The tales are told in a foreign land, but they speak of America and men who left their country in a time of great trouble.
Nathan Isgur, 37, who came here to dodge the Vietnam draft 16 years ago and stayed, has a heavy black beard, a young Canadian wife and mixed feelings about the United States.
"As the years have gone by," he says in his soft way, "my anger has gotten a lot more mellow . . . I was angry at Americans because it was the fault of the American people that they let the government mislead them so much. Especially when we were out there telling the truth. Just to obey authority -- that made me really angry."
Now Isgur is a professor of physics at the University of Toronto. He frequently travels to the States and will deliver a paper at an American Physical Society meeting next week in Washington.
He likes America.
"I'm remembering and discovering that I concentrated a bit too much on the negative things about America -- the political naivete' that led to Vietnam. When I go back I also see, especially in my field, the incredible dynamism of the U.S. It's an exciting place in physics, in art, in culture."
But Isgur's life is rooted here. He has become a Canadian citizen but still uses his U.S. passport when traveling to the States. "It's very convenient, I must admit, to not have lost my [U.S.] citizenship."
Those who came here say they were driven into exile. They have been called cowards, but say they acted out of conscience. Expatriates now, they see their homeland through the curious prism of snipped TV images and news from a distance. Ten years after the fall of Saigon, they say they remain deeply pained by America's Vietnam experience.
Fifty-eight thousand Americans died in Vietnam and 300,000 were wounded. In the late '60s and early '70s, when the war's toll was being reported daily, the number of U.S. immigrants to Canada swelled to more than 20,000 a year -- double the earlier peacetime rate. It is not recorded why they left the U.S., but most are thought to have been draft dodgers or military deserters. In fact, the number was probably higher because many never registered with the authorities. This was particularly true of the deserters, who, studies show, were more often from the lower social and economic strata and of- ten had trouble getting the jobs and fulfilling other requirements to remain here legally. The dodgers tended to be college kids who got jobs and began raising families.
Some of the dodgers and deserters, as the men sometimes casually call themselves, engaged in antiwar activities here but many lived, at least outwardly, as though the war never happened.
Most of those who remain now are thought to be dodgers. They could have returned without any penalty after Jimmy Carter's 1977 amnesty, which also allowed deserters to return with bad-paper discharges. But the majority of dodgers stayed. According to David S. Surrey, author of "Choice of Conscience," a study of the war resisters in exile, "These people have no intentions of coming back. They left not only because of the war but what they considered a whole brand-new analysis of the United States. They didn't like . . . what they considered racism and classism at home."
Some of the men interviewed for this story are considering returning -- a choice they view with some ambivalence. They worry about involvement in political issues like Nicaragua or the MX that they now view calmly from a distance. And they have come to like Canada. Canadians are more tolerant than Americans, they say, less competitive. There is the comfort of socialized medicine. Toronto is a mosaic of peoples from all over the world, a truly cosmopolitan city, a clean city, a safe city.
Herewith five men. Up From Minnesota
"Len, a chance to relive your past, my dear!" shouts Jane Marvy as a reporter shows up unexpectedly at the Marvys' brick house in a neighborhood much like Mount Pleasant in Washington.
Jane Marvy cheerfully invites the visitor inside where a busy Saturday family scene is in progress. There is classical music and comfortable old furniture. Sons Philip and Adam are in and out. The dishwasher churns.
Leonard Marvy, 37, enters the living room wearing maroon jogging pants. He smiles.
"It seems like such a long time now," he says. "It was 17 years ago."
Marvy, who is from St. Paul, came here from the University of Minnesota in March of '68 and faded into the Canadian scene. He met his future wife at a child treatment center where they worked.
Unlike many dodgers, Marvy didn't join the exile network and had never talked to the press.
"I wasn't real political but I had strong views against the war," he says. "I knew I couldn't fight in that war . . . I didn't agree with it, I didn't think it made any sense and I was not going to do it."
Was personal convenience a motive? "My answer to that is that if everyone had done what I did the war would have been over a lot sooner. It was not really a political act. It was an act of conscience, of integrity and of humanity. Or for humanity. It was as much for the people in Vietnam as it was a message to the United States for my point of view."
Marvy, always interested in child psychology, continues to work with disturbed adolescents.
He remains here because of his career and, "Basically my wife's family is here. My kids are 13 and 15. They're pretty settled. My life is here."
Yet he says he is passing through a mild "midlife crisis" and sometimes thinks of returning. "In particular recently I've missed my family and the Twin Cities more than I have in the past."
He says to his wife, "We could do it."
He turns back to his visitor: "Oh, I don't know if we'd go . . . I don't feel any rage or hatred toward the U.S. [although] I worry about what I read about the Moral Majority and the right wing in the U.S. Jerry Falwell and that whole crew concerns me."
Jane Marvy says they sometimes run across other dodgers but seldom discuss politics with them.
"I don't carry the war in me," says Leonard Marvy. Here to Stay
Steven M. Bishop, 37, a university librarian, says flatly, "I don't like the United States anymore."
A short, intense man with a mop of unruly hair, he was student council president at his small-town high school before attending the University of Michigan on a track scholarship. He ran the indoor mile in 4:10:1 but was kicked off the team after complaints about his long hair. "Two years later the track team looked like the Grateful Dead because it was acceptable then."
Now Bishop, who left late in 1969, is a Canadian and a socialist who says he will never again live in the United States.
"I consider the U.S. to be probably the biggest cause of problems in the world today," he says, "and I don't want to have anything to do with it. I'm sick of it. I know there are a lot of good people who live in the U.S., my folks for instance, but they get to the point where they're powerless."
He sometimes refers to Canada as "we" and America as "you." "We're much more open to and aware of what's going on in other western countries," he says. ". . . I think it's very important for Americans to know as much about the outside world as possible because you have so much power, don't you? You can invade Grenada and you can have the whole world angry at you and still do what you want."
Bishop says he began questioning the war in high school. "Barry Goldwater was saying we should fight to win or get out and that made sense to me. By my first year in university, I knew I wasn't going to go." His musician father and social activist mother supported the decision.
His fiance', Deborah A. Green, says that Bishop was "the golden boy" of his home town. "You were the hero and the good guy," she says. "You'd think they'd see, when he was a draft dodger, that he was right."
"The reaction was mixed," he says. "My best friend in junior high and part of high school said he'd kill me if he ever saw me again," but when they met years later, "He said, 'It's really good to see you again.' He started crying. It was really quite touching."
Bishop returns "every year to play golf with my dad. Debbie and I were there for Christmas." But America makes him uncomfortable. He finds it unsettling, for example, that Vietnam veterans have favorable images on American TV shows like "Magnum, P.I." and "The A-Team."
He is convinced he did the right thing.
"There's a lot of talk that a lot of the movement was kids being selfish," he says, "the middle class being asked to go fight in a war and they didn't want to. I know a lot of that was going on, but in retrospect I think we made the right decision. I think we did change America. We made America introspective in a way it had never been." A Success Story
"I've flourished in this town! I've loved it!" says Allan Kazmer, 43, who says he has "the metabolism of a hummingbird"; he is creative director of Doyle Dane Bernbach Advertising Ltd. here.
Eighteen years ago Kazmer deserted his U.S. Army reserve unit, which had been ordered to Vietnam by President Johnson, and drove here from Detroit with his wife Karen, an antiwar activist. Now they live with their 14-year-old son, Aaron, in an art-filled house near the shore of Lake Ontario.
"Life is joyous for us," says Kazmer, a tall man with stylishly cut brown hair.
"I get around just by taking the bus all over," says Aaron Kazmer.
"It feels good here," says Karen Kazmer.
"Canada has tried to play the peacemaker and we applaud that," says Allan Kazmer. "The giggle is that 18 years ago we were considered felons and threats. I mean, look around, this is a middle-class family! . . . We are very good citizens. We vote. We participate."
Kazmer, the son of a U.S. Army civilian employe, was educated in Catholic schools. Later he couldn't attend his father's funeral for fear of arrest.
He had joined the reserves, he says, to avoid Vietnam, and once he was in uniform, "My political consciousness was spurred to a very, very high level."
"For the first time in your life, you think maybe your government is wrong, immoral," says Karen Kazmer.
Sometimes, Allan Kazmer says, a "right-wing Canadian" will say to him, "Well, if someone invades us would you be a coward and turn and run?"
"I don't know all the answers," is Kazmer's answer. ". . . We are struggling human beings with our own foibles, quirks and our own neuroses, our own needs."
Kazmer says he read the U.S. Constitution while in Canada "and I wept. It is not only the right of the people, it is their duty, to overthrow their government if it stops serving them."
When the Kazmers heard the "Star-Spangled Banner" last fall at the World Series in Detroit, both felt only what Karen Kazmer calls "an old familiarity."
"I believe war is a breakdown of human intercourse, it's a failure," says Allan Kazmer.
"I'd like to think man could evolve beyond it," says Karen Kazmer.
"Perhaps there have been just wars in a way," says Allan Kazmer. "I can't think of any."
"Well, I suppose in some ways World War II could have been considered a just war," says Karen Kazmer. "I don't know. Hitler was an evil person. It was more just than Vietnam. Killing off our fellow man is the ultimate evil."
"It seems Hitler was a clear and present evil," says Allan Kazmer. "There's no denying the atrocities to the Jews. A real evil did exist there and had to be stopped. It could have been stopped sooner, quicker, better."
Kazmer is asked if he would ever fight.
"I can conceive of fighting in a war. I believe there are other solutions than war. I'd be among those citizens who say, 'Gentlemen, let's reason together.' "
Karen Kazmer: "I'd have to say, as a mother, 'Not with my son, you don't!' "
Aaron Kazmer: "Good!"
Karen Kazmer: "My son is not going to be cannon fodder."
Allan Kazmer: "I'm idealistic enough to believe that world peace is possible in my lifetime."
Kazmer says he wishes Americans "well, and lots of well. Their government is based on some of the most magnificent principles ever laid down for a government."
A teen-age friend of Aaron's, visiting from California, sits and listens. He is wearing an Olympics sweatshirt.
Allan Kazmer says, "I love Americans, I really do." At that, the American visitor flashes a big grin and gives the thumbs-up sign. Thinking of Home
"I'm an American, and proud to be one. In spite of everything!" says Kevin Vrieze, 37, a university librarian with an easygoing manner. His stylish wife, Jeri -- an American (they met in an English poetry class here) -- has her own bakery business.
"Jeri and I have arguments about whether or not we should advertise the fact that we're Americans," says Vrieze. "Because of Reagan, she feels embarrassed and disappointed . . . by what he's doing in America. I don't argue with any of that at all, but he and what he says is not America."
They like Canada but are thinking of returning to the States because they recently discovered that their adopted daughter, Eden, a 2-year-old of Korean extraction, is deaf.
"The resources there are much better," says Vrieze. So far, "I guess it's inertia that has kept me here." He has considered moving to Washington to be near Gallaudet College.
The son of a carpenter, Vrieze was born and raised in a small Wisconsin town. He attended the Unversity of Wisconsin and later drifted west. He was in Houston when he received his draft notice and reported for induction.
But at the last moment of the induction ceremony, he refused to take the ceremonial but all-important one step forward that would have put him in the military.
While it "didn't feel like such a big deal at the time," Vrieze realized later that, "This was the real break. Having been brought up to do what the government says because this is being a good American . . . and here I am, rejecting it all!"
He says he was greeted warmly by Canadians. "Anybody who did what we did was the next thing to a hero almost. It was good for a few free beers now and again. The hard part was when we first went back to visit , everyone in the States was very uncomfortable with the whole subject. In some ways, still is. Not so much accusing me of cowardice, but there's an underlying guilt feeling on their part. Most of the folks realize the war was a grand mistake and the less said of it the better."
At a high school reunion he encountered his old mailman. "I walk up, greet him, hold out my hand to say hello. He stands up, looks me in the eye and says, 'Well, I don't know if I should shake hands with you or not.' Silence all over the room. So I sort of smiled at him and said, 'It seems to me that it's not you who has to do the forgiving. If I'm willing to shake your hand, I think the least you can do is to reciprocate.' He thought about that for a minute. Finally he sort of smiled sheepishly and shook my hand." Dinner at Robert's
In his study at home, physics professor Isgur has a South Houston High School yearbook open on the desk.
He smiles and turns the page.
"That's me and LBJ," the former student body president and honor student says, pointing at a picture. "That's me getting a Presidential Scholar medal from LBJ in 1964."
On the wall are framed documents titled, "Order to Report for Induction" and "The United States of America versus Nathan Gerald Isgur."
His wife, Karin, a nurse who is several months pregnant, laughs as her husband shows these mementos.
Isgur, the son of a Houston shopkeeper, was "a little bit of a rebel" as a boy, for one thing because he saw blacks treated unfairly. When Vietnam came along, "I was inclined to think if everyone thought it was okay, it probably wasn't. Why should I trust anyone?"
Although he says he is "politically rather conservative," especially on economic matters, "I saw no reason the Vietnamese shouldn't make up their own minds."
One evening, Isgur joins the Vriezes and a reporter for dinner at Robert's, a restaurant whose owner is said by Vrieze to have once fired a cook for "not respecting his vegetables."
Over the meal, Vrieze says the U.S. government is "distanced from the American people."
"I don't agree at all," says Isgur. "I think people feel closer to government than in a long time because they really like Ronnie."
Isgur says, "The thing that's dangerous, but also that makes the U.S. so exciting, is the anything-goes attitude. That spirit is not the same here."
"With a small business in this country," agrees Vrieze, "the government has set up the bureaucracy so it's much more difficult to do than in the U.S. There's lots of regulations, paperwork, taxes."
Later the talk turns to the Soviet Union and Kevin Vrieze says he thinks that "The East-West confrontation has been blown out of proportion by the respective governments as a way to control people."
But Isgur says he visited Soviet bloc countries and was "shocked" at what he saw. "There's a draft dodger in Canada," he says reflectively, "who will be the first in the parapets to defend the West against that social system."