Showing the Maple Leaf in Vietnam (Canada Provided Humanitarian Aid to Vietnamese Civilians While Offering Refuge to US Draft Dodgers)

By Levant, Victor | Compass: A Jesuit Journal, March-April 1996 | Go to article overview

Showing the Maple Leaf in Vietnam (Canada Provided Humanitarian Aid to Vietnamese Civilians While Offering Refuge to US Draft Dodgers)


Levant, Victor, Compass: A Jesuit Journal


At the height of the National Liberation Front's Tet Offensive in February 1968, Alje Vennema, a Canadian doctor at the Quang Ngai tuberculosis centre, suggested to Ormond Dier, Canadian ambassador to South Vietnam and head of the ICC delegation, that "all voluntary medical personnel be withdrawn from Quang Ngai because they were risking their lives." Vennema later wrote:

"Dier's response was that we must have Canadians at Quang Ngai because it was very important for Canadians to be in Vietnam. Canadians had died for Canada before he said. I asked if it's that important why don't you send a civil servant there from the Department of External Affairs who can just sit there and wave the flag! But he put a lot of things in perspective for me. What was important in Vietnam was Canadian representation--to show we were here."

A similar view of the Canadian aid program in Vietnam was expressed by former External Aid Office adviser Dr. Michael Hall. Testifying before the House of Commons External Affairs Committee in November 1967, he said that "most of the aid given to Vietnam is not given because we want to give them this particular material or these particular people but it is a whole reaction to a demand for involvement. "In March 1968, Senior ICC Political Officer Gordon Longmier told medical records librarian Claire Culhane, "Well, our project in Vietnam is 50 per cent humanitarian and 50 per cent political." David Anderson, Liberal MP and former administrator of the Canadian aid program, admitted to the External Affairs Committee in December 1968 that "a good portion of our aid was strictly for political purposes that were of no value to the people in the area concerned."

Conversations between Dr. Hall and the South Vietnamese minister of health about the value of establishing an orthopedic service reveal that this evaluation was shared by the authorities in Saigon. "Dr. Hall," he was told, "you must clearly understand that you are not here as an orthopedic surgeon, you are here as a representative of Canada." U.S. officials concurred that it was neither the precise projects nor the amount of aid that was important, only its existence. "There are many ways of expressing that [support]," submitted Secretary of State Dean Rusk to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Some have done it in troops, others have done it in various forms of assistance, but it should be made clear to the authorities in Hanoi by a maximum number of the world community that the independence and future of these smaller countries of Southeast Asia are of great concern to the rest of the world."

In fact, Canadian aid to Saigon was part and parcel of a coordinated and integrated allied counterinsurgency effort in Vietnam, the program developed by the Free World Military Assistance Office. The goals of this program were summarized in the confidential Command History prepared by the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, as follows:

"Although many forms of assistance are urgently needed in the Republic of Vietnam the most sought-after are support units or individuals that will have major impact on favorable progress in the counter-insurgency effort by:

"1) Dramatically demonstrating to the government and people of the Republic of Vietnam and to the rest of the world that other free countries are interested in helping the Vietnamese people maintain their freedom and achieve peace.

"2) Providing assistance, short of direct combat actions, of a form that will have the most immediate and noticeable effect on the counter-insurgency effort in a particular locale."

Thirty-three nations, Canada included, were members of the Free World Assistance Program (FWA), furnishing what were described before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as "all kinds of materials and services needed in Vietnam, such as medical supplies, hospital equipment, refugee relief supplies, schools and hospital construction and so forth.

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