When you have no reasonable arguments to make, throw insults.
That's what some Americans, including the "national commander" of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, have done regarding the plan by residents of Nelson, B.C., to build a monument to the 125,000 men and women who escaped from the United States rather than participate in its invasion of Vietnam.
These Americans call such war resisters "cowards." Canada is a "country of cowards," according to one American, and "Yanks" like him are "smarter than you, tougher than you, and we will kick your inbred ass."
Of course, not all Americans share this particular view. A woman from Maryland has written that parents in the United States "bless" Canada, the "land of the truly free." In 1967, Noam Chomsky dedicated his first book to those "brave young men who refuse to serve in a criminal war." When Michael Moore spoke in Vancouver in 2002, his suggestion that a statue should be put up for war resisters received thunderous applause from the audience.
But some U.S. veterans are asking President George W. Bush to "communicate" with Prime Minister Paul Martin in hopes that the proposed monument is scrapped.
This issue is important, not only in its own right, but primarily because the United States is currently fighting a war in Iraq, and history is repeating itself.
In Vietnam, then-president Lyndon Johnson fabricated a phony attack on American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin as his excuse to escalate the war and bomb North Vietnam in 1964. Although the United States lost the military conflict, more than three million Indochinese were killed, with more than 58,000 Americans dead or missing.
By the standards established by the United States and its allies after the Second World War at Nuremburg and in the UN Charter, Mr. Johnson and his advisers would be considered war criminals.
As everyone now knows, the current Bush administration made two serious allegations as their excuse to begin what UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called an "illegal" war: that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and that ties existed between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
This act of "preventive" war is a violation of international law, and George Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and others in that circle may also be considered war criminals.
There is another ominous parallel between the attacks on Vietnam and Iraq. Retired U.S. general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, has said that the war in Iraq "is far graver than Vietnam," and that it is "achieving bin Laden's ends." The war has been a boon to fanatics who use it to recruit more terrorists. Richard Clarke, former U.S. anti-terrorism chief, says that the invasion of Iraq has actually increased the threat of terrorism, not only against the United States, but around the world. "I've never seen it so bad between the office of the Secretary of Defence and the military," says Mr. Odom. "There's a significant majority believing this is a disaster."
One of the many ironies is that Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld and others in the administration were the true draft dodgers. They supported the war against the Vietnamese - as long as other people, disproportionately poor and non-white, fought and died.
On the other hand, millions of Americans who opposed the Vietnam War put themselves on the line out of moral principle - refusing orders to ship out, demonstrating, organizing peace networks, burning draft cards, and going to jail. Surely these people are more properly called "war resisters."
Now, as then, a number of U.S. troops are refusing to fight in Iraq, and some are again seeking asylum in Canada.
When I escaped from the U.S. Marine Corps and arrived in Canada (exactly 35 years ago), I was overwhelmed by the generosity and support from everyone that I met here. When I received my Canadian citizenship, the magistrate congratulated me on my decision. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Canada for providing sanctuary to those of us who did not want to kill Vietnamese people.
I hope that we Canadians will continue our tradition of accepting those who, today, "refuse to serve in a criminal war."
Peter G. Prontzos teaches political science at Langara College and is a member of the Peace and Justice Committee of the City of Vancouver.