Canada and the Vietnam War Term Paper

Pages: 14 (3989 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: American History

Canada's Involvement In The Vietnam War

It is generally believed that Canada's only involvement in the Vietnam War was allowing asylum for draft dodgers and conscientious objectors. While it is true at that Ottawa did not send soldiers to Vietnam, the country took part in the conflict in other ways. The direct and indirect commitment of troops and personnel as well as the history surrounding Canada's involvement in the war will be the topic of this paper.

Historical Perspective

Prior to World War II, Vietnam had been a French colony, although the country was occupied by the Japanese during the war. The Japanese occupation resulted in a strong anti-Japanese sentiments led by Ho Chi Minh. Ho had been a leading member of the Communist party in France. In 1941, Ho led the Vietminh independence faction who, with the support of the United States Office of Strategic Services, worked against the Japanese as well as the French when they attempted to re-occupy Vietnam in 1946. When the war ended, the Vietminh controlled the north of the country and desired the country to be free and independent.

Ho Chi Minh was named Chairman of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 when the Vietminh organized the abdication of the puppet emperor Boa Dai. Ho looked to the United States for support for the new independent government, but American President Harry Truman was unwilling to provide support, partially due to pressure from France and partly due to Ho's Communist leanings.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Canada and the Vietnam War Assignment

The French and the Vietminh went to war with the support of China. The support of the Chinese led to American concern regarding the spread of Communism into Asia. With American support, the French set up government in South Vietnam. The government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North was recognized by China and the Soviet Union. United States president Harry Truman provided support to the French puppet government in the South. America feared the expansion of communist power as had been seen in the Korean War. The United States developed the Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) was deployed to Vietnam in 1950 to advise and train soldiers1. The Viet Minh received support from the Soviet Union and the Chinese.

French forces in Vietnam surrendered after the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

Ho Chi Minh became president of North Vietnam (Still known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) in 1955. The North was a Communist single party state. The 1954 Geneva Accords mandated that a national election be held in 1956 to reunite the country under one government. South Vietnam and the United States had failed to ratify the Geneva Accords, mostly for fear the country would be united under the popular Communist rule. The United States then elected to support the South Vietnamese government in "nation building," ostensibly to stem the tide of communism.

The United States committed large numbers of troops to the skirmishes that continued between the North and South factions between 1954 and 1973.

American President John F. Kennedy increased troop numbers to 16,000, and more troops were deployed under President Lyndon Johnson. In 1963, the President of the Republic of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a coup carried out by the Republican Army, but initiated with the support of the Central Intelligence Agency. As a result, the presidency of the country fell to a series of poorly qualified generals. The United States became primary mover in the war against the North. Ultimately, the Army of the Republic was entirely funded and directed by American military advisors.

Canada in the milieu

The signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 brought an end to American involvement in Vietnam. By that time, 1.7 million people had died, 2.7 million were wounded and 13 million Vietnamese men, women and children were left as refugees. Canada provided $2.47 million in Defense Products to the United States over the years between 1968 and 1973, products to include aircraft parts, bombs, ammunition and defoliant. Canada attempted to assuage any guilt or complicity associated with this contribution to the American War effort and its resulting carnage by shipping the goods to the United States who would from there send the products on to Vietnam. Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson defended the stated role of Canada as an impartial observer in the conflict by stating "...equipment goes into the general inventory of the United States Armed Forces and may be used....as the U.S. Government may see fit."2

With the advent of the Cold War, Canada self identified as a non-aligned state. After the development of NATO, Canadian foreign policy shifted to multilateralism. This policy put Canada in the position of disagreement with strong doctrines put forth by both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations advocating the active opposition of Communism in any form. Canada felt that while aggression must be stopped, as was demonstrated in the Korean Conflict, there was no precedent for the commitment of troops to a conflict limited to two factions of the same nation. Canada was a signatory on the Geneva Accords and attempted to dissuade France and the United States from escalation of hostilities in Vietnam. Canada had specific guidelines for the commitment of Canadian troops to any war alliance. These guidelines were:

The alliance must involve cultural and trade ties in addition to a military alliance.

The alliance must meet the will of the people in the country involved.

Other states (in this case, Asian states) had to support the alliance, either directly or in principle.

The conflict must be referred to the United Nations (in this case, by France).

Any multilateral action must conform to the United Nations charter.

Any action taken had to be divorced from all elements of colonialism.

Canada was a member of the United Nations element responsible for oversight of the Geneva Accords. This position necessitated Canada's neutrality. When the United States reported on infiltration of spies and terrorists from the North into the South, the Canadian delegation to the United Nations wrote a report to the Co-Chairman of the Geneva Convention Conference on the Indo-China (ICC) meant to support the U.S. allegations of aggressive tactics by North Vietnam. This support is viewed with a jaundiced eye by historians. Broad application of technical jargon was used to make the case for retaliatory aggression on the part of the United States. Essentially, this report supported the claim by the United States that Vietnam was divided into to sovereign states, a statement which is not supported by the Geneva Accords. This assertion was helpful for the American's case, however, because it allowed the Americans call action in Vietnam police action, rather than civil action. A civil action would have been thought better managed via internal rather than external means.

What was Canada's motivation for this action? Information contained in the Pentagon Papers3 reports the ICC special report stated rural insurrections by the National Liberation front within South Vietnam were caused by North Vietnamese actors. The National Liberation Front grew out of the Vietminh organization, but had been in control of many "liberated zones" within Vietnam even before the start of the war. One failure of the American response to this "insurgency" was that heavy bombardment and counter-insurgency tactics were relatively ineffective in an area in which the insurgency had been in place for up to 20 years. Later data on this campaign made available through the Pentagon Papers showed the evidence used for this report to the United Nations was unsubstantiated. Later analysis showed the North Vietnamese leaders were not the organizers of the insurgent rebellion taking place within South Vietnam. It was more likely that the North Vietnamese gave unwilling assent to the insurgency, attempting to prevent a revolt against Hanoi's tenuous hold on the hearts and minds of the people.

As war continued, and as the body counts continued to rise, the Americans found themselves in an unfamiliar situation. Vietnam was a war with unclear objectives fought on several fronts and with a significant insurgency within the "friendly" territory. American soldiers were unfamiliar with this type of guerilla warfare and unsure how to deal with a conflict lacking an obvious endpoint and a nebulous enemy. Canada continued to take on new and greater responsibilities for the United States, but in a more clandestine manner.

In 1964, Blair Seaborn was on an international commission tasked with ending the Vietnam conflict. Seaborn, a lifelong diplomat, was asked to act as intermediary between United States President Lyndon Johnson and Hanoi. Seaborn was to deliver a message in which the Americans asked Hanoi to consider allowing South Vietnam to develop as an independent state, pledging the American support in nation building.

Unfortunately, Seaborn's mission failed. As a result, American President Johnson began a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam in January of 1964 3, 4. Canada initially claimed there was no advance notice for the Canadians regarding this bombing campaign. The Pentagon Papers showed differently. Prime Minister Lester Pearson and President Johnson met… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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