Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 22)

Vietnam: How Government Became Wolves by Noam Chomsky
This extended essay, appearing in the NY Review of Books in 1972 was useful for highlighting the fact that the US consistently fought against popular sentiment during its intervention in Vietnam. As usual, Chomsky does a great job displaying American hypocrisy (but less about the other side (which I realize is not his goal)).
On to the excerpts! (as usual, bolding is mine):

"Reviewing the record of American intervention in Indochina in the Pentagon Papers, one cannot fail to be struck by the continuity of basic assumptions from one administration to the next. Never has there been the slightest deviation from the principle that a noncommunist regime must be imposed and defended, regardless of popular sentiment.
Nixon and Kissinger may or may not be able to achieve their ends in Indochina, but there is no doubt that they are capable of exacting a horrendous price for the injury to their pride and the threat to their power. They can murder and destroy without fear of reprisal. They have immense resources of terror at their command. Under the circumstances, limited and malicious men, trapped in the wreckage of their schemes, may be driven to unimaginable extremes of violence.
Even if the present situation stabilizes, we will be driven to the same confrontation again and again, if we stay in Vietnam. Acheson pointed out in 1950 that French success "depends, in the end, on overcoming opposition of indigenous population" (DOD, book 8, p. 301). Little has changed since then, apart from the scale of the destruction in Indochina and the dangers of great power conflict.
The major premise of the American intervention has always been that we must "build a nation" in the South to counter the Communist Vietnamese, who seemed to be alone in their ability to mobilize the population. The enemy has found "a dangerously clever strategy for licking the United States," the director of Systems Analysis warned. "Unless we recognize and counter it now, that strategy may become all too popular in the future" (IV, p. 466). The strategy was to wage a war of national liberation based on the aspirations of the Vietnamese peasants for independence and social justice.
The outside power was never able to compete. The US could maim and kill, drive peasants from their homes, destroy the countryside and organized social life, but not "build a nation" in the approved image. We had taken on a society that was simply not fit for domination. Therefore, it had to be destroyed. This, as the realistic experts now soberly explain, was worse than a crime, it was a blunder.
Little is said, however, about the decision to bomb South Vietnam at more than triple the intensity of the bombing in North Vietnam by 1966. This was the fundamental policy decision of early 1965. As Bernard Fall pointed out not long afterward, "What changed the character of the Vietnam war was not the decision to bomb North Vietnam; not the decision to use American ground troops in South Vietnam; but the decision to wage unlimited aerial warfare inside the country at the price of literally pounding the place to bits." But of this decision we learn very little in the Pentagon history, and only a few scattered remarks mention the effects of the bombing.
There is, to my knowledge, no record of any hesitation about the use of any military tactic except on grounds of the potential cost to the decision-makers and the interests they represent.
Concern for law is also absent. The UN Charter, which, according to the Constitution, became the supreme law of the land when ratified by the Senate, clearly prohibits the threat or use of force in international affairs, except in the case of collective self-defense against armed attack or under Security Council authorization. The record shows plainly that American use of force against the population of South Vietnam always preceded any exercise of force attributable to the DRV and was always vastly greater in scale.
Rusk's testimony was an effort to justify the US escalation in February as collective self-defense against armed attack, as permitted under Article 51 of the Charter. Aside from a variety of other objections (e.g., Article 51 refers to armed attack against a member of the United Nations; the 17th parallel is not a territorial boundary under the Geneva Agreements, etc.), the justification would have force only if it had been known at the time of the US escalation that an armed attack had taken place. The record makes it absolutely clear that this was not the case. Hence the justification fails under any possible assumption with regard to unknown facts.
To a large extent, the debate over the war counterposes the "optimists," who believe that with persistence we can win, to the "pessimists," who argue that the US cannot, at reasonable cost, guarantee the rule of the regime of its choice in South Vietnam. The same two positions appear in the first of the secret "Kissinger papers," released in part in the Washington Post, April 25, 1972. The analysis of the pessimists implies "pacification success in 13.4 years," while the interpretation of the optimists "implies that it will take 8.3 years to pacify the 4.15 million contested and VC population of December 1968." As always the pessimists differ from the optimists in their estimate of how long it will take to beat the Vietnamese resistance into submission—nothing more.
There is a third position which, unfortunately, is barely represented in policy-making, at least according to the available documentary record: namely, that the US executive should abide by the supreme law of the land and refrain from forceful intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. It appears that successive administrations believed that Vietnam was the victim of a Kremlin-directed conspiracy in 1950, that there was "aggression from the North" a decade later, and so on. They had the legal authority to express these beliefs and to appeal to the Security Council of the UN to determine the existence of a threat to peace. That they did not do so is self-explanatory.
It is occasionally argued that appeal to the UN Security Council, as required by law, would have been futile because of the Russian veto power. The argument is clearly irrelevant. The law states clearly that "the Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and shall determine what measures shall be taken. Parties to a dispute "shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation" and other pacific means of the sort that the US has always explicitly sought to avoid, in the knowledge that "premature negotiations" or any other peaceful settlement would lead to a collapse of the American position. The legal obligations of the US executive were avoided not out of concern for a possible Russian veto, but because there was no credible case to present.
The US executive had no authority to back French colonialism; to impose a terroristic regime (or even a benevolent democracy) on South Vietnam; to engage in clandestine war throughout Indochina; to introduce US forces in combat support and direct aggression from 1961 on; to carry out a full-scale invasion of South Vietnam in 1965, demolishing much of the peasant society; or later, under Nixon, to wipe out the Plain of Jars in Laos and much of rural Cambodia; to bomb Haiphong; or to carry out any of the other actions that have led to mass revulsion in this country and throughout much of the world. Had the US executive been strictly bound by its legal obligations, which in my opinion do express reasonable principles of international behavior, we would never have found ourselves in the Indochina war.
It is often argued that US intervention was motivated by "blind anti-communism" and other errors. It is necessary, however, to distinguish between two kinds of "anti-communism." Opposition to indigenous movements in Asia that might be drawn to the Chinese model of development is not "blind anti-communism." Rather, it is rational imperialism, which seeks to prevent any nibbling away at areas that provide the Western industrial powers and Japan with relatively free access to markets, raw materials, a cheap labor force, the possibility for export of pollution, and opportunities for investment.
On the other hand, to refer to a "coordinated offensive directed by the Kremlin" against Southeast Asia, with the Viet Minh as its agent, is indeed "blind anti-communism," that is, pure ideology, quite beyond the reach of evidence, but extremely useful as a propaganda device to rally domestic support for military intervention against indigenous communist-led movements. The Russians behaved no differently when they invaded Czechoslovakia. They stated, and perhaps even believed, that they were doing so to protect the Czech people from the machinations of Wall Street, the CIA, and the West German aggressors. In fact, they were seeking to preserve the Russian empire from erosion from within, much as the US is doing in Vietnam.
It is often argued that the costs of such intervention demonstrate that there can be no underlying imperial drive. This reasoning is fallacious, however. In the first place, the "costs" are in large measure profits for selected segments of American society. It is senseless to describe government expenditures for jet planes or cluster bombs or computers for the automated air war simply as "costs of intervention." There are, to be sure, costs of empire that benefit virtually no one: 50,000 American corpses or the deterioration in the strength of the US economy in relation to its industrial rivals. But these general costs of empire can be said to be social costs, while, say, the profits from overseas investment guaranteed by military success are again highly concentrated in certain parts of society.
Senator Church noted in recent congressional hearings that the US has spent over $2 billion in aid to Brazil since 1964 to create a "favorable investment climate" to protect a total investment of only about $1.7 billion. This should come as no surprise to any student of modern history. In many respects, the same was true of the British empire, after the original rape of India. The costs of empire are distributed over the society as a whole; its profits revert to a few within. In this respect, the empire serves as a device for internal consolidation of power and privilege, and it is quite irrelevant to observe that its social costs are often very great or that, as costs rise, differences may arise among those who are in positions of power and influence.
What is worse, perhaps, very little has changed. Even many opponents of the war pretend to themselves that others are to blame for the catastrophe of Vietnam. In a strong editorial statement against the war, the New York Times editors wrote:

This is not to say that Americans, including the political and military commands and the G.I.'s themselves, did not originally conceive their role quite honestly as that of liberators and allies in the cause of freedom; but such idealistic motives had little chance to prevail against local leaders skilled in the art of manipulating their foreign protectors. [May 7, 1972]
Once again we have the image of the American political leadership, noble and virtuous, bewildered and victimized, but not responsible, never responsible for what it has done. The corruption of the intellect and the moral cowardice revealed by such statements defy comment."


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