for them to continue to participate in the war in Iraq."
Dean Walcott is one deserter seeking House's help.
"I'm actually kind of glad that he's a Vietnam-era resister," Walcott said. "I mean, obviously the political climate and the government was very, very different back then, but in a sense it's very much the same instance."
"He understands what we're going through, find a kinship to it, I guess," Walcott's roommate, Corey Glass, said.
Unlike his clients, House never went to war, and he can go home. The U.S. government pardoned him in the '70s.
Still, he's committed to convincing Canada's courts to grant American deserters asylum.
"As it stands now, the U.S. position is, 'Oh, you can only object to all wars. If you object to all wars, then you're a conscientious objector. If you only object to illegal wars, you go to jail whether or not you're right,'" House said.
Back in the states, a group of veterans from Vietnam to Iraq sat down at Milwaukee's Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center to share its views of deserters.
"Desertion is desertion," veteran Greg Jacobs said. "And that used to be a capital offense. I don't know that it shouldn't still be. That type of cowardice costs lives."
Just 22 years old, Marine Ian Jenson said he was afraid to go overseas and will wear the scars of battle for the rest of his life.
"I was sent out to pick up some wounded, and that's when everyuthing just hit the fan and I got shot," Jenson said.
Still, he said, if he could pass the physical, he'd gladly go back to Iraq.
"When I was there, I felt that I was serving a purpose, and I didn't turn my back on the United States," Jenson said.
Army Veteran Joshuwa Jones agreed.
"It's not even so much the manpower that's lost by this, you know. If somebody is afraid to do their job, then so be it. We don't need them there. However, it's undermining our country, it's undermining our military, our president," Jones said.
"They don't have to run; they can simply say, 'Make a choice. I signed a paper. I know there's a consequence to my choice,'" Marine Corps veteran James Fialkowski said.
The deserters House represents said they are facing the consequences.
"I'm here for me. I'm here for the guys in Iraq that are getting blown up every day. I'm here to make a difference," Walcott said.
Glass said they're not cowards.
"I don't see it as cowardice at all. Being a coward would have been staying there and putting up with it and going against my moral obligations," Glass said.
The veterans to whom 12 News spoke said there is still a duty that needs to be fulfilled.
"It's still a job that has to be done, and if you remove yourself from that line, if you say, 'I'm not going to go back,' somebody else is going to be in that spot," Jacobs said.
So far, the deserters' argument that the U.S.-led war in Iraq is illegal and violates the United Nations charter has failed Canada's immigration courts, but House has made his case in that country's court of appeals and hopes the decision will go his clients' way.
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