[sixties-l] Fwd: Even now, we lie to ourselves about Vietnam

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 11/28/00

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    >Even now, we lie to ourselves about Vietnam
    >By Robert Jensen
    >Bill Clinton has always been keen on apologizing, for himself and on behalf
    >of the nation. He has apologized not only for a sex scandal, but for U.S.
    >support of repression in Guatemala and for slavery.
    >One might contest the motivation for, or the phrasing of, the apologies --
    >Were they offered for the right reason? Did they go far enough? -- but at
    >least they were offered.
    >There is one act of contrition, however, that Clinton -- or any American
    >leader-- has not been able to make.
    >On his way to Hanoi last week, when asked if he thought the United States
    >owed the people of Vietnam an apology, 25 years after the end of the war,
    >Clinton said, simply, "No, I don't."
    >Some have offered a personalized explanation: As a man who avoided the draft
    >during that war, Clinton has to stand tough today. But another possibility
    >deserves consideration: To apologize for crimes against the people of
    >Vietnam would be to admit that the stories we tell ourselves about our
    >conduct in the world -- then and now -- are a lie.
    >To apologize would be to acknowledge that while we claimed to be defending
    >democracy, we were derailing democracy. While we claimed to be defending
    >South Vietnam, we were attacking the people of South Vietnam.
    >To apologize now would be to admit that the rationalizations for post-World
    >War II U.S. foreign policy have been, and are still today, rhetorical cover
    >for the power politics of an empire.
    >The standard story in the United States about that war is that in our quest
    >to guarantee peace and freedom for Vietnam, we misunderstood its history,
    >politics and culture, leading to mistakes that doomed our effort. Some argue
    >we should have gotten out sooner than we did; others suggest we should have
    >fought harder. But the common ground in mainstream opinion is that our
    >motives were noble.
    >But we never fought in Vietnam for democracy. After World War II, the United
    >States supported and financed France's attempt to retake its former colony.
    >After the Vietnamese defeated the French in 1954, the Geneva Conference
    >called for free elections in 1956, which the United States and its South
    >Vietnamese client regime blocked. In his memoirs, President Eisenhower
    >explained why: In free elections, the communists would have won by an
    >overwhelming margin. The United States is all for elections, so long as they
    >turn out the way we want.
    >The central goal of U.S. policy-makers in Vietnam had nothing to do with
    >freedom for the Vietnamese people, but instead was to make sure that an
    >independent socialist course of development did not succeed. U.S. leaders
    >invoked Cold War rhetoric about the threat of the communist monolith but
    >really feared that a "virus" of independent development might infect the
    >rest of Asia, perhaps even becoming a model for all the Third World.
    >To prevent the spread of the virus, we dropped 6.5 million tons of bombs and
    >400,000 tons of napalm on the people of Southeast Asia. Saturation bombing
    >of civilian areas, counterterrorism programs and political assassination,
    >routine killings of civilians and 11.2 million gallons of Agent Orange to
    >destroy crops and ground cover -- all were part of the U.S. terror war in
    >Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia.
    >This interpretation is taken as obvious in much of the world, yet it is
    >virtually unspeakable in polite and respectable circles in this country,
    >which says much about the moral quality of polite and respectable people
    >Why is the truth about our attack on Vietnam so difficult to acknowledge? I
    >think it is not just about Vietnam, but about a larger truth concerning our
    >role in the world. We are the empire. Especially in the past half-century,
    >we have supported repressive regimes around the world so long as they served
    >elite interests. We have violated international law in countless invasions
    >and interventions. While talking about the inviolate nature of human rights,
    >we have trampled those rights and the legitimate aspirations of liberation
    >In many ways, the Vietnam War was the defining act of the United States as
    >empire, an aggression that was condemned around the world and at home, but
    >pursued nonetheless, as the body count went into the millions. It is the
    >linchpin of our mythology about ourselves.
    >In his last years on Earth, Martin Luther King Jr. understood this, as he
    >began to speak out forcefully against the war: "If America's soul becomes
    >totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read `Vietnam,' " King said in
    >If he were alive today, I don't know whether King would give up on the soul
    >of America and write a final autopsy report. But I am confident he would
    >argue forcefully that the future is lost so long as we let stand the
    >poisonous distortions of history.
    >Jensen teaches journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He can be
    >reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.
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