To mark the one-year anniversary of obtaining my master’s, here now is the foreword from my thesis:
In the weeks before the first draft of this thesis was submitted, a senior Canadian diplomat, formerly assigned to Afghanistan, made some startling allegations. Robert Colvin claimed that in 2006 and 2007 he had tried to inform his government that suspects apprehended by Canadian forces and handed over to Afghani authorities were likely being tortured. These allegations spurred a political circus, a parsing of memos sent by Colvin to his superiors, and denials by high-ranking generals. In the face of their own potential complicity in the torture of Afghani citizens, Canadians responded in a variety of ways. On 30 November 2009, one letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail implied that the quotidian lives of Canadians had nothing to do with those of Taliban collaborators. “What a non-issue,” wrote Gordon Friedrich.
Here, forty years later, was a descendant of so many men and women I had encountered in the pages of the United Church Observer and The Canadian Mennonite. While the academic stakes of this project are described in its formal introduction, the ideology implicit in that Globe letter compels me to reflect on the practical impact of my work.
The Vietnam War invited all Canadians to consider the degree to which their seemingly innocuous actions constituted complicity in the assault of vulnerable people. One need not be a Christian to grasp that our common human experience binds us to one another. Even apart from that fundamental spiritual kinship, however, we now have extraordinary grounds for leading lives defined by extraordinary compassion. We live in a complex eco-political network, and our interconnectedness refuses to be dismissed as the figment of a sentimental imagination; it is an undeniable reality, documented by copious paper-trails.
As voters, as tax-payers, as inventors and proliferators of goods and ideas, and as consumers, our decisions cause not ripples but tidal waves throughout the world and, for the first time, we can track them. The advent of modern telecommunications has given us access to an unprecedented volume of information about one another, at an unprecedented speed. None of us can lay claim to innocence on the grounds that we are ignorant: more than at any other time in the history of our species, we in the developed world are equipped to understand the suffering of others and our complicity therein. As a result, the very definition of “neighbour” has dramatically changed.
By documenting the moral crises Canadians underwent during the Vietnam War, I hope to move the discussion forward, so that as we redefine “neighbour,” we may also redefine our politics.