Friday, July 23, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 23)

The Vietnam Wars (Chapter 15 (1975-1990))
The idealist in me wanted to believe that after the Americans had left the Vietnamese would have decent lives and be able to live without much conflict. That did not happen.
Young describes how the US did not provide any aid or reconstruction funds for all the damage it had caused and the aid offered by Nixon, which the Vietnamese naively anticipated, would never be coming. Nixon was discredited and congress was fed up, but that wasn't enough, there had to be an embargo on Vietnam as well. Then again, it isn't as if all subsequent bad things were America's fault (my bolding):
"The defeat of the American war against Indochina had released new configurations of power in Southeast Asia, not readily susceptible to control from outside. In Phnom Penh, as in Hanoi and Beijing, there were bitter rivalries older than the entire history of the United States as a country, however exacerbated they might have been by twentieth-century American foreign policy." (p307)
[Quick stats on such exacerbation: in South Vietnam, 9000 out of 15000 hamlets, 25 million acres of farmland, 12 million acres of forest were destroyed, and 1.5 million farm animals killed. There were also hundreds of thousands of prostitutes and disabled people, while almost a million orphans and widows.]
The years that followed the US intervention could be seen as typical international relations activities or a saddening/frustrating mess depending on your experiences:
The Vietnamese wanted more power/control in Cambodia; the Chinese wanted payback for their sacrifices but the Vietnamese have long had antagonism towards the Chinese so they were resistant; Vietnam again reached out to the US (to counter the Chinese) but to no avail so they eventually sought Soviet support/protection, which was then used by the US and China (now paired on the issue of detesting Vietnam) to marginalize Vietnam.
The US even supported Pol Pot at the UN (while denying Vietnam a UN seat) just so the more popularly supported Cambodian government would not be recognized (because it had Vietnam's backing).
Once again, it isn't that America was that much worse than other countries as one starts to think when one learns more about Vietnam, it was that it was like most of the rest, including Vietnam.
It should also be noted that there wasn't complete consistency/agreement within the Carter administration regarding how Vietnam should be treated.
This final chapter (epilogue to follow) ends with a brief description of how Vietnam changed how Americans saw their government and how most foreign interventions had to be quickly completed or the public would get restless. An interesting point that was true until 9/11; now Afghanistan is American's longest war.

Watergate: A Skeptical View by Noam Chomsky (1973)
I think I just use excerpts to convey his main points, I've bolded parts that I thought notable for one reason or another:
"Watergate is, indeed, a deviation from past practice, not so much in scale or in principle as in the choice of targets. The targets now include the rich and respectable, spokesmen for official ideology, men who are expected to share power, to design social policy, and to mold popular opinion. Such people are not fair game for persecution at the hands of the state."
"The Watergate affair and the sordid story that has unfolded since are not without significance. They indicate, once again, how frail are the barriers to some form of fascism in a state capitalist system in crisis. There is little prospect for a meaningful reaction to the Watergate disclosures, given the narrow conservatism of American political ideology and the absence of any mass political parties or organized social forces that offer an alternative to the centralization of economic and political power in the major corporations, the law firms that cater to their interests, and the technical intelligentsia who do their bidding, both in the private sector and in state institutions. With no real alternative in view, opposition is immobilized and there is a natural fear, even among the liberal opposition, that the power of the Presidency will be eroded and the ship of state will drift aimlessly. The likely result will therefore be a continuation of the process of centralization of power in the executive, which will continue to be staffed by representatives of those who rule the economy and which will be responsive to their conception of domestic and global order.
It is true, as critics allege, that Nixon's tactics threatened to subvert the two-party system. The illusion that the people rule rests on the regular opportunity to choose between two political organizations dominated by similar interests and restricted to the narrow range of doctrine that receives expression in the corporate media and, with rare exceptions, the educational institutions of American society. Nixon's tactics thus tend to undermine the conventional basis for stability and obedience, while falling far short of supplying some form of totalitarian doctrine as an ideological alternative.
But the conditions that permitted the rise of McCarthy and Nixon endure. Fortunately for us and for the world, McCarthy was a mere thug and Nixon's mafia overstepped the bounds of acceptable trickery and deceit with such obtuseness and blundering vulgarity that they were called to account by powerful forces that had not been demolished or absorbed. But sooner or later, under the threat of political or economic crisis, some comparable figure may succeed in creating a mass political base, bringing together socioeconomic forces with the power and the finesse to carry out plans such as those that were conceived in the Oval Office. Only perhaps he will choose his domestic enemies more judiciously and prepare the ground more thoroughly."
Liberal political commentators sigh with relief that Kissinger has barely been tainted -- a bit of questionable wire-tapping, but no close involvement in the Watergate shenanigans. Yet by any objective standards, the man is one of the great mass murderers of the modern period. He presided over the expansion of the war to Cambodia, with consequences that are now well known, and the vicious escalation of the bombing of rural Laos, not to speak of the atrocities committed in Vietnam, as he sought to achieve a victory of some sort for imperial power in Indochina. But he wasn't implicated in the burglary at the Watergate or in the undermining of Muskie, so his hands are clean.
If we try to keep a sense of balance, the exposures of the past several months are analogous to the discovery that the directors of Murder Inc. were also cheating on their income tax. Reprehensible, to be sure, but hardly the main point."


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