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War resisters in the movies

By: 
Valerie Lannon

August 29, 2015

Want to see some excellent films about U.S. war resisters coming to Canada?  On August 18, the Toronto chapter of the War Resisters Support Campaign showed two such movies – Deserter and The Path of Glory.  These films are emotionally difficult to watch but are important politically and should be seen by everyone.

Deserter (Big Noise Films) tells the story of the 2005 decision by Ryan and Jenna Johnson to leave the US, and of their arrival in Canada.  The 30-minute film begins with Ryan’s call for information to the G.I. Rights Hotline, interspersed with shots from his interview on Democracy Now.  In both instances he explains how, since the time of his recruitment, he became aware of the true nature of the American “mission” and how he did not want Iraqi blood on his hands.  He had become aware of the negative impact of war on members of the military, whether or not they are in a combat role. There is an interesting spot where he meets Camilo Mejia, a resister who left the military but chose to remain in the U.S. in spite of a court martial and time in military prison.  Ryan stated “We are poor people in a rich man’s war”. 

There is a very poignant few minutes when Ryan phones his mother following his arrival in Canada.  She has few words for him, saying that she feels she has to tell her friends that Ryan was deployed in Iraq, before exchanging “I love you” with Ryan.

The Path of Glory  (www.presstvdoc.com) is 50 minutes in length and was made by Iranian filmmakers. It begins with horrific scenes of the initial siege of Baghdad and then tells the separate stories of two U.S. war resisters and their families.

Kim Rivera left the US in 2007 following a tour of duty in Iraq. She joined the army because the pay and benefits were a step up from the minimum wage situation in which she felt trapped.  She describes how she had been lied to during the recruitment process, being told she would not have to serve in a combat zone. The reality of course is that all of Iraq is a combat zone and during her deployment there, Kim concluded that she could no longer be a party to what the military was doing to ordinary Iraqi people. Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of supporters in Toronto, Kim was deported by the Canadian government to the US in 2012 where she was court-martialled and spent time in military prison, and where she gave birth to her fifth child.

The film sympathetically gives voice to another US war resister as we see him change from a confident Marine who wanted college benefits and “to defend freedom”, to an ex-soldier struggling to survive PTSD and disillusioned with US foreign policy in Iraq.  This war resister and his family, along with other US war objectors, remain in Canada in legal limbo but who, if Harper had his way, would be deported immediately.

Given the emotional intensity of the films, a debriefing following the films would be very beneficial.  For further information about current activities, see www.resisters.ca

What can YOU do to help?  The next time a Liberal candidate comes to your door, or if you attend an all-candidates meeting, ask the Liberal candidate whether the Liberal party will join the NDP and Greens who are committed to creating a provision to allow U.S. resisters to stay in Canada.  While individual Liberals have been supportive, the party has not yet taken a clear stance in support of a provision for U.S. resisters. With a good push from people like you, the Liberal party could be persuaded. 

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