Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sheltering Iraq War Resisters is a Bad Idea

Matt Bin puts ideology before reality in plea to support "conscientious objectors"

Yesterday, Canadian Cynic spared some seething space at the Temple of Sycophantic Groupthink for Matt Bin, who has a few things to say about recent decisions reached by the Supreme Court of Canada regarding Iraq war resisters hiding in Canada.

Bin thinks that the government should intervene in the decisions and allow the resisters to stay:

"This week, the Refugee Board ruled that American war resister and Iraq veteran Corey Glass was not eligible for refugee status. He was ordered to leave Canada within 14 days, or face deportment.

Corey signed up with the National Guard in 2002 as a 20-year-old, hoping to do humanitarian work. In his own words:

"When I joined the National Guard, they told me the only way I would be in combat was if there were troops occupying the United States. I signed up to defend people and do humanitarian work filling sandbags if there was a hurricane. ... I should have been in New Orleans, not Iraq."

Yet he was deployed to Iraq in 2005, and when on leave later that year, he attempted to quit the military; when that was unsuccessful, he fled to Canada and applied for refugee status. Since then, the Canadian War Resisters Support Campaign has been working to keep him, and about 100 other known resisters, here in Canada."

It certainly does sound awful when one hears it in Glass' own words. It makes it sound as if he was the victim of a great personal deception -- he signed up to do humanitarian work, then was given an entirely different message altogether.

Yet, for someone who actually reads into the story, what emerges is actually quite different, as it turns out that Glass was working in Military Intelligence:

"In 2005, he was deployed to a U.S. base in Iraq, where he worked in military intelligence.

"Through this job I had access to lots of information about what was happening on the ground in Iraq," he said. "Through what I saw, I realized innocent people were being killed unjustly."

If Glass himself had really enlisted to be a humanitarian, one would wonder how long that notion persisted once he was assigned to military intelligence.

One wonders what role Glass imagines military intelligence officers would have played in filling sandbags in New Orleans.

Not to mention that there are all kinds of other organizations one can join in order to be a humanitarian without the risk of ever being sent off to war. They just don't pay as well as the Army does.

And while one can certainly empathize with his concern for civilian casualties -- frankly, there would be something wrong with Glass if he weren't disturbed by it -- as it also turns out, Glass did not complete his tour of duty (which he volunteered for):

" He said he tried to quit the military, but his commander told him he was simply suffering from stress and needed downtime, he said.

He went home on leave and said he was not coming back.

There certainly does remain the argument that if Glass was really suffering from stress as much as his commander believed he was, then he should have been honourably discharged.

But he wasn't. It also isn't up to the Canadian government to dictate to the American military who should or should not be honourably discharged from their army.

"So here's a clear-cut chance to demand that Dion and his party show some backbone, stand up to the CPC, and support the motion to make Canada again a safe haven from militarism.

I was a soldier myself. I have friends who are veterans of virtually every foreign mission our military has participated in since 1990. I think that one of the crowning achievements of the Chretien government was to keep us out of the Iraq quagmire -- when there was plenty of pressure on him to send us there (not least of which from Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, who, at the time, actually went around opposing the government, if you can believe). If we refused to send our own men and women there, how can we not protect other countries' men and women from the same fate?

The truth is that if Matt Bin was really such an expert on the military, he would understand a few things about the military.

Starting with the fact that every soldier serving in the United States military signed up for that service. The various forces of the United States military -- army, air force, navy, marine corps, intelligence -- are volunteer forces.

As such, there are numerous reasons why it simply isn't feasible for the Canadian government to allow Iraq war resisters to take up permanent residence in Canada.

First off, whether we like it or not, it isn't up to the Canadian government to dictate to the American government whether they may send their soldiers -- who, just to reiterate are, like the Canadian forces, volunteered for service -- to war or not.

If individuals like Corey Glass were conscripts, as were those who Canada rightfully sheltered during the Vietnam conflict, that would be another thing. But they aren't, and as Michael Ignatieff reminds us, that makes a big difference:

"Many, many very deep and and close friends of mine when I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto came up to Canada to resist the draft. A Prime Minister that I very much admire made that a principle for Canada to give refuge to people who, for reasons of conscience, could not serve.

But I think that without pronouncing finally on the issue, I think there are some substantive differences between the situation in the '60s and the situation now. The individuals concerned volunteered for military service. The draft is not involved. Compulsion was not involved in the Iraqi case. I've met some of them personally. They volunteered for service and then came to have moral difficulties which they have every right to have. Now they want to stay.

The difficulty I have is that we are allies of the United States. Being an ally doesn't necessarily mean we approve of their policies in Iraq, but we're shoulder-to-shoulder in Afghanistan.

I'm uncomfortable about saying that people who volunteer for military service for a NATO ally should be given refuge in a country that is also an ally actively involved in combat. I'm not pronouncing finally on this, I'm just trying to be open and honest about my actual difficulty. This is an actual difficulty for me.

I don't want us to sacrifice our tradition of being a country that is a haven for people who have problems of conscience with military service, but I don't see that there is a perfect fit between what we did in the 1960s and what we're being asked for in 2007.

That is, frankly, because there is no perfect fit between the two. And while one can object to the Iraq war (as this author chooses to) for many of the same reasons one objected to Vietnam, to pretend the ordeals being faced by soldiers in each case are the same is utter logical fallacy.

To try to transform the issue into a partisan football under the same guise is simply facetious.

"It's time to help ensure that Canada remains not only a refuge from militarism, but a bastion against militarism. We can regain the moral standing we held throughout the Vietnam War by refusing to send Glass and all the other resisters back to the USA to punishment and, even worse, a forced redeployment to Iraq. We can show that Canada is strong enough to refuse to hold the bully's coat, strong enough to decide our national agenda for ourselves, strong enough to take in these victims of the US empire-building scheme."

Bin clearly vehemently wants to compare Iraq to Vietnam, and insist that the situation is the same. Except that it clearly isn't.

There's a world of difference between enlisting for military service then deciding you object to the conflict of the day and being conscripted into military service when you have no desire to serve.

As Michael Ignatieff notes, if the men were conscripts, that would be one thing. But they made a commitment that they're responsible to uphold.

If Glass had completed his required tour of duty and been stop-lossed, that would also be another thing entirely. He made his commitment, would have fulfilled it, but the American government would have violated their obligation to him.

But he didn't complete his tour, and he wasn't stop-lossed. He made a commitment to the US military, and it isn't up to the Canadian government to tell him that he shouldn't have to fulfill it.

At least Glass can make the claim -- however naive -- that he didn't expect to be shipped to Iraq because that war hadn't started yet. Afghanistan had, and he should have expected to possibly be shipped there, but Iraq was clearly well outside of Glass' expectations.

Not so for Brad McCall. McCall enlisted in the US military in 2006 -- when the war in Iraq had been in progress for three years -- then came to Canada in October 2007 because he "didn't want to kill".

"I don't want to go to Iraq because I don't want to be a war criminal," McCall would insist. "Any participation in the war in Iraq can be punishable as a war crime. The war is a criminal act, in my opinion and many countries' opinion."

McCall, in 2006, knowingly and willingly enlisted in the United States Army while it was fighting a conflict McCall denounces as a war crime, then fled to Canada when it came time to actually ship out.

If McCall really felt so strongly about the war in Iraq, one wonders just what he was doing signing up in the first place.

For his own part, however, "military expert" and "former soldier" Matt Bin seems to think that the government of Canada should be in the business of overlooking the fact that these individuals are volunteers in the first place in order to make a political statement.

"We desperately need the Liberals to take a stand for us, and for all Canadians. A majority of Canadians (64% of Ontarians, in a recent poll) want Canada to keep the resisters safe. The Liberals are the swing party, and their support for the resisters will ensure that these brave men and women will not be forced to return to the US military, and possibly to Iraq. To get the Liberals' support, we need to make sure they know that it's politically safe for them to do so."

What Bin doesn't seem to understand is that it will never be politically safe for the Canadian government to commit such an act.

For one thing, the act would have serious diplomatic consequences with our number one trading and security partner -- consequences that simply cannot be risked without appropriate justification. In the cases of Glass and McCall, at the very least, such risks can't be justified. They made a choice, and have to live with the consequences.

For another thing, such an act would have serious consequences in terms of our government's ability to send our own soldiers to war -- or even into increasingly dangerous peacekeeping operations. If we set the precedent that personnel who voluntarily enlist for military service can simply leave the country when they decide that -- for whatever reasons -- they don't want to serve, our own troops will be able to make the same argument under international law.

And the prospect of the government openly interfering in decisions made by the Supreme Court of Canada are far from the least of our concern. The government can certainly hold whatever opinion it likes regarding this matter. But government decisions are still subject to law. In this case, immigration law.

The broad comparisons struck between Vietnam war resisters and Iraq are poorly considered, and Bin (and those who share his opinion) simply haven't considered the consequences of allowing these individuals -- who volunteered for the service they're dodging -- to stay.

Allowing them to stay is a bad idea.


  1. The same way the Canadians should not dictate to the American's who they send overseas, you, as a civilian, a non-military member, and a stranger to the military world in every way shape and form, should have ZERO say on anything military related.

  2. Unfortunately, I also happen to be a citizen of this country, and a taxpayer.

    As such, very much do have a say in many things military-related.

    Very different in the case of the United States, where I am not a citizen, and thus have no say.

    I hope this has been an enlightening experience for you.

  3. Yeah, well, speaking on the piece in here about myself, I'd have to say this: Coming to Canada was the hardest decision I've ever made. But looking back, it was the bravest thing I've ever done, knowing at the time full-well what desertion encompassed. Yes, I volunteered for what I saw at the time as a just cause. But the truth from inside the beast taught me much. If you want someone to fight this war, find someone else, or better yet, you go.

  4. First off, Mr McCall, how do you expect anyone to believe you saw the truth from inside Iraq? You never went.

    You made a commitment, did so knowing full well what you were signing up for -- namely, to fight a war -- and now you think Canadians should feel obligated to shelter you from your obligation.

    Well, too bad, sparky. You made a commitment to serve your country -- in whatever that particular service entails -- and our government has no right to tell your government you don't have to fulfill it.

    None. Whatsoever.

    And while I certainly think that jail time is the wrong way to deal with those who go AWOL -- not only do I think that conscientious objector status should be granted whenever applied for, but I would think that the Canadian model in dealing with those who refuse to report (dishonourable discharge and a $500 fine) would be better -- sadly, this is not up to me to decide.

    You knew what you were signing up for. You knew what the consequences would be if you didn't live up to your commitment.

    My country has no right to tell your country they can't penalize you for that.

    And as for suggesting I should go fight in Iraq? One little detail you're missing, jerky: I didn't sign up for Iraq. You did.

  5. Well, I will say this, and it's really the only thing appropriate to say in the given situation.

    You people need more love.

    Quit your war-mongering and do something beneficial for this world.

    Love and Respect,
    Brad McCall

  6. You can call me a war-monger all you like, Brad -- I never volunteered to actually fight in a war.

    You did, although I have my doubts about you ever intending to atually go. Let's just say there are a lot of people out there these days trying to engineer political outrage, and I have my suspicions about what your intentions were from day one. We'll leave it at that.

    Furthermore, I can't help but wonder precisely what you think is "beneficial" about you hiding from your responsibilities in my country.

    Although I'm happy to know what you won't be here much longer -- especially you being the prototypical reason why we should not be sheltering deserters.

    I only regret that resisters who should be sheltered up here -- anyone who's served their tour and been stop-lossed -- will find it harder to stay because of your nonsense.

    At least I can comfortably say that isn't on my conscience. You, on the other hand, simply cannot. Not truthfully, anyway.


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