Lessons of the Vietnam War, by Justin Raimondo

SLL has said more times than its readers probably care to hear that in Washington, nothing succeeds like failure. Nothing illustrates this maxim better than the last 60 years of foreign interventions. From Justin Raimondo at antiwar.com:

Forty years after the fall of Saigon, Washington is still pursuing the same policies that led to the worst defeat in American military history. We never acknowledged, let alone learned, the lessons of that misconceived campaign to “roll back Communism” in Southeast Asia, thus setting ourselves up for endless repeats – in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now, perhaps, Iran.

Just as today’s “war on terrorism” is portrayed as a “generational” struggle against “radical Islam,” so the Vietnam war was an episode in a cold war saga the end of which no one could see. The Soviet Union was presented as Satan with a sword, a mighty enemy sworn to our destruction, whose agents had subverted every country worth conquering and were homing in on the American homeland – unless we acted to stop them.

The reality, however, was quite different. Soviet socialism had struggled to survive ever since the Bolsheviks seized power in a 1917 coup, and only endured World War II due to massive Western aid and US intervention in the conflict. Even before the end of the war, which decimated Russia, the Kremlin had been forced by necessity to make its accommodation with the West, formally giving up the much-cited Communist goal of a world revolution against capitalism in favor of “socialism in one country.” Unable to feed its own people, let alone conquer the world, the ramshackle Soviet empire could hardly keep a hold on its eastern European satellites, facing rebellions in Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia before the final implosion in 1989.

Such gains as the Soviets made were accomplished either with outright Western complicity – Eastern Europe was handed over to “Uncle Joe” at Yalta – or else due to the stubborn incompetence of the US and its allies. While what was then called the “Third World” was throwing off the chains of colonial rule, Washington sided with the colonialists – in Vietnam, this meant the French, who were aided (in limited fashion) by Eisenhower. President Kennedy had none of his predecessor’s caution, however, and he leaped into the fray, declaring we would “pay any price, bear any burden” in the struggle against the Communist Menace. His administration took the first step down that fateful road, supporting the unpopular and repressive South Vietnamese regime and sending in hundreds of US “advisors” – who were soon doing much more than advising.

Then, as today, the Enemy was depicted as a vast centrally-directed conspiracy: according to our “experts” and the pundits, the Vietnamese communists were mere puppets of the Kremlin, and the battle there was yet another chapter in the story of the reds’ relentless campaign for the West’s destruction. This cartoonish view overlooked developing splits within the international communist movement, and – crucially – the key role played by rising nationalism in communist successes in the developing world.

When it came to Vietnam, the Soviets were far from unconditionally supportive of the native communist movement. Having given up the goal of world revolution in favor of seeking détente with the West, the Kremlin continually acted as go-betweens pursuing a diplomatic settlement of the Vietnam conflict. As early as 1956, the Soviet party sought to rein in the Vietnamese Communists who were contemplating resumption of a military campaign to reunify the country. The US and its allies were ignoring the Geneva agreement to hold elections – which was denounced by then Sen. John F. Kennedy – and they aided South Vietnamese strongman Ngo Dinh Diem in his efforts to consolidate his hold on the South.

The brutality and outright stupidity of the American campaign in Vietnam was the communists’ main weapon: as the Americans destroyed villages in order to “save” them, the populace turned to the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese allies for protection. The Americans were seen as foreign occupiers, the heirs of the French who had lorded over the region in similar fashion: the corrupt and brutal “Republic of Vietnam” was widely hated by its own citizens. The Vietnamese were fighting on their own land against foreign troops and native collaborators: it was a war the Americans could never win, not if they had stayed there for a hundred years.


To continue reading: Lesson of the Vietnam War

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