Southeast Asian elites “forgot” about those tens of millions of Asian people murdered by the Western imperialism at the end of and after the WWII. They “forgot” about what took place in the North – about the Tokyo and Osaka firebombing, about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, about the barbaric liquidation of Korean civilians by the US forces. But they also forgot about their own victims – about those hundreds of thousands, in fact about the millions, of those who were blown to pieces, burned by chemicals or directly liquidated – men, women and children of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor.
All is forgiven and all is forgotten.
And once again the Empire is proudly “pivoting” into Asia; it is even bragging about it.
It goes without saying that the Empire has no shame and no decency left. It boasts about democracy and freedom, while it does not even bother to wash the blood of tens of millions off its hands.
All over Asia, the “privileged populaces” has chosen to not know, to not remember, or even to erase all terrible chapters of the history. Those who insist on remembering are being silenced, ridiculed, or made out to be irrelevant.
Such selective amnesia, such “generosity” will very soon backfire. Shortly, it will fly back like a boomerang. History repeats itself. It always does, the history of the Western terror and colonialism, especially. But the price will not be covered by the morally corrupt elites, by those lackeys of the Western imperialism. As always, it will be Asia’s poor who will be forced to pay.
After I descended from the largest cave in the vicinity of Tham Pha Thok, Laos, I decided to text my good Vietnamese friend in Hanoi. I wanted to compare the suffering of Laotian and Vietnamese people.
The cave used to be “home” to Pathet Lao. During the Second Indochina War it actually served as the headquarters. Now it looked thoroughly haunted, like a skull covered by moss and by tropical vegetation.
The US air force used to intensively bomb the entire area and there are still deep craters all around, obscured by the trees and bushes.
The US bombed the entirety of Laos, which has been given a bitter nickname: “The most bombed country on earth”.
It is really hard to imagine, in a sober state, what the US, Australia and their Thai allies did to the sparsely populated, rural, gentle Laos.
John Bacher, a historian and a Metro Toronto archivist once wrote about “The Secret War”: “More bombs were dropped on Laos between 1965 and 1973 than the U.S. dropped on Japan and Germany during WWII. More than 350,000 people were killed. The war in Laos was a secret only from the American people and Congress. It anticipated the sordid ties between drug trafficking and repressive regimes that have been seen later in the Noriega affair.”
In this biggest covert operation in the U.S. history, the main goal was to “prevent pro-Vietnamese forces from gaining control” over the area. The entire operation seemed more like a game that some overgrown, sadistic boys were allowed to play: Bombing an entire nation into the Stone Age for more than a decade. But essentially this “game” was nothing else than one of the most brutal genocides in the history of the 20th century.
Naturally, almost no one in the West or in Southeast Asia knows anything about this.
I texted my friend: “What I witnessed a few years ago working at the Plain of Jars was, of course, much more terrible than what I just saw around Tham Pha Thok, but even here, the horror of the US actions was crushing.” I also sent her a link to my earlier reports covering the Plain of Jars.
A few minutes later, she replied: “If you didn’t tell me… I would have never known about this secret war. As far as we knew, there was never a war in Laos. Pity for Lao people!”
I asked my other friends in Vietnam, and then in Indonesia. Nobody knew anything about the bombing of Laos.
The “Secret War” remains top-secret, even now, even right here, in the heart of the Asia Pacific region, or more precisely, especially here.
When Noam Chomsky and I were discussing the state of the world in what eventually became our book “On Western Terrorism – From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare”, Noam mentioned his visit to the war-torn Laos. He clearly remembered Air America pilots, as well as those hordes of Western journalists who were based in Vientiane but too busy to not see and to not ask any relevant questions.
“In the Philippines, the great majority of people is now convinced that the US actually ‘liberated’ our country from the Japanese”, my left-wing journalist friends once told me.
Dr. Teresa S. Encarnación Tadem, Professor of Political Science of University of the Philippines Diliman, explained to me last year, face to face, in Manila: “There is a saying here: “Philippines love Americans more than Americans love themselves.”
I asked: “How is it possible? The Philippines were colonized and occupied by the United States. Some terrible massacres took place… The country was never really free. How come that this ‘love’ towards the US is now prevalent?”
“It is because of extremely intensive North American propaganda machine”, clarified Teresa’s husband, Dr. Eduardo Climaco Tadem, Professor of Asian Studies of University of the Philippines Diliman. “It has been depicting the US colonial period as some sort of benevolent colonialism, contrasting it with the previous Spanish colonialism, which was portrayed as ‘more brutal’. Atrocities during the American-Philippine War (1898 – 1902) are not discussed. These atrocities saw 1 million Philippine people killed. At that period it was almost 10% of our population… the genocide, torture… Philippines are known as “the first Vietnam”… all this has been conveniently forgotten by the media, absent in the history books. And then, of course, the images that are spread by Hollywood and by the American pop culture: heroic and benevolent US military saving battered countries and helping the poor…”
Basically, entirely reversing the reality.
The education system is very important”, added Teresa Tadem. “The education system manufactures consensus, and that in turn creates support for the United States… even our university – University of the Philippines – was established by the Americans. You can see it reflected in the curriculum – for instance the political science courses… they all have roots in the Cold War and its mentality.”
Almost all children of the Asian “elites” get “educated” in the West, or at least in so-called “international schools” in their home countries, where the imperialist curriculum is implemented. Or in the private, most likely religious/Christian schools… Such “education” borrows heavily from the pro-Western and pro-business indoctrination concepts.
And once conditioned, children of the “elites” get busy brainwashing the rest of the citizens. The result is predictable: capitalism, Western imperialism, and even colonialism become untouchable, respected and admired. Nations and individuals who murdered millions are labeled as carriers of progress, democracy and freedom. It is “prestigious” to mingle with such people, as it is highly desirable to “follow their example”. The history dies. It gets replaced by some primitive, Hollywood and Disney-style fairytales.
In Hanoi, an iconic photograph of a woman pulling at a wing of downed US military plane is engraved into a powerful monument. It is a great, commanding piece of art.
My friend George Burchett, a renowned Australian artist who was born in Hanoi and who now lives in this city again, is accompanying me.
The father of George, Wilfred Burchett, was arguably the greatest English language journalist of the 20th Century. Asia was Wilfred’s home. And Asia was where he created his monumental body of work, addressing some of the most outrageous acts of brutality committed by the West: his testimonies ranged from the first-hand account of the Hiroshima A-bombing, to the mass murder of countless civilians during the “Korean War”. Wilfred Burchett also covered Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, to name just a few unfortunate places totally devastated by the United States and its allies.
Now his books are published and re-printed by prestigious publishing houses all over the world, but paradoxically, they do not live in sub-consciousness of the young people of Asia.
The Vietnamese people, especially the young ones, know very little about the horrific acts committed by the West in their neighboring countries. At most they know about the crimes committed by France and the US in their own country – in Vietnam, nothing or almost nothing about the victims of the West-sponsored monsters like Marcos and Suharto. Nothing about Cambodia – nothing about who was really responsible for those 2 millions of lost lives.
The “Secret Wars” remain secret.
With George Burchett I admired great revolutionary and socialist art at the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts. Countless horrible acts, committed by the West, are depicted in great detail here, as well as the determined resistance struggle fought against US colonialism by the great, heroic Vietnamese people.
But there was an eerie feeling inside the museum – it was almost empty! Besides us, there were only a few other visitors, all foreign tourists: the great halls of this stunning art institution were almost empty.
Indonesians don’t know, because they were made stupid!” Shouts my dear old friend Djokopekik, at his art studio in Yogyokarta, He is arguably the greatest socialist realist artist of Southeast Asia. On his canvases, brutal soldiers are kicking the backsides of the poor people, while an enormous crocodile (a symbol of corruption) attacks, snaps at, and eats everyone in sight. Djokopekik is open, and brutally honest: “It was their plan; great goal of the regime to brainwash the people. Indonesians know nothing about their own history or about the rest of Southeast Asia!”
Before he died, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the most influential writer of Southeast Asia, told me: “They cannot think, anymore… and they cannot write. I cannot read more than 5 pages of any contemporary Indonesian writer… the quality is shameful…” In the book that we (Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Rossie Indira and I) wrote together – “Exile” -, he lamented that Indonesian people do not know anything about history, or about the world.
Had they known, they would most definitely raise and overthrow this disgraceful regime that is governing their archipelago until these days.
2 to 3 million Indonesian people died after the 1965 military coup, triggered and supported by the West and by the religious clergy, mainly by Protestant implants from Europe. The majority of people in this desperate archipelago are now fully conditioned by the Western propaganda, unable to even detect their own misery. They are still blaming the victims (mainly Communists, intellectuals and “atheists”) for the events that took place exactly 50 years ago, events that broke the spine of this once proud and progressive nation.
Indonesians almost fully believe the right wing, fascist fairytales, fabricated by the West and disseminated through the local mass media channels controlled by whoring local “elites”… It is no wonder: for 50 nasty years they have been “intellectually” and “culturally” conditioned by the lowest grade Hollywood meditations, by Western pop music and by Disney.
They know nothing about their own region.
They know nothing about their own crimes. They are ignorant about the genocides they have been committing. More than half of their politicians are actually war criminals, responsible for over 30% of killed men, women and children during the US/UK/Australia-backed occupation of East Timor (now an independent country), for the 1965 monstrous bloodletting and for the on-going genocide, which Indonesia conducts in Papua.
Information about all these horrors is available on line. There are thousands of sites carrying detailed and damning evidence. Yet, cowardly and opportunistically, the Indonesian “educated” populace is opting for “not knowing”.
Of course, the West and its companies are greatly benefiting from the plunder of Papua.
Therefore, the genocide is committed, all covered with secrecy.
And ask in Vietnam, in Burma, even in Malaysia, what do people know about East Timor and Papua? The answer will be nothing, or almost nothing.
Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines – they may be located in the same part of the world, but they could be as well based on several different planets. That was the plan: the old divide-and-rule British concept.
In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, a family that was insisting that Indonesia is actually located in Europe once confronted me. The family was equally ignorant of the crimes committed by the pro-Western regime of Marcos.
The western media promotes Thailand as the “land of smiles”, yet it is an extremely frustrated and brutal place, where the murder rate is even(on per capita basis) higher than that in the United States.
Thailand has been fully controlled by the West since the end of the WWII. Consequently, its leadership (the throne, the elites and the military)have allowed some of the most gruesome crimes against humanity to take place on its territory. To mention just a few: the mass murder of the Thai left wing insurgents and sympathizers (some were burned alive in oil barrels), the murdering of thousands of Cambodian refugees, the killing and raping of student protesters in Bangkok and elsewhere… And the most terrible of them: the little known Thai participation in the Vietnam invasion during the “American War”…the intensive use of Thai pilots during the bombing sorties against Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as handing several military airports (including Pattaya) to the Western air forces. Not to speak about pimping of Thai girls and boys (many of them minors) to the Western military men.
The terror that the West has been spreading all over Southeast Asia seems to be forgotten, or at least for now.
Let’s move on!” I heard in Hanoi and in Luang Prabang.
But while the Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian people are busy “forgiving” their tormentors the Empire has been murdering the people of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, and all corners of Africa.
It was stated by many, and proven by some, particularly in South America, where almost all the demons have been successfully exercised, that there can be no decent future for this Planet without recognizing and understanding the past.
After “forgiving the West”, several nations of Southeast Asia were immediately forced into the confrontation with China and Russia.
When “forgiven”, the West does not just humbly accept the great generosity of its victims. Such behavior is not part of its culture. Instead, it sees kindness as weakness, and it immediately takes advantage of it.
By forgiving the West, by “forgetting” its crimes, Southeast Asia is actually doing absolutely nothing positive. It is only betraying its fellow victims, all over the world.
It is also, pragmatically and selfishly, hoping for some returns. But returns will never come! History has shown it on many occasions. The West wants everything. And it believes that it deserves everything. If not confronted, it plunders until the end, until there is nothing left – as it did in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Iraq or in Indonesia.
Renowned Australian historian and Professor Emeritus at Nagasaki University in Japan, Geoffrey Gunn, wrote in this essay:
“The US wields hard power and soft power in equal portions or so it would appear. Moving in and out of East Asia over the last four decades I admit to being perplexed as to the selectivity of memories of the American record. Take Laos and Cambodia in the 1970s where, in each country respectively, the US dropped a greater tonnage of bombs than dumped on Japanese cities during World War II, and where unexploded ordinance still takes a daily toll. Not so long ago I asked a high-ranking regime official in Phnom Penh as to whether the Obama administration had issued an apology for this crime of crimes. “No way,” he said, but then he wasn’t shaking his fist either, just as the population appears to be numbed as to basic facts of their own history beyond some generalized sense of past horrors. In Laos in December 1975 where I happened to be when, full of rage at the US, revolutionaries took over; the airing of American crimes – once a propaganda staple – has been relegated to corners of museums. Ditto in Vietnam, slowly entering the US embrace as a strategic partner, and with no special American contrition as to the victims of bombing, chemical warfare and other crimes. In East Timor, sacrificed by US President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the Indonesian generals in the interest of strategic denial, and where some 30 percent of the population perished, America is forgiven or, at least, airbrushed out of official narratives. Visiting the US on a first state visit, China’s President Xi Jinping drums up big American business deals, a “new normal” in the world’s second largest economy and now US partner in the “war against terror,” as in Afghanistan. Well, fresh from teaching history in a Chinese university, I might add that history does matter in China but with Japan as an all too obvious point of reference.”
“China used to see the fight against Western imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism as the main rallying cry of its foreign policy”, sighs Geoff, as we watch the bay of his home city – Nagasaki. “Now it is only Japan whose crimes are remembered in Beijing.”
But back to Southeast Asia…
It is all forgotten and forgiven, and the reason “why” is clear, simple. It pays to forget! “Forgiveness” brings funding; it secures “scholarships” just one of the ways Western countries spread corruption in its client states and in the states they want to draw into their orbit.
The elites with their lavish houses, trips abroad, kids in foreign schools, are a very forgiving bunch!
But then you go to a countryside, where the majority of Southeast Asian people still live. And the story there is very different. The story there makes you shiver.
Before departing from Laos, I sat at an outdoor table in a village of Nam Bak, about 100 kilometers from Luang Prabang. Ms. Nang Oen told me her stories about the US carpet-bombing, and Mr. Un Kham showed me his wounds:
“Even here, in Nam Bak, we had many craters all over, but now they are covered by rice fields and houses. In 1968, my parents’ house was bombed… I think they dropped 500-pound bombs on it. Life was unbearable during the war. We had to sleep in the fields or in the caves. We had to move all the time. Many of us were starving, as we could not cultivate our fields.
I ask Ms. Nang Oen about the Americans. Did she forget, forgive?
“How do I feel about them? I actually can’t say anything. After all these years, I am still speechless. They killed everything here, including chicken. I know that they are doing the same even now, all over the world…”
She paused, looked at the horizon.
“Sometimes I remember what was done to us… Sometimes I forget”. She shrugs her shoulders. “But when I forget, it is only for a while. We did not receive any compensation, not even an apology. I cannot do anything about it. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and I cry.”
I listened to her and I knew, after working for decades in this part of the world: for the people of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and East Timor, nothing is forgotten and nothing is forgiven. And it should never be!
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”.
KITCHENER, Ontario — As this is being written, Congress is experiencing extensive and dramatic hand-wringing as it decides between doing what is best for the country and the world or doing what is best for the American Israel Political Affairs Committee. This is no easy task for members of Congress, especially Democrats who, on the one hand, want to assure a “victory” for President Barack Obama, but who are also loathe to displease the Israeli lobby. Whether preventing a war factors into their deliberations is not known.
AIPAC and its countless minions in Congress are painting the recent agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany), as nothing short of the end of Israel.
If this deal preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is approved, they warn darkly, Iran will secretly develop nuclear weapons. This will mean the destruction of Israel, they say. But if it isn’t approved, Iran will develop such weapons. This, they say, will also mean the destruction of Israel. Feel free to re-read those sentences whenever time allows.
From this point of view, the only alternative is war, with the ostensible purpose of destroying Iran’s nuclear capabilities — capabilities that the Islamic Republic has always said are for peaceful energy purposes. Yet the risk of Iran ever having nuclear weapons is too great. If it did obtain them, then Israel would have a hostile nation to counterbalance its power in the Middle East, and, of course, it doesn’t want that competition. And whatever Israel wants, the U.S. wants. Hence the fear-mongering.
This is a tried-and-true method in the U.S. of getting wars started: Tell lies about some situation that can be construed as a threat to U.S. security (or in this case, Israel’s national security, which seems to be threatened by just about everything), get the populace riled up with jingoistic fervor, watch pompous politicians proclaim their great patriotism on the evening news, and then go bomb some country or other.
The U.S. again gets to flex its international muscle, the citizenry is, for some bizarre reason, proud of the destruction the country has caused, the weapons manufacturers spend all their time tallying their astronomical profits, and all is once again right in the twisted world of U.S. governance.
A few examples will suffice to show that this means of starting wars has been used repeatedly. The examples discussed herein do not by any means represent an exhaustive list, but only show that lying to the world to make the citizenry believe that the U.S. or its citizens had been threatened in some way, and that war was the only response, is business as usual in the U.S.
The War of 1812 (June 18, 1812 – Feb. 18, 1815)
Less than 40 years after the American Revolution, the still-new U.S. government felt constrained in areas of international trade, despite tremendous growth in such trade in the years leading up to the war. In 1811, Britain issued an Order-in-Council, excluding American salted fish from the West Indian colonies and imposing heavy duties on other U.S. imports. This, the U.S. could not countenance.
Additionally, although the heady concept of Manifest Destiny would not actually be defined for several more years, territorial expansion was always on the minds of the leaders of the fledgling nation. Canada, with its rich abundance of natural resources and wide expanses of land, was coveted.
The Battle Lake Borgne Hornbrook, War of 1812.
Yet trade and expansion were not foremost on the minds of the populace, at least not sufficiently for them to support a war. But many nations at this time had a policy of impressment, wherein the ships of another country were boarded, and their sailors kidnapped and forced to work for the kidnapping navy. This was something with which the common man and woman could identify. Although this wasn’t a common occurrence, it was exaggerated and combined with the trade issues to introduce the rallying cry of “Free Trade and Sailor’s Rights,” Carl Benn wrote in his 2003 book “Essential Histories: The War of 1812.” However, this wasn’t a simple, spontaneous cry of justice. It seems to have been promoted by annexationists running the government, and was sufficient for the U.S. to start an unsuccessful war against Canada.
Spanish-American War (April 25, 1898 – Aug 12. 1898)
Fast-forward to the end of the 19th century. On Feb. 15, 1898, the battleship Maine exploded in Havana harbor, killing 266 men. According to Hyman George Rickover, in his 1976 book “How the Battleship Maine was Destroyed”:
“Lieutenant Frank F. Fletcher, on duty at the Bureau of Ordnance, wrote in a personal letter to [Lieutenant Albert] Gleaves: ‘The disaster to the Maine is the one topic here now. Everybody is gradually settling down to the belief that the disaster was due to the position of the magazine next to the coal bunkers in where there must have been spontaneous combustion.’”
Theodore Roosevelt (center front, just left of the flag) and his “Rough Riders,” 1898.
The official inquiry into the disaster, however, concluded that an underwater mine had been the culprit. With the battle cry “Remember the Maine,” the U.S. quickly declared war on Spain.
But this “inquiry” was more than a bit flawed. Two widely-recognized experts in ordnance volunteered their services for the investigation, but were not invited to participate. One of them, Prof. Philip Alger, had greatly displeased Secretary of the Navy, and future president, Theodore Roosevelt, when he commented on the disaster in an interview for the Washington Evening Star a few days after it happened. He said, in part, the following, as reproduced by Rickover:
“As to the question of the cause of the Maine’s explosion, we know that no torpedo that is known to modern warfare, can of itself cause an explosion of the character of that on board the Maine. We know of no instances where the explosion of a torpedo or mine under a ship’s bottom has exploded the magazine within. It has simply torn a great hole in the side or bottom, through which water entered, and in consequence of which the ship sunk. Magazine explosions, on the contrary, produce effects exactly similar to the effects of the explosion on board the Maine. When it comes to seeking the cause of the explosion of the Maine’s magazine, we should naturally look not for the improbable or unusual causes, but those against which we have had to guard in the past.”
But Roosevelt was anxious to establish the U.S. as a world power, especially in terms of its Navy. By accusing Spain of blowing up the ship, he had the perfect excuse to launch the Spanish-American War.
The Vietnam War (major U.S. involvement: 1964 – 1975)
Off the coast of China and northern Vietnam is the Gulf of Tonkin, which was the staging area for the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the early 1960s. On the evening of Aug. 4, 1964, the U.S. destroyers Maddox and the C. Turner Joy were in the gulf, when the Maddox’s instruments indicated that the ship was under attack or had been attacked. Both ships began firing into the darkness, with support from U.S. warplanes. However, they “later decided they had been shooting at ghost images on their radar. … The preponderance of the available evidence indicates there was no attack.”
U.S. Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnam. (Photo by the U.S. Army Operations in Vietnam R.W. Trewyn, Ph.D.)
Yet something needed to be done about Vietnam, with anti-Communist hysteria still rampant in the U.S., and this gave Congress the perfect ploy to escalate the war. This non-incident was presented to the world as an act of aggression against the U.S. Congress quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. By the end of the following year, the number of U.S. soldiers invading Vietnam increased from 23,000 to 184,300. Eleven years later, with over 55,000 U.S. soldiers dead, hundreds of thousands wounded, and, by conservative estimates, 2,000,000 Vietnamese dead, the U.S. fled Vietnam in defeat.
The Gulf War (Aug. 2, 1990 – Feb. 28, 1991)
In order to gain support for the Gulf War of 1990, Congress and President George Bush relied heavily on what is commonly referred to as the Nayirah testimony. In early October 1990, a 15-year-old girl referred to only as “Nayirah,” who claimed to have been a hospital volunteer, testified of seeing babies dumped by Iraqi soldiers from hospital incubators. This, in the eyes of Congress and the president, highlighted the monstrosity of Iraq, and was widely used to gain support for the war.
However, like nearly all of the information the government feeds to the citizenry to start its wars, this testimony was all lies. “Nayirah” was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. She later admitted that she had once visited the hospital in question, but only for a few minutes. She did see an infant removed from an incubator, but only very briefly. A group called Citizens for a Free Kuwait had hired one of the world’s foremost public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton, to create the illusion of legitimacy for an invasion. They coached “Nayirah” on what to say and how to say it when she appeared before Congress.
We will do no more than mention the U.S.’s drafting of a letter for Grenada to send to the U.S., requesting military intervention when that small island nation’s government was overthrown in 1983. Nor will we dwell on the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was said to possess in 2002, which justified in the eyes of U.S. citizens the disastrous 2003 invasion of that nation. But as we look at this ugly record of lies that the U.S. has used to expand its territory, power and/or influence around the world, we must consider that it is once again using the same tactics to march the nation toward war with Iran.
The U.S. for generations was successful in deceiving its citizens, and a good part of the world, that it was a beacon of freedom and peace, despite the fact that it has been at war for most of its bloody existence. That myth began to crack during the Vietnam War, broke into pieces with the Iraq War, and may have been dealt a fatal blow by the U.S.’s support of Israeli atrocities in 2014.
Regardless of the outcome of the congressional vote on the Iran agreement, the U.S. will find itself less able to lie its way into corporate wars in the future. That capacity diminished during the lead-up to the Iraqi invasion, and while no one ever went broke betting on the gullibility and short-term memory of the U.S. citizenry, people are beginning to wake up. When they finally do, much of the carnage in the world will end. That day cannot come soon enough.
Richard Nixon spent years rebuilding his tattered reputation after he resigned from office in disgrace on Aug. 9, 1974. The rehabilitation project was codenamed “The Wizard.” The idea was to position himself as an elder statesman of foreign policy, a Wise Man. And to a remarkable degree – through the sale of his memoirs, his appearance with David Frost in a series of highly rated interviews, and the publication of at least eight books after that – Nixon largely succeeded in his goal.
There was another aspect of that plan: to do all he could to keep his presidential papers and tapes classified, which, through a series of legal maneuvers, he managed to achieve in large part. Therefore, much of what he and Henry Kissinger wrote about in their memoirs could stand, largely unchallenged.
It was not until years after his death that the bulk of the Nixon papers and tapes were opened up to the light of day. And Kissinger’s private papers will not be declassified until five years after his death. With that kind of arrangement, it was fairly easy for Nixon to sell himself as the Sage of San Clemente, but two new books based on the long-delayed declassified record – one by Ken Hughes and the other by William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball – undermine much of Nixon’s rehabilitation.
For instance, in 1985 – at the peak of President Ronald Reagan’s political power – Nixon wrote No More Vietnams, making several dubious claims about the long conflict which included wars of independence by Vietnam against both France and the United States.
In the book, Nixon tried to insinuate that Vietnam was not really one country for a very long time and that the split between north and south was a natural demarcation. He also declared that the Vietnam War had been won under his administration, and he insisted that he never really considered bombing the irrigation dikes, using tactical nuclear weapons, or employing the strategy of a “decent interval” to mask an American defeat for political purposes.
In No More Vietnams, Nixon said that after going through a series of option papers furnished to him by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, he decided on a five-point program for peace in Vietnam. (Nixon, pgs. 104-07) This program consisted of Vietnamization, i. e., turning over the fighting of the war to the South Vietnamese army (the ARVN); pacification, which was a clear-and-hold strategy for maintaining territory in the south; diplomatic isolation of North Vietnam from its allies, China and the Soviet Union; peace negotiations with very few preconditions; and gradual withdrawal of American combat troops. Nixon asserted that this program was successful.
But the currently declassified record does not support Nixon’s version of history, either in the particulars of what was attempted or in Nixon’s assessment of its success.
When Richard Nixon came into office he was keenly aware of what had happened to his predecessor Lyndon Johnson, who had escalated the war to heights that President Kennedy had never imagined, let alone envisaged. The war of attrition strategy that LBJ and General William Westmoreland had decided upon did not work. And the high American casualties it caused eroded support for the war domestically. Nixon told his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman that he would not end up like LBJ, a prisoner in his own White House.
Therefore, Nixon wanted recommendations that would shock the enemy, even beyond the massive bombing campaigns and other bloody tactics employed by Johnson. As authors Burr and Kimball note in their new book Nixon’s Nuclear Specter, Nixon was very much influenced by two modes of thought.
First, as Vice President from 1953-61, he was under the tutelage of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Dwight Eisenhower, who advocated a policy of nuclear brinksmanship, that is the willingness to threaten nuclear war if need be. Dulles felt that since the United States had a large lead in atomic weapons that the Russians would back down in the face of certain annihilation.
Nixon was also impressed by the alleged threat of President Eisenhower to use atomic weapons if North Korea and China did not bargain in good faith to end the Korean War. Nixon actually talked about this in a private meeting with southern politicians at the 1968 GOP convention. (Burr and Kimball, Chapter 2)
Dulles also threatened to use atomic weapons in Vietnam. Burr and Kimball note the proposal by Dulles to break the Viet Minh’s siege of French troops at Dien Bien Phu by a massive air mission featuring the use of three atomic bombs. Though Nixon claimed in No More Vietnams that the atomic option was not seriously considered (Nixon, p. 30), the truth appears to have been more ambiguous, that Nixon thought the siege could be lifted without atomic weapons but he was not against using them. Eisenhower ultimately vetoed their use when he could not get Great Britain to go along.
Playing the Madman
Later, when in the Oval Office, Nixon tempered this nuclear brinksmanship for the simple reason that the Russians had significantly closed the gap in atomic stockpiles. So, as Burr and Kimball describe it, Nixon and Kissinger wanted to modify the Eisenhower-Dulles brinksmanship with the “uncertainty effect” – or as Nixon sometimes called it, the Madman Theory. In other words, instead of overtly threatening to use atomic bombs, Nixon would have an intermediary pass on word to the North Vietnamese leadership that Nixon was so unhinged that he might resort to nuclear weapons if he didn’t get his way. Or, as Nixon explained to Haldeman, if you act crazy, the incredible becomes credible:
“They’ll believe any threat of force that Nixon makes because it’s Nixon. I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that ‘for God’s sake you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button.’”
Nixon believed this trick would work, saying “Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”
Kissinger once told special consultant Leonard Garment to convey to the Soviets that Nixon was somewhat nutty and unpredictable. Kissinger bought into the concept so much so that he was part of the act: the idea was for Nixon to play the “bad cop” and Kissinger the “good cop.”
Another reason that Nixon and Kissinger advocated the Madman Theory was that they understood that Vietnamization and pacification would take years. And they did not think they could sustain public opinion on the war for that long. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and Secretary of State William Rogers both thought they could, their opinions were peripheral because Nixon and Kissinger had concentrated the foreign policy apparatus in the White House.
Playing for Time
Privately, Nixon did not think America could win the war, so he wanted to do something unexpected, shocking, “over the top.” As Burr and Kimball note, in 1969, Nixon told his speechwriters Ray Price, Pat Buchanan and Richard Whalen: “I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way to win the war. But we can’t say that, of course. In fact we have to seem to say the opposite, just to keep some degree of bargaining leverage.”
In a phone call with Kissinger, Nixon said, “In Saigon, the tendency is to fight the war for victory. … But you and I know it won’t happen – it is impossible. Even Gen. Abrams agreed.”
These ideas were expressed very early in 1969 in a document called NSSM-1, a study memorandum – as opposed to an action memorandum – with Kissinger asking for opinions on war strategy from those directly involved. The general consensus was that the other side had “options over which we have little or no control” which would help them “continue the war almost indefinitely.” (ibid, Chapter 3)
Author Ken Hughes in Fatal Politics agrees. Nixon wanted to know if South Vietnam could survive without American troops there. All of the military figures he asked replied that President Nguyen van Thieu’s government could not take on both the Viet Cong and the regular North Vietnamese army. And, the United States could not help South Vietnam enough for it to survive on its own. (Hughes, pgs. 14-15)
As Hughes notes, Nixon understood that this bitter truth needed maximum spin to make it acceptable for the public. So he said, “Shall we leave Vietnam in a way that – by our own actions – consciously turns the country over to the Communists? Or shall we leave in a way that gives the South Vietnamese a reasonable chance to survive as a free people? My plan will end American involvement in a way that will provide that chance.” (ibid, p. 15)
If the U.S. media allowed the argument to be framed like that — which it did — then the hopeless cause did have a political upside. As Kissinger told Nixon, “The only consolation we have … is that the people who put us into this position are going to be destroyed by the right. … They are going to be destroyed. The liberals and radicals are going to be killed. This is, above all, a rightwing country.” (ibid, p. 19)
Could anything be less honest, less democratic or more self-serving? Knowing that their critics were correct, and that the war could not be won, Nixon and Kissinger wanted to portray the people who were right about the war as betraying both America and South Vietnam.
Just how calculated was Nixon about America’s withdrawal from Vietnam? Republican Sen. Hugh Scott warned him about getting out by the end of 1972, or “another man may be standing on the platform” on Inauguration Day 1973. (ibid, p. 23) Nixon told his staff that Scott should not be saying things like this in public.
But, in private, the GOP actually polled on the issue. It was from these polls that Nixon tailored his speeches. He understood that only 39 percent of the public approved a Dec. 31, 1971 withdrawal, if it meant a U.S. defeat. When the question was posed as withdrawal, even if it meant a communist takeover, the percentage declined to 27 percent. Nixon studied the polls assiduously. He told Haldeman, “That’s the word. We say Communist takeover.” (ibid, p. 24)
The polls revealed another hot button issue: getting our POW’s back. This was even more sensitive with the public than the “Communist takeover” issue. Therefore, during a press conference, when asked about Scott’s public warning, Nixon replied that the date of withdrawal should not be related to any election day. The important thing was that he “didn’t want one American to be in Vietnam one day longer than is necessary to achieve the two goals that I have mentioned: the release of our prisoners and the capacity of the South Vietnamese to defend themselves against a Communist takeover.” He then repeated that meme two more times. The press couldn’t avoid it. (Hughes, p. 25)
Still, although Nixon and Kissinger understood they could not win the war in a conventional sense, they were willing to try other methods in the short run to get a better and quicker settlement, especially if it included getting North Vietnamese troops out of South Vietnam. Therefore, in 1969, he and Kissinger elicited suggestions from inside the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA, and Rand Corporation, through Daniel Ellsberg. These included a limited invasion of North Vietnam and Laos, mining the harbors and bombing the north, a full-scale invasion of North Vietnam, and operations in Cambodia.
Or as Kissinger put it, “We should … develop alternate plans for possible escalating military actions with the motive of convincing the Soviets that the war may get out of hand.” Kissinger also said that bombing Cambodia would convey the proper message to Moscow.
If anything shows that Kissinger was as backward in his thinking about Indochina as Nixon, this does. For as Burr and Kimball show — through Dobrynin’s memos to Moscow — the Russians could not understand why the White House would think the Kremlin had such influence with Hanoi. Moscow wanted to deal on a variety of issues, including arms agreements and the Middle East.
So far from Kissinger’s vaunted “linkage” theory furthering the agenda with Russia, it’s clear from Dobrynin that it hindered that agenda. In other words, the remnants of a colonial conflict in the Third World were stopping progress in ameliorating the Cold War. This was the subtotal of the Nixon/Kissinger geopolitical accounting sheet.
Judging Kissinger on Vietnam
Just how unbalanced was Kissinger on Vietnam? In April 1969, there was a shoot-down of an American observation plane off the coast of Korea. When White House adviser John Ehrlichman asked Kissinger how far the escalation could go, Kissinger replied it could go nuclear.
In a memo to Nixon, Kissinger advised using tactical nuclear weapons. He wrote that “all hell would break loose for two months”, referring to domestic demonstrations. But he then concluded that the end result would be positive: “there will be peace in Asia.”
Kissinger was referring, of course, to the effectiveness of the Madman Theory. In reading these two books, it is often hard to decipher who is more dangerous in their thinking, Nixon or Kissinger.
In the first phase of their approach to the Vietnam issue, Nixon and Kissinger decided upon two alternatives. The first was the secret bombing of Cambodia. In his interview with David Frost, Nixon expressed no regrets about either the bombing or the invasion. In fact, he said, he wished he had done it sooner, which is a puzzling statement because the bombing of Cambodia was among the first things he authorized. Nixon told Frost that the bombing and the later invasion of Cambodia had positive results: they garnered a lot of enemy supplies, lowered American casualties in Vietnam, and hurt the Viet Cong war effort.
Frost did not press the former president with the obvious follow-up: But Mr. Nixon, you started another war and you helped depose Cambodia’s charismatic ruler, Prince Sihanouk. And because the Viet Cong were driven deeper into Cambodia, Nixon then began bombing the rest of the country, not just the border areas, leading to the victory of the radical Khmer Rouge and the deaths of more than one million Cambodians.
This all indicates just how imprisoned Nixon and Kissinger were by the ideas of John Foster Dulles and his visions of a communist monolith with orders emanating from Moscow’s Comintern, a unified global movement controlled by the Kremlin. Like the Domino Theory, this was never sound thinking. In fact, the Sino-Soviet border dispute, which stemmed back to 1962, showed that communist movements were not monolithic. So the idea that Moscow could control Hanoi, or that the communists in Cambodia were controlled by the Viet Cong, this all ended up being disastrously wrong.
As Sihanouk told author William Shawcross after the Cambodian catastrophe unfolded, General Lon Nol, who seized power from Prince Sihanouk, was nothing without the military actions of Nixon and Kissinger, and “the Khmer Rouge were nothing without Lon Nol.” (Shawcross, Sideshow, p. 391)
But further, as Shawcross demonstrates, the immediate intent of the Cambodian invasion was to seek and destroy the so-called COSVN, the supposed command-and-control base for the communist forces in South Vietnam supposedly based on the border inside Cambodia. No such command center was ever found. (ibid, p. 171)
Why the Drop in Casualties?
As for Nixon’s other claim, American casualties declined in Indochina because of troop rotation, that is, the ARVN were pushed to the front lines with the Americans in support. Or as one commander said after the Cambodian invasion: it was essential that American fatalities be cut back, “If necessary, we must do it by edict.” (ibid, p. 172)
But this is not all that Nixon tried in the time frame of 1969-70, his first two years in office. At Kissinger’s request he also attempted a secret mission to Moscow by Wall Street lawyer Cyrus Vance. Part of Kissinger’s linkage theory, Vance was to tell the Soviets that if they leaned on Hanoi to accept a Nixonian framework for negotiations, then the administration would be willing to deal on other fronts, and there would be little or no escalation. The negotiations on Vietnam included a coalition government, and the survival of Thieu’s government for at least five years, which would have been two years beyond the 1972 election. (As we shall see, this is the beginning of the final “decent interval” strategy.)
The Vance mission was coupled with what Burr and Kimball call a “mining ruse.” The Navy would do an exercise to try and make the Russians think they were going to mine Haiphong and five other North Vietnamese harbors. Yet, for reasons stated above, Nixon overrated linkage, and the tactic did not work. But as Kissinger said, “If in doubt, we bomb Cambodia.” Which they did.
As the authors note, Nixon had urged President Johnson in 1967 to extend the bombing throughout Indochina, into Cambodia and Laos. Johnson had studied these and other options but found too many liabilities. He had even studied the blockading of ports but concluded that Hanoi would compensate for a blockade in a relatively short time by utilizing overland routes and off-shore unloading.
But what Johnson did not factor in was the Nixon/Kissinger Madman Theory. For example, when a State Department representative brought up the overall military ineffectiveness of the Cambodian bombing, Kissinger replied, “That doesn’t bother me … we’ll hit something.” He also told an assistant, “Always keep them guessing.” The problem was, the “shock effect” ended up being as mythical as linkage.
In 1969, after the failure of the Vance mission, the mining ruse, the warnings to Dobrynin, and the continued bombing of Cambodia, which went on in secret for 14 months, Nixon still had not given up on his Madman Theory. He sent a message to Hanoi saying that if a resolution was not in the works by November, “he will regretfully find himself obliged to have recourse to measures of great consequence and force.”
What were these consequences? Nixon had wanted to mine Haiphong for a long time. But, as did Johnson, he was getting different opinions about its effectiveness. So he considered massive interdiction bombing of the north coupled with a blockade of Sihanoukville, the Cambodian port that was part of the Ho Chi Minh trail apparatus on the west coast of Cambodia.
Plus one other tactic: Kissinger suggested to his staff that the interdiction bombing use tactical nuclear weapons for overland passes near the Chinese border. But the use of tactical nukes would have created an even greater domestic disturbance than the Cambodian invasion had done. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird objected to the whole agenda. He said it would not be effective and it would create too much domestic strife.
Backing Up Threats
So Nixon and Kissinger decided on something short of the nuclear option. After all, Nixon had sent a veiled ultimatum to Hanoi about “great consequence and force.” They had to back it up. The two decided on a worldwide nuclear alert instead, a giant nuclear war exercise that would simulate actual military maneuvers in attempting to mimic what the U.S. would do if it were preparing for a nuclear strike.
As Burr and Kimball write, this was another outmoded vestige of 1950s Cold War thinking: “It was intended to signal Washington’s anger at Moscow’s support of North Vietnam and to jar the Soviet leaders into using their leverage to induce Hanoi to make diplomatic concessions.” (Burr and Kimball, Chapter 9)
It was designed to be detected by the Soviets, but not detectable at home. For instance, the DEFCON levels were not actually elevated. The alert went on for about three weeks, with all kinds of military maneuvers at sea and on land. Finally, Dobrynin called for a meeting. Kissinger was buoyant. Maybe the ploy had worked.
But it didn’t. The ambassador was angry and upset, but not about the alert. He said that while the Russians wanted to deal on nuclear weapons, Nixon was as obsessed with Vietnam as LBJ was. In other words, Dobrynin and the Soviets were perceptive about what was really happening. Nixon tried to salvage the meeting with talk about how keeping American fatalities low in Vietnam would aid détente, which further blew the cover off the nuclear alert.
Burr and Kimball show just how wedded the self-styled foreign policy mavens were to the Madman Theory. After the meeting, Nixon realized he had not done well in accordance with the whole nuclear alert, Madman idea. He asked Kissinger to bring back Dobrynin so they could play act the Madman idea better.
The authors then note that, although Haiphong was later mined, the mining was not effective, as Nixon had been warned. In other words, the Madman idea and linkage were both duds.
Nixon and Kissinger then turned to Laird’s plan, a Vietnamization program, a mix of U.S. troop withdrawals, turning more of the fighting over to the ARVN, and negotiations. The November 1969 Madman timetable was tossed aside and the long haul of gradual U.S. disengagement was being faced. Accordingly, Nixon and Kissinger started sending new messages to the north. And far from isolating Hanoi, both China and Russia served as messengers for these new ideas.
The White House told Dobrynin that after all American troops were out, Vietnam would no longer be America’s concern. In extension of this idea, America would not even mind if Vietnam was unified under Hanoi leadership.
Kissinger told the Chinese that America would not return after withdrawing. In his notebooks for his meeting with Zhou En Lai, Kissinger wrote, “We want a decent interval. You have our assurances.” (Burr and Kimball, Epilogue)
Timing the Departure
But when would the American troops depart? As Ken Hughes writes, Nixon at first wanted the final departure to be by December of 1971. But Kissinger talked him out of this. It was much safer politically to have the final withdrawal after the 1972 election. If Saigon fell after, it was too late to say Nixon’s policies were responsible. (Fatal Politics, p. 3)
Kissinger also impressed on Nixon the need not to announce a timetable in advance. Since all their previous schemes had failed, they had to have some leverage for the Paris peace talks.
But there was a problem. The exposure of the secret bombing of Cambodia began to put pressure on Congress to begin to cut off funding for those operations. Therefore, when Nixon also invaded Laos, this was done with ARVN troops. It did not go very well, but that did not matter to Nixon: “However Laos comes out, we have got to claim it was a success.” (Hughes, p. 14)
While there was little progress at the official negotiations, that too was irrelevant because Kissinger had arranged for so-called “secret talks” at a residential home in Paris. There was no headway at these talks until late May 1971. Prior to this, Nixon had insisted on withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam.
But in May, Kissinger reversed himself on two issues. First, there would be no American residual force left behind. Second, there would be a cease-fire in place. That is, no withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops. As Kissinger said to Nixon, they would still be free to bomb the north, but “the only problem is to prevent the collapse in 1972.” (ibid, pgs. 27-28) The Decent Interval strategy was now the modus operandi.
And this strategy would serve Nixon’s reelection interests, too. As Kissinger told Nixon, “If we can, in October of ’72 go around the country saying we ended the war and the Democrats wanted to turn it over to the communists … then we’re in great shape.” To which Nixon replied, “I know exactly what we’re up to.” (ibid, p. 29) Since this was all done in secret, they could get away with a purely political ploy even though it resulted in the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians. All this was done to make sure Nixon was reelected and the Democrats looked like wimps.
Kissinger understood this linkage between the war’s illusionary success and politics. He reminded Nixon, “If Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam go down the drain in September of 1972, they they’ll say you went into those … you spoiled so many lives, just to wind up where you could have been in the first year.” (ibid, p. 30)
In fact, the President’s February 1972 trip to China was directly related to the slow progress on Vietnam. Kissinger said, “For every reason, we’ve got to have a diversion from Vietnam in this country for awhile.” To which Nixon replied, “That’s the point isn’t it?” (ibid, p.32)
A Decent Interval
In preparations for China, Kissinger told Zhou En Lai that Nixon needed an interval of a year or two after American departure for Saigon to fall. (ibid, p. 35) He told Zhou, “The outcome of my logic is that we are putting a time interval between the military outcome and the political outcome.” (ibid, p. 79)
But aware of this, Hanoi made one last push for victory with the Easter Offensive of 1972. Remarkably successful at first, air power managed to stall it and then push it back. During this giant air operation, Nixon returned to his Foster Dulles brinksmanship form, asking Kissinger, should we “take the dikes out now?”
Kissinger replied, “That will drown about 200,000 people.”
Nixon said, “Well no, no … I’d rather use a nuclear bomb. Have you got that ready?”
When Kissinger demurred by saying Nixon wouldn’t use it anyway, the President replied, “I just want you to think big Henry, for Christ’s sake.” (Burr and Kimball, Epilogue)
The American press took the wrong message from this. What it actually symbolized was that Saigon could not survive without massive American aid and firepower. (Hughes, p. 61) But even with this huge air campaign, the Pentagon figured that the north could keep up its war effort for at least two more years, even with interdiction bombing.
The political ramification of the renewed fighting was that it pushed the final settlement back in time, which Nixon saw as a political benefit, a tsunami for his reelection.
Nixon: “The advantage, Henry, of trying to settle now, even if you’re ten points ahead, is that that will ensure a hell of a landslide.”
Kissinger: “If we can get that done, then we can screw them after Election Day if necessary. And I think this could finish the destruction of McGovern” [the Democratic presidential nominee].
Nixon: “Oh yes, and the doves, which is just as important.”
The next day, Aug. 3, 1972, Kissinger returned to the theme: “So we’ve got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which — after a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater… no one will give a damn.” (Hughes, pgs. 84-85)
All of this history renders absurd the speeches of Ronald Reagan at the time: “President Nixon’s idealism is such that he believes the people of South Vietnam should have the opportunity to live under whatever form of government … they themselves choose.” (Hughes, p. 86) While Reagan was whistling in the dark, the Hanoi negotiator Le Duc Tho understood what was happening. He even said to Kissinger, “reunification will be decided upon after a suitable interval following the signing.”
Kissinger and Nixon even knew the whole election commission idea for reunification was a joke. Kissinger called it, “all baloney. … There’ll never be elections.” Nixon agreed by saying that the war will then resume, but “we’ll be gone.” (ibid, p. 88)
The problem in October 1972 was not Hanoi; it was President Thieu. He understood that with 150,000 North Vietnamese regulars in the south, the writing was on the wall for his future. So Kissinger got reassurances from Hanoi that they would not use the Ho Chi Minh Trail after America left, though Kissinger and Nixon knew this was a lie. (ibid, p. 94)
When Thieu still balked, Nixon said he would sign the agreement unilaterally. How badly did Kissinger steamroll Thieu? When he brought him the final agreements to sign, Thieu noticed that they only referred to three countries being in Indochina: Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam. Kissinger tried to explain this away as a mistake. (Hughes, p. 118)
When Kissinger announced in October 1972 that peace was at hand, he understood this was false but it was political gold.
Nixon: “Of course, the point is, they think you’ve got peace. . . but that’s all right,. Let them think it.” (ibid, p. 132)
Nixon got Senators Barry Goldwater and John Stennis to debate cutting off aid for Saigon. This got Thieu to sign. (ibid, p. 158)
In January 1973, the agreement was formalized. It was all a sham. There was no lull in the fighting, there were no elections, and there was no halt in the supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As the military knew, Saigon was no match for the Viet Cong and the regular army of North Vietnam. And Thieu did not buy the letters Nixon wrote him about resumed bombing if Hanoi violated the treaty.
But Nixon had one more trick up his sleeve, which he pulled out as an excuse for the defeat in his 1985 book, No More Vietnams. He wrote that Congress lost the “victory” he had won by gradually cutting off aid to Indochina beginning in 1973. (Nixon, p. 178)
It’s true that the Democratic caucuses did vote for this, but anyone can tell by looking at the numbers that Nixon could have sustained a veto if he tried. And, in fact, he had vetoed a bill to ban American bombing in Cambodia on June 27 with the House falling 35 votes short in the override attempt.
Rep. Gerald Ford, R-Michigan, rose and said, “If military action is required in Southeast Asia after August 15, 1973, … the President will ask congressional authority and will abide by the decision that is made by the House and Senate.”
The Democrats didn’t buy Ford’s assurance. So Ford called Nixon and returned to the podium to say Nixon had reaffirmed his pledge. With that, the borderline Republicans joined in a shut-off vote of 278-124. In the Senate the vote was 64-26. (Hughes, p. 165)
Having Congress take the lead meant that Nixon did not have to even think of revisiting Vietnam. He could claim he was stabbed in the back by Congress. As Hughes notes, it would have been better for Congress politically to double the funding requests just to show it was all for show.
As Hughes writes, this strategy of arranging a phony peace, which disguised an American defeat, was repeated in Iraq. President George W. Bush rejected troop withdrawals in 2007 and then launched “the surge,” which cost another 1,000 American lives but averted an outright military defeat on Bush’s watch. Bush then signed an agreement with his hand-picked Iraqi government, allowing American troops to remain in Iraq for three more years and passing the disaster on to President Barack Obama.
Hughes ends by writing that Nixon’s myth of a “victory” in Vietnam masks cowardice for political courage and replaces patriotism with opportunism. Nixon prolonged a lost war. He then faked a peace. And he then schemed to shift the blame onto Congress.
As long as that truth is masked, other presidents can play politics with the lives hundred of thousands of innocent civilians, and tens of thousands of American soldiers.
At Nixon’s 1994 funeral, Kissinger tried to commemorate their legacy by listing their foreign policy achievements. The first one he listed was a peace agreement in Vietnam. The last one was the airing of a human rights agenda that helped break apart the Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. These two books make those declarations not just specious, but a bit obscene.
James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. His most recent book is Reclaiming Parkland.
Kazakhstan was the last member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to adopt the accession of Kyrgyzstan to the bloc. Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a corresponding law on Tuesday.
Before that, the document was ratified by the EEU members Armenia, Belarus and Russia. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev signed a bill on his country’s accession to the EEU on May 21.
Atambayev told TASS last week that Kyrgyzstan would open its customs borders to other EEU member states soon. According to Kyrgyz Minister of Economy Oleg Pankratov, Kazakhstan decided to abolish sanitary and quarantine control on the state border with Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is the only EEU bloc country to have a border with Kyrgyzstan.
The Eurasian Economic Union was started in 2015 based on the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Armenia soon joined the union. The bloc was launched to ensure the free movement of goods, services, capital and workforce within its borders.
Many countries have expressed interest in setting up a free trade zone with the EEU. Vietnam has already signed the agreement, while India is on the way. Thailand is expected to launch a free trade zone with the EEU in 2016. Syrian Prime Minister Wael Halqi said in July that Damascus wants to join the Eurasian Union and set up customs-free zone to boost economic relations with friendly states.
Jimmy Carter called a war waged in Vietnam by the United States — a war that killed 60,000 Americans and 4,000,000 Vietnamese, without burning down a single U.S. town or forest — “mutual” damage. Ronald Reagan called it a “noble” and “just cause.” Barack Obama promotes the myth of the widespread mistreatment of returning U.S. veterans, denounces the Vietnamese as “brutal,” and has launched a 13-year, $65 million propaganda program to glorify what the Vietnamese call the American War:
As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we reflect with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation that served with honor. We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely, a world away . . . They pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans.
Which ideals might those have been? Remember, this was the bad war in contrast to which World War II acquired the ridiculous label “good war.” But the Pentagon is intent on undoing any accurate memory of Vietnam. Members of the wonderful organization, Veterans For Peace, meanwhile have launched their own educational campaign to counter the Pentagon’s at VietnamFullDisclosure.org, and the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee has done the same at LessonsOfVietnam.com. Already, the Pentagon has been persuaded to correct some of its inaccurate statements. Evidence of the extent of the killing in Vietnam continues to emerge, and it has suddenly become universally acceptable in academia and the corporate media to acknowledge that presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon secretly sabotaged peace talks in 1968 that appeared likely to end the war until he intervened. As a result, the war raged on and Nixon won election promising to end the war, which he didn’t do. There would seem to be at work here something like a 50-year limit on caring about treason or mass-murder. Imagine what it might become acceptable to say about current wars 50 years hence!
And yet, many lies about Vietnam are still told, and many truths are too little known. After Nixon sabotaged peace negotiations, U.S. and Vietnamese students negotiated their own People’s Peace Treaty, and used it to pressure Nixon to finally make his own.
“Suppose Viet Nam had not enjoyed an international solidarity movement, particularly in the United States,” writes Madame Nguyen Thi Binh. “If so, we could not have shaken Washington’s aggressive will.”
The People’s Peace Treaty began like this:
Be it known that the American and Vietnamese peoples are not enemies. The war is carried out in the names of the people of the United States and South Vietnam but without our consent. It destroys the land and people of Vietnam. It drains America of its resources, its youth and its honor.
We hereby agree to end the war on the following terms, so that both peoples can live under the joy of independence and can devote themselves to building a society based on human equality and respect for the earth. In rejecting the war we also reject all forms of racism and discrimination against people based on color, class, sex, national origin, and ethnic grouping which form the basis of the war policies, past and present, of the United States government.
1. The Americans agree to the immediate and total withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Vietnam.
2. The Vietnamese pledge that, as soon as the U.S. government publicly sets a date for total withdrawal, they will enter discussions to secure the release of all American prisoners, including pilots captured while bombing North Vietnam.”
Nine leaders of the U.S. antiwar movement of the 1960s have put their current thoughts down in a forthcoming book called The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement. The movement of the 1960s and early 1970s was widespread and dynamic beyond what we know today. It was part of a wider culture of resistance. It benefitted from the novelty of televised war and televised protest. It benefitted from hugely flawed but better-than-today economic security, media coverage, and election systems, the impact of the draft, and — of course — the creativity and courage and hard work of peace activists.
Those contributing to this book, and who recently returned to Vietnam together, are Rennie Davis, Judy Gumbo, Alex Hing, Doug Hostetter, Jay Craven, Becca Wilson, John McAuliff, Myra MacPherson, and Nancy Kurshan. Their insights into the war, the Vietnamese culture, and U.S. culture, and the peace movement are priceless.
This was a war that Vietnamese and Americans killed themselves to protest. This was a war in which Vietnamese learned to raise fish in bomb craters. This was a war in which U.S. peace activists illegally traveled to Vietnam to learn about the war and work for peace. This is a war in which people still die from weapons that explode these many years later or from poisons that take this long to kill. Third-generation victims with birth defects live in the most contaminated areas on earth.
Nixon recorded himself fretting about the People’s Peace Treaty with his staff. Two years later, he eventually agreed to similar terms. In the meantime, tens of thousands of people died.
And yet the Vietnamese distinguish clearly, as they always did, U.S. peace advocates from the warmongering U.S. government. They love and honor Norman Morrison who burned himself to death at the Pentagon. They carry on without bitterness, hatred, or violence. The rage still roiling the United States from the U.S. Civil War is not apparent in Vietnamese culture. Americans could learn from Vietnamese attitudes. We could also learn the lesson of the war — and not treat it as a disease called “the Vietnam syndrome” — the lesson that war is immoral and even on its own terms counter-productive. Recognizing that would be the beginning of health.
U.S. Central Command’s latest figures on its aerial bombardment of Iraq and Syria reveal that this is the heaviest U.S. bombing campaign since President George W. Bush’s “Shock and Awe” campaign against Iraq in 2003. In the campaign’s first ten months from August 2014 to May 2015, the U.S. and its allies conducted 15,245 air strikes, or an average of 51 air strikes per day.
This is only the latest campaign in a 15-year global air war, largely ignored by U.S. media, in which the United States and its allies have conducted at least 118,000 air strikes against other countries since 2000. The 47,000 air strikes conducted in the 6 ½ years since President Barack Obama took office are only a small reduction from the 70,000 in eight years of the Bush administration, and the current campaign will easily make up that deficit if it continues at this intensity until Obama leaves office.
Afghanistan has been the most heavily bombed country, with at least 61,000 air strikes since 2001. That includes 24,000 bombs and missiles in the first year of the war and a relentless bombing campaign that struck Afghanistan with another 29,000 bombs and missiles between 2007 and 2012, a slow motion version of “Shock and Awe.” That was an average of 13 air strikes per day for six full years, two years under Bush and four under Obama. The heaviest bombardment was in October 2010, with 1,043 air strikes that month, but that total is now eclipsed every month by the new campaign in Iraq and Syria.
Iraq had already suffered about 34,000 air strikes since 2000 before the latest campaign began. There were at least 800 air strikes in the “No Fly Zone” bombing campaign to destroy Iraq’s air defenses between 2000 and 2002; 29,200 air strikes in “Shock and Awe” in 2003, a campaign whose planners compared it to a nuclear attack; and another 3,900 during the U.S. occupation, peaking with 400 strikes in January 2008 as remaining centers of armed resistance were obliterated by air strikes, Spectre gunships and heavy artillery in the climax of the “Surge.”
But until the new campaign in Iraq and Syria, the seven-month NATO-Gulf Cooperation Council bombing of Libya was the heaviest bombardment since “Shock and Awe”, with 7,700 air strikes in seven months, or 36 air strikes per day. NATO and its Arab monarchist allies plunged Libya into intractable chaos and violence, exposing “regime change” as a euphemism for “regime destruction.”
NATO’s destruction of Libya spurred Russia to finally draw the line on its 20-year acquiescence to Western aggression and military expansion. Since then, the U.S. and its allies have persisted in their “regime destruction” policy in Syria and Ukraine, threatening strategically important Russian naval bases in Tartus and Sevastopol, what has evolved from an asymmetric war on a series of relatively defenseless countries into full-blown 1950s-era nuclear brinksmanship.
None of these figures include Israeli air strikes against Palestine, the current Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, or French operations in West Africa, as I haven’t found comparable figures for those campaigns, but they must add many thousand more air strikes to the real total.
Keeping the People in the Dark
In a recent article, Gareth Porter reported that the Pentagon is seriously opposed to putting more “boots on the ground” in Iraq or Syria, but that the generals and admirals are prepared to keep bombing them more or less indefinitely as the political path of least resistance for themselves and the White House. This may indeed be the “safe” course for a politically-driven administration and a Pentagon that is always thinking of its public image and its future funding.
But it depends on keeping the public in the dark about several critical aspects of this policy. First, there is little public resistance to this policy mainly because few Americans know that it’s happening, let alone understand the full scale of the bloodshed and devastation perpetrated in our names for the past 15 years.
The second thing the Pentagon doesn’t want you to think about is the deceptive role of “precision” weapons in U.S. propaganda. Considering how accurate these weapons really are in relation to the huge numbers of them raining down on country after country, it is not surprising that they have killed or wounded millions of civilians and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and civilian infrastructure, as we see in photographs and video of the ruins of Fallujah, Sirte or Kobani.
A direct hit with a single 500- or 1,000-pound bomb will cause death, injury and destruction up to hundreds of feet from its point of impact, so even accurate air strikes inevitably kill and maim civilians and destroy their homes. But whatever proportion of these 118,000 bombs and missiles have actually missed their targets have wreaked completely indiscriminate death, injury and destruction.
Rob Hewson, the editor of Jane’s Air Launched Weapons, estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the “precision” weapons used in “Shock and Awe” in 2003 missed their targets. Another one third of the bombs and missiles used in “Shock and Awe” were not “precision” weapons to begin with.
Even the Pentagon has not claimed a quantum leap in its “precision” weapons technology since 2003, so it is likely that at least 15 percent are still missing their targets, adding daily to a massive and mounting toll on innocent civilians.
As Hewson told the Associated Press in 2003, “In a war that’s being fought for the benefit of the Iraqi people, you can’t afford to kill any of them. But you can’t drop bombs and not kill people. There’s a real dichotomy in all of this.”
Body Count, a recent report published by Physicians for Social Responsibility, confirmed previous estimates of well over a million people killed in America’s wars since 2000. This and previous studies document the horrific results of what Hewson and other experts understand only too well, that “you can’t drop (100,000) bombs and not kill (hundreds of thousands of) people.”
Another element in the Pentagon’s shaky propaganda house of cards is its effort to obscure what bombs and missiles actually do to their victims. Americans watch the Islamic State beheading videos on TV or YouTube but we never see videos of people decapitated or children dismembered by the bombs our taxes are paying for. But our bombs behead people too.
Apologists claim that U.S. bombing is morally superior to the “terrorism” of America’s enemies, because the U.S. killing and beheading of civilians is “unintentional” rather than “deliberate.” The late Howard Zinn, a former U.S. Air Force bombardier and later a history professor, responded to this claim in a letter to the New York Times in 2007:
“These words are misleading because they assume that an action is either ‘deliberate’ or ‘’unintentional.’ There is something in between, for which the word is ‘inevitable.’ If you engage in an action, like aerial bombing, in which you cannot possibly distinguish between combatants and civilians (as a former Air Force bombardier, I will attest to that), the deaths of civilians are inevitable, even if not ‘intentional.’
“Does that difference exonerate you morally? The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent. To say otherwise (as either side might) is to give one moral superiority over the other, and thus serve to perpetuate the horrors of our time.”
Millions of ‘Enemies’
In fact, U.S. armed forces are waging war on millions of people for whom becoming combatants in a war would be the last thing they would ever consider if we had not brought our war to their doorsteps. The Center for Civilians in Conflict recently interviewed hundreds of local people who have participated as combatants in conflicts in Bosnia, Libya, Gaza or Somalia. It found that their motivations were almost entirely defensive, to protect themselves, their families, their communities or their countries.
When military forces attack or invade a country, many ordinary people feel compelled to take up arms to defend themselves and their homes. When the forces that put them in this unbearable predicament in the first place treat their efforts to defend themselves as a legal “green light” to target them with force and call them “terrorists,” they are driven to join better organized armed resistance movements that offer them protection in numbers and an effective way to fight back.
The essential first step to breaking the escalating spiral of violence is to force the aggressors, in this case the United States and its allies, to cease their aggression, including their state sponsorship of armed groups or “terrorists” in the affected countries. Then legitimate diplomatic initiatives can begin the difficult work of resolving the complex political and humanitarian problems caused by U.S.-led aggression and beginning to restore peace and security.
In his 1994 masterpiece, Century of War, the late Gabriel Kolko documented that war was the catalyst for all the major political revolutions of the Twentieth Century. While the working people of the world have otherwise failed to “rise up” as Marx predicted, the one thing that has reliably driven them to do so is the horror of war.
The war that the United States is waging today is proving no different. Armed resistance is spreading throughout the affected countries, spawning new ideologies and movements that defy the conceptual frameworks and limited imagination of the U.S. officials whose actions gave birth to them.
U.S. leaders of all stripes, military or civilian, Democrat or Republican, still fail to grasp what Richard Barnet concluded in 1973 as he studied the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, “at the very moment the number one nation has perfected the science of killing, it has become an impractical instrument of political domination.”
The last 15 years of war have served to confirm Barnet’s conclusion. After 118,000 air strikes, millions of casualties, trillions of dollars squandered, and country after country plunged into chaos, the U.S. has failed to gain political control over any of them.
But our complacent leaders and their self-satisfied advisers blunder on, debating who to threaten or attack next: Russia? China? Iran? Which “threat” provides the best pretext for further U.S. military expansion?
As Gabriel Kolko observed, because of “inherent, even unavoidable institutional myopia, … options and decisions that are intrinsically dangerous and irrational become not merely plausible but the only form of reasoning about war and diplomacy that is possible in official circles.”
But U.S. war-making is not just dangerous and irrational. It is also a crime. The judges at Nuremberg defined aggression, attacking or invading other countries, as the “supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” The UN Charter goes one step further and prohibits the threat as well as the use of force.
Benjamin Ferencz, the only surviving member of the prosecution team at Nuremberg, is a fierce critic of illegal U.S. war-making. In response to U.S. war crimes in Vietnam, he dedicated the rest of his life to establishing an International Criminal Court (ICC) that could prosecute senior officials of any government who commit aggression and other war crimes.
Ferencz is hailed as the founding father of the ICC, but his vision of “Law Not War” remains unfulfilled as long as his own country, the United States, refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of either the ICC or the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
By rejecting the jurisdiction of international courts, the U.S. has carved out what Amnesty International has called an “accountability-free zone,” from which it can threaten, attack and invade other countries, torture prisoners, kill civilians and commit other war crimes with impunity.
U.S. government lawyers enjoy the privilege, unique in their profession, of issuing legally indefensible but politically creative legal cover for war crimes, secure in the knowledge that they will never be forced to defend their opinions before an impartial court.
Ben Ferencz very graciously wrote a preface to my book, Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq, and he spoke at an event with me and David Swanson in 2011, just before his 91st birthday. Ben talked about Nuremberg and the ICC, and he compared U.S. justifications for its “preemptive” illegal war-making to the defense offered by SS Gruppenfuhrer Otto Ohlendorf at Nuremberg.
As Ben explained, “That Ohlendorf argument was considered by three American judges at Nuremberg, and they sentenced him and twelve others to death by hanging. So it’s very disappointing to find that my government today is prepared to do something for which we hanged Germans as war criminals.”
If we do not hold American war criminals accountable for their crimes, and accept the jurisdiction of international courts to do so if we do not, how else can we serve notice on those who come after them that they must never do this again?
Argentina, Guatemala and other countries in Latin America are prosecuting and jailing mass murderers like Videla and Rios Montt who once took for granted that they could kill with impunity. America’s masters of war should not assume that we will fail to bring them to justice.
As for the collective responsibility we all share for the crimes committed by our country and our armed forces, we must be prepared to pay substantial war reparations to our millions of victims and the countries we have destroyed. We could start by paying the reparations ordered by the International Court of Justice when it convicted the United States of aggression against Nicaragua in 1986, and the $3.3 billion promised by President Nixon to repair at least some of the U.S. bomb damage in Vietnam.
These would be concrete steps to tell the rest of the world that the United States was finally ready to abandon its failed experiment in “the science of killing,” to be bound by the rule of law, and to start cooperating in good faith with the rest of humanity to solve our common problems.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.
The insidious effort to whitewash the US war on Vietnam continues. The official “Vietnam War Commemoration” run by the Pentagon refuses to recognize the war for what it was: an act of aggression that decimated three countries, killed and wounded millions of people, blocked democracy and development, littered the countryside with millions of unexploded bombs (which kill and wound people to this day), and poisoned the food supply with chemical warfare (causing deformities and birth defects).
We should not let these crimes go unheard of, or allow propagandists to spin them into events that were mere “accidents.” The US destruction of Vietnam was a deliberate act.
A healthy antidote to the silence/propaganda of US aggression against Vietnam would be to pay a visit to Vietnam’s War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), as I have recently done. Ironically accused by propagandists in the United States of being a “one-sided” museum filled with “propaganda,” the museum offers a much more accurate depiction of the US war against Vietnam than anything you’ll find in US history textbooks or popular culture.
Crucial to understanding the US war against Vietnam is knowing that it was a war against democracy and self-determination. Ho Chi Minh begged the United States to support Vietnam’s efforts to gain independence from France. An admirer of the American Revolution, Ho Chi Minh quoted the US Declaration of Independence in Vietnam’s own Declaration:
“All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence in the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.
Of course, the United States wholly backed France’s efforts to reconquer Vietnam. When France failed, the United States took up the task, engaging in a war of aggression, or what is called the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole,” in the words of Nuremberg Tribunal.
The United States did everything possible to block the will of the Vietnamese people. The US-backed dictator of South Vietnam blocked elections in 1956 to prevent Ho Chi Minh from coming to power (Dwight D. Eisenhower estimated that up to 80 percent of Vietnamese would have supported Ho Chi Minh in an election during the First Indochina War).
“Tiger cages” used to hold prisoners.
Since the Vietnamese continued to resist the US-imposed dictatorship in South Vietnam, the United States invaded Vietnam in the early 1960s, beginning a devastating campaign of bombings, atrocities, chemical warfare, and torture, leading to the deaths of 3.8 million people, according to a study published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).
According to Nick Turse in Kill Anything That Moves:
[T]he stunning scale of civilian suffering in Vietnam is far beyond anything that can be explained as merely the work of some “bad apples,” however numerous. Murder, torture, rape, abuse, forced displacement, home burnings, specious arrests, imprisonment without due process—such occurrences were virtually a daily fact of life throughout the years of the American presence in Vietnam. … [T]hey were no aberration. Rather, they were the inevitable outcome of deliberate policies, dictated at the highest levels of the military.
Turse’s investigations of US war crimes (spurred by his discovery of the Pentagon’s Vietnam War Crimes Working Group) lend credence to the various displays and photographs one will find in the museum.
One example is a sewer pipe present at the Thanh Phong massacre, used by three children to hide in before being killed by future Senator Bob Kerrey and his cohorts (ten other civilians also died).
Thanh Phong sewer pipe.
More deadly than the daily atrocities, however, were the bombings. According to historian Howard Zinn, the United States dropped 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam by the end of the war. Many of these bombs did not explode, and continue to kill people today when farmers accidently plow over them, children pick them up thinking they are toys, or scrap metal hunters looking to earn a small amount of change collect them.
Perhaps the most horrifying exhibit one will encounter in the museum displays the effects of Agent Orange. The United States sprayed roughly 20 million gallons of herbicides on the Vietnamese countryside. According to the Vietnamese Red Cross in 2002, one million people have disabilities or other health problems as a result of Agent Orange, including 100,000 disabled children.
You’ll rarely see such images or hear such facts in the United States—the myth of the United States being “exceptional” must continue being shoved down US citizens’ throats, so that new wars and imperialistic campaigns can be waged. Next time a politician calls for another war or “humanitarian intervention,” just remember what the United States did to Vietnam.
Brett S. Morris is a freelance writer, journalist, photographer, and author. He has traveled the world, documenting current events and the legacy of US foreign policy. His latest book is 21 Lies They Tell You About American Foreign Policy. He can be reached on Twitter and Facebook
On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell. The last Americans fled the country. Vietnam was reunited, as it was supposed to have been twenty years earlier according to an international agreement sabotaged by Washington. The Vietnam War, which had been going on for thirty years ever since France began its attempt to reconquer its lost Indochinese colonies, finally came to an end.
For the Vietnamese who died in that war, there will be no minute of silence, no solemn commemoration, no “duty to remember”, no vows of “never again”. After all, the millions of Vietnamese who died are not considered victims of “genocide”. They were merely killed by years of massive bombing and the systematic slaughter of a people who wanted to be independent. What’s so special about that?
In old Europe we are warned every day against repeating the crimes of Nazism, a phenomenon that has been dead for over half a century. In contrast, the sources of the slaughter in Vietnam have remained alive and active, whether through U.S. policy in Central America or Southern Africa and now for several years in the Middle East. The “war against terror” has already cost over a million lives and is far from over.
What do our great European humanitarians have to say on this subject? Do those who deplore the rising number of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean see the connections? Do they realize that the same United States military drive to remake the world is the fundamental source of these ongoing disasters? How many calls do we hear to leave the sinking ship of U.S. imperialist wars? To make a real peace with Russia and Iran? To end our policy of perpetual intervention as obedient auxiliaries of the United States?
At the time of the Vietnam war, enlightened European leaders, Olaf Palme in Sweden and De Gaulle in France, openly stood up against U.S. policy. Intellectuals like Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre mobilized public opinion against war. Demonstrations took place even in countries that were far from the conflict. And today? Nothing. Public opinion was almost entirely in favor of the war that destroyed Libya, notably on “the left”.
The end of the war in Vietnam was the end of an era, the era of national liberation struggles which no doubt constituted the most important political movement of the 20th century. In the West, it marked the start of the reconstruction of imperial ideology under the cover of “human rights”. Instead of stopping liberation struggles, the emphasis would be on subverting and destroying countries that had gained independence. The media-savvy campaign to arouse “solidarity” with the plight of Vietnamese boat people and victims of the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia enabled a large sector of the French and U.S. intelligentsia to drop any effort to understand the causes and effects of events. After all, the Khmer rouge would never have taken power without the combination of U.S. bombing of the Cambodian countryside and regime change in Phnom Penh. Analysis was shoved aside in favor of immediate emotional reaction to unexplained events. A moralism without context favored the invention of “the right of humanitarian intervention” in order to destroy national sovereignty, international law and the United Nations Charter.
In France, the anti-communist “new left” that emerged from May ’68, influenced by the intellectual bluff of Bernard-Henri Lévy and cohorts, completely reversed the position of the old left. Whereas the traditional left defended international peace and opposed U.S. interventionism, the “new left” welcomed every uprising regardless of political content and showed no concern for the underlying relationship of forces. All that mattered were the “human rights” as defined and highlighted by mainstream media.
Today that new left is at a dead end, whether in the Middle East or in relations with Russia or China, along with the American policy that it has helped to disguise ideologically. Forty years after Vietnam gained its freedom, it is high time for new evaluations and drastic changes. But who has the courage to meet these challenges?
Translation by Diana Johnstone.
Forty years after the Vietnam phase of our eternal war ended we might want to go back another 30 years, to Saigon in September of 1945 when it all really began. What follows is from the diary of a war correspondent in French Indochina named Germaine Krull. The full diary ends with these words:
The Annamites [Vietnamese] will win their independence because they are ready to die for it … It may be too late already. We may never regain face, but if we do, it won’t be with the assistance of machine guns.
Mme Krull saw the future way back then, but the new American president didn’t. President Roosevelt had wanted to see the French colonies freed. Ho Chi Minh had even worked for the OSS during the war, and sought our friendship as it ended. But Harry Truman saw France as an ally in the struggle against communism, and so he chose the machine guns. Millions upon millions of people have paid the price ever since, as our insane eternal wars roll on.
I’m posting below the last few pages of Mme Krull’s fascinating accounts of Saigon in September of 1945. The full text is available here as a PDF.
Nothing in particular happened; there were still fewer Annamites to be seen on the streets and almost all of them had left their former jobs and masters. For the first time, French women were forced to do all their own work themselves, which did nothing to temper their feelings toward the Annamites. This mass desertion, reducing them temporarily to the rank of domestics themselves, was the one sin they could not forgive.
A few British officers and I went for lunch at the house of some wealthy colonials. It was a magnificent repast, complete with wines and champagne, pleasant conversation’ and immaculate service. The cooks and houseboys were Chinese. “Oh, we could not dream of employing Annamites. You can’t trust them. What a relief it will be finally to leave this wretched country. If only they would let us have a good, strong reprisal, everything would be over in a few days. This same sort of thing happened in 1942, but we put a swift end to it. The leaders were sentenced and most of the followers arrested — that was all. It is the only way to deal with people like that. Force is the only thing they understand. Everything else is useless.
“Colonel Cedil isn’t ruthless enough. We hear that General Gracey is worried because he doesn’t have enough troops. If so, why don’t they let us take over? We could muster enough arms and volunteers. We have ways of making them wish they had never started this. In 1942, I was in charge of re-establishing order at X. Well, we burned a few villages, jailed a few hundred natives, sentenced their leaders and that was all there was to that disturbance. Everything went back to order and the coolies went on working as before. They don’t want anything else. They expect that of us…”
An Australian journalist arrived by car from Hanoi with a permit from the Viet-Minh. He reported that: “Everything is all right in Hanoi. The people are well off and the French are safe. This movement is widespread, however, and the Annamites will fight for their freedom. Everything is in the hands of the Viet-Minh and is being well administered. There is no fighting or disorder. There are a few British there and one French correspondent who can’t do much. Ho Chi Minh is a wise and admirable old man. You should go there and see for yourself. There wasn’t a single incident on the road from Hanoi to Saigon. The whole way was clear and with a Viet-Minh permit, it was perfectly easy to get by the few Annamite posts.”
From time to time, an Annamite dwelling would burst into flame. Women and children were fleeing. That night, French soldiers strolled on the Rue Catinat, a gun on one arm, a woman on the other. I have never been so deeply ashamed as on that day of September 23rd. When I returned to the hotel the faces of the English were expressionless and conversations stopped as I went by. I remember the horror and shame I had felt in June of 1940 when Vichy was established, but never in my life had I felt such utter sadness and degradation as on this night.
These men, who were supposed to be the soldiers of France, this undisciplined horde whose laughing and singing I could hear from my window, corrupted by too many years in the tropics, too many women, too much opium and too many months of inactivity in camp, they were the ones to whom the task of re-establishing “order” I had been entrusted. That night I realized only too well what a serious mistake we had made and how grave the consequences would be. It was the beginning of a ruthless war. Instead of regaining our prestige we had lost it forever, and, worse still, we had lost the trust of the few remaining Annamites who believed in us. We had showed them that the new France was even more to be feared than the old one.
The last ten days in Saigon proved to me that the French population understood nothing of the situation and knew nothing of the outside world; that it consisted of people who would not tolerate the least infringement upon their comfort and who also were incredibly cowardly. Never have cause and effect been so closely linked. The events of the 22nd of September determined the issue of the conflict. Everything which happened thereafter can be directly traced to that date — women captured and mistreated, men and children assassinated, Dutch, English and American officers killed, shooting, burning factories, mysterious disappearances, all these and more happened. The French, terrorized by the lack of foresight and motivated by avarice, were unwilling to give up even one piaster. They are responsible for what happened.
The Annamites will win their independence because they are ready to die for it. We must recognize this inevitable fact — in a month, a year at the most, we will have to come to an agreement with them.
It may be too late already. We may never regain face, but if we do, it won’t be with the assistance of machine guns. The “good old days” are gone forever.
40 Years Later, Will the End Games in Iraq and Afghanistan Follow the Vietnam Playbook?
If our wars in the Greater Middle East ever end, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will end badly — and it won’t be the first time. The “fall of Saigon” in 1975 was the quintessential bitter end to a war. Oddly enough, however, we’ve since found ways to re-imagine that denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission. Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history that preceded the “fall,” while managing to absolve us of our primary responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in handy in the years ahead.
The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days of the war. We will once again surely see the searing images of terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression. In the Vietnamese case, of course, the rescue was so incomplete and the defeat so total that many Americans concluded their country had “abandoned” its cause and “betrayed” its allies. By focusing on the gloomy conclusion, however, you could at least stop dwelling on the far more incriminating tale of the war’s origins and expansion, and the ruthless way the U.S. waged it.
Here’s another way to feel better about America’s role in starting and fighting bad wars: make sure U.S. troops leave the stage for a decent interval before the final debacle. That way, in the last act, they can swoop back in with a new and less objectionable mission. Instead of once again waging brutal counterinsurgencies on behalf of despised governments, American troops can concentrate on a humanitarian effort most war-weary citizens and soldiers would welcome: evacuation and escape.
Phony Endings and Actual Ones
An American president announces an honorable end to our longest war. The last U.S. troops are headed for home. Media executives shut down their war zone bureaus. The faraway country where the war took place, once a synonym for slaughter, disappears from TV screens and public consciousness. Attention shifts to home-front scandals and sensations. So it was in the United States in 1973 and 1974, years when most Americans mistakenly believed that the Vietnam War was over.
In many ways, eerily enough, this could be a story from our own time. After all, a few years ago, we had reason to hope that our seemingly endless wars — this time in distant Iraq and Afghanistan — were finally over or soon would be. In December 2011, in front of U.S. troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, President Obama proclaimed an end to the American war in Iraq. “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” he said proudly. “This is an extraordinary achievement.” In a similar fashion, last December the president announced that in Afghanistan “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”
If only. Instead, warfare, strife, and suffering of every kind continue in both countries, while spreading across ever more of the Greater Middle East. American troops are still dying in Afghanistan and in Iraq the U.S. military is back, once again bombing and advising, this time against the Islamic State (or Daesh), an extremist spin-off from its predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq, an organization that only came to life well after (and in reaction to) the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. It now seems likely that the nightmare of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which began decades ago, will simply drag on with no end in sight.
The Vietnam War, long as it was, did finally come to a decisive conclusion. When Vietnam screamed back into the headlines in early 1975, 14 North Vietnamese divisions were racing toward Saigon, virtually unopposed. Tens of thousands of South Vietnamese troops (shades of the Iraqi army in 2014) were stripping off their military uniforms, abandoning their American equipment, and fleeing. With the massive U.S. military presence gone, what had once been a brutal stalemate was now a rout, stunning evidence that “nation-building” by the U.S. military in South Vietnam had utterly failed (as it would in the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan).
On April 30, 1975, a Communist tank crashed through the gates of Independence Palace in the southern capital of Saigon, a dramatic and triumphant conclusion to a 30-year-long Vietnamese struggle to achieve national independence and reunification. The blood-soaked American effort to construct a permanent non-Communist nation called South Vietnam ended in humiliating defeat.
It’s hard now to imagine such a climactic conclusion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike Vietnam, where the Communists successfully tapped a deep vein of nationalist and revolutionary fervor throughout the country, in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan has any faction, party, or government had such success or the kind of appeal that might lead it to gain full and uncontested control of the country. Yet in Iraq, there have at least been a series of mass evacuations and displacements reminiscent of the final days in Vietnam. In fact, the region, including Syria, is now engulfed in a refugee crisis of staggering proportions with millions seeking sanctuary across national boundaries and millions more homeless and displaced internally.
Last August, U.S. forces returned to Iraq (as in Vietnam four decades earlier) on the basis of a “humanitarian” mission. Some 40,000 Iraqis of the Yazidi sect, threatened with slaughter, had been stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq surrounded by Islamic State militants. While most of the Yazidi were, in fact, successfully evacuated by Kurdish fighters via ground trails, small groups were flown out on helicopters by the Iraqi military with U.S. help. When one of those choppers went down wounding many of its passengers but killing only the pilot, General Majid Ahmed Saadi, New York Times reporter Alissa Rubin, injured in the crash, praised his heroism. Before his death, he had told her that the evacuation missions were “the most important thing he had done in his life, the most significant thing he had done in his 35 years of flying.”
In this way, a tortured history inconceivable without the American invasion of 2003 and almost a decade of excesses, including the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, as well as counterinsurgency warfare, finally produced a heroic tale of American humanitarian intervention to rescue victims of murderous extremists. The model for that kind of story had been well established in 1975.
Stripping the Fall of Saigon of Historical Context
Defeat in Vietnam might have been the occasion for a full-scale reckoning on the entire horrific war, but we preferred stories that sought to salvage some faith in American virtue amid the wreckage. For the most riveting recent example, we need look no further than Rory Kennedy’s 2014 Academy Award-nominated documentary Last Days in Vietnam. The film focuses on a handful of Americans and a few Vietnamese who, in defiance of orders, helped expedite and expand a belated and inadequate evacuation of South Vietnamese who had hitched their lives to the American cause.
The film’s cast of humanitarian heroes felt obligated to carry out their ad hoc rescue missions because the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, refused to believe that defeat was inevitable. Whenever aides begged him to initiate an evacuation, he responded with comments like, “It’s not so bleak. I won’t have this negative talk.” Only when North Vietnamese tanks reached the outskirts of Saigon did he order the grandiloquently titled Operation Frequent Wind — the helicopter evacuation of the city — to begin.
By that time, Army Captain Stuart Herrington and others like him had already led secret “black ops” missions to help South Vietnamese army officers and their families get aboard outgoing aircraft and ships. Prior to the official evacuation, the U.S. government explicitly forbade the evacuation of South Vietnamese military personnel who were under orders to remain in the country and continue fighting. But, as Herrington puts it in the film, “sometimes there’s an issue not of legal and illegal, but right and wrong.” Although the war itself failed to provide U.S. troops with a compelling moral cause, Last Days in Vietnam produces one. The film’s heroic rescuers are willing to risk their careers for the just cause of evacuating their allies.
The drama and danger are amped up by the film’s insistence that all Vietnamese linked to the Americans were in mortal peril. Several of the witnesses invoke the specter of a Communist “bloodbath,” a staple of pro-war propaganda since the 1960s. (President Richard Nixon, for instance, once warned that the Communists would massacre civilians “by the millions” if the U.S. pulled out.) Herrington refers to the South Vietnamese officers he helped evacuate as “dead men walking.” Another of the American rescuers, Paul Jacobs, used his Navy ship without authorization to escort dozens of South Vietnamese vessels, crammed with some 30,000 people, to the Philippines. Had he ordered the ships back to Vietnam, he claims in the film, the Communists “woulda killed ‘em all.”
The Communist victors were certainly not merciful. They imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people in “re-education camps” and subjected them to brutal treatment. The predicted bloodbath, however, was a figment of the American imagination. No program of systematic execution of significant numbers of people who had collaborated with the Americans ever happened.
Following another script that first emerged in U.S. wartime propaganda, the film implies that South Vietnam was vehemently anti-communist. To illustrate, we are shown a map in which North Vietnamese red ink floods ever downward over an all-white South — as if the war were a Communist invasion instead of a countrywide struggle that began in the South in opposition to an American-backed government.
Had the South been uniformly and fervently anti-Communist, the war might well have had a different outcome, but the Saigon regime was vulnerable primarily because many southern Vietnamese fought tooth and nail to defeat it and many others were unwilling to put their lives on the line to defend it. In truth, significant parts of the South had been “red” since the 1940s. The U.S. blocked reunification elections in 1956 exactly because it feared that southerners might vote in Communist leader Ho Chi Minh as president. Put another way, the U.S. betrayed the people of Vietnam and their right to self-determination not by pulling out of the country, but by going in.
Last Days in Vietnam may be the best silver-lining story of the fall of Saigon ever told, but it is by no means the first. Well before the end of April 1975, when crowds of terrified Vietnamese surrounded the U.S. embassy in Saigon begging for admission or trying to scale its fences, the media was on the lookout for feel-good stories that might take some of the sting out of the unremitting tableaus of fear and failure.
They thought they found just the thing in Operation Babylift. A month before ordering the final evacuation of Vietnam, Ambassador Martin approved an airlift of thousands of South Vietnamese orphans to the United States where they were to be adopted by Americans. Although he stubbornly refused to accept that the end was near, he hoped the sight of all those children embraced by their new American parents might move Congress to allocate additional funds to support the crumbling South Vietnamese government.
Commenting on Operation Babylift, pro-war political scientist Lucien Pye said, “We want to know we’re still good, we’re still decent.” It did not go as planned. The first plane full of children and aid workers crashed and 138 of its passengers died. And while thousands of children did eventually make it to the U.S., a significant portion of them were not orphans. In war-ravaged South Vietnam some parents placed their children in orphanages for protection, fully intending to reclaim them in safer times. Critics claimed the operation was tantamount to kidnapping.
Nor did Operation Babylift move Congress to send additional aid, which was hardly surprising since virtually no one in the United States wanted to continue to fight the war. Indeed, the most prevalent emotion was stunned resignation. But there did remain a pervasive need to salvage some sense of national virtue as the house of cards collapsed and the story of those “babies,” no matter how tarnished, nonetheless proved helpful in the process.
Putting the Fall of Saigon Back in Context
For most Vietnamese — in the South as well as the North — the end was not a time of fear and flight, but joy and relief. Finally, the much-reviled, American-backed government in Saigon had been overthrown and the country reunited. After three decades of turmoil and war, peace had come at last. The South was not united in accepting the Communist victory as an unambiguous “liberation,” but there did remain broad and bitter revulsion over the wreckage the Americans had brought to their land.
Indeed, throughout the South and particularly in the countryside, most people viewed the Americans not as saviors but as destroyers. And with good reason. The U.S. military dropped four million tons of bombs on South Vietnam, the very land it claimed to be saving, making it by far the most bombed country in history. Much of that bombing was indiscriminate. Though policymakers blathered on about the necessity of “winning the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese, the ruthlessness of their war-making drove many southerners into the arms of the Viet Cong, the local revolutionaries. It wasn’t Communist hordes from the North that such Vietnamese feared, but the Americans and their South Vietnamese military allies.
The many refugees who fled Vietnam at war’s end and after, ultimately a million or more of them, not only lost a war, they lost their home, and their traumatic experiences are not to be minimized. Yet we should also remember the suffering of the far greater number of South Vietnamese who were driven off their land by U.S. wartime policies. Because many southern peasants supported the Communist-led insurgency with food, shelter, intelligence, and recruits, the U.S. military decided that it had to deprive the Viet Cong of its rural base. What followed was a long series of forced relocations designed to remove peasants en masse from their lands and relocate them to places where they could more easily be controlled and indoctrinated.
The most conservative estimate of internal refugees created by such policies (with anodyne names like the “strategic hamlet program” or “Operation Cedar Falls”) is 5 million, but the real figure may have been 10 million or more in a country of less than 20 million. Keep in mind that, in these years, the U.S. military listed “refugees generated” — that is, Vietnamese purposely forced off their lands — as a metric of “progress,” a sign of declining support for the enemy.
Our vivid collective memories are of Vietnamese refugees fleeing their homeland at war’s end. Gone is any broad awareness of how the U.S. burned down, plowed under, or bombed into oblivion thousands of Vietnamese villages, and herded survivors into refugee camps. The destroyed villages were then declared “free fire zones” where Americans claimed the right to kill anything that moved.
In 1967, Jim Soular was a flight chief on a gigantic Chinook helicopter. One of his main missions was the forced relocation of Vietnamese peasants. Here’s the sort of memory that you won’t find in Miss Saigon, Last Days in Vietnam, or much of anything else that purports to let us know about the war that ended in 1975. This is not the sort of thing you’re likely to see much of this week in any 40th anniversary media musings.
“On one mission where we were depopulating a village we packed about sixty people into my Chinook. They’d never been near this kind of machine and were really scared but they had people forcing them in with M-16s. Even at that time I felt within myself that the forced dislocation of these people was a real tragedy. I never flew refugees back in. It was always out. Quite often they would find their own way back into those free-fire zones. We didn’t understand that their ancestors were buried there, that it was very important to their culture and religion to be with their ancestors. They had no say in what was happening. I could see the terror in their faces. They were defecating and urinating and completely freaked out. It was horrible. Everything I’d been raised to believe in was contrary to what I saw in Vietnam. We might have learned so much from them instead of learning nothing and doing so much damage.”
What Will We Forget If Baghdad “Falls”?
The time may come, if it hasn’t already, when many of us will forget, Vietnam-style, that our leaders sent us to war in Iraq falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction he intended to use against us; that he had a “sinister nexus” with the al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked on 9/11; that the war would essentially pay for itself; that it would be over in “weeks rather than months”; that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators; or that we would build an Iraqi democracy that would be a model for the entire region. And will we also forget that in the process nearly 4,500 Americans were killed along with perhaps 500,000 Iraqis, that millions of Iraqis were displaced from their homes into internal exile or forced from the country itself, and that by almost every measure civil society has failed to return to pre-war levels of stability and security?
The picture is no less grim in Afghanistan. What silver linings can possibly emerge from our endless wars? If history is any guide, I’m sure we’ll think of something.
Christian Appy, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, is the author of three books about the Vietnam War, including the just-published American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (Viking).
Copyright 2015 Christian Appy
Guaranteed profits—at any price
Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama told beltway bullhorn Chris Matthews that Senator Elizabeth Warren was “wrong” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest trade deal in American history, linking United States and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in a pervasive and binding treaty. The president was referring to Warren’s claim that the trade treaty will license corporations to sue governments, and her contention that this was, to put it mildly, a bad idea.
Warren isn’t wrong, Obama is. And he knows it. The entire TPP, as understood, is based on a single overarching idea: that regulation must not hinder profiteering. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic concept that—if implemented—would effectively eliminate the power of a demos to make its own law. The final authority on any law’s validity would rest elsewhere, beyond the reach of popular sovereignty. From the TPP point-of-view, democracy is just another barrier to trade, and the corporate forces behind the draft treaty are intent on removing that barrier. Simple as that.
That’s why the entire deal has been negotiated in conclave, deliberately beyond the public purview, since the president and his trade representatives know that exposing the deal to the unforgiving light of popular scrutiny would doom it to failure. That’s why the president, like his mentor President Clinton, has lobbied hard for Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track, which reduces the Congressional role in the passage of the bill to a ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’
Cracks have begun to show in the formidable cloak behind which the deal has been structured. A coalition of advocacy groups advanced on the U.S. Trade Representatives office this week. Wikileaks has obtained and released chapters from the draft document. Senator Harry Reid declared his position on Fast Track as “… not only no, but hell no.” Warren has proved to be a persistent thorn in the side of White House efforts to smooth over troubling issues with the deal. But the monied interests that rule the beltway have all pressed for passage. And as a Fast Track draft makes its way through Congress, stakes are high. The TPP is, in the apt estimation of political activist Jim Hightower, a “corporate coup d’état.”
Not for the first time, the president and his Republican enemies are yoked by the bipartisan appeal of privilege against this faltering fence of protest. The marriage of convenience was described in last Friday’s sub-head to a New York Times article on TPP: “G.O.P. Is Allied With President Against His Own Party.”
All The Usual Suspects
Who else supports the TPP? Aside from this odd confection of neoliberals, the corporations that rule the beltway feverishly back the TPP. From the leak of Sony digital data we learn that it and its media peers have enthusiastically pressed for the passage of the deal. Sony is joined by major agricultural beneficiaries (Monsanto), mining companies like Infinito Gold, currently suing Costa Rica to keep an ecology-harming mine pit active, as well as pharmaceutical coalitions negotiating stiff intellectual property rights unpopular even in Congress, and various other technology and consumer goods groups. And don’t forget nicotine kingpins like Philip Morris.
Obama reinforces the corporate line: “We have the opportunity to open even more new markets to goods and services backed by three proud words: Made in America.” Perhaps he isn’t aware that our leading export is the workforce that once took pride in that moniker. We’ve exported five million manufacturing jobs since 1994, largely thanks to NAFTA, the model on which the TPP is built. The TPP will only continue that sad trend. The only jobs not being offshored are the ones that can’t be: bartenders and waitresses and health care assistants. That’s the Obama economy: a surfeit of low-wage service jobs filled by debt-saddled degree holders. As Paul Craig Roberts argued in The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, between 2007 and 2014, some eight million students would graduate from American universities and likely seek jobs in the United States. A mere one million degree-requiring jobs would await them. The irony of Obama’s statement is that the TPP would actually move to strip the use of labels like, “Buy American,” since they unduly advocate for local goods.
In truth, the authors of the treaty already know all this. The bill concedes as much, with Democrats building in some throwaway provisions of unspecified aid to workers whose jobs have been offshored, and a tax credit to ostensibly help those ex-workers purchase health insurance. Cold comfort for the jobless, as they are exhorted by the gutless paladins of globalization to ‘toughen up’ and deal with the harsh realities of a globalized economy. As neoliberal stooge Thomas Friedman has said, companies in the glorious global marketplace never hire before they ask, “Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer?” Of course, the answer is invariably no, so the job goes to Bangladesh or a robot. No moral equation ever enters the picture. Just market discipline for the vulnerable and ingenious efforts by a captive state to shelter capital from the market dynamics it would force on others.
The Investment Chapter
Despite Obama’s disingenuous clichés about “… fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment and a free and open Internet,” the trade deal makes it clear that labor law and environmental law are both barriers to profitability. We know this thanks to Wikileaks, which once again proved its inestimable value by acquiring and releasing another chapter from the cloak-and-dagger negotiations. This time it was the investment chapter, in which so much of the treaty’s raison d’etre is expressed.
As Public Citizen points out in its lengthy analysis of the chapter, any domestic policy that infringes on an investor’s “right” to a regulatory framework that conforms to their “expectations,” is grounds for a suit. Namely, the suit may be pressed to “the extent to which the government action interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations.”
Here’s what the TPP says about such legislation as it relates to investor expectations:
For greater certainty, whether an investor’s investment-backed expectations are reasonable depends, to the extent relevant, on factors such as whether the government provided the investor with binding written assurances and the nature and extent of governmental regulation or the potential for government regulation in the relevant sector.
Try putting that tax on financial transactions. Forget it. Barrier to a reasonable return. Don’t believe it? Just read the TPP investment protocols that would ban capital controls, which is what a financial tax is considered to be by TPP proponents. Try passing that environmental legislation. Not a chance. Hindrance to maximum shareholder value. Just ask Germany how it felt when a Swiss company sued it for shutting down its nuclear industry after Fukushima. Try enacting that youth safety law banning tobacco advertising. Sorry. Needless barrier to profits. Just ask Australia, which is being sued by Philip Morris for trying to protect kids from tar and nicotine.
Public Citizen has tabulated that, “The TPP would newly empower about 9,000 foreign-owned firms in the United States to launch ISDS cases against the U.S. government, while empowering more than 18,000 additional U.S.-owned firms to launch ISDS cases against other signatory governments.” It found that “foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013, and another 42 claims in 2014.” If these numbers seem small, recall that for a crucial piece of labor legislation to be struck down, only one firm need win in arbitration in order to financially hamstring a government and set a precedent that would likely ice the reformist urge of future legislatures.
As noted earlier, the text also appears to suggest to ban the practice of promoting domestic goods over foreign—another hurdle to shareholder value. This would effectively prohibit a country from implementing an import-substitution economy without threat of being sued. Governments would be relieved of tools, like tariffs, historically used to protect fledgling native industries. This is exactly what IMF prescriptions often produce—agricultural reforms, for instance, that wipe out native crop production and substitute for it the production of, say, cheap Arabica coffee beans, for export to the global north. Meanwhile, that producer nation must then accept costly IMF lending regimes to pay to import food it might have grown itself.
Of course, it is rarely mentioned that protectionism is how the United States and Britain both built their industrial economies. Or that removing competitor market protections is how they’ve exploited developing economies ever since. The TPP would effectively lock in globalization. It’s a wedge that forces markets open to foreign trade—the textual equivalent of Commodore Perry sailing his gunships into Tokyo Harbor.
The bill’s backers point to language in which natural resources, human and animal life, and public welfare are all dutifully addressed in the document. The leaked chapter explicitly says that it is not intended to prevent laws relating to these core concerns from being implemented. So then, what’s the problem? The problem is that these tepid inclusions lack the teeth of sanctions or punitive fines. They are mere rhetorical asides designed to help corporate Democrats rationalize their support of the TPP. If lawmakers really cared about the public welfare, they’d move to strip the treaty of its various qualifiers that privilege trade over domestic law. By all means, implement your labor protection, but just ensure “… that such measures are not applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiable manner, or do not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade or investment.”
If lawmakers cared about national sovereignty, they wouldn’t outsource dispute settlement to unelected arbitration panels, more fittingly referred to as, “tribunals.” (Think of scrofulous democracy hunched in the dock, peppered with unanswerable legalese by a corporate lawyer, a surreal twist on the Nuremberg Trials.) Just have a glance at Section B of the investment chapter. Suits will be handled using the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) model, itself predicated on the tribunal precedent. And in the event a government lost a suit or settled one, legal costs would be picked up by taxpayers, having been fleeced by an unelected committee whose laws it has no recourse to challenge.
Perhaps investor protections like ISDS were once intended to encourage cross-border investment by affording companies a modicum of reassurance that their investments would be safeguarded by international trade law. But the ISDS has been used for far more than that. The ISDS tribunals have a lovely track record of success (first implemented in a treaty between Germany and Pakistan in 1959). Here’s Public Citizen:
Under U.S. “free trade” agreements (FTAs) alone, foreign firms have already pocketed more than $440 million in taxpayer money via investor-state cases. This includes cases against natural resource policies, environmental protections, health and safety measures and more. ISDS tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to investors under all U.S. FTAs and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). More than $38 billion remains in pending ISDS claims under these pacts, nearly all of which relate to environmental, energy, financial regulation, public health, land use and transportation policies.
New Era, New Priorities
Now the ISDS is a chisel being used to destroy the regulatory function of governments. All of this is being negotiated by corporate trade representatives and their government lackeys, which appear to have no qualms about the deleterious effects the TPP will have on the general population. But then the corporations these suits represent have long since discarded any sense of patriotic duty to their native nation-states, and with it any obligation to regulate their activities to protect vulnerable citizenries. That loyalty has been replaced by a pitiless commitment to profits. In America, there may have been a time when “what was good for Ford was good for America,” as memorably put by Henry Ford. But not anymore. Now what’s good for shareholders is good for Ford. This was best articulated a couple of years ago by former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, who bluntly reminded an interviewer, “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” Those decisions usually include offshoring, liberalizing the labor market, practicing labor arbitrage, relocating production to “business friendly climates” with lax regulatory structures, the most vulpine forms of tax evasion, and so on—all practices that ultimately harm the American worker.
Apple says it feels no obligation to solve America’s problems nor, one would assume, any gratitude to the U.S. taxpayer for funding essential research that Apple brilliantly combined in the iPod and iPhone. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich finally admits corporations don’t want Americans to make higher wages. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce encourages shipping American jobs abroad. World Bank chiefs point to the economic logic of sending toxic waste to developing nations. Wherever you look, there seems to be little if any concern for citizenry.
The Financial Times refers to ISDS as, “investor protection.” But what it really is, is a profitability guarantee, a legal bulwark against democracy expressed as regulation. Forgive me for thinking that navigating a fluid legislative environment was a standard investment risk. Evidently the champions of free trade can’t be bothered to practice it. Still the White House croons that it has our best interests at heart. If that were true, it would release the full text, launch public charettes to debate its finer points, or perhaps just stage a referendum asking the American people to forfeit their hard-won sovereignty. No such thing will ever happen, of course. As it turns out, democracy is the price of corporate plunder. After all, the greatest risk of all is that the mob might vote the wrong way. And, as the language of the TPP makes explicitly obvious, there are some risks that should be avoided at all costs.
Jason Hirthler can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On September 11, 2013, hundreds of thousands of Chileans solemnly marked the 40th anniversary of their nation’s 9/11 terrorist event. It was on that date in 1973 that the Chilean military, armed with a generous supply of funds and weapons from the United States, and assisted by the CIA and other operatives, overthrew the democratically-elected government of the moderate socialist Salvador Allende. Sixteen years of repression, torture and death followed under the fascist Augusto Pinochet, while the flow of hefty profits to US multinationals – IT&T, Anaconda Copper and the like – resumed. Profits, along with concern that people in other nations might get ideas about independence, were the very reason for the coup and even the partial moves toward nationalization instituted by Allende could not be tolerated by the US business class.
Henry Kissinger was national security advisor and one of the principal architects – perhaps the principal architect – of the coup in Chile. US-instigated coups were nothing new in 1973, certainly not in Latin America, and Kissinger and his boss Richard Nixon were carrying on a violent tradition that spanned the breadth of the 20th century and continues in the 21st – see, for example, Venezuela in 2002 (failed) and Honduras in 2009 (successful). Where possible, such as in Guatemala in 1954 and Brazil in 1964, coups were the preferred method for dealing with popular insurgencies. In other instances, direct invasion by US forces such as happened on numerous occasions in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and many other places, was the fallback option.
The coup in Santiago occurred as US aggression in Indochina was finally winding down after more than a decade. From 1969 through 1973, it was Kissinger again, along with Nixon, who oversaw the slaughter in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It is impossible to know with precision how many were killed during those four years; all the victims were considered enemies, including the vast majority who were non-combatants, and the US has never been much interested in calculating the deaths of enemies. Estimates of Indochinese killed by the US for the war as a whole start at four million and are likely more, perhaps far more. It can thus be reasonably extrapolated that probably more than a million, and certainly hundreds of thousands, were killed while Kissinger and Nixon were in power.
In addition, countless thousands of Indochinese have died in the years since from the affects of the massive doses of Agent Orange and other Chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction unleashed by the US. Many of us here know (or, sadly, knew) soldiers who suffered from exposure to such chemicals; multiply their numbers by 1,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 – again, it’s impossible to know with accuracy – and we can begin to understand the impact on those who live in and on the land that was so thoroughly poisoned as a matter of US policy.
Studies by a variety of organizations including the United Nations also indicate that at least 25,000 people have died in Indochina since war’s end from unexploded US bombs that pocket the countryside, with an equivalent number maimed. As with Agent Orange, deaths and ruined lives from such explosions continue to this day. So 40 years on, the war quite literally goes on for the people of Indochina, and it is likely it will go on for decades more.
Near the end of his time in office, Kissinger and his new boss Gerald Ford pre-approved the Indonesian dictator Suharto’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, an illegal act of aggression again carried out with weapons made in and furnished by the US. Suharto had a long history as a bagman for US business interests; he ascended to power in a 1965 coup, also with decisive support and weapons from Washington, and undertook a year-long reign of terror in which security forces and the army killed more than a million people (Amnesty International, which rarely has much to say about the crimes of US imperialism, put the number at 1.5 million).
In addition to providing the essential on-the-ground support, Kissinger and Ford blocked efforts by the global community to stop the bloodshed when the terrible scale of Indonesian violence became known, something UN ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan openly bragged about. Again, the guiding principle of empire, one that Kissinger and his kind accept as naturally as breathing, is that independence cannot be allowed. That’s true even in a country as small as East Timor where investment opportunities are slight, for independence is contagious and can spread to places where far more is at stake, like resource-rich Indonesia. By the time the Indonesian occupation finally ended in 1999, 200,000 Timorese – 30 percent of the population – had been wiped out. Such is Kissinger’s legacy and it is a legacy well understood by residents of the global South no matter the denial, ignorance or obfuscation of the intelligentsia here.
If the United States is ever to become a democratic society, and if we are ever to enter the international community as a responsible party willing to wage peace instead of war, to foster cooperation and mutual aid rather than domination, we will have to account for the crimes of those who claim to act in our names like Kissinger. Our outrage at the crimes of murderous thugs who are official enemies like Pol Pot is not enough. A cabal of American mis-leaders from Kennedy on caused far more Indochinese deaths than the Khmer Rouge, after all, and those responsible should be judged and treated accordingly.
The urgency of the task is underscored as US aggression proliferates at an alarming rate. Millions of people around the world, most notably in an invigorated Latin America, are working to end the “might makes right” ethos the US has lived by since its inception. The 99 percent of us here who have no vested interest in empire would do well to join them.
There are recent encouraging signs along those lines, with the successful prevention of a US attack on Syria particularly noteworthy. In addition, individuals from various levels of empire have had their lives disrupted to varying degrees. David Petraeus, for example, has been hounded by demonstrators since being hired by CUNY earlier this year to teach an honors course; in 2010, Dick Cheney had to cancel a planned trip to Canada because the clamor for his arrest had grown quite loud; long after his reign ended, Pinochet was arrested by order of a Spanish magistrate for human right violations and held in England for 18 months before being released because of health problems; and earlier this year, Efrain Rios Montt, one of Washington’s past henchmen in Guatemala, was convicted of genocide, though accomplices of his still in power have since intervened on his behalf to obstruct justice. And Condoleeza Rice was forced to cancel her commencement appearance at Rutgers this past spring because of student outrage over her involvement in war crimes.
More pressure is needed, and allies of the US engaged in war crimes like Paul Kagame should be dealt with as Pinochet was. More important perhaps for those of us in the US is that we hound Rumsfeld, both Clintons, Rice, Albright and Powell, to name a few, for their crimes against humanity every time they show themselves in public just as Petraeus has been. That holds especially for our two most recent War-Criminals-in-Chief, Barack Bush and George W. Obama.
Andy Piascik can be reached at email@example.com.