CBC Digital Archives

Strengthening the peace in Vietnam

Vietnam may have been America's war but Canada was heavily involved — for and against. Canada harboured American draft dodgers and helped supervise ceasefires. But at the same time, about 30,000 Canadians volunteered to fight in southeast Asia. And there was Canada's involvement in secret missions, weapons testing and arms production. CBC Archives looks at Canada's role in the Vietnam War.

Vietnam's nine-year war with France officially ends in July 1954 with the signing of the Geneva Accord. The accord calls for a ceasefire and a temporary division of the country, to be followed by reunification and free elections in July 1956. Canada accepts an invitation in July 1954 to join the International Control Commission (ICC), a peacekeeping body designed to oversee the transition. CBC News covers the announcement made by Minister of External Affairs Lester Pearson, who cautions that the task will be difficult and complicated. 
• The Vietnam War was the longest war in U.S. history, lasting approximately 11 years.
• While the U.S. Congress never officially declared war on North Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed on Aug. 7, 1964, is considered the beginning of the Vietnam War. President Lyndon Johnson requested this resolution against North Vietnam after North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin.
• The war ended on April 30, 1975, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese.

• The roots of the conflict go back much further. From 1946 to 1954 the Vietnamese resisted French efforts to regain the colonies they abandoned during World War II. Known as the French Indochina War, this conflict came to an end with the signing of the Geneva Treaty in July 1954.
• The treaty temporarily divided Vietnam into north and south along the 17th parallel and was to be followed by free elections and reunification within two years.

• Backed by the United States, South Vietnam refused to negotiate with communist North Vietnam over the elections because they feared the communist government would be voted in. The elections were never held and the resulting escalation of hostilities developed into the Vietnam War.
• Vietnam remained divided into two nations until July 1976 when they merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, more commonly known as Vietnam.

• The International Control Commission was made up of members from Canada, Poland and India.
• Canada served as a member of the ICC for 18 years.
• In 1973 Canada was asked to serve on a similar body, the International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS), along with Hungary, Indonesia and Poland.

Lester Pearson was minister of external affairs from 1948 to 1957 and prime minister from 1963 to 1968.
• In April 1965 he made a speech at Temple University in Philadelphia suggesting the United States halt bombing of North Vietnam.
• Pearson was the only head of government in any western country to denounce the bombing.
• Paul Martin Sr. was minister of external affairs from 1963 to 1968. He was succeeded by Mitchell Sharp, who filled the post from 1968 to 1974.

• Indochina generally refers to the nations of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
• The Indochina War is the 29-year war waged in the area, generally broken into four phases:
- French Indochina War (1946-1954)
- Vietnamese Civil War (1954-1964)
- Vietnam War (1964-73)
- Conquest of South Vietnam (1973-75).
Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: July 29, 1954
Speaker: Lester B. Pearson
Duration: 2:13
This clip has poor audio.

Last updated: October 4, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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