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.
[A] generous-spirited book… [This] was a vivid, eventful period, and Northern Passage captures it deftly.
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.
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.
A searching…[and] quite moving account of the draft exiles of the Vietnam War… 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 shines some welcome light on a long-forgotten issue, which he is able to address as both participant and observer.
During the Vietnam War, 50,000 Americans…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 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… This is a more detailed study of the war resisters than James Dickerson offers in North to Canada and is strongly recommended.
Writing for two audiences, Hagan…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… This is a very well-researched, scrupulously honest and generous book that gets facts right and seeks to set aside the divisive judgements of the time.
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.
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.
- 2003, Winner of the Albert J. Reiss Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award
- 288 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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