Monday, February 20, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 18

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

"Why is the United States [involved in Vietnam, funding 80% of France's war effort]? To the public, the word was that the United States was helping to stop Communism in Asia, but there was not much public discussion. In the secret memoranda of the National Security Council (which advised the President on foreign policy) there was talk in 1950 of what came to be known as the "domino theory"—that, like a row of dominoes, if one country fell to Communism, the next one would do the same and so on. It was important therefore to keep the first one from falling.

"A secret memo of the National Security Council in June 1952 also pointed to the chain of U.S. military bases along the coast of China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea:
"Communist control of all of Southeast Asia would render the U.S. position in the Pacific offshore island chain precarious and would seriously jeopardize fundamental U.S. security interests in the Far East.
"Southeast Asia, especially Malaya and Indonesia, is the principal world source of natural rubber and tin, and a producer of petroleum and other strategically important commodities. ..."
Yup, it's about resource control.

A U.S. government analyst wrote this about what he saw in South Vietnam: "The purpose of this vast organizational effort was ... to restructure the social order of the village and train the villages to control themselves. This was the NLF's [National Liberation Front] one undeviating thrust from the start. Not the killing of ARVN (Saigon) soldiers, not the occupation of real estate, not the preparation for some great pitched battle... but organization in depth of the rural population through the instrument of self-control."

The president we imposed on the area was defeated by locals, and we abandoned our backing of him weeks before Kennedy was asssassinated. Why couldn't we win this? "Again and again, American leaders expressed their bewilderment at the popularity of the NLF, at the high morale of its soldiers. The Pentagon historians wrote that when Eisenhower met with President- elect Kennedy in January 1961, he "wondered aloud why, in interventions of this kind, we always seemed to find that the morale of the Communist forces was better than that of the democratic forces.""

Zinn describes how we got into the Congressionally-sanctioned conflict and some of the atricious details of the war, especially the burning of civilians.

"By the end of the Vietnam war, 7 million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam, more than twice the total bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II—almost one 500-pound bomb for every human being in Vietnam. It was estimated that there were 20 million bomb craters in the country. In addition, poisonous sprays were dropped by planes to destroy trees and any kind of growth—an area the size of the state of Massachusetts was covered with such poison. Vietnamese mothers reported birth defects in their children."

In addition to the atrocities in Vietnam as well as Cambodia and Laos, Zinn describes the opposition to the war back home. He talks about the statistics of people who were against the war. More lower-class than upper-class people were against the war, a statistic that might surprise people today. Zinn touches on the massacre at Kent State and the high numbers of draft dodgers, conscientious objectors, and people who disobeyed direct military orders to fight.

Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton wrote in the late 1960s: " There may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the United States to go. The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1000 non-combatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission, on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one, It could conceivably produce a costly distortion in the American national consciousness."

Eventually even the 'establishment' caved to the pressure of popular opinion: "One sign that the ideas of the antiwar movement had taken hold in the American public was that juries became more reluctant to convict antiwar protesters, and local judges too were treating them differently. In Washington, by 1971, judges were dismissing charges against demonstrators in cases where two years before they almost certainly would have been sent to jail. The antiwar groups who had raided draft boards—the Baltimore Four, the Catonsville Nine, the Milwaukee Fourteen, the Boston Five, and more—were receiving lighter sentences for the same crimes."

In this chapter Zinn sticks mostly to facts, figures, and narratives about Vietnam, but he occasionally makes ties between the opposition to the war in Vietnam and the opposition to fascist and totalitarian use of force for the economic benefit of a ruling power. He writes about how blacks in particular tended to be anti war because they could see parallels between the struggles of the brutalized Vietnamese people and themselves. There promises to be more about class struggle in the next chapter.

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