Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada

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Overview

More than 50,000 draft-age American men and women migrated to Canada during the Vietnam War, the largest political exodus from the United States since the American Revolution. How are we to understand this migration three decades later? Was their action simply a marginal, highly individualized spin-off of the American antiwar movement, or did it have its own lasting collective meaning?

John Hagan, himself a member of the exodus, searched declassified government files, consulted previously unopened resistance organization archives and contemporary oral histories, and interviewed American war resisters settled in Toronto to learn how they made the momentous decision. Canadian immigration officials at first blocked the entry of some resisters; then, under pressure from Canadian church and civil liberties groups, they fully opened the border, providing these Americans with the legal opportunity to oppose the Vietnam draft and military mobilization while beginning new lives in Canada. It was a turning point for Canada as well, an assertion of sovereignty in its post-World War II relationship with the United States.
Hagan describes the resisters' absorption through Toronto's emerging American ghetto in the late 1960s. For these Americans, the move was an intense and transformative experience. While some struggled for a comprehensive amnesty in the United States, others dedicated their lives to engagement with social and political issues in Canada. More than half of the draft and military resisters who fled to Canada thirty years ago remain there today. Most lead successful lives, have lost their sense of Americanness, and overwhelmingly identify themselves as Canadians.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

Hagan offers a sociological perspective of the [Vietnam War] resisters, their effects on Canada, and their decision to return or not return to the U.S. after amnesty was offered. What is most interesting here are Canadians' opinions of this American invasion.
— Marlene Chamberlain

National Post
[A] generous-spirited book...[This] was a vivid, eventful period, and Northern Passage captures it deftly.
Choice

Hagan thoughtfully explores a too-little-examined aspect of America's Vietnam War experience. Calling on the memories of draft resisters, military deserters, spouses, girlfriends, and family members, he discusses the forces that compelled tens of thousands to undertake a political exodus to Canada that involved both individual declarations of resistance and a resistance movement that reshaped its participants, their loved ones, and Canada...Hagan skillfully examines the torturous path toward reconciliation that involved demands of amnesty for both draft resisters and deserters.
— R. C. Cottrell

Former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder
In his examination of the largest politically-motivated exodus from the U.S. since the American Revolution, John Hagan has made an important contribution to our understanding of one of the most painful periods in our nation's history. But more than that, this book provides a fascinating look at the impact that the activist and politically-aware exiles have had on their adopted homeland and how that has permanently changed the relationship between the U.S. and Canada. Like Myra MacPherson's Long Time Passing, John Hagan's Northern Passage is destined to become required reading for anyone who wants to understand the Vietnam generation.
Doug McAdam
There is much to admire in Northern Passage. For starters, Hagan's account of the Vietnam-era migration of young Americans to Canada makes important and original contributions to the study of social movements, the life-course, and the role of law in social change processes. Then there is the exemplary blend of qualitative and quantitative methods that enriches the study. Finally, there is the story itself and the light it sheds on one of the most important and dynamic chapters in the long and complicated relationship between the U.S. and Canada.
Booklist - Marlene Chamberlain
Hagan offers a sociological perspective of the [Vietnam War] resisters, their effects on Canada, and their decision to return or not return to the U.S. after amnesty was offered. What is most interesting here are Canadians' opinions of this American invasion.
Choice - R. C. Cottrell
Hagan thoughtfully explores a too-little-examined aspect of America's Vietnam War experience. Calling on the memories of draft resisters, military deserters, spouses, girlfriends, and family members, he discusses the forces that compelled tens of thousands to undertake a political exodus to Canada that involved both individual declarations of resistance and a resistance movement that reshaped its participants, their loved ones, and Canada...Hagan skillfully examines the torturous path toward reconciliation that involved demands of amnesty for both draft resisters and deserters.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 to the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Vietnam War was at the molten center of American politics and dominated the American psyche. To historians, political scientists and sociologists, the war was a transformative event both culturally and politically. For thousands of draft-age Americans, including both men and women whose political convictions were engaged, the war's effect was immediate and profound. Writing for two audiences, Hagan, a professor of sociology and law at both Northwestern University and the University of Toronto, presents an earnest, thoughtful and respectful examination of American draft resisters who emigrated to Canada as he did himself rather than serve in the U.S. armed forces. Fellow academicians will welcome the parts of the book that are steeped in arcane and esoteric political process theory. General readers, particularly those of a certain age who were keenly conscious of America's involvement in Vietnam, will be interested in better understanding the new lives the emigrants made. To that end, Hagan poses questions whose answers illuminate the consequences, good and bad, of self-imposed exile. Moreover, informed by the Canadian perspective, the end result is far more than a mere reflection of the much-studied America of the Vietnam era. This is a very well-researched, scrupulously honest and generous book that gets facts right and seeks to set aside the divisive judgments of the time. Illus. (May 31) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
During the Vietnam War, 50,000 Americans (slightly more women than men) left to seek new lives in Canada. Hagan, who currently holds faculty appointments in both law and sociology at Northwestern University and the University of Toronto, was one of them. Here he presents narrative profiles and a thorough empirical investigation, based on 100 interviews, of these expatriates and how they fared in their adopted city of Toronto. They have mostly enjoyed successful, fulfilling lives and have remained activists for a variety of political and environmental causes. Prime Minister Trudeau headed a government that welcomed draft resisters in 1967 and, unlike the United States, accepted military deserters two years later. Much attention is devoted to the efforts of the Toronto Anti-Draft Program and Amex, organizations that helped expatriates adapt to their new country and provided a political forum for protesting the war in Canada and America. Amnesty was finally given to draft resisters, but not deserters, by President Carter in 1977. This is a more detailed study of the war resisters than James Dickerson offers in North to Canada (LJ 3/15/99) and is strongly recommended for larger public and academic collections. Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A searching (if at times somewhat turgid) and ultimately quite moving account of the draft exiles of the Vietnam War. It was the largest mass migration of Americans since the loyalists fled during the revolution: tens of thousands (perhaps more than 100,000) US citizens crossed the border to Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s to avoid military service in Vietnam. What sparked these actors to make so momentous a decision, and what (if anything) did it mean? Hagan himself went north, but he remained on the periphery of things in Alberta. Here, he concentrates on the Toronto community around Baldwin Street and the Amex war resisters' organization, interviewing activists to get a sense of their specific motivations (which ranged from a desire to flee a country that appeared to be unraveling as it ate its young to pointed acts of protest against the militarization of American life to a simple desire to live rather than die in a rice paddy). The author insists that this was not a ragtag army of losers and cowards, as many still perceive them, but a rational and responsible group of men who became "the basis of a sustained antiwar movement and continuing social activism" in a land that (luckily for them) was in the mood to assert its autonomy and sovereignty. Much of the story revolves around the amnesty issue, which most Americans erroneously think was settled by Jimmy Carter. Stylistically, Hagan's prose is a mixed bag, at times comfortable as an old jacket, then suffocating in the lint-choked language of social theory. Hagan shines some welcome light on a long-forgotten issue, which he is able to address as both participant and observer.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674004719
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Hagan is John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Law at Northwestern University. and University Professor of Law and Sociology at the University of Toronto.
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Table of Contents

Preface: First Snow
1 Laws of Resistance 1
2 Opening the Gates 34
3 Toronto's American Ghetto 66
4 Activism by Exile 99
5 Two Amnesties and a Jailing 138
6 Choosing Canada 180
App. A: The Respondent-Driven Sample and Interviews 223
App. B: Tables 235
Notes 243
Index 265
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