Soldiers Choose Canada

Facing Iraq duty, two U.S. G.I.'s head north to seek asylum

Jeremy Hinzman also figured that the army was his most direct route to college. "I guess I made a Faustian bargain," he says, characteristically flashing both a literary reference and a wry smile. He enlisted on January 17, 2001, shortly after his marriage—and many months before Bush decreed a policy of preemptive war.

Hinzman excelled at the drills and enjoyed the camaraderie, but, he says, "I started to question things as it became clear that basic training is all about breaking down the human inhibition against killing." In rifle training, he says, "You start out with targets that are black circles. Then the circles grow shoulders and then the shoulders turn into torsos. Pretty soon they're human beings."

Iraq and a hard place: Soldiers Hinzman (left) and Hughey
photo: Andre Souroujon
Iraq and a hard place: Soldiers Hinzman (left) and Hughey

The chanting was worse. One day, during bayonet training, when the instructor would holler, "What makes the grass grow?" Hinzman caught himself joining in the response: "Blood, blood, blood." Aghast, Hinzman asked himself, "What am I doing?"

He was a novice practitioner of Zen, and when he got to Fort Bragg in July 2001, the closest thing he could find "that wasn't too New Age-y" was the Quaker House in Fayetteville. He and Nguyen started attending in January 2002, and felt at home with its philosophy of nonviolence. Over time, Hinzman began preparing an eloquent application for C.O. status. "Although I still have a great desire to eliminate injustice," he wrote, "I have come to the realization that killing will do nothing but perpetuate it. Thus, I cannot in good conscience continue to serve as a combatant in the Army." He submitted it that August.

At the end of October, the army claimed it had never received his application. (It suddenly turned up in the army's files almost a year later.) He submitted it again, just as his unit was being deployed to Afghanistan. While the application was pending, he slogged through eight months of KP duty in Afghanistan—in punishing 14-hour shifts, seven days a week. In a hasty hearing in Kandahar last April, his request was turned down because Hinzman admitted he would fight in self-defense. That month, his unit returned to Fort Bragg, and on December 20, the orders came for Iraq. He knew he would not be accommodated with non-combat duty again, so in January he and his family fled to Toronto, where they were sheltered by Quakers and then moved into an apartment.

While it will be months before their refugee claims are decided—possibly years if there are appeals—Hughey and Hinzman have already been embraced by Canada's anti-war movement. On March 20, they were featured guests at Toronto's "The World Still Says No to War" rally, which brought out some 7,000 students, trade unionists, religious peaceniks, and lefty sectarians despite a relentless cold, thin rain.

Hinzman addressed the crowd. Though he had never given a speech at a demonstration before, he was a high school debater in his hometown of Rapid City, South Dakota, and for as long as he can remember, he has been an avid reader—later, he comments that the rally reminded him of Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power—so he knows how to turn an oratorical phrase. He told the demonstrators, "I could not simply claim that I was merely a victim of the times or that I was just following orders. Had I taken part in the occupation of Iraq, I would have been making myself complicit in a criminal enterprise."

Hughey stood quietly next to him, soaking up everything but the downpour. "I had no idea so many people think this way," he said later. "It's good not to feel so alone."

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