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Moline Swedes and Vietnam

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

As the 1960s drew to a close, the escalating war in Vietnam drew Americans into a seemingly hopeless moral dilemma, but nowhere more than among the Swedish-Americans living in Moline. Like most of us, they were concerned about the war itself, but they faced an additional problem. Their homeland, their mother country, Sweden, had begun to offer sanctuary to American draft dodgers and Army deserters. Americans who resisted the war found safety in Sweden.

The Moline Swedes were troubled. They had carefully built a reputation for dependability, for hard work, for patriotism, for church going. How could their fellow Swedes back in Sweden do such a thing? Sweden had already caused problems for the Moliners by rumors of free love and socialized medicine. And it seemed that their relatives left behind in Sweden did not attend the Lutheran state church as well as one might hope. But harboring draft dodgers was the last straw.

No doubt there were many restless nights in Moline households. What must people be thinking of the Swedes in Moline? Did they dare show their faces on the streets?

Fortunately, one afternoon, an editorial in the Moline Dispatch provided an answer. Why was there such a difference between the upstanding Moline Swedes and those back in Sweden? It was simple, said the Dispatch­. When the American heartland opened up to immigration in the 19th century, all of those Swedes in Sweden who had any gumption, any get up and go, any dreams and vision of a better life, any moral sense of duty—all those Swedes got up and went: many of them to Moline to work for John Deere. What was left back in Sweden? Why just the kind of lazy, shiftless citizens with loose morals you would expect to welcome draft dodgers and deserters. None of those qualities that made Swedes so upstanding were left in Sweden. They were all in Moline.

That evening, you can be sure, many a household in Moline, for the first time in months, slept the sleep of the just.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.