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During the early 1970s the McGill campus was a sufficient hotbed of anti-Vietnam war activity that it was the only Canadian university to appear in the CIA Factbook as a site of anti-war unrest. With some very few exceptions, this is obviously not the current situation on campus. Both Vietnam and Iraq reflect the same global phenomenon: the U.S. determination to control the world’s destiny on its own terms through military power–a.k.a. American Imperialism. A number of fundamental issues might explain the difference:
(1) Saddam Hussein was no Ho Chi Minh. While the Baath party's self-reference was socialist, it bore no resemblance to the nationalist and socialist program of the Viet Minh Front. The Vietnamese were capable of crafting an international support network which ultimately combined those who supported their social programme together with those who increasingly came to oppose the war. Saddam, on the other hand, had few admirers, save for his aid to Palestinian families, outside of Iraq.
(2) There was a substantial Vietnamese student community in Montreal who opposed the war and with whom McGill students could identify, especially when it became known that many of these students when they completed their degrees came under Canadian government deportation orders. Reports coming back from Vietnam indicated that these students, if returned, would be assigned to mine clearing units and likely be killed in the process.
(3) The U.S. military conscription process during that period resulted in a large number of resisters crossing the border who were not returned to the United States by the Canadian government. These were people of similar age to our students. This differs substantially from the present. About 200 of the 8,000 reported absent without leave U.S. military service personnel are reported to be in Canada—30 have claimed refugee status; two have been denied.
(4) There were a number of Montreal faculty members, Georges LeBel from UQAM and myself from McGill, among them, who traveled to Saigon to witness first-hand the reality of prison conditions in South Vietnam. I traveled twice to the North: once to see the results of the American bombing and once into the South with the resistance forces. This first hand information had some effect.
(5) A research team of over 20 McGill students organized Project Anti-War and dedicated months of their time to engage in research aimed at exposing the complicity of the Canadian government and the Canadian private sector in support of the United States in the Vietnam war. McGill academics who received U.S. military support for their research also came under public scrutiny, as did their counterparts in 50 other countries.
(6) The release of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo and my own involvement in a part of their defence as it related to Canada, and the media attention this received, had some further effect.
(7) The pernicious and all pervasive racist stereotyping of Arabs has served to pollute the current political environment to such a degree as to eviscerate support for any leader from that community.
In sum, the fundamental difference between the two eras centres around the dual issues of a social program which our students could identify with and the immediacy of personal contact and empathy with Vietnamese students and those who saw the reality and the consequences of the war first hand. With all of the differences the source of the killing remains the same, and it goes on.
A political science professor through four decades, Sam Noumoff retired in December 2006.