On November 2nd at the Second City Cop blog under the post, "We Couldn't Have Said It Better", the moderator(s) fell all over themselves in praising a post by a Vietnam War veteran and retired Chicago Police officer who blogs under the "Old Grey Guy" moniker. The target of Old Grey's attack was frequent SCC Blog contributor Leftisthebest, who, like yours truly, has often been the target of abuse on that site for ( to borrow from Orwell) "thought crimes" , i.e espousing positions which flaunt conventional wisdom regarding American foreign and/or domestic policy.
Lefty had the temerity to point out that most of the desk-warriors in Congress and Bush's administration who've sent America's sons and daughters off on various imperial ventures around the globe, have never served in the armed services. And of those who did "serve", many, like The Decider, managed to land cushy state-side National Guard assignments during the Vietnam War.The focus of my response will be on this issue of the Vietnam conflict for it seemed to dominate the thread after Old Grey's diatribe.
Let's begin with the moderator's estimation of Old Grey's comments that they "couldn't have said it better". That struck me as rather odd because immediately after reading this veteran's comments, another narrative became apparent to me. It went something like this:
The people of Vietnam posed the exact same threat to America in 1961 (the year the US began its assault on South Vietnam) that the people of Iraq posed to this country in 2003--that is to say none at all. It thereby stands to reason that the US assault on Vietnam and the bordering nations of Indochina was--like the war of aggression in Iraq--unjustified and fundamentally immoral.
How about that? Sound better? Sure does to me. Furthermore, what I have just written reconciles with the historical record.
Let me first be perfectly clear. I have nothing against those who served in Vietnam. Most of those young men were draftees and, like soldiers everywhere, went where they were told to go and killed whom they were told to kill. The American servicemen in Vietnam were in many ways as much victims of our government's criminal policy as those they had been sent to slaughter. Almost.
The servicemen may have my sympathy, but I have an abiding respect for those who refused to partake in America's imperial adventure in southeast Asia. These young men understood at the time that their nation had neither the right or the competence to decide--by force of arms--how another people should organize their society. It takes moral courage to resist the State, particularly where the elite classes and their institutions have determined that acts of aggression and the war crimes that follow are in the "national interest".
It's important to recall that between 2 to 3 million Vietnamese would perish during the 21 year US assault on that country--17% of the population. An equivalent ratio of American deaths would have represented 25 million souls. More ordinance was dropped on this Third World country, than in both the European and Pacific theaters of the Second World War combined. All that because the people of this largely agrarian, peasant society, refused to submit to Western colonialism.
A Brief History
After a bloody struggle that would span a century, the Vietnamese finally broke free of their shackles following their defeat of the French Army on May 7, 1954 at Diem Bein Phu. But did America, the self-proclaimed champion of self-determination for all people, acknowledge and accept the hard-earned liberation of the Indochinese? Of course we know the answer don't we Old Grey Guy? The Eisenhower administration moved at once to undermine the 1954 Geneva Peace Accords--specifically Chapter III Articles 16 through 19. These Accords called for general elections to be held in 1956 which would re-unify the northern and southern provinces of Vietnam--at the time temporarily divided along the 17th parallel. It was clear to all that the irredeemably corrupt regime of Ngo Dinh Diem stood no chance of winning a popular election (Diem along with his cohorts had collaborated with the French colonials for decades). Likewise, it was equally clear which party had the support of the overwhelming majority of the population; the same force that resolutely resisted the French occupation for over half a century--the National Liberation Front (NLF).
Diem frankly warned Eisenhower that if he didn't assist in halting the '56 elections, then the communists (NLF) would win in a landslide, for he was completely devoid of popular support. The masses had fully embraced the domestic platform of the NLF which included a massive land reform program and a more equitable distribution of the nation's rich natural resources. It was readily apparent that, left to their own devices, the people of Vietnam would have organized a society based upon socialist principles. For the Cold Warriors of the Eisenhower administration, however, that would just never do.
Here's the part where you come in Old Grey Guy.
You were not "defending America" during your tour in Vietnam Old Grey. Was the NLF planning to row their canoes across the Pacific and launch an attack on California? How would a Third World, agrarian society without benefit of a navy or air force, invade, conquer, and occupy the most powerful nation in all of recorded human history?
No Old Grey, what you were doing was "draining the swamp". What does that mean? Well, you see it was understood by the American architects of the war (much like the French before them) that the NLF relied on massive support from the peasants in the southern provinces of Vietnam (particularly the countryside) in order to survive and conduct operations. What does one do when the overwhelming majority of the population supports the "enemy"? It was lost on no one but the American public that the southern peasants of Vietnam and the NLF were one and the same. No guerrilla movement can survive much less succeed without a powerful undercurrent of popular support.
"To kill the mosquitos one must first drain the swamp", or so the saying goes. The "mosquitos" in our example were of course the NLF, and the "swamp" were the peasants of South Vietnam--their base of support. This explains why you and your fellow soldiers concentrated all of your efforts on controlling the "swamp". Massive US exercises such as Operation Wheeler Walla (of which the My Lai massacre was but a small footnote) were designed to herd the peasants into "pacification camps"--or if we are to accept their conventional definition--concentration camps. This was the ultimately unsuccessful attempt by US planners to deny the NLF its lifeline--the people themselves. So in essence Old Grey, you were "defending" South Vietnam from its own population.
I read your words with a mixture of sadness and pity Old Grey. Sadness because it was clear that you were used by your government like toilet paper in pursuit of elite interests that never concerned you or most Americans for that matter. That sadness, however, turned to pity when I realized that you still believe, and will likely go to your grave believing, that you were defending your country.
Although it will probably make no difference, I'll state the obvious:
The NLF in the South, and the NVA in the North were defending their country from foreign aggressors, of which you were one. The Vietnamese had a long history of fighting off invaders before you arrived in 1965 Old Grey. The French before us, the Japanese before them (briefly taking over from the Frogs during WWII), and the Chinese (for millennia) before them all.
Did the NLF, the only force defending the peasants of the South, launch an attack on the United States of America? Pure nonsense. Did the NLF/NVA take on all comers in defense of their sovereignty? You bet. Wouldn't we? How would you respond Old Grey, to the presence of foreign troops on American soil, "standing up" leaders of their choosing to manage our affairs. Would you turn the other cheek to the spectacle of those same troops turning our wives, daughters, and sisters into their "comfort whores" to pass the time (tell us all about Da Nang buddy). How many of your children would you bury before you took up arms against the forces of another power, whose unrequested attempts to "help" us, require that they "kill us to save us"?
I was also fascinated by your blistering attack on those you condemn as "unpatriotic" for their opposition to the war in Vietnam and now in Iraq. What makes your position so fascinating is that you are genuinely oblivious to the fact that neither of these countries posed a threat to your own. Would anyone be sympathetic to similar complaints from say, a German soldier who served his nation faithfully during the atrocities in Poland in '39 through the siege of Stalingrad in '44? Or for a Russian soldier's fulminations about the lack of support on the home front during his rampage through Afghanistan? Somehow I doubt it.
It is a testimony to the level of our society's indoctrination that a sizable portion of the American public note no sense of irony when the very people responsible for the most aggressive foreign policy in our nation's history, claim to be peacemakers.
I couldn't help but notice Old Grey, that you cast doubt on the accounts of Kerry and other veterans who admitted that they either witnessed or participated in war crimes during the Vietnam War. I'm curious to know what your reaction is to this series of stories on just that very subject by Deborah Nelson and Nick Turse of the Los Angeles Times. Stay safe.
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