t is the kind of night that could-drive even hearty Canadians indoors — temperatures in the 20s, a biting wind, white flakes falling from a late winter storm that already has added 8 inches to the towering windrows of snow lining Toronto's curbsides from earlier storms.
The nasty weather, however, hasn't kept about 100 enthusiastic people from packing into a University of Toronto classroom for a rally in support of American soldiers who have deserted from the U.S. military.
One of those deserters is tonight's lead speaker — Army Specialist Darrell Anderson, 22, of Lexington, Ky.
Since arriving here Jan. 6, Anderson has become perhaps the most visible member of the tiny group of U.S. deserters — Canadian supporters prefer to call them "war resisters" — seeking refuge in Canada.
Many Canadians who oppose U.S. policy in Iraq see Anderson as a hero.
But back home in Lexington, some call him a coward, a young man who has run from commitment before. His desertion has caused strains even within his family.<>Telling his story
Widely interviewed by the press, Anderson was featured in the Feb. 28 Time magazine, is scheduled to appear soon in a major CNN report, and has been interviewed by publications in France and Germany, countries that opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Anderson has become an effective, if unpolished, public speaker, appearing at numerous Canadian peace rallies like the one this bitter March night, sponsored by Students for Peace in Iraq and the War Resisters Support Campaign.
As he always does at such events, Anderson tells how he served in Iraq last year and was wounded. The boyish, black-haired 2001 Bryan Station graduate then describes his disillusionment with the war, and his fear of possibly killing innocent people. Finally, he tells how he decided, while on leave in Lexington, to flee to Canada rather than risk another tour in Iraq.
Anderson's comments sometimes turn extreme. He pictures America as a country run by the rich, where average citizens have little say. He suggests that most U.S. troops in Iraq oppose the war, but says they can't say so. And he says the news media feed support for the war by picturing only zealous troops, never the wounded or discouraged.
The words go over well with a crowd — made up of college students and a few Vietnam-era U.S. draft evaders — that is skeptical of American motives.
One man suggests America troops have been brain-washed; another wonders whether the U.S. Army gives soldiers mind-altering drugs to make them fight harder.
When Anderson closes with a plea to let deserters stay in Canada, he gets a rousing ovation.
The band of deserters
Anderson's Canadian attorney, Jeffry House, said Anderson has become a favorite with the media and the Canadian peace movement because he actually served in Iraq and was wounded, unlike most other deserters here.
"Darrell feels very strongly about what he went through ... and he's not afraid to share it with anyone," House said. "He's become very high profile."<>Anderson's life here, however, is far from glamorous.
His decision to desert cut him off from everything he used to know — possibly forever.
Although he has officially applied to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board to be declared a refugee, and thus able to remain in Canada, a final decision could take years. He has applied for a Canadian work permit, but it might not be approved for weeks. So, for now, he can't even get a job.
The War Resisters Support Campaign — the main Canadian group assisting deserters — has arranged room and board for Anderson with a Quaker teacher. But it doesn't cover personal or legal expenses. While waiting to get work, he lives on donations from supporters, help from his family in Lexington, and savings.
Although he has made a few friends here, Anderson's closest companions are the other deserters he has met since arriving in Canada — Jeremy Hinzman of Iowa; Cliff Cornell from Arkansas; Dave Sanders of Georgia; and Brandon Hughey from Texas. The five meet once or twice a week to offer mutual support.
Otherwise, Anderson spends lots of time alone, reading, drinking tea, watching the snow fall.
'The best decision'
Anderson's best hope is that Canada will let him stay here, safe from prosecution. He could be immediately arrested if he ever ventured back into U.S. territory, and he could be returned to his Army unit to face punishment that could include a full court-martial and up to five years in prison.
In effect, Anderson faces the possibility of having to spend the rest of his life here, far from his parents, his friends, his child, the life he once knew.
Anderson insists that he wouldn't change anything.
"I never imagined that I would be in this kind of spot," he said. "But I didn't want to stay and hide out in the States. And I refuse to spend time in prison for standing up for what I believe. It does get lonely sometimes, but I still believe this was the best decision."
It seems a strange fate for a young man who, just a few years ago, preferred playing high school baseball to pondering political questions.
The Lexington years
Anderson was born in California, but moved to Lexington with his mother and stepfather about 10 years ago. He took to the discipline of baseball, but remained a free spirit. Even when Anderson was making the All-City Baseball Team his senior year at Bryan Station, he charted his own course. Friends recall him wearing his hair long, or dyed in bright colors.
"Darrell did what Darrell wanted to do," said Jamie White, a friend since high school.
Anderson's mother said his upbringing was anything but traditional.
"We raised him super liberal," Anita Anderson said. "I've always been against war and suffering, and Darrell was raised to be accepting of everyone. I didn't realize until now how much he'd taken the things I told him to heart."
Anita Anderson played in a punk rock band during the 1970s, wore a mohawk haircut on occasions, and marched in peace demonstrations in California against the Persian Gulf War. She later participated in protests in Lexington when the United States invaded Iraq.
A teenage father
During Anderson's junior year in high school he became the father of a baby girl, although he and his then-girlfriend never married. After graduating, Anderson headed for California, where he lived briefly with his grandmother, and then joined the Army. He says he mainly wanted to get money for college, and help support his daughter.
Anderson initially trained to become an Army medic, but washed out after failing a crucial examination. As a result, Anderson says, the Army revoked his $5,000 enlistment bonus. Anderson was so upset that he went AWOL in June 2003 and headed for Lexington to visit his family and hang out with friends, eventually returning to the Army about two weeks later.
He was punished with extra duty and a $1,500 fine, then reassigned to artillery school at Fort Sill, Okla. In the reshuffle he also had to repeat part of his basic training. Anderson eventually was assigned to an artillery unit attached to the 1st Armored Division, arriving in Iraq in January 2004. He insists that he went there believing in America's cause and willing to die for it.
"At that point, I believed that my country had been attacked on 9/11, and that if my country was sending me to Iraq it had to be for a good reason," he said.
The turning point
Anderson was an ammunition loader on a self-propelled gun, a huge cannon mounted on an armored tank chassis. His outfit performed various missions, from shelling suspected insurgent strongholds to supporting friendly Iraqi forces.
Anderson's views of the war apparently changed gradually. The key moment, he has said repeatedly, came when his unit was manning a roadblock near an Iraqi police station under insurgent attack. In the middle of the action, a car approached, refused to stop, and entered the zone Anderson was responsible for guarding. With suicide car bombs a constant threat, troopers had been told to fire on any vehicle that didn't stop.
Anderson, however, said he felt no threat and therefore didn't fire on the car, which turned out to contain a harmless Iraqi family. But Anderson said he was reprimanded for not firing. It was, he says, the beginning of his fear of being put in a position of having to kill innocent Iraqis.
By then, he says, it also had become clear that weapons of mass destruction — the supposed justification for the U.S. invasion — did not exist. That added to his growing belief that the war was really about "oil and money," not freeing Iraq.
A few weeks later, Anderson was wounded by shrapnel from a homemade bomb while filling in for a buddy who had been more seriously injured by a rocket-propelled grenade earlier the same day. Anderson recalls holding his buddy, who kept asking him, "Anderson, am I going to die?" The soldier ultimately survived. Anderson's own wound was so slight that he remained on duty, but he received the Purple Heart.
Anderson's outfit, which returned to Germany last July, is expected to do another tour in Iraq this summer. But Anderson says that by the time he came home to Lexington for Christmas last year, his misgivings had hardened. He was walking the streets at night, struggling with nightmares that, he thinks, were brought on by his combat experiences. With his leave nearing an end, Anderson began to consider desertion.
On the Internet, Anderson found a phone number for Jeffry House, the Toronto attorney representing U.S. deserters. He called House, who offered help, and also contacted the War Resisters Support Group in Canada. Shortly before he was due to return to the Army, Anderson rented a car and, accompanied by some friends, drove all night through a snowstorm to Toronto.
The Army officially declared Anderson a deserter Feb. 12.
Reaction back home
Anderson's desertion has drawn mostly negative reaction in Lexington. Anderson's own family hasn't escaped.
Anita Anderson admits that her mother in California was shocked and upset to learn that her grandson had become a deserter.
Anita Anderson, however, is becoming increasingly vocal in backing her son. She and other family members visited Anderson in Toronto last weekend and joined him in a peace march. She went on Sue Wylie's show on WVLK-AM Friday to speak up for her son. She is scheduled to speak at a peace gathering in Phoenix Park next Saturday — the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion — the same day Anderson is to appear at a major peace march in Toronto.
But Robin Pulliam, whose daughter, Misty Crawford, is the mother of Anderson's little girl, takes a dimmer view. She says his desertion is only another chapter in "a long history of running from commitment."
Pulliam says Anderson spent little time with his daughter for almost three years after he left Lexington in 2001, and showed little interest in her before then. Pulliam says her daughter had to insist that Anderson put his name on his daughter's birth certificate. Contrary to Anderson's statements that he wanted to help support his daughter, Pulliam says he never paid child support.
"When I heard that he had gone to Canada I thought it was kind of comical, knowing Darrell the way I do," Pulliam said. "From the first time I met him I thought he was an immature young man. He has a long history of running from commitment. But I'm also saddened for him, because this time I'm afraid he's probably run as far as he can run."
'Act of cowardice'
Cadets in the Bryan Station Air Force ROTC program were "disgusted" to learn that a graduate of the school had deserted, according to Col. Larry Simpson, the program director.
"Some of the kids have said that what he did was an act of cowardice," Simpson said. "I think that overall many were disgusted by it. They're just glad that he was never in ROTC here."
Lexington businessman Fred Baumann, an infantryman in Vietnam, thinks Anderson will come to regret his action.
"I've met some people who left the country during Vietnam and then came back later, and I think every one regretted the decision," Baumann said. "They thought they could relocate. But if you have any kind of family ties ... eventually the urge to come home gets to you."
Vaughn Binzer has a simple and direct reaction to Anderson's case.
"He has done himself, the nation and the Commonwealth of Kentucky a disservice," said Binzer, an infantry officer in Vietnam who now commands VFW Post 680 in Lexington. "I think he should be arrested and extradited."
Were there alternatives?
Binzer and other veterans insist that Anderson could have tried alternatives — from requesting a transfer to a non-combat unit to seeking conscientious objector status.
Anderson, however, argues that he would have had little chance of getting a transfer or being declared a conscientious objector. Desertion, he contends, was the only way he could he stay true to his principles.
"If I were a coward, I wouldn't have gone to Iraq at all," he said. "But if I went back, I couldn't live the rest of my life knowing that I might have killed some innocent person. I still believe in my country, and I want to go back someday. But I couldn't be a part of what my country wanted me to do."
In Canada, draft dodgers offer help
f the story of Darrell Anderson and other U.S. servicemen who have deserted to Canada sounds familiar, it's not surprising.
An estimated 50,000 Americans fled to Canada during the 1960s and 1970s, all intent on avoiding the Vietnam War. Many returned home when the Ford Administration, and later the Carter Administration, offered amnesty. But some remained north of the border, eventually becoming Canadian citizens.
To be sure, what's happening now is different. During Vietnam, most of those fleeing north were avoiding the draft. Now, those crossing the border are individuals who voluntarily joined the U.S. military, but for various reasons don't want to go to Iraq. Compared to Vietnam, the number of people going north now barely amounts to a trickle.
Many of the people assisting Anderson and other deserters today are veterans of the Vietnam movement more than 30 years ago.
The War Resisters Support Campaign, the main organization helping the deserters, is headed by Lee Zaslofsky, a New York native who deserted from the U.S. Army in 1970 and fled to Canada after his application for conscientious objector status was rejected. Zaslofsky worked as a cab driver, became a labor organizer and gay rights advocate, and even served in the Canadian Parliament for a time before taking up the U.S. deserters' cause about a year ago.
Many of the deserters are being represented by Toronto attorney Jeffry House, a Wisconsin native who also came to Canada to avoid Vietnam in the early 1970s and decided to stay.
Another Canadian activist backing the deserters is Carolyn Egan, who leads a Toronto-area steelworkers council. Egan is a Massachusetts native who came to Canada 35 years ago with her husband, who was avoiding being drafted for Vietnam. They too decided to stay.
Crowds at many of the rallies held here in behalf of deserters are sprinkled with onetime Americans in their late 50s and early 60s who came to Canada to avoid Vietnam.
Now, of course, the draft is barely a memory for most Americans. But its echo persists.
House, the Toronto attorney, says he regularly gets e-mails, mostly from mothers of draft-age youngsters in the U.S., wanting advice on what to do if Congress should reinstitute the draft.
Military [war resisters] remain in limbo
he fate of Darrell Anderson and other U.S. military deserters here could be uncertain for many months to come.
The deserters have asked Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board to grant them refugee status, which would allow them to stay here indefinitely, safe from prosecution in the United States. But cases are being reviewed individually, and the process is slow.
Only one case, that of Jerry Hinzman, a former paratrooper from Iowa, has been heard by the panel. That hearing took place in early December, and included two days of exhaustive questioning for Hinzman. But the board has issued no ruling and Jeffry House, the lawyer representing Hinzman, says it might be April before there is a decision.
If Hinzman's application is rejected, he could then appeal to Canada's court system, but that could take two years or more if the case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Meanwhile, the other deserters are waiting in line for their applications to be heard, and Darrell Anderson's case isn't expected to come before the immigration board until late summer, according to House.
It's also unclear just how many U.S. deserters have come to Canada. House says he is representing about half a dozen men who are seeking refugee status. One new deserter contacted him last week, he said. House also is representing a handful of U.S. servicemen who have family ties to Canada, and therefore should have an easier time of being admitted to the country. In addition, House says he is advising a few other U.S. deserters who are "living underground" in Canada and trying to decide whether to apply for legal refugee status or continue to lay low.
A Canadian group called the War Resisters Support Campaign — a coalition of religious groups, labor organizations and peace advocates — is trying to raise public support to persuade the Canadian government to adopt a blanket policy essentially welcoming the U.S. deserters who are already here and any more who want to come.
© 2005 Lexington Herald-Leader