12 OUR WAR: THE TRAGEDY OF CANADA’S INVOLVEMENT

OUR WAR

Like it or not, we’re involved in Vietnam because the agonizing questions of morality and decency haunt the Western world

February 1 1968
12 OUR WAR: THE TRAGEDY OF CANADA’S INVOLVEMENT

OUR WAR

Like it or not, we’re involved in Vietnam because the agonizing questions of morality and decency haunt the Western world

February 1 1968

OUR WAR

Like it or not, we’re involved in Vietnam because the agonizing questions of morality and decency haunt the Western world

THE NEXT 12 PAGES of this issue of Maclean's are devoted to the current nastiness in Vietnam, and you'll notice that in more than 20,000 words of reportage, we've deliberately skirted the larger policy questions that surround the conflict. We did this for two reasons. For one thing, we think it's more productive simply to report what the war is doing to the people who must endure it than to speculate on why it's happening or how it will end. For another — and this is a rare journalistic admission — we don't pretend to know how to solve this mess, any more than do all the baffled leaders of the Western alliance. This war is a torture to the conscience of all mankind, not least the Americans who are waging it. If there were an honorable, self-justifying way of backing out of Vietnam, they would have done so long ago. As Walter Lippmann wrote recently: “There is a growing sense of guilt. The American people are becoming revolted and ashamed by the spectacle of themselves engaged in a war where a big, rich, super-armed giant is trying to beat the life out of a dwarf. Less and less are Americans enjoying the idea of themselves in such an uncivilized, unchivalrous. inhumane role. This is the most unpopular war in American history. It is also the war which most deeply affronts the American conscience."

Despite our admission of non-infallibility, several things strike us as apparent. The Americans, to begin with, are fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they are very far from winning it. Indeed. Hanoi

and the National Liberation Front have, in a sense, already proved their point. They've demonstrated that technological superiority of the American kind isn't always decisive. The U.S. had plenty of credible reasons for embarking on its intervention — the containment of China, the defense of Southeast Asia, even the preservation of freedom in South Vietnam. But today the issue has become much broader. It is this: can an Asian peasantry, whose strongest weapons arc pride, patriotism and guts, defy the mightiest technological power on earth? After too many years of fighting, the answer seems to be that yes. the Vietnamese can. And if Hanoi and the NLF succeed at this costly game, how long do you suppose the U.S. can continue to call the shots in Latin America and in other “underdeveloped" parts of the world? The basic question; in other words, is whether U.S. imperialism can survive. Anybody who says it can or should is bucking history, humanity and common sense.

We don't apologize for using the word imperialism. Although it's been used in unreal ways by the Communists (who arc pretty good at imperialism themselves), the word describes a situation that is real enough: the fact that large areas of the world — including the part we inhabit — are actually controlled from Washington, and not always to the benefit of the recipients. Despite the aura of good intentions that surround every extension of American influence, the effect is much the same as with any global system: some nations prosper at the expense of others.

questions of morality and decency haunt the Western world

Canada, of course, is one of the nations that are prospering. Last year we sold upwards of $500 million worth of military merchandise, mainly to the U.S. It's true that this is a relatively puny contribution to the U.S. arsenal and it’s also true, as Industry Minister C. M. Drury recently told Maclean's, that “we export no arms from here to Vietnam — none at all.”

But it’s also true that the value of Canadian material exported to the U.S. and then to Vietnam is considerable. Last year, for instance, we sold the Americans $1.2 million worth of air-to-ground rockets for use in Vietnam, in a deal that was deviously channeled through several government agencies in an attempt to avoid public comment. Canadian Industries Limited is still shipping TNT by the boxcarload from its plant at Valleyfield, Quebec, to the U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot at Crane, Indiana. A governmentowned plant near Montreal makes Octroi, a bursting agent for American bombs.

These are just a few items of a diversified trade that includes everything from aircraft to the famous green berets (which are made in Toronto). What they all add up to is the fact that we're implicated in the Vietnam killing. But our distress over the arms trade is largely symbolic. If we abolished it, the war would still go on. What matters more is the fact that no matter what course Washington chooses to adopt, Canadians are virtually compelled to go along with it. Our interdependence, despite its undeniable benefits, has limited our independence. This isn't an ex-

clusively Canadian dilemma, of course. Every Western nation shares it to a degree. But because we're North Americans, and the Americans, after all, are our best friends, it's a dilemma with a special urgency for Canada.

We don't want to be so impractical as to suggest there is any easy way of avoiding this involvement. The U.S.Canadian Defense Sharing agreement, which pools the military production of both countries, is the cheapest, most practical way of securing for our armed forces the kind of sophisticated weaponry we can’t afford to develop ourselves. But in return, we’re unwittingly abetting an American adventure whose benefits to our national interests are, putting it mildly, pretty marginal.

Well, is this what Canadians really want? What are our options? Is it feasible to divert much of our defense spending to foreign aid, even at the cost of being called an unreliable ally? Is armed neutrality really out of the question for Canada? Some of our most respected thinkers are advocating such a policy.

We don’t pretend to know the answers to questions such as these. But we do know there’s been far too little public debate about them. Just as, during the 1950s, we absentmindedly slipped into a state of industrial vassalage to the U.S., we now find that we’ve become an important supporter of the dirtiest war the U.S. has ever fought.

Maybe that’s the way it’s got to be. If so, let’s quit pretending we’re horrified bystanders. If not, let's start exploring the alternatives. Now. ^