The growing anti-Iraq war movement is wasting time trying to convince politicians on either side of the aisle to withdraw the troops, concludes Gerry Condon.
With no leading presidential contender calling for a pullout despite polls showing a majority of Americans support such action, the movement should focus on those in military uniform, he insists.
Who: Vietnam War resister Gerry Condon.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Lidgate Hall behind the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ, 1801 E. Jackson St., Medford.
Sponsored by: Citizens for Peace & Justice.
"It's time for all peace-loving people to reach out to our troops to end this illegal and immoral war," he said. "They should be there to offer them support if they decide to vote with their feet and go to Canada."
The Seattle resident is director of Project Safe Haven, a network of Vietnam War resisters offering help and advice to Iraq war resisters. He will give a talk about his work at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ.
For the past three years, Condon has been working with Americans in uniform who have fled the country rather than serve in Iraq.
"I'm advocating they (troops) follow their conscience and follow the national law," said the former paralegal, reiterating he believes the Iraq war is illegal.
"It's not an easy thing to take a stand on a moral conviction," he added. "And it's difficult to leave your country and family, and maybe not be accepted back. You will be considered by many to be a traitor and a coward."
His is a voice of experience.
Condon, now 60, was a 21-year-old Army private first class from San Mateo, Calif., in 1968 when he received orders for Vietnam.
He had enlisted in the Army in the spring of 1967 after attending college for a period.
"I had some doubts about the war at the time, but I didn't really have good information about it," he said. "I knew my draft number was coming up at the time."
Raised as a Catholic in a staunch anti-communist environment, Condon, whose father and two uncles had served during World War II, said he wasn't opposed to serving his country.
In fact, he was recruited into the Army Special Forces, and underwent a year's training to become a Green Beret medic.
"That training gave me a chance to talk to returning veterans and find out more about the war," he said. "I realized we were killing a lot of innocent people. I came to the conclusion I didn't want to be part of it and started speaking out."
He received a swift kick out of the Special Forces and orders for Vietnam, which he refused. A court martial at Fort Bragg, N.C., early in 1969 found him guilty of two counts of disobeying the same order. He was sentenced to 10 years in military prison and a dishonorable discharge.
But the military trial was in absentia: Condon had already headed north.
"I had been under minimal security," he explained. "I walked out to the front gate and stuck my thumb out."
He made his way to Montreal, then to Stockholm. For the next six years, he was an expatriate who worked with other Vietnam war resisters to end the war.
He returned to the states in 1975, where he campaigned for congressional amnesty for those who had evaded the war. His jail sentence was dropped. He received a bad conduct discharge in the mail.
While he accepts it takes courage to fight for one's country, he observes it also takes courage to refuse to fight after someone in uniform determines a war is unjust.
Many will feel as though they let their buddies down, he said.
"Unlike Vietnam, the units now train together and deploy together — that's their family," he said. "I've heard a fair amount say, 'We don't know why we're here. We're just fighting to get our buddies back home safe.' " He estimates several hundred Americans, many of whom have already served one tour in Iraq, have shed their uniforms and fled to Canada to avoid going to Iraq.
"I was born an optimist but it's hard to be too optimistic after Vietnam and now with this war in Iraq," he said. "But I do believe the only way to bring this war to a conclusion any time soon is to have troops in larger numbers refuse to fight and vote with their feet."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.