Review of Welcome to Resisterville: American Dissidents in British Columbia

Welcome to Resisterville

Rodgers, Kathleen. 2014. Welcome to Resisterville: American Dissidents in British Columbia. UBC Press.

By Catherine Corrigall-Brown

Welcome to Resisterville: American Dissidents in British Columbia by Kathleen Rodgers opens with a vignette. In 2004, residents of the small and remote Canadian town of Nelson unveiled a plan to erect a statue celebrating the contributions of the thousands of American Vietnam War “draft-dodgers” that had made their way to, and settled in, the region between 1965 and 1973. What seemed like a small local matter garnered significant international interest, including media attention from outlets such as the New York Times and Fox News. At the height of the controversy, the public discourse echoed the divisive debate that had surrounded the actions of the war resisters since the Vietnam War itself.  While some news coverage described the monument as lunacy, shameful, or cowardice, other outlets argued that the resisters deserved recognition and respect.

The U.S. media attention also lead a group ofAmerican citizens to threaten a boycott of tourism to the region and an American veterans’ groups argued that a statue honoring draft dodgers amounted to “memorializing cowards” and called on then U.S. president George W. Bush to intervene. This unanticipated reaction resulted in the local Chamber of Commerce successfully launching a campaign to stop the building of the statue, citing the potential economic impacts. In the end, many local residents turned against the monument, shocked by what had originally seemed to be a relatively innocuous proposal and convinced that it could impact upon tourism and the economy in the region.

This vignette begins the reader’s exploration of the fascinating story of the approximately 100,000 American war resisters who migrated to Canada during the Vietnam War era.  Most of these migrants came to avoid being drafted into the war themselves or with loved ones who did not want to be drafted.  However, this group was not just about resisting the War – they were also looking to critique and escape mainstream, consumerist society and go “back to the land.”   These idealistic and ideologically driven young people created a countercultural force in the region.

Welcome to Resisterville is a nuanced and thoughtful case study of American migration to the one small region of Canada in the late 1960s.  Through systematic and in-depth interviews, document analysis, and historical research, Rodgers skillfully demonstrates the significant impact these American migrants had on the culture, politics, and social relations of the area. The extent of public debate around the issue of the monument hints at the enduring legacy of the Vietnam-era influx on the contemporary dynamics of the region of British Columbia where Nelson is located. The events highlight the fact that the region is comprised of unique communities where the countercultural identities and ideals of the 1960s have become institutionalized into the daily life and politics of the town and the surrounding region, where many of the citizens remain committed to alternative lifestyles and leftist politics including environmentalism, a commitment to principles of democratic organization and civil disobedience, and a rejection of modern urban life.

Through the lens of this one area, Rodgers shows how the U.S. war resisters built on the traditions of earlier groups to the area, such as Doukobors, Quakers, and Japanese interned during the Second World War, who also questioned elements of mainstream society and the role of the military.  However, these American migrants, with their focus on alternative- and counter-culture, also clashed with other elements of the existing community, such as working class residents and conservative groups in the area.  These dynamics created a unique social context that is illuminated through Rodgers compelling work.  This research adds to our understanding of a variety of substantive areas such as immigration research, political sociology, social movements, cultural studies, and historical sociology.  This book makes for an informative and enjoyable summer read!

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Filed under Essay Dialogues, Great Books for Summer Reading 2014

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