Talking from Louisville, Kentucky, on a borrowed cellphone, 23-year-old U.S. army deserter Kyle Snyder informed the Georgia Straight he was about to turn himself in.
It was Halloween, and the Colorado-born Snyder was off to Fort Knox—about 55 kilometres from Louisville—to obtain what he hoped would be an honourable discharge from the U.S. military.
Snyder was scheduled to speak at an antiwar protest rally in Vancouver the previous Saturday, where thousands marched from Waterfront Station to the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery to demand that Prime Minister Stephen Harper bring Canadian troops home from Afghanistan. According to Juergen Dankwort of the War Resisters Network, who spoke to the Straight at the time, Snyder was a no-show because he was antsy about TV cameras ahead of his Fort Knox showdown.
“I think maybe he’s nervous,” said the Swedish-born Dankwort, a Kwantlen University College sociology instructor and Vietnam War–draft evader who came to Canada from New York almost 40 years ago. “I saw him the other night when we all had dinner.”
(Accompanied by Vancouverite Gerry Condon, Snyder was in transit to Kentucky all day October 30.)
In April 2005, Snyder, a gunner, fled the Iraq frontlines to head to Prince George, and eventually Vancouver, because he couldn’t face fighting a war he felt was wrong. He said the experience of seeing death all around him led to nightmares, but insisted he’s “doing okay” now. He added, however, that he’s “anxious and nervous about the outcome” of his request for a discharge.
“Tell everyone there I miss Canada and look forward to returning to Canada for my schooling.”
Snyder is one of a list of young American soldiers—along with names like Jeremy Hinzman, Brandon Huey, and Joshua Key—who have fled the U.S. army and sought refuge in Canada. (Hinzman’s highly publicized refugee-status claim was rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board.)
Snyder enlisted in the army in October 2003, eight months after the war began in Iraq. He was finishing Grade 12 in Utah when he was recruited. Now he plans to continue his education away from the military cross hairs.
“I plan on going to either Douglas College or UBC to finish my sociology degree,” he said. “I’m about seven credits away from obtaining a degree. I want to make a career where I can actually make change and look over the change.”
The latest war in Iraq has just passed the three-year mark, but ahead of the U.S. midterm elections, Snyder said, it has contributed to the momentum for the outside-looking-in Democrats. They stand to gain a majority in Congress and/or the Senate for the first time since 1994.
“I feel very much that the war is contributing to that, as well as the economy,” he said. “I think those two factors are the main ones influencing the public in this election.”
Snyder was the centre of attention on October 27. He noted that prior to speaking to the Straight before his last-minute rush to get to Fort Knox on time, there had been a news conference in Louisville. It had been a hectic couple of days, but Snyder said he has already seen a lot to convince him something is changing in the country of his birth.
“It looks like the Democrats are going to take many of the seats in Congress and half of the seats in the Senate, so it looks like there’s going to be a significant change in policy over the next year,” he said. “A lot of people I’ve talked to are voting Democrat, and there are a lot of Democrat signs all over. It looks like the American public is ready for a change.”