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Toronto Dispatch: American War Resisters Abroad

Buffalo’s Bruce Beyer sent us this dispatch from Toronto:

In a large, three-story brick building, nestled into a shaded residential neighborhood two blocks from Spadina Avenue’s bustling Chinese community, 60 people gathered to show their support for the War Resisters Support Campaign (WRSC) on Wednesday evening, June 29. Housed on the third
floor of this Canadian Steelworkers Union Hall are an array of peace, justice, and human rights organizations, including the WRSC office. The Canadian Steelworks Union has been a long-time supporter of the call for humanitarian asylum for American soldiers seeking refuge from American interventionist war. (FYI: The American Steelworkers Union recently gave Iraq Veterans Against the War a $10,000 grant to help fund their Wounded Warrior Project.)

Bruce Beyer and John Liss, who met in Buffalo in 1967, a few months before Liss fled the US in protest of the Vietnam war. When Beyer left the US in 1970, Liss was living underground in Montreal, and helped Beyer get to Sweden. On Wednesday night, the two peace activists were reunited for the first time since the mid 1970s. Photo by Alex Lissman.

This Canadian union doesn’t just give lip service to Iraq war resisters. They are actively involved in financially supporting the WRSC efforts to win asylum for Americans who, for reasons of conscience, have refused to continue to participate in the war and occupation of Iraq. By helping to underwrite rent, telephone expenses, and printing costs, the steelworkers have stood squarely behind the efforts of the campaign, as have many other progressive Canadians. On this gorgeous June evening, as the bustle of Toronto streets began to subside,  my wife Mary, our daughter Elizabeth, and I joined with Vietnam era draft resisters and deserters, Iraq war resisters, Quakers, Bradley Manning supporters, and stalwart members of the campaign to share a simple and delicious meal.

The purpose of the evening was to  raise much-needed funds for the campaign’s ongoing efforts but it turned out to be an evening of far greater importance.

There were no “hard rock speeches” just a simple sharing of support and information.  The event began with the introduction of recently reelected Parkdale New Democratic Party (NDP) Member
of Parliament, Peggy Nash.  Ms. Nash represents the riding (electoral district) with the largest concentration of Iraq war resisters in all of Canada.  She spoke of the NDP’s solidarity and support of Iraq war resisters and took the time to thoughtfully answer questions. We were entertained by the lush songs of long-time campaign supporter Sarah Marlowe and the beautiful vocals of Kimberley and Alyssa Manning. (Alyssa is the amazing attorney who so ferociously represents Iraq war resisters.)

As a Vietnam era draft resister, I am drawn to support Iraq war resisters simply as an act of solidarity. In each of the resisters I have come to know over the past seven years, I see a bit of myself, my parents, and so many other Vietnam era resisters.  I know what my refusal cost me and my family.  I know only too well what it is costing these young, courageous resisters to the Iraq war as they struggle to survive in a political and legal limbo with such far-reaching international repercussions.

Imagine living your life under the threat of being deported and jailed. How do you maintain a balance between living and fear? How do you survive the pressure of supporting yourself or your young family and maintaining a positive outlook?  If you are like Jeremy Hinzman, you’ve been doing this for the last seven years, every day, every week, every month. At any moment, each of these resisters may be ejected from Canada and thrown into some US military gulag to be harassed and punished for refusing to kill people.

To sit in a Canadian union hall, with a roomful of Canadians who have come together to raise funds to support a group of young American war resisters is absolutely without parallel. These Canadians have wrapped their arms around our sons and daughters! On every level, emotionally, spiritually, and financially, they have given their love and support to these courageous young military veterans who have chosen to lay down their weapons. They have asked nothing from their American counterparts.

The War Resisters Support Network, a task force of the Western New York Peace Center is proud to stand with our Canadian friends. We are proud of our geographic location in history.  We are honored by our members who resisted the Korean war. We are proud of our assistance to young men and women who fled the US because of their opposition to the illegal, immoral, and unjust war in Vietnam. We are proud of our members who ransacked draft board offices in the 1960s and destroyed Selective Service files. We stand beside our members who risk imprisonment for their opposition to drone warfare and targeted political assassinations.

We cannot let the Canadian people carry the support of our resisters alone. Iraq war resisters are in Canada, jailed, or living underground for us. We must be here for them!

PS: As I wrote this I received an email from the campaign saying they raised  $2,390 Wednesday night.

  • Jonathan Wellinton-Fidrych III

    These damn cowards and traitors will all be shot at dawn when WE take control of the White House next year. Just a bunch of sissies who don’t have the guts to fight the wars WE are paying them hansomely to win. Mark my words, none of these people will ever be invited to join the Club.

  • Bruce Beyer

    Jonathan, that’s such a thoughtful and insightful comment. Did you spend all day thinking about it or did that just roll off the tip of your tongue? How’s this war economy working for you? When did we start paying soldiers handsomely? I think you have them confused with Blackwater mercenaries? Do you dance at your Club? I don’t want to be a part of any Club where you can’t dance. “War is a racket.” Just ask General Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated Marine Corps officer.

  • David Fox

    Are you threatening to kill these folks when “YOU” take over the White House? Are you planning on invading Canada. You Tea Party fanatics are bigots and killers who sent decent men and women over to Iraq to kill for Bush, your Commander in Chief. You have blood on your hands, Jonathon (is that even your real name?).

  • Jonathan Wellinton-Fidrych III

    Mr. Beyer and Mr. Fox: Your attitudes have been noted. WE will be watching both of you.

  • Bruce Beyer

    @JW-F III Your threats of gun violence don’t worry me as much as your ignorance and seeming inability to look beyond the end of your nose. Please, take some time to read the attached article. Smedley Butler was a Marine Corps general, he wasn’t some punk ass peace activist like me. He won two Congressional Medals of Honor. He fought in the Philippines and in Central America. When the smoke cleared he reflected on his behavior and he wrote this remarkable pamphlet. You can’t take Butler’s love for his country away from him and you can’t dismiss his service. And, you can’t help but draw a direct line between his thoughts in the 1930’s to my thoughts today.

  • Jonathan Wellinton-Fidrych III

    Mr. Beyer: I grow tired of your endless prattle. Now go away and don’t return until you have the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West.