Soldier flees US army after Quaker meetings

By staff writers
March 29, 2004

-29/3/04

A US soldier is seeking asylum in Canada after attending meetings at a Quaker meeting house which changed his views on violence.

Hinzman is believed to be the first U.S. soldier to seek asylum in Canada because of his opposition to the war in Iraq. Since his arrival, at least one other soldier has joined him, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. report.

Last week, a Florida National Guard soldier who had served six months in Iraq also refused to go back after coming home on leave and turned himself in to military authorities.

Hinzman's transformation from to a pacifist and would-be conscientious objector was not quick or easy.

His decision to join the Army, he said, was an effort to provide some structure to his life and to get money to attend college. He admits now he was naive about what he would be doing.

"I don't want to come off as having no idea as what the Army was about," he said. "I was just totally ignorant about what it takes to make a person a killer."

Hinzman said his views about nonviolence did not crystallize until after he arrived at Fort Bragg in August 2001 and began attending meetings at the Quaker House in Fayetteville with his wife, Nga Nguyen, who was born in Laos to Vietnamese parents. He said he has no doubts now, and no regrets. He is not encouraging others to join him, but said of his decision: "I'm confident what I've done is the right thing for me."

Hinzman is now officially a deserter. Master Sgt. Pam Smith, a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne Division, said he has been listed in a federal law enforcement database.

But, she said, "Unless he is actually pulled over by police at a routine traffic stop or whatever, he could be a deserter for the rest of his life."

The military does not pursue deserters.

"We're fighting a war," she said. "We don't have time to go out looking for people who desert."

Hinzman knows that if he returns to the United States he will be arrested and sent to jail. If convicted at a military court-martial of deserting in a time of war, he could face lethal injection.

Hinzman said he is ready to live with the consequences of his decision. It could mean he might never be able to return to the United States or that he may forever be labeled a traitor or coward by those who disagree with him. "As a soldier, I had signed up to defend the constitution, not to invade another country," he said.

The 25-year-old said his decision to leave the country and seek refuge in Canada was not a result of cowardice. He had already served in Afghanistan, albeit as a cook while his application for conscientious objector status was pending. Rather, he said, it was his pacifism and growing opposition to the war in Iraq that convinced him to leave his unit just before it departed.

Hinzman has submitted an application to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada requesting permission to stay as a refugee. His attorney, Jeffry House of Toronto, said Hinzman will have a hearing in May.

House, himself a draft dodger from the Vietnam era who decided to stay in Canada, said he believes Hinzman will be a test case. House plans to make the legality of the war in Iraq a central argument before the board. Canada has supported U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan but not in Iraq. "It is difficult to conceive that Canada would require someone to participate in the war in Iraq," House said.

House said he has been getting donations and supportive e-mails from large numbers of Americans who fled to Canada during the Vietnam War and remain there.

Their number is difficult to pin down. The American Friends Service Committee's Youth and Militarism Program, which worked with many of those who left the country, indicates that the estimates run from as many as 25,000 to just a few thousand. Pentagon figures show as many as 1.5 million service members went absent without leave or deserted during the Vietnam War. An estimated 90,000 went to Canada.

John Phillips of Algona, Iowa, was among the first to cross the border. Phillips, now 58 and a successful film producer in Toronto, came in 1967 and helped create the infrastructure that enabled thousands of draft dodgers and deserters to fit into Canadian society.

The decision to leave the United States, he said, "was horrendous. It was absolutely traumatic. I was patriotic. I was an American." But he said he was uncomfortable with the draft and the war. When he came up 1-A in the draft and was denied conscientious objector status, he fled the country.

He is now working on a documentary about what happened to some of the Americans who stayed in Canada despite amnesty programs during the Ford and Carter administrations.

Phillips has interviewed Hinzman for the film and said he was struck by similarities between the young man and himself at that age. "It was the innocence I saw in him that reminded me of myself," Phillips said.

-29/3/04

A US soldier is seeking asylum in Canada after attending meetings at a Quaker meeting house which changed his views on violence.

Hinzman is believed to be the first U.S. soldier to seek asylum in Canada because of his opposition to the war in Iraq. Since his arrival, at least one other soldier has joined him, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. report.

Last week, a Florida National Guard soldier who had served six months in Iraq also refused to go back after coming home on leave and turned himself in to military authorities.

Hinzman's transformation from to a pacifist and would-be conscientious objector was not quick or easy.

His decision to join the Army, he said, was an effort to provide some structure to his life and to get money to attend college. He admits now he was naive about what he would be doing.

"I don't want to come off as having no idea as what the Army was about," he said. "I was just totally ignorant about what it takes to make a person a killer."

Hinzman said his views about nonviolence did not crystallize until after he arrived at Fort Bragg in August 2001 and began attending meetings at the Quaker House in Fayetteville with his wife, Nga Nguyen, who was born in Laos to Vietnamese parents. He said he has no doubts now, and no regrets. He is not encouraging others to join him, but said of his decision: "I'm confident what I've done is the right thing for me."

Hinzman is now officially a deserter. Master Sgt. Pam Smith, a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne Division, said he has been listed in a federal law enforcement database.

But, she said, "Unless he is actually pulled over by police at a routine traffic stop or whatever, he could be a deserter for the rest of his life."

The military does not pursue deserters.

"We're fighting a war," she said. "We don't have time to go out looking for people who desert."

Hinzman knows that if he returns to the United States he will be arrested and sent to jail. If convicted at a military court-martial of deserting in a time of war, he could face lethal injection.

Hinzman said he is ready to live with the consequences of his decision. It could mean he might never be able to return to the United States or that he may forever be labeled a traitor or coward by those who disagree with him. "As a soldier, I had signed up to defend the constitution, not to invade another country," he said.

The 25-year-old said his decision to leave the country and seek refuge in Canada was not a result of cowardice. He had already served in Afghanistan, albeit as a cook while his application for conscientious objector status was pending. Rather, he said, it was his pacifism and growing opposition to the war in Iraq that convinced him to leave his unit just before it departed.

Hinzman has submitted an application to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada requesting permission to stay as a refugee. His attorney, Jeffry House of Toronto, said Hinzman will have a hearing in May.

House, himself a draft dodger from the Vietnam era who decided to stay in Canada, said he believes Hinzman will be a test case. House plans to make the legality of the war in Iraq a central argument before the board. Canada has supported U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan but not in Iraq. "It is difficult to conceive that Canada would require someone to participate in the war in Iraq," House said.

House said he has been getting donations and supportive e-mails from large numbers of Americans who fled to Canada during the Vietnam War and remain there.

Their number is difficult to pin down. The American Friends Service Committee's Youth and Militarism Program, which worked with many of those who left the country, indicates that the estimates run from as many as 25,000 to just a few thousand. Pentagon figures show as many as 1.5 million service members went absent without leave or deserted during the Vietnam War. An estimated 90,000 went to Canada.

John Phillips of Algona, Iowa, was among the first to cross the border. Phillips, now 58 and a successful film producer in Toronto, came in 1967 and helped create the infrastructure that enabled thousands of draft dodgers and deserters to fit into Canadian society.

The decision to leave the United States, he said, "was horrendous. It was absolutely traumatic. I was patriotic. I was an American." But he said he was uncomfortable with the draft and the war. When he came up 1-A in the draft and was denied conscientious objector status, he fled the country.

He is now working on a documentary about what happened to some of the Americans who stayed in Canada despite amnesty programs during the Ford and Carter administrations.

Phillips has interviewed Hinzman for the film and said he was struck by similarities between the young man and himself at that age. "It was the innocence I saw in him that reminded me of myself," Phillips said.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.