Gregory Daddis was an Army officer and West Point professor when he read the book Desertion, an account of a young man who went to Canada rather than serve in Vietnam.
“I was just blown away by it,” Daddis said. “It just tells a powerful story.”
Daddis was struck by the notion that the definition of courage is not limited to heroics on the battlefield. He decided to invite the author, Jack Todd, to West Point to talk to his history class.
The video of Todd talking to the class in 2013 — decades after he fled to Canada — was videotaped in conjunction with The Vietnam War, a 10-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that aired on PBS last month. The West Point video segment was included separately with DVDs of the Vietnam series.
Todd says it felt a little disorienting walking around the leafy campus watched over by the statues of Eisenhower, Patton and MacArthur.
“I was shocked by the invitation,” Todd said in an interview Wednesday.
He left the Army for Canada in 1970 to avoid Vietnam and later renounced his U.S. citizenship. He ultimately received an undesirable discharge from the military to resolve the charge of fleeing the Army and currently lives in Canada. He can visit the United States, since he is not a fugitive.
Todd was surprised at how the Army had changed from the draft military he entered decades ago. The cadets he met were a diverse group, and included women. They asked thoughtful questions.
Todd explained he decided to leave the country because he had determined the Vietnam War was immoral. He said he did not oppose anyone serving in Vietnam or the military but at the time he needed to take a “moral stance.”
Many of the questions centered on how Todd grappled with his conviction that the war was wrong against his obligations as an American to answer the call to serve.
“I’ve questioned the decision for 40 years,” he said, though remains convinced it was the right call.
The discussion may not have changed anyone’s minds, but it opened them to different viewpoints, said Daddis, who has since retired from the Army.
Daddis said he had to overcome “trepidation” from some faculty and administrators when he sought permission to have Todd visit, but others were supportive.
Ultimately, it was Todd who was the most concerned about how the class would go.
“I was nervous,” he said. “You don’t know how you are going to be accepted.”