From: Harry R. Targ,
Strategy of an Empire in Decline: Cold War II MEP Publications, Minneapolis, 1986, 167-172.
(Eight political activists recently returned from a two-week educational tour of Vietnam, hosted by the Vietnam Women’s Union, and sponsored by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). Every tour participant was touched by the seeming resilience of the Vietnamese people and their capacity for mobilizing talents and resources to reconstruct their country after the brutal American war.
As the essay below suggests, the last phase of the war was characterized by brutal air attacks on rural and urban populations all across the country, particularly during the period of the “Christmas bombing” in 1972. That in the end was President Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam.
What we saw on our tour was evidence of the successful policies adopted by the Vietnamese people to withstand the brutality of the war and the collective commitments since the war to rebuild and modernize their country. While much remains to be done and progressive people can debate aspects of the social market economic project that is underway, the skill, motivation, and passion evidenced by the government, the party, and mass organizations as they work toward constructing a better future for the Vietnamese people cannot be denied).
U.S. Brutality and the End of the Vietnam War
During the 1968 presidential campaign, candidate Nixon declared that he had a "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam. This secret plan had to be one in which the United States pursued victory in Southeast Asia and, at the same time, reduced the levels of U.S. blood and resources expended on the war. Nixon policy during the next four years involved just such a scheme: pursuit of victory and withdrawal at the same time. The ultimate failure of this duplicitous policy is attributable to the courageous struggle of the Vietnamese and the significant resistance from the antiwar movement at home.
In June, 1969, President Nixon met with his South Vietnamese counterpart, President Nguyen Van Thieu, on Midway Island. At this meeting the policy called "Vietnamization," an application of the "Nixon Doctrine," was unveiled. The United States would withdraw all its ground troops from South Vietnam over the next four years. This would undercut the primary reason for opposition to the war at home. The United States would substitute a massive, unrestrained bombing campaign for the withdrawn troops. Almost all the target restrictions in the South and North would be lifted. A secret bombing campaign against North Vietnamese supply routes would ensue, with bombings in neutral Cambodia as well as the continuation of secret bombing in Laos. At the meeting, Nixon and Thieu planned for the withdrawal of 85,000 of the 550,000 U.S. troops by September, 1969. This new Vietnam policy illustrated what Nixon meant by giving assistance to allies while they carried the major burden of regional conflicts. The South Vietnamese army would shed its blood while the United States provided the materiel and the air power to defeat the enemy.
The announcement of some of the Nixon plan, namely, the proposed troop withdrawals, did not stifle the opposition to the war in Congress or in the streets. A Vietnam Moratorium Day was held all across the country in October, with a full and immediate pullout emphasized as the central demand. Two hundred and fifty thousand antiwar activists had a "March Against Death" in Washington on November 15, 1969. During this time news of the brutal U.S. massacre of five hundred people at My Lai reached the public.
In March, 1970, the neutralist regime of Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia was overthrown by the right-wing general Lon Nol, no doubt supported by the United States. Although Sihanouk had tried desperately for several years to keep his country out of the war, the North Vietnamese did have bases in Cambodia, and the United States had been bombing and raiding areas in which the bases were thought to be located. Sihanouk's opposition to the U.S. incursions and his cordial relationship with the Chinese were an annoyance to the United States.
On April 30, 1970, one month after the coup in Cambodia, Nixon announced that a force of South Vietnamese and 16,000 U.S. troops had invaded Cambodia to destroy the Vietnamese bases. This escalation of the war into another country was defended as a vehicle to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal. The reaction on college campuses in the United States was unprecedented. Campuses all over the country were closed down, with huge demonstrations occurring at many more. At two such campuses, Jackson State University in Mississippi and Kent State University in Ohio, student activists were shot--by police authorities in the former case and by the Ohio National Guard in the latter. These shootings were seen as part of a national policy encouraged by the Nixon administration to kill or jail dissidents of all kinds under the call for "law and order." Nixon's attorney general had already instituted a policy of extermination of members of the Black Panther party in 1969, and the shootings on privileged campuses suggested an escalation of repression of dissent, even middle-class dissent.
Even members of the U.S. Senate were outraged by the invasion of Cambodia. They passed the so-called Church-Cooper amendment, which ended funds for making war in Cambodia after July 1, 1970. The Senate also repealed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Sixty percent of the U.S. public, according to opinion polls, favored withdrawal from Vietnam as well.
After the withdrawal of the invading army, the Nixon administration claimed that the assault had been a great success. What was not said was that the presumed North Vietnamese command headquarters, believed to be in Cambodia, had never been located. The impact of the Cambodian coup and the invasion following it was criminal, since the fabric of another Indochinese society had been destroyed. By 1975, 700,000 Cambodians had died as a result of the invasion and the civil war that resulted from the coup. Two hundred and fifty thousand tons of bombs had been dropped on Cambodia. One-half of the population was. homeless by 1975. By the time the forces of Pol Pot had gained control of the country, after his victory over Lon Nol in 1975, the land had been devastated. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge then engaged in policies that led to the deaths of more than a million people. They supported border attacks on Vietnam. Finally, in December, 1978, Vietnam sent troops into Cambodia, now called Kampuchea, to put an end to the murderous Pol Pot regime. The tragedies experienced by Cambodians since 1970 have to be seen as linked to the destruction of that society by U.S. military power from 1969 to 1975.
In February, 1971, South Vietnamese troops invaded Laos to capture the Ho Chi Minh trail, the major supply route from North to South. The United States provided air support for the operation. The invasion was a military disaster, as one-half the South Vietnamese troops were killed. Morale in the South Vietnamese army declined markedly.
Elsewhere, significant moves were being taken by the Nixon administration. Along with the "stick" of repression of dissent at home (surveillance, arrests, killings, infiltration of radical groups to provoke irresponsible actions, etc.), the "carrot" was applied as well-the draft laws were changed. First, a lottery system made some young men exempt from military service, through the luck of the draw. Second, there was movement toward an all-volunteer army. Changes in the draft laws reduced the intensity of commitment among many antiwar activists. These changes were also supposed to reduce the level of dissent, which had reached dramatic proportions, within the military itself. Blacks and poor whites, who primarily populate the military, were deserting, disobeying orders, refusing to fight, and escaping the brutality of the battlefield through the use of drugs.
The progressive withdrawal of U.S. troops continued as the United States supplied the South Vietnamese with new weapons, more training, and supported the return of South Vietnamese officials to the villages. All of this failed. The NLF and their sympathizers continued the struggle with even greater determination, while conscripted South Vietnamese soldiers were less than enthusiastic about their fate. Corruption, brutality, and repression continued to characterize the Thieu regime.
The negotiating process between the North Vietnamese and the United States, which began formally in January, 1969, continued with little result. The United States called for a cease-fire in place and a withdrawal of all "foreign" troops, while the North Vietnamese denied that they had troops in the South and refused to accept a cease-fire that would benefit the Thieu regime to the detriment of the mass of the Vietnamese people, who opposed this regime.
Kissinger and the North Vietnamese began secret negotiations in 1971. Nixon publicized these talks in January, 1972, to further forestall the critics of his policy. The North Vietnamese, for their part, resented this violation of secret diplomacy, and hostilities on the battlefield increased. On March 30, 1972, seven days after the United States indefinitely suspended the peace talks in Paris, the North Vietnamese and the NLF launched a new offensive. The United States responded on May 8, 1972, with massive bombing of the North and the mining of the international harbor at Haiphong. This dangerous escalation of the war-Soviet supply ships docked at Haiphong-was carried out just before Nixon was scheduled to go to Moscow.
Talks were held in Paris periodically in the summer and fall of 1972, while the bombing in North and South continued. On October 26, 1972, just before the presidential elections, Kissinger announced that "peace is at hand" in Vietnam. Apparently Kissinger and his counterparts had reached some agreements on a cease-fire. President Thieu, however, raised many objections to the accords, and when Kissinger brought these back to Paris, the North Vietnamese countered with their own objections. Peace was not at hand, but Nixon won a major electoral victory against antiwar candidate Senator George McGovern twelve days after the Kissinger claim.
During November and December the negotiations had been brought near completion but were stalled because of the intransigence of Thieu (supported by Kissinger); then the Nixon administration began the saturation bombing of Hanoi and the rest of North Vietnam on December 18. This so-called Christmas bombing lasted until December 30. Nathan and Oliver claim this bombing was designed to force the North to sign a cease-fire and to encourage the support of a recalcitrant President Thieu from South Vietnam, who had not been adequately consulted during the negotiation process. Therefore, the barbarity of Nixon and Kissinger's decisions until the very end was based on backing a dictatorial regime that never had any support among the Vietnamese working people. "Thieu, now satisfied that the North had been seriously weakened and mollified by the U.S. show of force, finally went along, and the negotiations were concluded on January 27, 1973" (Nathan and Oliver 389).
From the cease-fire of January, 1973, to the spring of 1975, the NLF and South Vietnamese armies jockeyed for military advantage. For example, within three months of the Paris accords the South Vietnamese army launched many operations against areas held by the Provisional Government of the opposition (PRG). Finally, in 1975, the PRG capture of two strategic district towns initiated a fifty-five day battle that led to the final defeat of the South Vietnamese army/clients of the United States (Burchett 1977).
The Pol Pot forces were victorious in Kampuchea, followed by Communist-led forces in Laos. President Ford, who had replaced Nixon after the Watergate scandal, called for military support for the South Vietnamese army in early 1975, but Congress would not go along. After a thirty-year struggle in Vietnam, years of civil war in Laos, and five years of war and civil war in Kampuchea, the workers and peasants of Indochina were victorious against imperialism. The respite from violence was brief, however, and the horrendous impact of war on society and environment was to persist. Unfortunately, conflicts indigenous to Southeast Asia and infused by imperialism's refusal to leave the people of the area alone would involve different struggles after 1975.
The failed U.S. effort to win the imperialist war in Southeast Asia, or, as some say, the effort to postpone losing the war, had such horrendous consequences for the local population that genocide is the best label to describe the twenty-five year policy of the United States. As a result of the war, 1.3 million Vietnamese civilians were killed, three million were wounded. Huge areas of fertile land were made waste and rubble. Three times the amount of bombs dropped in World War I1 were dropped on the Vietnamese. The U.S. suffered from the grotesque war as well: 56,000 U.S. soldiers died during the course of the war and 303,600 were wounded. The cost of the war, which in no small way was reflected in poverty and immiseration at home, was $155 billion from 1955 to 1974 (De Conde 380). The facts about this mass murder and waste of human resources would not be forgotten by progressive peoples around the world, who would work all the harder to destroy the structure of imperialism that necessitates such policies.