Draft dodging, then and now


A little over 50 years ago, I was in a place, time and frame of mind to take part in a social movement, sort of an experiment in social change. The United States had become embroiled in a foreign conflict, and had enacted legislation to draft more young men into the armed forces to fight in Viet Nam. To my brother and I, and many other young people, this was an immoral and undeclared war, in the guise of a “police action”. The United States was forcing us to put ourselves in harm’s way, to fight against people defending their own land. All the ingredients were there for disaster and the disaster compounded itself; young men who weren’t in college or married with children, or significantly disabled, were called to take part, perchance to die, far away from home.

Before we emigrated, we considered the possibilities of remaining and opposing the draft in court. We met a person who was involved in that struggle, and the penalty was 5 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. Two nations did not have extradition treaties with the US for draft evasion; Sweden and Canada; we chose Canada.

Fast forward to the present day, and young men in Russia are being drafted to fight in the similar war in Ukraine. I’ve been following a few young video-loggers in Russia for a few years, out of curiosity about life in the Federation. Several of those have left, including two women that just don’t like of living in a nation impoverished by madmen making war. For the men, if they receive their “call to service”, they must enlist, or be sanctioned in several ways; they cannot renew their driver’s license, rent or buy property, or enroll in university. They continue to report, from their new (often undisclosed) locations in neighbouring neutral states, or far away (one went to Costa Rica).

I feel a sense of déja vu, and hope they receive as warm a welcome as I felt upon arriving in Canada. For 8 years, until Pres. Jimmy Carter called amnesty for draft evasion, I could not return to the US. By then, I was living in the Pontiac, married, and had a child and a household where I’ve lived ever since. For my part, that social experiment was quite successful.

I can only hope that the Russian correspondents I follow can find a new home where they can thrive without war.

Robert Wills
Thorne and Shawville