Many thanks to Bill Kaufman for his intelligence, common sense and compassion.
Deserter pins blame on U.S. government
By Bill Kaufman
Taking refuge in the Canadian city most enamoured with his country’s invasion of Iraq, Mike’s chosen his words carefully in public.
Even as the first Calgary-settled U.S war resister to speak out publicly, the man in the Bud Light baseball cap won’t go full-bore and reveal his entire name.
Since he went AWOL from the U.S. Army, avoiding what he thought was an inevitable second tour of Iraq, Mike’s been looking over his shoulder, hiding in plain sight.
“It’s pretty much a prison with a big backyard,” says Mike, 37, surveying his northeast Calgary home.
In 2002-2003, he did a tour as a paratrooper signaller at Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase, where he saw hooded prisoners trucked in and dealt the occasional rifle butt to the head.
After that, the Floridian volunteered for a stint in Iraq, where he called the former hunting lodge of Saddam’s son Uday home.
The troops would use Iraqi pets and strays for target practice, he recalls, and woe behold the local motorist trapped in the path of a U.S. convoy.
“I’d hate to be an Iraqi driver with a bad car — if you can’t get out of the way you’re either run over or shot,” he says.
It became obvious the stateside indoctrination held more snake oil than water, he says.
“If it was about getting rid of a bad regime, we’d have gone into Sudan or Burma,” he says.
“It’s about oil, make no mistake about that.”
When he became serious about his girlfriend, a native Calgarian, Mike determined he wouldn’t be making another trip to illegally occupied Iraq — even though he had up to six years left in his army contract.
He booked a furtive flight to Calgary in November 2006, talked his way into a 45-day permit at customs and with its lapse, became a fugitive.
He knows some Canadians resent his presence while their countrymen die in Afghanistan, but rightly notes it’s not him who’s sending troops to be killed or maimed in a civil war our prime minister has conceded can’t be won militarily.
“Whose war are they fighting? he asks.
“Why are Canadians over there?”
Surely, though, he’s a turncoat coward for not fulfilling his contract or refusing to return to the U.S. to face the music?
Mike says he has more of a duty to his two small daughters than to a country that’s betrayed him by breaking its vow to send soldiers in harm’s way only when absolutely necessary.
And it’s hard to fault someone defying leaders who lawlessly employ torture, kidnapping, aggressive war and kangaroo courts as a matter of course.
What’s there to honour when the system and leaders have none?
If he surrendered himself, Mike notes it’d be next to impossible for him to return to Canada to see his family, while the ex-president who set in motion the deaths of probably hundreds of thousands of civilians can visit and have Canadian taxpayers pick up his security tab.
“I never killed anyone — why should I be locked up when the guy who started it can come here?” he says.
But Mike will soon hazard deportation by outing himself to apply for a spousal sponsorship to Canada.
He hopes it’ll end his days as a non-person, having to use his wife’s social insurance number, of being unable to pay taxes or even legally drive.
But in a world of hypocrisy, it’s not so much about accountability as it is power, and who doesn’t have it.
Letters in support of "Mike" and this excellent column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. I especially encourage people from Alberta to write.