Re: Vietnam - What were our options? [x2]

Tue, 9 Jan 1996 16:09:49 -0500 (EST)

Subject: Re: Vietnam - What were our options? [x2]


Drieux asks about information on pre-Tonkin uses of defoliants in Viet Nam.
According to Olson and Roberts, "In January 1962, "the Kennedy Administration
had Air Force C-123 aircraft dump defoliants on selected areas of the Ca Mau
Peninsula" (__Where the Domino Fell__, St Martins, 1991, p. 112). John
Newman has General Harkins saying in 1962 that "defoliation operations in the
Delta were `very' successful--six target areas would soon be `finished'"
(__JFK and Vietnam__, Warner Books, 1992, p. 296).

Tony Edmonds
Ball State Univ.

Guess I'll take advantage of this storm (whew, 30 inches out there!) to avoid
shoveling and respond to drieux latest round on Vietnam pre-Tonkin. I think
this gets to the core of some basic differences in people's thinking about
Vietnam, so let me try some response and maybe others will want to chime in...
This is long, sorry...

drieux responds to my comment about JFK's "advisers" being essentially a
propaganda cover for a U.S. assault against So. Vietnam prior to 1965, including
defoliation, bombing, and "invasion" as follows:

First, the basic issue of "invasion">>>
>You will, I hope, accept the fact that I consider the term
>'invasion' to be a technical term that does NOT cover the
>american involvement in vietnam under the Diem Regime. Especially
>given as President Eisenhower had supported that regime with
>the Formation of a MAAG for south vietnam, that was not a part
>of the extension of our MAAG in Paris. I can appreciate the need
>for Political Rhetoric Totally Free of Content, made ever redundently
>clear in these days of Budgetary Discussions, but can we at least
>try to remember the actual HISTORY of american involvement in vietnam.

First, I would, with Chomsky, use the term invasion the way it is normally
used in everyday parlance, not in some technocratic cover-reality sense. In
otherwords, if we in this country rightly claim the Soviet Union invaded
Afghanistan, we should use the term consistently and apply it to the parallel
case of Vietnam (more below).

But as to remembering actual HISTORY, exactly! Let's begin with the fact that
South Vietnam was essentially a U.S. creation, since the Geneva accords called
for a reunification election for all of Vietnam within two years of 1954, and
it was explicit U.S. policy to never allow those elections to occur since our
intelligence told us Ho Chi Minh would be elected in a landslide. So from this
point on the U.S. is engaging in military & pacification tactics designed to
shore up an increasingly repressive, autocratic, and unpopular regime, one with
virtually no support in the countryside of South Vietnam.
In Chomsky's words, SV was "essentially the creation of the U.S.
Without US support Diem almost certainly could not have consolidated his hold
on the South during 1955 and 1956. Without the threat of US intervention SV
could not have refused to even discuss the elections called for in 1956....
Without US aid in the years following, the Diem regime certainly, and an
independent SV almost as certainly could not have survived."
In 1960, the US military decided that
effective counterinsurgency had to be developed to undermine the opposition to
Diem in the countryside. In 1961 [this from Marilyn Young, THE VIETNAM WARS,
p. 79], LBJ carried a letter to Diem "elevating the American commitment from
supporting Diem... to a readiness to engage in a "joint campaign" with him"
whereby "American advisers, including those training Vietnames fighter bomber
pilots, were authorized to participate in combat, though Kennedy and his aides
repeatedly denied that this was the case." Subsequently the buildup in
"advisers" took place and Vietnam, in Young's words, "began to serve as a
laboratory for counterinsurgency techniques and weapons....
drieux goes on...
>I would be greatly appreciative of any information
>about this 'massive defoliation' and the bombing
>of South Vietnam prior to the Gulf of Tonkien Resolution.
>The Attack on the Air Base at Pleiku was against the older
>generation of helicopters and some tactical air assets, so
>I haven't the Foggiets Idea where the notion comes from that
>we had the Air Assets IN AREA to engage in a major bombing
>campaign in the South. Is the argument here that the provisions
>of close air support are in some way more Morally Reprehensible
>than allowing troops to be cut up in the field without support?

This sounds like a kind of micro-case response to a macro-case argument & one
that doesn't fit... if that makes sense.

First, the defoliation:
>Operation Ranch Hand, "Remember Only YOU can prevent Forests"
>did not get going until after Tonkien and we had the Lift
>Capability in country to engage in serious defoliation.

Here's Young again: (p.82)
"In the spring of 1961, a joint U.S. Vietnamese testing center was established
whose first project was an evaluation of herbicidal warfare: the use of
chemicals to poison food crops and strip the foliage in areas in which
guerrillas were known to operate. Operation RANCH HAND (whose motto was "Only
We Can Prevent Forests" [as drieux notes]) started flying in January 1962;
over the next eight years, one hundred million pounds of herbicides would be
dropped on over four million acres of South Vietnam [remember: the "country"
trhe US was "defending"].
>As for the Concept of 'Strategic Hamlets' that was the
>Brain Child of the British and had worked Ever So Well
>during the Malayan Crisis as a means of seperating the
>local population from the predominantly ethnic ChiComSymps.

drieux is right again on the derivation of this program. The anti-communist
Bernard Fall wrote in 1962: "The operation was hailed as a vast success," but
(Young again) "by August 1962 the NLF had taken over the whole settlement (the
strategic hamlets in the Delta). Young goes on to describe how the peasants
"secretly left the 'security' of their hamlets to farm their old lands, look
after their fruit trees ... and meet with Front friends and relatives even at
considerable risk to their lives.... etc. The upshot of the strategic hamlet
program (in addition to the destruction of the country side) was: "To defeat
such an enemy required taking rural Vietnam apart, village by village." (keep
in mind how invasions work).

We could go on. There's alot more in response to detail drieux cites about
soldiers with clerical roles, but we need to be mindful of two things: (1) the
casualties resulting from the US role (& Diem repression) in SOuth Vietnam)
and (2) the issue of invasion.

On the former there are many sources to consider. For instance, the "terror
state" (Chomsky) the US established in 1954 had killed some 70-80,000 people
BY late 1961 when the US "escalated" (invaded, see below). "Hanoi had not
responded to the pleas of southern resistance that was being decimated by US
terror until 1959, when it began to authorize the return of southerners who
had gone north in the --very naive-- expectation that the US would permit the
free elections and unification planned at Geneva in 1954...
In late 1962, McNamara "directed US personnel & equipment to participate
directly in bombing and other military operations against South Vietnamese,
also authorizing crop destruction and the use of napalm (which `really puts
the fear of God into the Viet Cong' Commanding General Harkins happily
remarked), and sabotage and intelligence operations against North Vietnam....
>From 1961 to the early 1965 escalation, another 90,000 South Vietnamese had
been killed (half of them not "what we call VC," President Johnson observed in
internal meetings, victims of the terror of the US-imposed regime and the
"crushing weight of American armor, napalm, jet bombers and finally vomiting
gases" --from Bernard Fall, considered by McNamara to be "a renowned Indochina
scholar and perceptive observer")."
[Read more in Chomsky's marvelous skewering of McNamara's "confessions" in the
July-August Z Magazine.]

>From Chomksy's Politics (Milan Rai):

In Chomsky's view, Kennedy's decision in 1962 to send the US Air FOrce to
attack rural South Vietnam (where more than 80 percent of the population
lived) was a direct invasion of South Vietnam. He argues that "as the
London Economist recognized in the case of Afghanistan (never, in the case
of Vietnam), `an invader is an invader unless invited in by a government
with a claim to legitimacy,' and outside the world of Newspeak, the client
regime established by the US had no more legitimacy than the Afghan regime
established by the USSR."
One of the staples of the propaganda system was that the war was between
South Vietnam and North Vietnam, with the United States simply aiding in
the defence of South Vietnam. The Pentagon Papers provide irrefutable
proof that when the US undertook its major escalation in February 1965, it
knew of no regular North Vietnamese units in South Vietnam [more details
Chomsky commented in 1984, "For the past twenty-two years, I have been
searching to find some reference in mainstream journalism or scholarship
to an American invasion of South Vietnam in 1962 (or ever), or an American
attack against South Vietnam, or American aggression in Indochina
--without success." There is no such event in history. "Rather there is
an American defence of South Vietnam against terrorists supported from
outside (namely from Vietnam), a defence that was unwise, the doves

Nuff said?

Ted Morgan