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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.2 (2003) 86-89

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John Hagan, Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. 269 pp. $27.95.

For those who fought, for those who protested, and for those who know the Vietnam War only as history, the conflict remains politically, socially, and culturally relevant as Americans continue to wrestle with its legacy and meaning. Although many aspects of America's experience in Vietnam have been examined thoroughly, one issue that has only recently begun to be explored by scholars is the story of those who resisted both the draft and military service. To be sure, the antiwar movement is well-chronicled in such works as The War Within by Tom Wells and An American Ordeal by Charles DeBenedetti. Yet the story of those who consciously chose to leave the country rather than fight in a war they considered immoral, the "largest political exodus from the United States since the American Revolution," remains largely unknown (p.218).

John Hagan, the author of Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada, was one of these émigrés. A professor of law and sociology at both Northwestern University and the University of Toronto, Hagan presents a sympathetic and enlightening look at the American exile community in Toronto both during and after the Vietnam War. Unlike previous books on the subject—such as North to Canada by James Dickenson and Black Prisoner of War by James Daly and Lee Bergman, both of which focused primarily on the experiences of individual immigrants—Hagan takes a broader view of the resisters, their effect on Canada (and vice versa), and their decision of whether to return to the United States or remain in exile. The main question Hagan seeks to answer is whether migration was simply a short-lived, individualized spin-off of the antiwar movement in the United States, or instead had an original, organized, [End Page 86] and lasting collective meaning both for the resisters who left the United States and for Canada itself (pp. xii, 16). Hagan's answer is clear from the outset of the book. This was more than just a group of hippies trying to avoid service in the armed forces. The author argues that what began as "individual migratory acts of resistance against the requirements of American selective service and military laws became a collectively organized experience with long-lasting political and socioeconomic consequences" (p.99).

Hagan draws on Canadian archival materials, more than a hundred interviews with American expatriates in Toronto, and collections of oral histories to construct his narrative. Although most of the book is engaging, much of the first chapter is devoted to situating his study within the framework of social and political process theory. The chapter enables Hagan to establish his point of reference, but it is steeped in arcane and turgid prose, which makes for tedious reading. The book is more engrossing when it deals with the resisters themselves and the rationale behind their decisions to migrate to Canada. The author insists that those who avoided or deserted from military service in Vietnam were not a ragtag group of losers and cowards, as they were characterized by many in the United States. He depicts them as rational and responsible men and women who became the basis of a sustained antiwar movement and continuing social activism in their new home. Even though Hagan's idealistic depiction of the resisters is somewhat overdrawn, the book does make a compelling case for their motives.

Hagan follows with a discussion of the obstacles the resisters faced in their efforts to leave the United States. Using previously unmined archival sources, he reveals how military resisters were initially denied admission by the Canadian immigration ministry, which covertly justified its stance using arguments relating to the "suitability" of the resisters as potential immigrants. This practice subsequently changed, however, when it became clear that neither the Canadian Immigration Act nor the extradition treaty with the United States provided legal authority to exclude American servicemen from immigrating. When...