Thursday, November 19, 2009

Learning All the Wrong Vietnam Lessons

By Douglas Valentine
November 19, 2009

Evan Thomas and John Barry begin their Newsweek article, “The Surprising Lessons of Vietnam,” in a promising way, recounting a recent anecdote in which Afghan War commander Stanley McChrystal gets on the phone with author Stanley Karnow, whose book Vietnam is described as “the standard popular account of the Vietnam War.”

Read on.


Bill from Saginaw said...

The cover of the Newsweek issue featuring the article by Thomas and Barry which Doug Valentine analyzes here had as its eye catcher boldface headline "HOW WE (could have) WON IN VIETNAM" superimposed over the famous black and white photo of the helicopter trying to evacuate hordes of fleeing refugees from the roof of the US embassy while Saigon fell.

Along with Evan Thomas and John Barry's 6-page piece, editor Jon Meacham's introductory essay entitled "Rethinking the Lessons of Vietnam" succinctly declared "We might have won in Vietnam in 1965 with a more dramatic conventional effort, and Sorley makes the case that South Vietnam could possibly have survived as an independent nation if America had built on the counterinsurgency successes of the early Nixon years."

That such dangerous, blatant propaganda now masquerades as serious journalism in some circles is a truly ominous sign. Thanks, Mr. Valentine, for the reminder about those 830,000 tons of bombs LBJ so nondramatically dropped while he was halfheartedly pulling his punches. The CIA Phoenix Program? If this vile death squad based counterinsurgency program was so successful, how come throughout that entire fiasco of a war North Vietnam and the Viet Cong had double agents and informants vigorously working and manipulating every nook and cranny of the South Vietnamese regime's military, police, and intelligence bureaucracies?

To Newsweek's credit, they did follow up with a response op-ed authored by Senator John Kerry (about a quarter the length of Thomas and Barry's revisionist manifesto) in the interests, no doubt, of fair and balanced reporting. A notorious circumlocution addict, Kerry's essay did contain one moment of real clarity: "History has definitively branded Vietnam for the mistake it was - no one should believe that the deaths of nearly 60,000 Americans and at least 1.5 million Vietnamese were somehow not quite enough."


How appalling it is that Newsweek - once upon a time considered a respectable source of US mainstream conventional political widsom - goes to such length today to openly champion - as plausible fact, or respectable opinion - fairy tales which no responsible American citizen should ever, ever believe.

Bill from Saginaw

democratic core said...

Both Newsweek and Mr. Valentine draw the wrong Vietnam lessons. Stanley Karnow is correct, we should not have been in Vietnam in the first place. However, the reason why we should not have been in Vietnam in the first place was not because it was "unwinnable"; the reason why we should not have been there was because "winning" would have been wrong. A US "win" in Vietnam, as defined in this Newsweek article, would have meant defeating the Viet Cong "insurgency" and establishing South Vietnam as a stable government. Sorley and others have made a fairly convincing case that the US could have "won" this war, and that in many respects, we did so. However, the consequences of such a "win" would not have been desirable. Vietnam would have ended up as a partitioned state, something that was not what the Vietnamese ever wanted and something that would not have been in the long-term interests of the Vietnamese people. The situation could have ended up somewhat similar to that of Korea, the partition of which today can only be described as a major headache for most of the world, and a human tragedy for the people living in North Korea.
"South Vietnam" was an artificial entitiy manufactured by the US following the defeat of the French in 1954. Even then, however, it was meant to be a temporary entity pending the outcome of nationwide elections leading to unification. When it became clear that the elections would lead to a unified Vietnam under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam's great anti-colonialist hero, the US canceled the elections and embarked on the disastrously wrong-headed project of trying to invent a fake state called "Vietnam". Although we may well have been able to "win" the war and accomplish that objective, fortunately for the people of
Vietnam (and the world), we did not do so.
The real point of the Vietnam War is that it was one of the many anti-colonialist struggles that followed WWII. The great story of the 20th Century was the fall of European colonialism. What America did wrong in Vietnam was choosing the wrong side in that struggle. Instead of supporting self-determination for the Vietnamese people following WWII, we supported the pro-fascist French in their effort to re-colonize Indochina. When the French failed, we embarked on our own neo-colonialist adventure to attempt to manufacture a state of "South Vietnam", contrary to Vietnamese aspirations for independence - aspirations that openly echoed our own history. Vietnam today is a unified, strong, independent country. It is not "democratic" under most definitions of the term, but it also certainly is not "communist." It has a vibrant, growing capitalist economy and conditions of life for the Vietnamese people have made enormous strides. It seems to be fitting in very nicely with the global economy. It is a vast improvement over the artificially dismembered country that would have existed had the US "won" the Vietnam War.
The Cold War was, in many ways, a continuation of the era of European colonialism, carried out under other banners. With the end of the Cold War, we really ought to be concentrating on what role the US can play in building a post-colonial world.
Which brings me to the "lessons of Vietnam" that are relevant to Afghanistan. The tragic state of Afghanistan today is in large measure a product of the fact that Afghanistan got caught in the middle of two great imperialist struggles of the past: the "Great Game" of the 19th Century and the Cold War of the 20th Century. The lesson that the US should learn is not that we must not behave like the imperialist bullies of the past (Britain and Russia) who tried to conquer it and failing that walked away and left it in tatters. We have a responsibility to try to rebuild Afghanistan.

John L.Opperman said...

"...despite the deaths (slaughter) of innocent civilians"
No, NOT "despite" them, you filthy bastards. Let's make thrm your family, you loved ones (providing you CAN love)...then we could all say "despite, etc" and you would not be so glib.
As shown over and over by anyone with sense, US should never have gone into Vietnam, just as we shouldn't have into Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, as well as the continuous was we have "done: since WW2.

boredwell said...

The military operates in a bubble inflated with hubris and delusions of grandeur including McChrystal's & Mullen's zealous faith in COIN. The one parallel to Vietnam is the government: Karzai's is feckless, corrupt and disconnected from the interests and well-being of the population. The CIA assassins will do little more than sow more hatred and encourage those who have little to lose to continue supporting the "enemy" against the invading murdering infidels. As for COIN, the country is so vast and remote it seems highly implausible that it will succeed on any level. Except in the deaths of our troops. We missed our chance to eradicate Al-Qaeda which has dispersed, since our long-ago invasion,into splinter groups mocking our presence and prestige. COIN is an untenable strategy one similar to grasping at straws. Pragmatism and reason will only prevail when and if the president scraps sending additional troops and plans systematically to withdraw from the country. Even if our interests include the completion of the trans national gas line, how do we intend to secure it? Energy-hungry China will see to that and this is our real concern - perhaps one of the many untold stories behind our continuing occupation.