Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Vitenam Remembered part 2

Reshaping of history

Well, we turn to reshaping of history. After the war, when you have to start reconstructing it the right way in people’s minds, we get to, say, President Carter in 1977, who gave his view of the war. This again, was at a kind of liberal extreme. He said that we owe Vietnam no debt because "the destruction was mutual." If you want to see how mutual it was, take a walk in Plains, Georgia [Carter’s hometown] and the Mekong Delta, you’ll see. What is interesting about that comment is that it received no reaction. Nobody was appalled. Yeah, OK. The destruction was mutual so we don’t owe them any debt. 

But by the time you get Bush No.1, there was a much harder line. There is the debt. It’s theirs. They’re the ones who were guilty. The destruction was not mutual where it took place, here, in Texas. But he said we are nice guys, so in his words, “we seek only answers without the threat of retribution for the past.” In other words, we’re willing to forget all the crimes that you committed against us, and we only seek answers because we’re such nice guys. 

What are the answers? Well, the answers are to the one moral issue that remains after destroying South Vietnam. Namely, the missing in action who were somehow shut down over Iowa by some strange way. But as long as that gets answers, everything is fine.

We don’t need any answers about the millions of corpses in South Vietnam or about the hundreds of thousands of victims of chemical warfare which we have recently learned, though it doesn’t get reported, was at about twice the intensity of what was reported during the war, and according to US analysts, left about 2 million—2.1 million victims. We don’t need any answers for those deformed fetuses in Saigon hospitals. And people are still dying including people who were born years after the chemical warfare officially stopped but are still contracting serious diseases, cancer and mutation and so on. We don’t have to ask about that. In fact, it almost never gets reported.

Actually, sometimes it does, to be fair. There was an article in the science section of the New York Times a couple years ago that suggested it is not really a good idea to ignore this. We should study it. The reason we should study it is that it is an unusually good experimental situation because we have controlled group. 

That’s only South Vietnam that was subjected to this particular war crime, not North Vietnam but they have the same genes. So we can study the effects of incredibly high concentrations of dioxin, one of the worst carcinogens known. We can study the effects of this on humans by comparing the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese, and maybe we would learn something from it that would be useful for us. So, really it might be a good idea to look for answers. 

 Go on a couple of years, we get to Robert McNamara’s memoirs, ten years ago, In Retrospect. The reaction to the book―I won’t talk about the book―but the reactions to it were extremely interesting. The hawks condemned McNamara for treachery. The doves appalled him because they were vindicated--this includes, you know, real people way at the edge, I mean religious leaders who were opposing the war on moral grounds. They were vindicated. Why? Because McNamara issued an apology which is true. He issued an apology to Americans, not the Vietnamese. Not a word about that. He issued an apology to Americans for not telling them early enough that the war was probably going to be too costly to Americans. So, the doves are vindicated. Well, you know, tells you something. 

In McNamara’s retrospect…it’s almost US government sources, but he quotes one outside expert. And he’s a good choice. That’s Bernard Fall, who incidentally was an extreme hawk and a military historian and a Vietnamese specialist who was out in a lot of countries, in fact, killed there. So it was a good choice. He was unusual among Vietnamese specialists that he actually cared about people even though he was a super hawk. 

McNamara quotes him, he says that in 1965―1965 is when the "official" war started, you know, the US started bombing North Vietnam and sent the troops to the South.
In 1965, McNamara says, he refers to Bernard Fall as a great expert, he says Fall was providing “encouraging news,” McNamara says, “encouraging news” which helped persuade Washington that the US effort could not fail. So, that was really good news. 

What did Fall actually say? What he said is in 1965, he said “what changed the character of the war was not the bombing of North Vietnam, not the sending of US soldiers to the south but the decision to escalate to unlimited aerial warfare against South Vietnam at the price of literally pounding the place to bits.” That was the “encouraging news” because he added, well, I’m sure that the US probably can’t lose. So, Washington liberals were very encouraged because Fall said they could not lose “at the price of pounding the place to bits.”

McNamara goes on and says that in 1967, Fall reversed his stand and felt that US power and technology might not prevail. Again he doesn’t quote him but here’s what he said. He(Fall) said, “Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity” is “threatened with extinction under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed against an area this size” and “US force might prevail”, he felt. Extinguishing the country. So, that’s…I’ve been trying to figure out what goes on in someone’s head who reports that sort of thing, I… let me know about it.
(for more detail, please go to http://www.chomsky.info/articles/199508--.htm)

The operative values of the US war are very well illustrated by comparison of the bombing of the south and the bombing of the north. The bombing of the south was vastly more intense and started years earlier. But if you look at the records, now we have a richer array of records from Pentagon Papers and other internal sources and memoirs like McNamara’s. All is the same.

The bombing of the north was meticulously planned. Very careful thinking about should we go here and should we escalate a little so on and so forth, huge record.

The bombing of the south was barely mentioned. There weren’t any plans. You just do it, you know. Bomb the place to bits, extinguish the country.

Incidentally, it’s also true with the anti-war movement unfortunately. Most of the protest was against the bombing of the north which was a crime, a hideous crime but peripheral. I mean the bombing of the south, the attack on the south as kind of counterinsurgency and bombing everything else, were far worse. Among the…sort of in an establishment the protest was almost entirely against the bombing of the north. The bombing of the south was barely mentioned. 

Well, what’s the difference between them?

Unfortunately, it’s regrettably easy to answer, to give the explanation. The bombing of the south was costless to the United States. The population was totally defenseless. Say, you can bomb as much as you want. You want to drive the country to extinction, it’s not going to cost you anything. And those, there were not international protest because the West accepts the moral principles of western imperialism after all. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. If you want to destroy defenseless people, that’s your right. 

On the other hand, the bombing of the north, it was dangerous for the United States. When you’re bombing the north, you might be hitting Russian ships in Haiphong harbor or internal Chinese railroad which happens to pass through North Vietnam. And there are embassies in Hanoi which might not be happy about it, western embassies and so on. 

So, bombing of the north carries a certain risk for the United States, and therefore it was meticulously planned but bombing of the south being completely costless is scarcely even mentioned. Unfortunately that’s easy to talk about and explain. The same is true of the few, the very rare cases, like My Lai, where atrocities are acknowledged belonging, blame among somebody else, not us. 

You will notice that the same is going on in Iraq. What happened to Abu Ghraib, for example, is criminal but it’s much easier to blame at on—whatever the name is, England, some uneducated person from who was sort of forced into the army but--because it’s mercenary army of the poor--than to absolve Donald Rumsfeld or George Tenet or George Bush, who were the people who were responsible.
Actually, Human Rights Watch just put out a report on that which won’t be reported I’m sure. 

The same in say, Fallujah. There were reports about atrocities in Fallujah: one marine killed somebody who was apparently wounded or not resisting. That became a big atrocity. What about turning Fallujah into Grozny? You know, just smashing the city into dust. That’s not an atrocity. What about capturing the general hospital on the first day and forcing the patients to lie on the floor? Taking them out of bed, forcing them to lie on the floor with hands manacled behind their back under guard? That wasn’t secret. There was a front page, big picture in the New York Times about it.

I mean a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. And George Bush in fact is subject to the death penalty for that under US law, under US War Crimes Act. 

That’s literally true. US War Crimes Act of 1996 passed by a Republican Congress makes grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions a crime punishable by death. Actually it’s part of the reasons I presume why Bush’s legal counselor Alberto Gonzales, now Attorney General, advised him to rescind the Geneva Conventions because he said it would reduce the likelihood of punishment.Well, not bad advice.

OK, I’m barely skimming the surface, and I’ll stop here. But the general point is that we’re not talking about some exotic tribe we don’t understand. We’re talking about ourselves. The most important topic, the one we’re supposed to understand best and the one that’s certainly the most important to us. Unless people like us become capable of looking in the mirror honestly, biology’s only experiment with higher intelligence is likely to prove quite brief. 


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