The Lumpless Deserters

I’ve discussed the proposed amnesty for “war resisters” before, but the issue continues to drag on: A federal court has sent Jeremy Hinzman’s immigration application back for reconsideration.

Regardless of the circumstances, it’s a bit disheartening to hear that our immigration system works so slowly. Back in 2004, Hinzman was the first of a trickle of deserters to arrive in Canada. Six years and he’s still at square one.

I have little doubt that Hinzman is a decent enough chap. And we all make mistakes. He thinks he made a big one in joining the US Army. I agree. But he also made another one when he ran away from his country rather than standing up for his beliefs. Rather than taking his lumps.

It takes the utmost moral courage to stand against one’s country and comrades. Refusing a legal and legitimate order because of personal beliefs takes a lot of guts. Canadians understand and respect that.

But running away to Canada is not courageous. It commands no respect. It does not “resist” the war in any way. It is, in common parlance, cowardice.

Remember: Hinzman was not drafted. There is no conscription in the US. He volunteered. He collected a government pay cheque, taking money from his fellow citizens on the promise that he’d do his duty.

But he didn’t.

What else but cowardice explains a decision to run away, rather than stay in the United States and accept a legal reprimands and punishment? A sampling of those punishments indicate prison sentences of 2 – 13 months. For most deserters this is less time than they would have been in Iraq/Afghanistan, which seems a more-than-fair consequence. Moreover, it is a minor price to pay for a clean conscience.

Instead, Hinzman and the others ran to Canada. And rather than resisting a war, they are burdening our oh-so-burdened refugee and immigration system.

Canada doesn’t need that kind of cowardice.

2 thoughts on “The Lumpless Deserters

  1. I disagree with this premise that the motivation for deserting was carte blanche, cowardice. Often conscientious objectors are divided into three main groups. The first and often smallest is made up of people who become COs during their service. The second is made up of people who develop a change in view point such as becoming a pacifist through some religious organization’s teachings. The third group is the largest and is made up of youth who come to realize that they do not believe themselves to have the capacity for killing or are intensively afraid for their lives.

    i think it’s incredibly unfair also to call this last group cowardly. Have you ever been to a military recruiter? I have because at a time, I was exceptionally eager to enlist in the Army Corps of Engineers. I was made incredible promises and when i asked about the likely hood of Canada’s military being deployed to fight overseas, the recruiter actually scoffed and said, “This is Canada we’re talkin’ about. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.” I hadn’t realized it at the time, but Jean Chretien had already committed troops to Afghanistan. That didn’t matter. The recruiter saw a 19 year old me and immediately told me how easy a job it was, how dependable the pay was, how low risk it all was, how I could get sign on bonuses, a college scholarship and so on. It was a very one sided sales pitch and if you’re asking for courage from our or any other nation’s youth, maybe we should start with honesty rather than set young people up for the fright of their lives.

    It can easily be argued that when you sign the dotted line and head on off to basic, that you’re agreeing quite clearly to the notion that should you be called to duty, you will accept the responsibility and fight for whatever bloated idiot happens to be the Prime Minister at the time…err, i mean, the people of your nation. Indeed, a new recruit does agree to this and since we have a volunteer army up here in Canada, even that commitment is kinda soft. Whatever the case though, I think that’s a lop sided argument because the sales pitch and the explanations of what they’re agreeing to are typically, I would argue, entirely unethical.

    The dotted line is what matters in court and even in those cases, that is why there is a CO process to go through to declare yourself in opposition to your mission. But is this a symptom of cowardice? No, I don’t think so. I think this has a lot more to do with letting our military organizations conduct themselves in a fashion no better than the greasiest of used car salesmen. If we truly had confidence in our military aims, I don’t think recruiters would have to do their very best to “sell” the notion of defending your country. It’s something people should actually want to do and if starry eyed youth who don’t have much experience with how terrible a pay cheque from the military really is, are all we can recruit with a slick sales pitch, well then it’s no wonder we encounter problems like this.

    Again, no I don’t think this is cowardice at all.


  2. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    I did make it clear in my post that I can respect conscientious objectors*, regardless of the category you slide them into, – as long as they take their lumps. This would include those suffering “buyer’s remorse.”

    But it is clear from the biographies at that your third category isn’t applicable to the cases at hand. They are mature people, often with significant military experience.

    It’s not uncommon for people to do unethical things even though they had good intentions.

    I contend that it was unethical of these deserters to run away from their legal responsibilities – *especially* since they were ostensibly doing so to make an ethical point.

    These folks knew they would be inconvenienced if they made a stand in accordance with their personal beliefs. They couldn’t face that. So they ran away.

    It seems cowardly not only by my ethical standards, but by their own as well.

    As to your personal anecdote, I’ve met many a Canadian military recruiter, and I can attest that your experience is abnormal. But I sympathize, such statements from the recruiter are unethical. However, by way of a possible explanation, and not as an excuse (since it isn’t excusable), I can say that the Canadian military was just as surprised as you were by the Afghanistan mission(s). There was a malaise in the ranks, since there hadn’t been anything like Afghanistan since Korea. So, the recruiter probably didn’t intend to mislead you. They were stating their opinion, which they, likely, honestly believed.

    Lots of things have changed in ten years.



    * It’s possible that some people change their beliefs over time (find god, etc) and become contentious objectors. That is honest and ethical. However, it is also the case that there are many, many people who use the military to earn money, earn a trade, and/or get an education but have no intention at all of ever participating in an actual military operation (let alone actually trying to kill the enemy). I submit that this is duplicitous. The military’s raison d’etre is to defeat the state’s enemies – usually through the application of violence. A real pacifist (of whatever stripe) would be acting unethically in joining the military in the first place, since it involves an honour-bound commitment to the goals and aims of that force (ie: killing people). Basically, they are breaking their own moral code and thus similarly cowardly.


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