From International Socialism, No.26, Autumn 1966, pp.2-3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
A second monsoon is passing without any major Vietcong breakthrough, and the United States, encouraged by the practical acquiescence of all other major world powers, is now playing straightforwardly for a military victory. The hypocrisy of the US demand for ‘unconditional negotiations,’ always no more than a public relations gimmick, is now merging into a demand for surrender – Hanoi must sue for peace, and no nonsense about a neutralised Vietnam on Yugoslav lines.
The infamous Opium wars of Britain in the last century expressed British supremacy to the world, and the Vietnam war serves the same purpose for the US – and is even more meaningless in specific content. North Vietnam is a very small, very backward country; its grotesque punishment is not designed to chastise it for anything it has done or could do, but to warn the world of the nature of American power. That power is not restricted by any serious fear of any other country: it holds the complete initiative in south-east Asia. As we go to press, US bombers make further forays into the demilitarised strips between North and South. Rumours abound that the US will go on from the destruction of oil installations in the North to bombing Haiphong harbour, civilian targets and the Red River dykes which keep the poorly fed Northerners alive; the sole consideration so far cited for qualifying this intention is that bombing the harbour might accidentally hit a Russian ship. While Northerners, many of them innocent bystanders, are murdered daily by US bombing, that faithful satrap of Washington, Wilson, runs to Moscow to plead with the Kremlin to intercede to save captured US bombing pilots from being tried in Hanoi for murder – a white American skin is worth interceding for, earns applause in the White House and perhaps encourages another dollar’s support for the pound.
The initiative the US holds has come from its massive concentration of resources in the Far East, this being permitted by the end of the Russian threat in Europe and the détente between Moscow and Washington. Apart from spending a quarter of its foreign aid in Vietnam and moving in more than a quarter of a million troops, the US is fortifying the entire area – new permanent bases in Thailand and Vietnam, with an expansion of old bases along the Pacific: South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, Phillipines, Guam. The British, whatever the problems of sterling, are being retained in a supporting role in Singapore, and provide facilities at Hong Kong. Japan, the local key to the new structure, is being encouraged to reach a close relationship with Russia, with Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan. India and Pakistan are held tight on US purse strings to stop up the sole gap in this new cordon sanitaire round China. Finally, ‘regional co-operation’ has taken a new lease of life in drawing together the firm anti-Communist satellites of the area: the new Aspac and the old SEATO. But ‘co-operation’ is very subordinate to US dominance in a way that was never true in Europe; NATO was some sort of collectivity, but SEATO is one very large fish with numerous minnows.
To match this military effort, the China threat must be invented. This really strains plausibility since China is exceedingly backward (despite US delight with the Chinese bomb) and armed, relative to US power, with little more than bombast. But Washington is adept at inventing threats after it has decided to take action – North Vietnamese forces obediently flow southwards whenever Johnson requires to escalate. No-one can verify the size of these forces and supplies in practice any more than the US could verify that they had stopped if Hanoi sued for peace – the charge, like the response, is completely open-ended, which leaves its definition solely in US hands. In similar fashion, North Vietnamese ‘pour’ into Laos and Thailand (journalists usually omit to notice the type of terrain involved) whenever it suits the purposes of the US or its puppet governments.
The hypocrisy succeeds in tripping some liberals – Johnson’s demand for ‘negotiations,’ like his now-forgotten offer of a billion dollars aid to south-east Asia, was a shrewd onslaught on liberal reproaches, and offered convenient face-savers for the fellow-travelling European powers. The fact that most tentative feelers by Hanoi have been bombed out of existence as soon as begun could be safely ignored. North Vietnam has no permanent interest in having its exiguous industry and communications destroyed, but the US at the moment leaves no alternative; or rather the only alternative is to accept defeat and a permanent US presence in the South, with CIA men constantly over the border. Similarly, China can only be alarmed by this massive US presence so close to its border, a perpetual threat that has compelled Pekin always to be most careful not to say it will commit troops to the war; it has not even increased pressure on Taiwan across the Formosa Straits in order to force a deployment of US troops away from Vietnam, as it forced Indian troops away from Pakistan by opening hostilities on the Sikkim border a year ago.
The actual situation in the South holds out few hopes – the Vietcong are as unable to extend their power now, given the US presence, as the US is to subjugate the whole country – stalemate is still the perspective. Nor are the urban classes who precipitated the Buddhist revolt able to change the balance of forces short of a real split in the South Vietnamese army. Ky’s concession of elections – carefully redefined by the Government as elections for a Constituent Assembly on 11 September, to draft a constitution and prepare for elections for a Legislative Assembly to ... etc. – is meaningless when the major challenge, the Vietcong, is prohibited from competing, when the army controls that part of the country which will vote, when corruption and violence are rampant. The operation is designed, like all of Johnson’s public moves, purely for public relations: to lend a spurious legitimacy to a military racket.
If China cannot move and Russia will not, if the ‘non-aligned’ powers are now subverted by the-dollar, if the European powers are indifferent (leaving aside Gaullist politicking), how little likelihood there is that the British Government will provide any serious opposition. Wilson moves solely to save his political skin, and his skin has never been threatened in Vietnam. To buy the Left MPs (unsuccessfully), he will grumble at escalation, then rush to Moscow on a Johnson errand to recompense for his lapse. He is not concerned with rights and wrongs, with moral gestures, but solely with the preservation of his power, supported on the one hand by mass unwillingness to take action on Vietnam alone, and on the other, by US support for sterling. The American Walter Lippman puts it thus: ‘The history of Harold Wilson’s Labour Government has been dominated since its first week in office by its decision not to devalue the pound ... in foreign policy, this has meant satellitism to Washington.’ But swapping Vietnamese dead for dollars is not the whole of the matter, for Wilson’s commitment also entails an incomes policy to relieve dollar support. If that were achieved, it would not mean an independent foreign policy, but rather that Wilson’s commitment to the US would merely lose its immediate economic justification. An effective incomes policy would mean that British workers were being required to pay even more with foregone wages to maintain British troops in Malaysia, possibly in Thailand, and even perhaps in Vietnam itself, as part of US foreign policy. Either way, British workers are to pay for killing Vietnamese. Thus, those that choose solely to oppose the Vietnam war as a moral gesture or in isolation from the domestic policies of the Government, not only misunderstand the significance of Vietnam, but also disarm themselves: for only working-class action can ultimately check Wilson and begin to end the war.
Last updated on 14.12.2007