Viet peace will come with victory
The Varsity, Friday November 17, 1972
Vietnam has become a cliche.
For over a decade, the brutal war in Indochina has been one of the dominating facts of international politics. During that time, it burned itself into the consciousness of an entire planet. In the process, it served as a focus for the emergence of a wide spectrum of radical and critical ideas, not only in the United States, but in all of what was once called, by some, the Free World. The war has contributed massively to the destruction of ideological myths, and, through incessant coverage in the media, to the exposure of what can only be called the utter barbarism of imperialism.
But, the ferocity with which the war has been, and is being, waged seems to have lost much of its ability to shock, through the endless multiplication of examples. And in North America at least, the current negotiations for a ceasefire are being generally greeted with uncritical relief that the war may soon be over, without much serious consideration of the political implications of a settlement.
This is unfortunate. Vietnam is not a reality that can be taken for granted or merely invoked as a particularly ugly example of imperialism. The Vietnamese developments must be fully understood, for they are one of the central features of an entire historical period.
As an aid to such an understanding, The Varsity carries a summary of the historical development of the struggles in Vietnam on pages 8 and 9 today. That history should not be considered in isolation. It stands as an example that can illuminate the bases of American foreign policy.
It should be realized, first of all, that the conflict is not between the Free World and communist aggression. A Free World that includes such blatant dictatorships as Portugal, Greece, Brazil, and South Korea must have a basis of unity other than pure freedom.
The explanation sometimes offered is that these regimes, unfortunate though they are, must be supported since the only alternative is that of communist rule. And, communism it is taken for granted, is even worse. Authoritarian regimes and oppression in communist countries, it is assumed, is the natural state of affairs. If they occur in free world countries, of course, they are a temporary aberration.
Similarly with war crimes, terrorism, or the killing of civilians in Vietnam. When they are committed by the U.S. forces, they become accidents, isolated incidents, unfortunate excesses. If they are attributed to communists, they become more proof of their essential wickedness.
Such a view of the world, and it is still offered by many, assumes as well that communism is a monolithic conspiracy imposed on hoodwinked populations by skilful foreign agents and agitators. This is a comforting assumption for those who are incapable of believing that large numbers of people could embrace communism of their own free will, but it bears no relation to the facts provided by the actual history of communist movements around the world, with their wide diversities and internal disagreements.
Almost invariably, communist revolutions are not foreign aggression, but uprisings by local groups that believe in the ideology and principles of communism in one form or another. They are based on the belief, whether right or wrong, that communism is good for the country concerned, that this form of economic and social organization is better than colonialism or capitalism. The Vietnamese, for example, have not been fighting for 30 years against the French, Japanese, and Americans in order to gain the privilege of turning their country over to Moscow or Peking.
And perhaps it should not be too surprising that especially a Third World nation, suffering incredibly low living standards under capitalism should be willing, without attack or subversion, to come to the conclusion that some form of communism would be preferable.
Nor is it valid to claim, as the U.S. sometimes does, that it opposes revolutions because they threaten international order by resorting to violent means. Where a country is a dictatorship, such as South Vietnam, there are no legal means for getting into power. Revolution becomes the only alternative. American independence was only won as the result of a long war against the imperialist power, Great Britain.
It is the inability of the U.S. to realize that revolutions and guerrilla wars have their origins in wide-spread discontent that has led it to view them as subversion of freedom. The Vietnamese revolution, as I. F. Stone put it, was seen simply as a communist plot, and communism as an occult conspiracy with magical powers whereby a handful of infiltrating agitators can infect a whole population with Marxism-Leninism though these same natives can barely read the directions on a can of soup.
The truth is that the freedom which the United States professes to be protecting is freedom of enterprise: the freedom for U.S. capitalism to invest in, trade with, and exploit the rest of the free (enterprise) world. It is for this reason that the U.S. aids any government, no matter how reactionary or brutal, that will ally itself with the U.S. and its interests.
And, the U.S. has good reason to pursue imperialist policies. Its total investments abroad exceed ninety billion dollars. Profit rates abroad for U.S. subsidiaries are about twice those domestically; foreign sources of earnings account for about one-quarter of all U.S. domestic, non-financial corporate profits. And, the raw materials which the U.S. obtains overseas are absolutely vital to the functioning of its economy. Thus, paradoxically, the U.S. economy although the largest in the world, is also very fragile, because of its dependence on an overseas empire.
For this reason, the U.S. opposes reform movements as well as revolutions, although it may sometimes support minimal reforms to head off worse trouble. Even reforms which, for example, raise tariffs or pass restrictions on foreign ownership or effect land reforms can harm the U.S. profit position.
Anti-communism becomes a rationalization for the protection of the empire. But, then, communism or socialism really are threats to the free enterprise empire, for there is much evidence that Third World countries especially can achieve economic development only by withdrawing from the capitalist system.
For this reason, the U.S. was willing to expend enormous amounts of money and manpower in Vietnam, and to risk nuclear war over Cuba. For if Cuba and Vietnam succeed, despite the opposition of the U.S., in making economic and social progress by withdrawing from the world capitalist system, they will set an example that other Third World nations will be tempted to follow. The loss of Vietnam to communism could be survived. But the setting of the example is what the U.S. feels it cannot allow.
What communist subversion amounts to, then, is that leftist movements of national liberation are by word and deed subverting the American empire by teaching that it is possible for a nation to make progress and set up its own form of government without confusing freedom with free enterprise, by showing that national self-interest differs from the interests of the U.S., and by demonstrating that the United States, for all its power and might, is not invincible.
This has been the meaning of the struggle in Vietnam. One need not support all the policies of Hanoi and the National Liberation Front to recognize that they represent the burning determination of the Vietnamese people to control their own future. They have asserted this resolve in the face of aggression of unprecedented scale and barbarity by the worlds most powerful nation. They continue to pursue their ultimate objectives although even their supporters - the Soviet Union and China - are now willing to at least partially sell out the Vietnamese for the sake of a détente with the U.S.
This Saturday, demonstrations are being held to support the right of the Vietnamese to self-determination. In Toronto, they leave Holy Trinity Church at 1:15 pm, and proceed to City Hall. They deserve full support, with the understanding that peace in Vietnam can only come, ultimately, through the self-establishment of the NLF Provisional Government in Vietnam, the reunification of the country, and the complete victory of the Indo-Chinese revolution.
Published in The Varsity Friday November 17, 1972