Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 24)

The Vietnam Wars (Epilogue)
Over 2.15 million men served in Vietnam; 1.6 million in combat. "Those who fought in the war and died in it were disproportionately poor, badly educated, and black." (p.319)
The rest of this chapter deals with how veterans felt upon their return and the struggles they endured to overcome the trauma of Vietnam.
For a soldier finished his one-year tour, there was no transition period from the war zone to "the world" (what they called the US/everywhere else). Veterans felt spat upon (some probably actually were) and it is this fact, not being welcomed as heroes but with some shame, that caused much of the difficulties. Of course this was not the case everywhere, but significant enough that a Vietnam veteran that might have already had trouble justifying his role in the war would be pushed over the edge.
WWII was different, probably not from 'the horror' point of view, but in terms of the validity (to use an odd term). Veterans had trouble getting jobs (like anyone else is a difficult economy), maintaining relationships and resuming a 'normal' role in society. Even the Veterans Administration admitted that Vietnam vets reported that they had a "greater distrust of institutions" as well as "bitterness, disgust and suspicion of those in positions of authority and responsibility." (It would be useful to know by what amount to know if that is really significant.)
The Epilogue presents various anecdotes and poems of veterans trying to make sense of their trauma - a trauma that ushered in the framing of it being post-traumatic stress disorder (from postwar trauma, from 'shell-shocked,' from...). Women (who mainly served as nurses) as had trouble reintegrating into society, made worse when they weren't seen as true veterans (this was rectified in 1982).
Young points out that the "Vietnam syndrome" (the population's reluctance to engage in war) 'can be better understood as a relatively unique event in American history: an inability to forget, a resistance to the everyday workings of historical amnesia, despite the serious and coordinated efforts of the government and much of the press to "heal the wounds" of the war by encouraging such forgetting, of what comes to the same thing, firm instructions on how to remember.'
I'm currently investigating exactly what the following statement, found on page 324, means compared to the general population, but for the moment it serves as a fitting ending to my coverage of this book: More Vietnam veterans have committed suicide since the war than died in it.

Fog of War (2003) Directed by Errol Morris, starring Robert McNamara
This is an excellent documentary that investigates the psychological and strategic aspects of war by using the life of, and an extended interview with, Robert McNamara.
This was my second viewing and my memories from the first time consisted of McNamara being really smart and an excellent speaker, of him almost admiting they were war criminals and that things were very complicated. This time around I noticed that the flim was also about the morality of war. McNamara kept asking things like, "In a war can you kill 1000 civilians? 10000? 100000?" It is a fascinating topic. What is just in a situation that is anything but?
This time, I still thought he was very smart and a great speaker (but it seems I had forgotten about the edits so McNamara appears to flow better than he actually does). Additionally, I had forgotten McNamara was involved in WWII and the firebombing of Japan, as well as the cuban missle crisis. He was a numbers guy and focused on efficiency. To dramatize this, at one point Morris had numbers falling as bombs. Significantly, 50-90% of 67 cities in Japan were destroyed! McNamara and Morris make it very powerful by comparing various Japanese cities to American ones.
The documentary actually starts with McNamara saying that his role in WWII would have resulted in a war crimes trial if they lost.
A few other illuminating points were when McNamara went to Cuba and Vietnam years after the conflict to discuss what the other side new at the time. McNamara concluded luck was the reason a nuclear war wasn't started over Cuba. When we was in Vietnam he asked one of the Vietnamese leaders if they would have given up if they had lost more men. Paraphrasing, he responded, "Mr. McNamara, have you not read a history book? We have been fighting with the Chinese for 1000 years, we were not aligned with them, we were fighting for our independence and we would have done so to the last man."
This doc is a must see for anyone interested in military history and/or the psychology of decision making under uncertainty.

Canada's Secret War: Vietnam (CBC News Archives)
From the website: "Vietnam may have been America's war but Canada was heavily involved — for and against. Canada harboured American draft dodgers and helped supervise ceasefires. But at the same time, about 30,000 Canadians volunteered to fight in southeast Asia. And there was Canada's involvement in secret missions, weapons testing and arms production. CBC Archives looks at Canada's role in the Vietnam War."
There were a total of 20 clips of Video and Radio, totaling almost 100 minutes. Below are the excerpts (mainly text that accompanied the clip) that I thought useful, separated by clip:
Broadcast Date: July 29, 1954
Canada accepts an invitation in July 1954 to join the International Control Commission (ICC), a peacekeeping body designed to oversee the transition.
• Lester Pearson was minister of external affairs from 1948 to 1957 and prime minister from 1963 to 1968.
• In April 1965 he made a speech at Temple University in Philadelphia suggesting the United States halt bombing of North Vietnam.
• Pearson was the only head of government in any western country to denounce the bombing.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 20, 1966
Despite a law making it illegal, many individual Canadians choose to sign up with the U.S. armed forces to fight in Vietnam.
Broadcast Date: March 16, 1969
Draft dodgers, resisters, evaders, foot-voters, deserters — Canada has become a haven for a conservative estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 Americans avoiding a war they do not support. The initial influx of draft dodgers was followed by a wave of deserters. In Toronto, a group of university professors has set up a halfway house for deserters.
- According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the majority of draft dodgers tended to be urban, well-educated middle class men, while deserters were more often poorer, rural, less educated individuals who were not exposed to the antiwar movement until they were already in the forces.
Broadcast Date: Jan. 10, 1970
Eighteen days camped out in the Canadian winter, 20 months of letter-writing, six months as a nurse in South Vietnam. Social activist Claire Culhane thought this would be enough to win an audience with Prime Minister Trudeau (but it wasn't)
The group called themselves "Enough" and their purpose was to protest against the Canadian government's failure to oppose the U.S. presence in Vietnam. They believed a strong antiwar declaration by Ottawa could help change U.S. policies.
• The Vietnam War was the first war widely broadcast on television. Because many families gathered around the television to watch nightly updates on the evening news, the war earned the nickname "the living room war." Many came to oppose the war or were driven to antiwar protests by the atrocities they witnessed on the news.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 15, 1973
Two weeks after the signing of the Paris Peace Accord, Canadian members of the hastily-formed International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS) are feeling that their presence in Vietnam is more symbolic than real. ICCS observers feel like frustrated spectators because they have no actual powers of enforcement. They are not permitted to investigate violations of the ceasefire as this is done by the Joint Military Commission field teams. (which was made up of members from South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the United States and the Viet Cong.)
• The ICCS was made up of 1160 members — 290 from each from Canada, Hungary, Indonesia and Poland.
• Canadians withdrew on July 31, 1973, but the commission continued to operate until April 30, 1975.
• In September 2004, cabinet records from 1973 were released publicly, showing that cabinet was convinced the ICCS mission was futile.
• The minutes of one briefing paper read "There had been 7,000 violations of the ceasefire recorded. The commission had been asked to investigate only 31 complaints from which only two reports emerged."
Broadcast Date: July 15, 1973
• The Pentagon Papers were based on a secret study of U.S. decision-making about Vietnam since the end of World War II. The study, led by U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, was completed in 1969.
The sections of the Pentagon Papers that were applicable to Canada were published in the Globe and Mail in July 1973.
• One of the events revealed by the Pentagon Papers is a secret meeting in May 1964 between President Lyndon Johnson and Prime Minister Lester Pearson in which they discussed the possibility of bombing North Vietnam. The telegram exposed by the Pentagon Papers referred to their cryptic discussion of "carrots and sticks," and the "nature of sticks."
(me from the clip: Some argue Pearson would have approved some type of bombing, but Martin Sr. says Pearson wouldn't have.)
R7 (significant)
Broadcast Date: Jan. 27, 1975
(me from the clip: Since singing of peace treaty, over 100,000 causalities.)
Canada's official position is that it's not in the business of sending arms to dangerous areas. But the truth is, Canadian manufacturers and the Canadian government are involved in filling American defence contracts for shipment to Vietnam.
• Some of the many Canadian-manufactured products destined for Vietnam included: ammunition, aircraft engines, gun sights, grenades, boots, green berets, napalm, TNT, rye whiskey, Agent Orange, generators and passenger vehicles, to name just a few.
• While the sale of these items is by no means illegal, many believed it was morally wrong to profit from sales of war materials. NDP leader Tommy Douglas called it "blood money."
• In 1958 Canada and the United States signed a Defence Production Sharing Agreement. Between 1965 and 1973, industry in Canada supplied $2.47 billion worth of war material to the United States.
Broadcast Date: April 24, 1975
With the communist takeover of South Vietnam looming, diplomats scramble to pull Canadians out of Saigon. Amidst the chaos, little real assistance is offered to Vietnamese civilians desperate to escape the imminent communist regime. The decision to airlift two diplomatic vehicles loaded with art and souvenirs while leaving Vietnamese staff behind causes some concern about Canada's priorities.
• Canada issued 14,000 visas to Vietnamese, but getting out of the country was left up to the individuals. Canada did not have the means to provide assistance in evacuating Vietnamese.
• In the years following the Vietnam War, over one million refugees fled the war-ravaged countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Those Vietnamese who took to the ocean in tiny overcrowded ships were dubbed the boat people.
• Canada accepted 69,000 Indochinese refugees between 1975 and 1980.
V9 (significant)
Broadcast Date: Jan. 23, 1981
Agent Orange is one of the most infamous and dirtiest legacies of the Vietnam War. Ottawa always denied that it cooperated with the United States in testing chemical warfare agents for Vietnam. A recently released report states that in June 1966 the American army tested Agent Orange at Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.
• Agent Orange was a chemical defoliant used in Vietnam for nine years. An estimated 19 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed in South Vietnam during the war, exposing thousands of soldiers and civilians to this harmful chemical.
• In a process deemed "territory denial," Agent Orange was sprayed on the dense jungle foliage, revealing the position of the hiding Viet Cong.
• The dioxins found in Agent Orange can cause cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders, liver problems and genetic abnormalities.
• The Uniroyal plant in Elmira, Ont., was one of seven suppliers producing Agent Orange for the U.S. military.
A 1970 report from national defence to parliament stated that "no research carried out by the Department of National Defence has affected the use of chemicals in Vietnam." Former defence minister Paul Hellyer says such tests were actually routine, but he attempts to downplay the issue by pointing out that Agent Orange was tested as a tactical weapon, not a chemical weapon.
Broadcast Date: June 18, 1986
When approximately 30,000 Canadians enlisted in the U.S. armed forces to serve in Vietnam, they were welcomed, treated like U.S. recruits, even given a U.S. social security number. Upon their return, however, they received none of the benefits that their fellow American soldiers did. While Canadian Vietnam vets suffer the same after-effects as American vets — often worse due to increased isolation and feelings of invisibility — the United States offers them nothing more than a plane ride home.
• After the war, Canadian Vietnam veterans were angry and frustrated by the lack of support from the U.S. government. While American vets had access to treatment centres, the benefits Canadians had been told they would receive were not made available.
• In Canada, Vietnam vets felt invisible. They were not initially recognized by the Canadian Legion as they were not veterans of a war in which Canada was involved. On Oct. 1, 1994, the Canadian Legion extended full membership privileges to Vietnam vets.
(Me from clip: a disturbing interview with a man who implies but doesn't admit he shot a child)
Broadcast Date: Feb. 12, 1965
The prime minister discusses the deepening political and military crisis in Vietnam.
me: Pearson mentions continuous provacations from the North (chinese backed). It seems he might have the direction of causality wrong, and this is a key issue. He does things are very complicated, which of course I second. Pearson does the US hasn't found any support and suggest ending foreign intervention, but toes the line about an independent Vietnam becoming a Communist Vietnam (with China backing). Sigh.
Broadcast Date: Jan. 30, 1966
Teens give their thoughts on Canadian politicians and their policies on Vietnam.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 20, 1966
The Canadian Committee of Students Supporting U.S. Policy in Vietnam sends Pearson a telegram.
Broadcast Date: Oct. 2, 1968
The Third Marine Unit contains three Canadian soldiers.
Broadcast Date: Oct. 11, 1968
An antiwar activist discusses plans for an anti-Trudeau march down Toronto's Yonge Street.
Broadcast Date: May 28, 1974
Globe and Mail foreign correspondent Charles Taylor talks about Canada, the United States and Vietnam.
me: Talks about his book Snow Job, where he argues that the Canadian government kept Canadians in the dark, as the Can Gov was by the US gov. Taylor said our leaders were fooling ourselves, thinking diplomacy could be used to resolve the issue. Taylor indicated Canada only 'recognized' Saigon despite the Paris agreements indicating there were two governments that should be acknowledged. We were also giving Saigon 3 million in humanitarian aid.
Broadcast Date: Jan. 26, 1981
NDP defence critic questions the defence minister about government denial of Agent Orange testing for Vietnam.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 17, 2003
International Control Commission representative Blair Seaborn describes his top-secret missions to Hanoi.
me: Starts with a clip of Pearson saying a legitimate government asked the US for help and that's why they did it. How revisionist! But does say we can't solve the problem by military means.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 17, 2003 (I'm guessing part II to that above)
Victor Levant feels Canada's involvement in Vietnam is a story of diplomatic skulduggery, economic entanglement and political duplicity. (He wrote Quiet Complicity)
me: Great little 5 min summary of how Canada played both sides of the issue (to some extent)
Broadcast Date: April 24, 2000
Twenty-five years later, Canadian diplomat Ernest Hebert speaks on the record about the pullout.
(me from clip): Hebert that we issued 15,000 entry visas, but Canada couldn't have persuaded the crumbling Vietnamese government for exit visas, moreover, Canada didn't have the capacity to transport them.


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