John Peters Humphrey: Charlottetown Teach-in Speech

By Michael Colatruglio

This speech by John Peters Humphrey was given in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island by invitation at a Teach-in for Prince of Wales College sometime between 1963 and 1973 during the height of American involvement in the Vietnam War. Although Humphrey was a self-proclaimed, and vocal, opponent of war in general, Vietnam became of particular interest to him following his involvement with a U.N. mission to investigate the Vietnamese government. The mission was sent to see how rights were being violated by the majority Roman Catholic Diem government of South Vietnam, which was accused  of persecuting and killing Buddhist monks in that country for their alleged promotion of revolutionary ideas.

Political instability would lead to the overthrow of the Diem government by a military coup d’état and the eventual civil war. This war would quickly become international with the involvement of the United-States against the revolutionary elements in the north of the country, which had turned to Communism as a means to escape Western colonialism. The United-States claimed that their intervention was justified because the Viet Cong were a front for Chinese communist aggression. However, Humphrey argues that the Viet Cong only wanted a free Vietnam.

John Peters Humphrey was a champion of human rights, and fought against the illegality of the war that the United-States was waging on behalf of the South Vietnamese government. Humphrey believed the Vietnam War to be in direct violation of the United-Nations Charter and consequently regarded it as highly illegal. In his speech he quotes Article 2, Paragraph 4, of the U.N. Charter as his evidence. It states that, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”. He goes on to discuss the United States government’s claims, which used Article 51 of the U.N. Charter as their justification for conducting the war. This article states, “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” However, Vietnam was not a member of the United Nations and there is no evidence of an armed attack by the Communist North against the American backed South prior to the US intervention. Humphrey further claims in his speech that the United-States had developed an attitude as a superpower that was attempting to police the world. He strongly believed this was wrong and should be stopped. The purpose of the U.N. was to end wars, and member states were mandated to do their best to not interfere in other nations wars and allow the U.N. to negotiate for peace. Though the United-States did eventually pull out of Vietnam, it created a legacy of their country playing the role of “world policeman” and has lead to many more wars being waged by the United-States against so called rogue nations in the following decades.

Humphrey was prophetic in realizing that such “policing” should not be allowed at the time and would continue to be a problem in the future. The United-States was a member of the U.N. Security Council and should be an example of peace rather than war. He argued further, that though he was not American, he believed nevertheless that the Vietnam War was also a Canadian issue because the Americans were neighbours an allies. Humphrey believed that it was Canadian’s duty to weigh in on the issue and speak out against the injustices being committed by the United-States government as many in that country and other countries around the world were already doing.

Comments are closed.

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.