Format: video with audio
Running time: 40 min 37 sec.
Summary: Pinky & Bunny discuss the origins of the Vietnam War (also known as the 'American War' in Vietnam). The episode is comprised of four short chapters: 1. Misrepresentations. 2. Desire and Struggle: a basic timeline of events. 3. Searching for Reasons. 4. Consequences. *This episode is dedicated to Professor Howard Zinn (1922-2010).
Warning: This episode contains violent images that may disturb some viewers. Please pre-view and carefully consider the effect on young or sensitive viewers.
Pinky: [reading] "Dear Pinky, How are you? How are your ants? I hope you are all fine. I have a question for you. I know the United States was involved in a long war in Vietnam. But what I'd like to know is: Why did the U.S. fight that war in the first place? I hope you can help clarify this for me. Sincerely yours, Keith."
Okay Keith, I think this is a very difficult question, but we're going to try our best to find an answer for you. Bunny has volunteered to go to Washington D.C. in order to write up a report. So, we'll be right back with an answer!
[ graphic: "Two months later..."; audio: sound of telephone ringing ]
Pinky: Where are you?
Bunny: I'm in Washington D.C.
Pinky: Where've you been? I haven't heard from you in two months!
Bunny: I've been reading. There's a ton of books here.
Pinky: You've been reading for two months?
Bunny: Hey even just the Pentagon Papers were like, 4,000 pages. It took a while. The Vietnam War... wasn't simple you know.
Pinky: [sigh] Okay, so... you wrote up a report?
Bunny: Oh, I had to write it?
Bunny: Can I just tell you what I found out?
Pinky: Yeah okay that's fine. I'm recording this.
Bunny: Oh, okay, where do you want me to start?
Pinky: Well the question is, how did the U.S. get involved in Vietnam? Why did we fight that war?
Bunny: Okay, you want the real reason or do you want the reason that the U.S. government would say to the public?
Pinky: Um... I guess tell me both?
[ Chapter I. Misrepresentations. ]
Bunny: Alright. The first thing that maybe we can say, is that a lot of the information that people think they know about the Vietnam is just wrong. Factually incorrect. There's a lot of misinformation and false assumptions out there.
Pinky: Like what?
Bunny: Okay let's start by looking at the shortest,
simplest statement we could possibly find. [papers shuffling] Here's a
one-sentence characterization of the relationship between the United
States and Vietnam. It was made by President John F. Kennedy in 1962,
after the U.S. had already sent some troops to Vietnam, but before
"...As you know, the U.S. for more than a decade has been assisting the government, the people of Vietnam, to maintain their independence."That's it. It's so short, it seems 'simple enough', how could anybody have a problem with it, right? But actually there is a problem with this statement. It's problematic because the first half of the sentence is misleading, and the second half is simply untrue.
For example, when President Kennedy refers to, "the government, the people of Vietnam", he fails to mention which government, which obviously is very important. Because during the Vietnam War era, there was more than one government struggling for control - and the one that had the strongest support among the Vietnamese people wasn't the one the United States was supporting.
And when Kennedy said "assisting... the people of Vietnam, to maintain their independence", it kind of makes it sound like the Vietnamese people were helpless in the face of some foreign aggressor, which the United States was helping them to repel. In actuality, the foreign aggressor was the United States.
Even his use of the word "independence" is problematic. By definition, 'independence' implies 'self-determination, sovereignty'. But the United States had only recently stopped bankrolling the French war against the Vietnamese people, in their attempt to try to keep Vietnam under French colonial rule. So a statement like this only makes sense if you accept the rather ridiculous idea that the Vietnamese needed our help in order to maintain their independence from... themselves.
So this, I think, is a simple illustration of why the Vietnam War is so hard to get a grip on. Most Americans think we know at least a little bit about the Vietnam War - you know, things we've seen in movies and TV, information received from the government, from newspapers, from high school textbooks, and so on - but the problem is that so much of that stuff is factually incorrect or misleading. Interpretation of facts is one thing, but you can't have understanding built on outright misinformation. It just doesn't work.
Pinky: Uh huh, okay so, how about if you tell me some facts now. Can you give me something like a mini-historial time line version of the origins of the Vietnam War? I want to know all the different parties' involved, what their interests were, who wanted what, and why, stuff like that.
Bunny: Okay, I can do that.
[ Chapter II. Desire and Struggle: a basic timeline of events. ]
Bunny: Well an obvious thing that I think needs to be said is that Vietnam existed for aeons before Americans suddenly started thinking about it in the 1960s as this far-away and nightmarish place, right? Jungles, rice paddies, war. The Vietnamese are an ancient people, with their own culture and their own identity. And even from ancient times, they had to struggle against foreign domination.
China occupied Vietnam for about a thousand years. The Vietnamese finally expelled the Chinese in the 10th and 11th centuries, but then again in the mid-1800's, Vietnam again fell under foreign domination - this time colonized by France. The French ruled Vietnam through the use of Vietnamese puppet-governments, but the exploitation and oppression that the Vietnamese people suffered was no less severe because of it. French control of Vietnam would last almost a hundred years, until 1940, when Japan, following its own Imperialist dreams, began its own militarized occupation of Vietnam. The Japanese kept both the French and the figurehead Vietnamese emperor in place, while exercising control from behind the scenes - essentially a double-puppet government.
Pinky: A double puppet government? I have never heard that term before...
Bunny: Yeah, I read that. Anyway, in 1941 and continuing throughout the World War II years, the Viet Minh form. They are a group of Vietnamese nationalists, who dream of an independent Vietnam, free from foreign domination. Their first political and military objective is to oust the occupying Japanese and French from their homeland. Their leader, communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, is supported by the United States and China because he fights their mutual enemy, the Japanese, from within Vietnam.
Pinky: The United States was supporting Ho Chi Minh?
Pinky: Interesting. Okay, go on.
Bunny: Yeah, so as WWII was winding down, it started to become clear to everybody that Japan was going to lose the war, and many Vietnamese believed that maybe their independence would be close at hand.
Well, it didn't happen. Far away, in summit meetings held at Yalta and Potsdam, leaders from the United States, Russia, and Britain sat down to decide how they were going to divide up the world after World War II was over. Needless to say, the Vietnamese, or anybody else who 'didn't matter', they weren't invited. The planet was to be divided into spheres of influence - for example, the U.S. and Britain would have influence over Western Europe and the Soviet Union would have Eastern Europe, the United States would get control over North, Central, and South America, the U.S. and Britain would share control the Middle East, and so on.
Pinky: Okay, but, what about Vietnam?
Bunny: Well, Franklin D. Roosevelt wasn't a big fan of European Imperialism and he knew that the people of Vietnam had suffered tremendously under French rule. But he was also very sensitive to his WWII allies - the English, the French - and English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a close friend of Roosevelt, he felt that if Vietnam were to gain its independence, that would be a really bad example to their own colonies in the British Empire, especially India. So in the end the three powers agreed to let France 'keep' Vietnam.
Bunny: So back in Vietnam, World War II is over and the Japanese surrender to the Viet Minh. The Viet Minh declare Vietnam independent, and basically there's a lot of partying in the streets. The good feelings don't last long though.
With Japanese Imperialism no longer a threat, the U.S. revokes its backing of the Viet Minh and Vietnamese independence, and instead transfers its support to the French, who immediately try to re-establish Vietnam as a colony.
Bunny: Yeah, exactly. It's obvious to the Viet Minh that they've been betrayed and so of course they resist - full-scale war breaks out between the Vietnamese and the French in 1946. Although the war is generally referred to as the French Indochina War, behind the scenes the United States is France's 'silent partner', financing up to 80% of France's war costs. But even with all the money and guns on their side, the French are decisively defeated by the Viet Minh in 1954 after nine years of very bloody fighting. For the second time in ten years, it looked like the Vietnamese were on the verge of total independence... right?
Pinky: I'm guessing no?
Bunny: Right, no independence yet. You would think that getting trounced on the battlefield means that the loser just picks up all their stuff and leaves immediately, but in real wars, the situation is never that simple. The French had been in Vietnam for about a hundred years, and the war, not to mention the effects of colonization itself, had left the country in a disorganized mess. Also the formal terms of France's surrender had to be discussed. So the French and the Viet Minh - along with China, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union - they all meet in Geneva, Switzerland in 1954 to sort everything out.
And this is where it gets really interesting, but also a little bit tricky, so please pay attention, okay? Are you getting bored?
Pinky: No, no, I'm listening.
Bunny: Okay. At the Geneva Accords, the first thing that needed to be decided was how to actually end the fighting and separate the combatants. It's decided that Vietnam would be temporarily divided in half into two "regroupment areas" - the Viet Minh forces would collect north of the 17th parallel, and the French forces south of the 17th. After getting all their stuff together, the French would then leave, and after a period of two years, a unified national election would be held in both the North and the South - at which time the Vietnamese people would be formally, and finally, independent and sovereign under a single government of their choice. This was the plan.
The two sides agreed to these terms for different reasons. Ho Chi Minh felt that that even though Viet Minh could have eventually wiped out the remaining French forces, he also knew that many more people would have had to die unnecessarily, and that anyway, the Viet Minh had strong support among the Vietnamese people - he was sure that they could easily win a national election.
The French and Americans on the other hand, also wanted an end to the fighting - the French were obviously incapable of a military victory and continuing would have been senseless. And a two-year window before a national election was attractive to the Americans because they also knew that if an election were to be held right away, that the Viet Minh would easily win. The U.S. didn't want a communist government in Vietnam, a government that would certainly be more politically and economically aligned with China or the Soviet Union rather than the United States. So the U.S. saw the two-years as a window of opportunity during which they'd have the chance to pour money and material goodies into the southern half of Vietnam to create some semblance of a good economy. This, they thought, would maybe win over enough of the Vietnamese peasants to elect a government that would be more open to U.S. influence.
So that's exactly what the U.S. did. As the French left Vietnam, the United States seized the moment and immediately embarked on an enormous project of 'nation building'. The result was a new nation - "South Vietnam".
Bunny: This in itself is one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of the Vietnam War. One of the fundamental 'facts' that Americans 'know' about the Vietnam War era is that there was a North Vietnam (communist) and a South Vietnam (democratic), and that the United States was helping the South Vietnamese repel communist aggression, or something like that. What most people don't realize is that South Vietnam was essentially invented by the United States as a base for building and maintaining its own interests in Asia. Actually, there was nothing in the Geneva Accords that explicitly stated that Vietnam was to become two separate countries.
Pinky: I did not know that.
Bunny: Yeah, most people just say 'South Vietnam', 'North Vietnam', like it was always like that. They don't realize that a particular situation was exploited by the United States and that the division was created in an attempt to create a foothold from which they could exert their interests in the region. The Vietnamese people by and large did not want their country split in half.
Pinky: Wow. Okay, so what happens next?
Bunny: Well, the United States installs a puppet government in the newly created South Vietnam. They choose a devout anti-communist Catholic named Diem - recently emerged from exile in New Jersey - to head their new government in Saigon. The two years go by quickly and as the agreed-upon national elections approach, it becomes clear that Diem and his American backers are still not popular enough to win an election against the more popular Ho Chi Minh. So the U.S. encourages Diem to block the 1956 elections, which he does - the elections never take place.
Diem's regime is characterized by corruption and oppression, and by around 1960, grassroots opposition - with support from the Viet Minh leadership in the north - begin to coalesce in the southern countryside. They are the National Liberation Front, or NLF - Diem and the Americans call them the Viet Cong.
Pinky: Wait - I thought the Viet Cong were from North Vietnam...?
Bunny: Actually no. That's one of the more common misunderstandings about the Vietnam War. A lot of people know that the Americans fought against an enemy called the Viet Cong and just assume that the Viet Cong were from North Vietnam. Well, actually, especially in the earlier phases of the war, most of the Viet Cong were from the South. They received guns and supplies and other kinds of support from the Viet Minh in the north, but the Viet Cong was actually rooted in the Vietnamese peasantry of South Vietnam.
This pretty much contradicts what most people have in their imagination right? Americans and South Vietnamese in the South, Viet Cong in the North [in North Vietnam], everybody fighting against each other somewhere in the middle in some kind of 'battlefront' area. This is not accurate.
The Viet Cong were basically a social and political revolutionary movement dedicated to ousting the Americans and their puppet government by force. So of course the United States considered them the enemy and that's why almost all of the fighting during the Vietnam war took place within the borders of 'South Vietnam'.
Pinky: That's pretty ironic - so you had the President of the United States telling the American people that we're there to help the Vietnamese maintain their independence, and at the same time we're over there in their country fighting them as the enemy?
Bunny: Well, I think it's important to point these kinds of things out, because understanding the geography of the war also reveals a certain reality that somehow still manages to escape American consciousness - that basically, the U.S. military was trying to squash an armed uprising of Vietnamese, who were in turn just trying to get the American occupiers out of their country.
At any rate, by 1963, the Viet Cong had gained widespread popular support throughout South Vietnam. The United States was getting really annoyed by Diem's inability to control the situation, so the U.S. orchestrates his assassination in November of that year. Immediately after that the U.S. starts exercising much more direct control over South Vietnam. Back in America, President John F. Kennedy is himself assassinated, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson assumes the presidency.
The following year, 1964, represents a crucial turning point. Privately, the Johnson Administration has decided that an all-out war is the only way to defeat the Vietnamese, but American public opinion remains sharply divided. The solution: the Administration orchestrates a kind of 'wartime media-event' - the now-infamous Tonkin Affair - in which the U.S. accuses North Vietnam of firing torpedos at an American destroyer with torpedo boats. Well, it never actually happened, but the story is good enough to piss off the American people and Congress. So infuriated by the (imaginary) act of aggression, Congress overwhelming approves The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August, 1964. The resolution gives President Johnson broad powers to use military force at his discretion. And this he does - U.S. warplanes begin bombing North Vietnam almost immediately - the first of several intense bombing campaigns that would continue for almost a decade. By 1969, there are more than half-a-million U.S. troops in Vietnam, all fighting in a country most Americans can barely find on a map, fighting an enemy that no one seems to understand.
Pinky: This really reminds me of Iraq and the whole "Weapons of Mass Destruction" thing. Or the U.S.S. Maine and the Spanish American War, stuff like that.
Bunny: Yeah, history does seem to repeat itself. Pinky, I'm hungry, I'm going to go eat something.
Pinky: Okay, call me back.
Bunny: Okay, bye.
[ Chapter III. Searching for Reasons. audio: ringing telephone. ]
Bunny: Back. You want to continue?
Pinky: Yeah. Go ahead.
Bunny: Okay, so far...
Pinky: Oh, what did you eat?
Bunny Cat food.
Bunny: So... so far I've kind of described how the United States became involved in Vietnam. But we still haven't explained why. Uh... do you know why the U.S. thought that Vietnam was worth so much killing and dying for?
Pinky: Uh... to... stop the communists? I don't know, just tell me.
Bunny: Well yeah, actually that's the most frequently-offered explanation, at least among American historians - that the United States was in Vietnam in an attempt to stop communist expansion into South East Asia.
Bunny: Because Ho Chi Minh was a communist, right? The United States readily assumed that the Viet Minh were puppets of China, or maybe the Soviets, or maybe a little bit of both. The feeling at the time was that if the U.S. were to let the Viet Minh take control of Vietnam, then this would initiate a kind of chain reaction, in which nearby areas like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, etc., they would all fall, like a row of dominos and succumb to communist influence. They called this the 'domino theory', and basically the U.S. government believed that the obvious solution to such a situation was to make sure that the first domino (Vietnam) didn't fall. This is the main reason why the Eisenhower administration was willing to commit so much money and resources to create a "South Vietnam".
Pinky: Well, except for the creation of the South Vietnam thing, that's what I'd heard before, the domino theory and stuff like that.
Bunny: Uh huh.
Pinky: But what I still don't get is, what was the perceived threat from communism? I mean everybody says 'gotta stop communism', 'communism is really evil', and stuff like that, but why was the U.S. so against communism?
Bunny: Well you're right, the U.S. saw communism as some kind of enemy, and actually other forms of socialism too. But the thing is, whenever people would talk about how bad communism is, often the reasons they'd give would be framed in terms of how communism is authoritarian and oppressive, while the U.S. is all about freedom and democracy.
Which points to an obvious question: If U.S. foreign policy since World War II had been only about making moral choices between 'democracy' or 'authoritarianism', wouldn't the United States have a long history of supporting democratic movements on principle? The answer: It does not.
Even a cursory review of the U.S.'s foreign policy decisions in the 20th century shows that the U.S. actually has a rather poor record when it comes to supporting democratic movements around the globe. The U.S. has been just as willing to overthrow a democratically elected government or prop up a dictatorship - Indonesia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Congo, Philippines, Greece, and so on - these are just a few examples.
So here is the point: The single most important measure of a country's receiving support from the United States has been whether or not that country's markets, labor, or resources could be made available to American business.
Sometimes this has required supporting powerful landlords against peasants, in other cases installing a ruthless dictator produces the most desirable results. In the case of Vietnam, the situation required support of the business owners in the cities as well as the powerful landlords and then waging a kind of class war against a landless peasantry. The important thing to remember is that the specifics have always been secondary to the primary objective of securing a stable environment in which American-style capitalism can thrive. This is the way in which U.S. foreign policy has actually been very consistent.
So this is the real reason why the spread of socialism was so repellant to the American ruling class. Wait - I have a nice, short quote that summarizes this... [papers shuffling] ... okay here it is - this is how historian Jonathan Neale puts it, "These state capitalist countries were a threat not so much because they called themselves 'socialist', but because they were competing capitalist powers and their markets were largely closed to American business."
Bunny: Is that helpful?
Pinky: Yeah, that's pretty clear.
Bunny: Yeah, even to this day, most Americans tend to think of the Vietnam War as a kind of civil war. But like I explained earlier, the fact is, the Vietnam War was fundamentally between the people of Vietnam and the United States. That's why in Vietnam, the Vietnam War is not called the Civil War, it's called the American War. The Vietnamese saw the United States as a foreign occupier, and they were fighting in order to expel them from their country. In other words, from a Vietnamese perspective, it was a war for independence.
Pinky: Okay wait - I'm a little confused by that. If the Vietnam War wasn't a civil war, then how come there were Vietnamese in the South Vietnamese government, or Vietnamese serving in the South Vietnamese army - who were those people?
Bunny: Well, remember how Vietnam had been a French colony for a really long time? Well one of the ways a colonizer will often rule over a colony is to create a minority ruling class within the native population - give them lots of privileges and power and have them do a lot of the dirty work. It's an old colonizer's trick - divide and conquer. So the French used these Vietnamese - the moneyed business class in the cities, land owners, Vietnamese Catholics, and so on, to rule over the rest of the population - mostly Buddhist, mostly rural, landless, and most of all, very poor. When the French were finally forced out of Vietnam, many of the Vietnamese who had benefitted from French rule turned their allegiance to the Americans. To the majority of the Vietnamese though, these people were supporting the subjugation of their own people - they were collaborators, traitors.
The Americans exploited this complicated situation - basically a class war and a land war wrapped up in a larger struggle for independence - by spinning the situation as a Civil War to the American people back home. The government knew that it could never get public support for military intervention in Vietnam if it said the war was being fought in order to secure business opportunities for the American elite. So instead it talked about it as if it were a civil war between two sides - a good side and an evil side. And of course the United States was supporting the good guys. The American public, totally ignorant of Vietnamese history, or even the logic of imperialism, bought it - at least for a while.
I was at the National Archives, right? [Pinky's note: Actually, Bunny is referring to the Library of Congress.] It's like this really big library with all these historical documents. The Pentagon Papers, the U.S. State Department's own 'official history' of the Vietnam War, has about 4,000 pages of declassified information that anybody can go and read. And if you look at this stuff, it's quite clear that at the highest levels, American leaders had no illusions that they were fighting a war for the benefit of the Vietnamese people. Let's be really blunt okay? For the most part they couldn't have cared less about the peasants. But at the same time it also seems very clear that all the U.S. presidents, secretaries of state, generals - all these guys who were in control, none of them really took the Vietnamese perspective seriously. They were quite certain that their Cold War model, their domino theory explained everything quite nicely.
Pinky: They were locked into their own way of looking at the situation.
Bunny: Exactly. This is really important I think. They did not understand what motivated the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. More than any other single thing, I think this made America's defeat inevitable. For their part, the Vietnamese who fought the United States absolutely did not see their struggle as a mere 'subset' of some greater communist cause. They were not puppets of the Soviets, Chinese, or anybody else. In fact, many people who fought for the VC and NVA were not even communists. They were fighting for the idea of an independent Vietnam and they understood their struggle to expel the Americans as being directly connected to a 2,000 year history of resistance to foreign domination. In fact, this knowledge, this feeling, was a core element of Vietnamese identity. Had the American leadership been willing to empathize with their enemy, perhaps they would have known that the Vietnamese were ready to fight to the last man; they would have never surrendered.
In hindsight, this American confusion between 'Cold War' versus 'War for Independence' - well now it almost seems obvious and embarrassing. Did the Americans not try to learn anything about Vietnamese history before taking on this war? Why did the American leadership disregard all reliable information on this matter, choosing instead to impose their own paradigm on the situation regardless of whether or not it fit? Was it just arrogance?
Pinky: I dunno - which one was it?
Bunny: I... I don't know. Maybe it was all of the above. You know, I've thought about it quite a bit, and I kind of have this idea that maybe it had something to do with America's denial of its own colonial past. Maybe when a nation's own history of genocide or taking land by force is erased from memory, maybe that helped to render the Vietnamese people's struggle for land and sovereignty invisible. I can't think of any other way to explain why they couldn't see what was happening right there in front of them.
[ Chapter IV. Consequences. ]
Pinky: Oh hey, did you go to the Vietnam War Memorial?
Bunny: I did.
Pinky: What was it like?
Bunny: It's a very powerful place. It's a big wall, and it's got over 58,000 names inscribed on it - the names of all those U.S. personnel who died in Vietnam. When you're there it's really... overwhelming.
Pinky: Is that everyone that was hurt in the war, or the people who died?
Bunny: They are the ones who died. About 150,000 more people suffered serious physical injury during the war, and no one can ever know how many more suffered emotionally, psychologically.
Pinky: Bunny, do you know how many Vietnamese people died in the Vietnam War?
Bunny: Well, I did try to find this out, but you know, the truth is that in Vietnam the devastation of the war ran so deep, and was so widespread, that no one really knows the exact number of people killed or seriously injured during the war years. Most estimates range somewhere around 3 to 3 1/2 million Vietnamese people killed. And no one also knows how many of those people were civilian - for political reasons the U.S. military would often add any dead body - man, woman, or child, civilian or not - as a dead Viet Cong or PAVN soldier for their body count. To this day, about 300,000 Vietnamese are still considered 'missing in action'. So the numbers are hard to decipher, to say the least.
Pinky: Uh huh.
Bunny: You know, the war destroyed Vietnam in other ways as well. First there were the bombs. Vietnam endured the most concentrated, intense bombing history has ever seen. The United States rained 8 million tons of bombs down on Vietnam - that's almost 3 times the total amount of all the bombs dropped worldwide during all of World War II, all on a country that's quite a bit smaller than the size of California. The U.S. flattened everything - schools, hospitals, Buddhist temples, crops - everything.
The U.S. also used a lot of biological warfare in Vietnam. The purpose was to destroy the environment in such a way to make it hard for the Viet Cong to hide in the forests, or to destroy crops and livestock so that the Vietnamese people might surrender due to starvation and other kinds of suffering. More than 6 million acres of South Vietnam were sprayed, including entire villages and farms - this killed thousands of civilians and contaminated land so severely that in some parts of Vietnam, trees have only recently started to grow again. A wide range of crippling and disfiguring birth defects, caused by the teratogens that were put in the chemicals, are another lasting legacy of this especially vicious warring tactic.
Another thing is that millions of Vietnamese became refugees. Nobody even knows how many thousands of people perished during this time. Also an estimated 6 million unexploded mines and bombs remain in Vietnam and continue to kill farmers and children even today. The lingering effects of the war in Vietnam are too much to make into a list, it just goes on and on.
Pinky: You know I don't really know how to put this without sounding stupid or naive, but it almost seems like this war was just totally out of control.
Bunny: Well... I'm sure everyone would agree that any war, any conflict, causes tremendous suffering among everybody involved. But I think it's also true that all wars are not the same; that each war is, in a sense, unique. And many military historians have pointed out, even by war standards, the Vietnam War was a very cruel and brutal war. From a technological-military standpoint, when you have the world's richest and most powerful military, fighting an all-out war against a relatively small, extremely poor, Third World country, you could almost say that the results were predictable. But this in itself doesn't really explain why the United States chose to devastate Vietnam to such an extreme - policies that drove its people, its culture, its history, its environment, to the very brink of annihilation.
Pinky: Yeah, maybe that's the question that's bothering me - somebody had to decide that they were going to absolutely devastate the country, right? Do people really make these kinds of decisions?
Bunny: Well, yeah, I guess you could say that it was that way by design. I mean, yeah, definitely. Okay let me put it another way - part of the reason why U.S. war planners consciously utilized only the most ultra-violent tactics was directly related to their flawed analyses we talked about earlier. Because they mischaracterized the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese as essentially 'proxy armies', the U.S. plan for victory became relatively simple: kill as many people as possible, inflict so much unbearable suffering, that eventually their will would be broken and they would surrender. This is why only the most brutal tactics were chosen - to best exploit the inherent weakness of an enemy who was presumed to be fighting someone else's cause. Which of course also explains why the strategy failed. That this strategy also dovetailed neatly with America's own history of racism and class warfare goes without saying.
I think if the leaders in the United States had been able to look at the Vietnamese as fully human, maybe that particular moment in history could have unfolded differently. After reading through all these books and documents, I've come to two main personal conclusions:
One is that in times of conflict or war, for various reasons, people tend to make a conscious effort to strip their enemy of their humanness. I'm convinced this only leads to more pain, and more death. The second is that this doesn't have to happen.
Pinky: Thanks Bunny. I guess we can talk about this more when you get back. Are you coming home now?
Bunny: Yeah, I think I'm ready to come home now. I'll see you soon.
Pinky: Okay, be safe.
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The Truth About the Most Dangerous and Destructive Nation. Raymond Hirashima. Vantage Press, 1978.
The Umbrella of U.S. Power: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Contradictions of U.S. Policy. Noam Chomsky. Seven Stories Press, New York, 1999.
Vietnam. Larry Burrows. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002.
Vietnam: A Long History. Nguyen Khac Vien. The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 1993.
Vietnam and Other American Fantasies. H. Bruce Franklin. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA, 2000.
Vietnam: A Visual Encyclopedia. Philip Gutzman. PRC Publishing Ltd., 2002.
The Vietnam Experience: The Aftermath, 1975-1985. Edward Doyle, Terrance Maitland, and the editors of the Boston Publishing Company. Boston Publishing Company, Boston, MA, 1982.
The Vietnam Experience: The Fall of the South. Clark Dougan, David Fulghum, and the editors of the Boston Publishing Company. Boston Publishing Company, Boston, MA, 1982.
The Vietnam Experience: Raising the Stakes. Terrance Maitland, Stephen Weiss, and the editors of the Boston Publishing Company. Boston Publishing Company, Boston, MA, 1982.
Vietnam Front Pages. Hal Drake (editor). Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, New York, 1986.
Vietnam: The Secret War. Kevin M. Generous. Bison Books, New York, 1985.
Vietnam: The War in the Air: A Pictorial History of the U.S. Air Forces in the Vietnam War: Air Force Army, Navy, and Marines. Col. Gene Gurney, USAF (ret.). Crown Publishers, New York, 1985.
The Vietnam War: An Almanac. John S. Bowman (general editor) & Fox Butterfield (introduction). Bison Books, New York, 1985.narration: Bunny & Pinky
sound effects: Pinky
drawings & illustrations: Pinky
cute maps: Pinky
not so cute maps: Pinky
other images: titles by Pinky
[ image credits ]