A military museum celebrating Canadians who fought in Vietnam highlights DND’s propaganda apparatus and Canada’s role in the horrendous US war.
Recently, the Canadian Forces’ Lookout Newspaper reported on an exhibit at HMCS Alberni Museum & Memorial. It noted:
“The memorial contains the names of 149 Canadians who were killed in Vietnam while serving with the United States Armed Forces (USAF), seven soldiers Missing In Action (MIA), two Canadian military personnel killed in action while serving with the International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC), and two Canadian soldiers who were reported MIA with the ICSC who were not volunteers fighting with the US military.
Rob Purvis, Canadian Vietnam Veterans Association President and founder, organized the travelling memorial’s visit to HAMM and said the names are unknown to most Canadians.
Over 20,000 Canadians volunteered to fight or participate in the USAF operations in Vietnam.”
Lookout Newspaper is one of dozens of Department of National Defence (DND) papers, journals, websites, social media accounts, etc. HMCS Alberni Museum & Memorial is sponsored by the Organization of Military Museums of Canada, which is backed by DND’s Directorate of History and Heritage.
DND’s Directorate of History and Heritage, HMCS Alberni Museum & Memorial and Lookout paper are part of the military’s vast propaganda apparatus, which includes hundreds of full-time public relations officials, multiple educational institutions and funding for university programs, think tanks and war commemorations. As I detail in A Propaganda System: How Canada’s government, corporations, media and academia sell war and exploitation, the Canadian military has by far the largest public relations apparatus in the country.
Reflecting the imperialist character of military PR, the Lookout article ignored criticism of a war that left three million Vietnamese dead. The more than 20,000 Canadians who fought there were but a minor element of this country’s contribution to US violence in Southeast Asia, which included spying, delivering US bombing threats, testing chemical weapons and selling huge amounts of arms.
Top Canadian officials repeatedly endorsed US violence. In 1965 Prime Minister Lester Pearson said, “the government and great majority of people of my country have supported wholeheartedly the US peacekeeping and peacemaking policies in Vietnam.”
As the US military buildup in Vietnam grew, Canadian weapons sales to the US doubled between 1964 and 1966. Between 1965 and 1973, Canada sold $2.5 billion ($20 billion today) worth of war materials to the Pentagon.
During its war in Southeast Asia the US tested Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown. A 1968 US Army memorandum titled “defoliation tests in 1966 at base Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada” explained: “The department of the army, Fort Detrick, Maryland, has been charged with finding effective chemical agents that will cause rapid defoliation of woody and Herbaceous vegetation. To further develop these objectives, large areas similar in density to those of interest in South East Asia were needed. In March 1965, the Canadian ministry of defense offered Crops Division large areas of densely forested land for experimental tests of defoliant chemicals. This land, located at Canadian forces base Gagetown, Oromocto, New Brunswick, was suitable in size and density and was free from hazards and adjacent cropland. The test site selected contained a mixture of conifers and deciduous broad leaf species in a dense undisturbed forest cover that would provide similar vegetation densities to those of temperate and tropical areas such as South East Asia.”
As the West’s representative in the International Control Commission (ICC), which as part of the 1954 Geneva Accords was supposed to help reunify North and South Vietnam, Canadian officials “bolstered South Vietnam in defiance of the Geneva accords.” Canadian ICC officials also spied on North Vietnam for the US and even delivered US bombing threats to the North. In the foreword to my Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt, Noam Chomsky argues that Canada’s former Prime Minister abetted war crimes by having Canadian ICC officials deliver US bombing threats to the North Vietnamese leadership in 1964.
Half a century after the conclusion of the war a military publication and museum celebrates the Canadians who fought in a crassly imperialistic war that left millions dead.
The lesson? Canada is and always has been a willing participant in colonialism, imperialism and empire.
Remember, learn and work to change it.