U.S. soldier in London to avoid Iraq war

Seeks refuge: Linjamin Mull has gone absent without leave from the U.S. Army. He refuses to join in...

Seeks refuge: Linjamin Mull has gone absent without leave from the U.S. Army. He refuses to join in the war in Iraq, calling it "a form of American imperialism." He arrived Wednesday in London. (Susan Bradnam Sun Media)

PATRICK MALONEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

If he had any doubts upon arriving here, big news from back home likely erased them.

It was 5 p.m. Wednesday when Linjamin Mull, stepping off a bus in downtown London, ended a two-week journey that turned him from an American soldier to expatriate, just as the Iraq war controversy flared again in the U.S.

That same day, the U.S. government announced troop deployments to Iraq -- a war Mull refuses to join -- will be extended from 12 to 15 months.

"Most people don't have the courage to leave," said Mull, a New York City social worker and graduate of Southern Connecticut State University.

"It's a big difference if my country was attacked -- I was there for Sept. 11 . . . or Kosovo, (where you're) preventing ethnic cleansing. Then you have a purpose. (Iraq) is a form of American imperialism."

Mull, an articulate 31-year-old, recently went absent without leave from his training at Virginia's Fort Houston.

He applied for refugee status in Toronto with the help of Canadian sympathizers, one of whom has opened her London home to him.

His opinions are similar to those of the estimated 13 other U.S. soldiers who have fled to Canada, risking imprisonment upon returning to the U.S. None of them has successfully applied for refugee status in Canada.

While Toronto is home to about 20 fleeing so-called war resisters, including soldiers and their families, Mull's arrival makes three the number now in London.

The city should expect a few more soon.

The nerve centre of Canada's War Resisters Support Campaign is Toronto, but organizers there say they've run out of available housing for arriving soldiers. So Ontario's other two most-active campaigns, in London and Ottawa, are expected to carry the load for the next two months.

"We've been getting quite a few new people in quick succession and that's overwhelming for us," said lead organizer Lee Zaslofsky, who came to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War.

The debate over sheltering U.S. fighters from Iraq is an oft-heated one in Canada. Even the language is charged: Sympathizers call such soldiers war resisters, while disapproving Canadians use the term deserters.

Mull's story makes him an especially polarizing figure in the debate.

While Canada opened its doors to Vietnam draft dodgers, critics today rightly note those troops were being drafted into military service. Soldiers like Mull are signing up voluntarily to fight.

He joined the U.S. army in 2005, well into the Iraq conflict and fully aware how it was unfolding, making his decision all the more informed.

But to sympathizers, war-resisting soldiers should not be forced into a war many consider illegal and pointless.

While Mull, ranked in the army as a specialist, admits he signed up, he notes his background left him few options.

He says his parents died violently nearly 20 years ago. Facing a crushing student debt and living in New York City on a social worker's meagre salary, he said he signed up not to fight, but out of financial need.

"What will make you heal from not having a family" is starting one of your own, he said. "I'm poor . . . how am I going to have a family? Gotta join the army.

"You're not getting a cross-section of our society (recruited into) the military -- it's poor people like myself. You never see (recruiters) on Fifth Avenue or in nice neighbourhoods."

Mull expects to stay here for a couple of months before returning to Toronto while his refugee application moves forward. Going to Iraq, however, isn't likely.

"Just imagine someone coming to your house . . . and tying you up and dragging you out. Live with that 20 years from now (when) history says you were wrong."


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