Friday, March 20, 2015
Vietnam: Canada's Shadow War Redefines Our History
Way, way back in the Sixties when I was a lowly undergrad at the University of Toronto there was something called the Vietnam War raging half a world away.
But the conflict very definitely impinged upon U of T's usually serene campus.
There were angry demonstrations when Dow Chemicals came recruiting prospective graduates.
And mass demonstrations soon became a regular occurrence plus the definite possibility the university might even be shut down or the administrative buildings occupied.
All this turmoil is brilliantly captured in the latest must-see documentary from veteran filmmaker Andy Blicq in the riveting hour long history Vietnam: Canada's Shadow War
You can catch it on CBC-TV's Doc Zone Thursday March 26 at 9 p.m.
"I was amazed it hadn't already been done," Blicq says on the phone. "It had everything. But today there is amazement so many Canadians were caught up in this war in some way or another."
Blicq tells me there's a huge archive of newsreel footage that was just waiting to be explored.
He even shows clips from CBC reporters including a very young Peter Kent who interviewed more than 40 years later can still recall the difficulties in covering the war.
"We thought we were avoiding this war," says Blicq. "But it caught us up in its controversies."
I'm totally amazed --and I thought I knew something about Vietnam --at the number of young Canadian men who volunteered to fight.
"The figure is over 3,000," Blicq reports "although it may be a lot higher. One source says 12,000. Why did they do it? Some were there for the adventure. Others wanted to defeat communism. One boy who died over there was the son of a Canadian general.
"In addition to the inevitable casualties as well as the return of others who were broken in spirit."
Blicq thinks the time is just right to think back. "A re-assessment is underway in the U.S. I think there should be one in Canada, too."
One statistic Blicq discovered truly surprised me --he says of the draft resisters who came to Canada almost half were women of conscience.
He's gotten some great stuff with photographer Laura Jones who left the U.S. with her husband because of her conscience. Her meticulous photographic record of this community is utterly fascinating.
Blicq says CBC's archives are a treasure trove --the news reports have all been preserved. By contrast CTV's Michael Maclear told me a lot of footage shot on videotape had started to wattle and was no longer of broadcast quality.
"We think Canada wasn't involved but it was," Blicq says. Canada shared military information with the U.S. and Canadian factories produced war materials for use in Vietnam including deadly napalm gas.
"Prime minister Pearson clearly wanted to stay outside the expanding war," Blicq says. But in one confrontation at the Texas ranch of President Johnson Pearson was told in no uncertain terms to stop butting in.
I certainly remember when I started covering TV at the Hamilton Spectator in 1970 there were a number of "draft dodgers" on staff and they were intelligent and highly respected reporters.
Most chose to stay in Canada even after a mass presidential pardon and they've succeeded in many different walks of life.
When I tell Blicq I think he's amassed enough material for a dramatic miniseries he says "That's exactly what I was thinking."
There's a longer version I'm suggesting he could sell to the U.S. particularly PBS because this is a true story that skips across the border.
Made by Merit Motion Pictures: Vietnam, Canada's Shadow War is a virtually must-see experience.
VIETNAM: CANADA'S SHADOW WAR PREMIERES ON CBC-TV'S DOC ZONE THURSDAY MARCH 26 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.