Safe Return

Inside the Amnesty Movement for Vietnam War Deserters

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About the Book

In 1971, antiwar activists Michael Uhl and Tod Ensign founded the Safe Return Committee in New York City, seeking amnesty for those who resisted the Vietnam War. While thousands of young Americans chose exile in Canada and Europe to avoid the draft, Safe Return worked on behalf of those who had come to oppose the war after entering the armed forces. Once in uniform, many ran afoul of a draconian system of military justice and institutionalized racism. They deserted in epidemic numbers, some to foreign exile. This book tells the story of the Committee’s sponsored return of deserters and draft evaders, in a series of actions widely publicized to build public support for their acts of resistance.

About the Author(s)

As a political activist, Michael Uhl was co-founder of the Safe Return Amnesty Committee and the GI and veteran advocacy organization, Citizen Soldier. An independent scholar, his articles and reviews have appeared in The Nation and The Boston Globe. He lives in Walpole, Maine.

Bibliographic Details

Michael Uhl
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages:
Bibliographic Info: ca. 35 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9215-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4953-5
Imprint: McFarland

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Michael Uhl’s provocative and intensely personal account of the Safe Return Movement of Americans who refused to be complicit in the Vietnam War is a vital contribution to our recovered history. By cutting through many of the myths and slanders about the young men who crossed borders rather than kill or be offered up as cannon fodder in a war they opposed, Uhl illuminates the true nature of a misunderstood movement to subvert the war. Uhl makes clear that this movement was driven more by class consciousness–the bond between poor working-class Americans and Vietnamese peasants–than moral rectitude. As the war staggered to its bloody end, the pressing questions were: how would these men return from their exile and how would their courageous acts of resistance be remembered? In the end, the quest for amnesty was not just a way to recognize of the validity of their resistance, but also a first step toward redeeming part of the national soul that had been eaten away by an unjust war.”—Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of CounterPunch, author of Grand Theft Pentagon

• “Vietnam veteran, antiwar activist, and writer, Michael Uhl, has spent a good part of his life organizing and writing in struggle with and for Vietnam veterans, especially those who opposed the war by organizing against it. He has helped to publicize war crimes, to obtain justice for those who deserted, to get medical treatment for those suffering PTSD and Agent Orange poisoning, and to make amends to the millions of Vietnamese who died, were injured, and poisoned by the US holocausts in Southeast Asia. In this book, he documents his work, along with Tod Ensign, to win amnesty for the half million soldiers, mostly form the working class, who, no longer able to participate in the carnage, deserted, fleeing to Canada, Sweden, France, the United States, and elsewhere. Through bold ingenious direct, independent actions—with the deserters themselves and sometimes the deserters’ families—Uhl and Ensign succeeded in humanizing the deserters and shedding light on the perfidy of the U.S. government’s efforts to brand them traitors. While Uhl and Ensign failed to achieve their ultimate goal, they did ensure that the deserters did not suffer the severe punishments they likely would have absent the Safe Return movement.”—Michael D. Yates, director of Monthly Review Press, author of Can the Working Class Change the World?

• “The remarkable story of two young men unswervingly dedicated to healing the survivors of a senseless war. This is what true political activism looks like.”—Bob Balaban, actor.