Monday, February 14, 2011

Indochina and the American Crisis

Chomsky analysis month continues.  At War With Asia, Chomsky's second political book, delves further into U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia.  British economist Joan Robinson described the American crusade against communism in the following terms, as quoted in the book by Chomsky:

"It is obvious enough that the United States' crusade against Communism is a campaign against development. By means of it the American people have been led to acquiesce in the maintenance of a huge war machine and its use by threat or actual force to try to suppress every popular movement that aims to overthrow ancient or modern tyranny and begin to find a way to overcome poverty and establish national self-respect. In those countries whose governments have been prepared to accept American support, ‘aid’ is given in a form which may do more to inhibit development than to promote it.”

Chomsky also quotes John K. Fairbank:

"Our fear of Communism, partly as an expression of our general fear of the future, will continue to inspire us to aggressive anti-Communist policies in Asia and elsewhere, [and] the American people will be led to think and may honestly believe that the support of anti-Communist governments in Asia will somehow defend the American way of life. This line of American policy will lead to American aid to establish regimes which attempt to suppress the popular movements in Indonesia, Indochina, the Philippines, and China…. Thus, after setting out to fight Communism in Asia, the American people will be obliged in the end to fight the peoples of Asia.

This American aggression abroad will be associated with an increasing trend toward anti-Communist authoritarianism within the United States, which its victims will call fascism and which may eventually make it impossible to have discussions like this one today. This American fascism will come, if it comes, because American liberals have joined the American public in a fear of Communism from abroad rather than fascism at home as the chief totalitarian menace."

Both these quotes depict perfectly the opposition liberals took to American action against communism.  Joan Robinson is a famous Marxian economist.  She wrote one essay in 1942 concentrated solely on Marxism, trying to revive this aspect of his legacy. Regarding her stated passage above, yes, we can say that American opposition to the Communists is an inadvertent effort to oppose the communists who think their ideology will "develop" their nations (in North Korea and North Vietnam, for instance).  And yes, we can say that many non-communist U.S. backed governments, that we supported because of their opposition to communism, were tyrannies.  At the time communism was considered, by some at least, a system that promoted development (by select factions of the left, mostly).  However, after the Fall of Saigon and during the post-Vietnam years, when South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos fell to communism, as well as communist states outside Southeast Asia, hindsight tells us communist systems hardly succeed in "developing their respective nations."

As for the U.S. inhibiting development, I think there's something to this.  It was certainly the case in South Vietnam.  Had there been no reunification of North and South Vietnam, development in South Vietnam would have been inhibited sheerly because of American/Saigon Government/Viet Cong destruction, most of which was American.  We saw similar instances of violent U.S. opposition to communism  in Central America in the 1980's, leaving Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala in a close to devastated state.

Also, history has proved, very well, America hasn't become a fascist state.  And fascism was never the "chief totalitarian menace." History reserved that honor for Stalinism.              
There was an argument as well, at the time, that there was no differentiation between American imperialism and Stalinism, and that America behaved no differently than the Stalinists, well… I think that's a bit of a stretch (to be modest).  More people were killed in Vietnam and Cambodia post-1975, after the war ended, than during. America isn't accountable for that.  The pattern that's intrinsic to Stalinism is: 1) the Stalinists come into power, and 2) they purge their nation of all actual and potential opposition.  We haven't an ounce of that pattern in America.  There was no anti-war movement in Russia under Stalin.

Chomsky states in his book:

“I mean to suggest that the Cold war is highly functional for the American elite as well as for its Soviet counterpart, who, in a similar way, sends its armies into Czechoslovakia to ward off Western Imperialism. It serves to proved an ideology for empire and to mobilize support for the government subsidized system of military state capitalism. It is predictable, then, that opportunities to end the Cold War will be side-stepped, and that challenges to Cold war ideology will be bitterly resisted.”

Chomsky has preconceived ideas about America's liberal democratization, and makes a bold cynical prediction in writing this. This is basically a statement saying the Cold War will continue indefinitely because it supports both liberal democracy and soviet communism. The prediction was proved false in 1989 with the failure of the Soviets, 19 years after At War With Asia.  However, Chomsky's rationale backing that theory isn't too far gone.  He believed American capitalist self-interest would drive the need for the continuation of the Soviet Union, that the United States, economically, actually benefitted from the USSR.  I'm no economist, but that theory makes sense.  When Reagan addressed Gorbachev, I guess a few other factors were weighing in.

Back to the complicated situation in Indochina in 1970.  There was a time when America justified  bombing Laos because it was claimed that North Vietnam had 50,000 troops in northern Laos.  Chomsky tells an interesting story regarding one of his visits to Laos in March of 1970.  Wanting documented proof of the claimed 50,000 troops, he visited the American Embassy and asked to speak to the CIA Representative/political officer, whom he asked if he could see some background material on the alleged troops.  The CIA Rep gave him piles of documentation, which he read through to find evidence that there was one North Vietnamese battalion of maybe 2,500 soldiers somewhere up in northern Laos.  The rest was a fabrication.

Chomsky also touches again on the anti-war movement (which I went over in the previous article), criticizing it because most of the condemnation that fueled the opposition and the protests was centered around America's bombing of North Vietnam and Cambodia.  There was practically no condemnation over the bombing of the South, which by 1965 was even more extensive than the bombing of the North, at least according to Bernard Fall (a correspondent and intellectual of the war, in fact, he's cited by Robert McNamera, the Secretary of Defense under JFK and Johnson, to be the one non-government person cited as a military historian of Vietnam).  According to Fall the bombing of the South was at triple the scale of the bombing of the North.  In fact, I'm not sure how many people even know about the bombing of the South.  In 1962 Kennedy launched outright aggression against South Vietnam, authorizing bombings and napalm and such.  But there were no protests over this.  The protests didn't start until the bombing of the North.

TRB, the editor of The New Republic magazine, states:

"The moral pull for the U.S. to go on rescue missions will always be enormous.  There are dozens of such spots.  Our conscious aches for them.  But our capacity?  It is probably limited…"

The lesson he draws from Vietnam is that the U.S.'s capacity to aid foreign countries from tyranny is limited.  This is a rescue mission we should not have undertaken.  He surely represents a fair segment of American opinion, but ultimately saw our intervention in Vietnam as a tragedy.  He also says "what is our primary duty?  Is it to the South Vietnamese who might be massacred if we quit?  Or to the 150-200 American boys who lose their lives weekly if we don't withdraw?" What of those massacred by American military actions?

I'm unaware of any historian of Indochina during the 1960's more informed than Bernard Fall.  I wish I had the will to get through Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu, but man, what a doozy.      

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