(COLD WAR: 1964-75 – continued)
COMMENT ON NIXON'S VIETNAMIZATION BY HANNAH ARENDT (rollover – don't click)
In Vietnam, many who had fought on the side of the Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh continued to see their struggle and sacrifice as having given their nation freedom to choose its own destiny. But some among them were dismayed by the move toward free enterprise and accommodation with the capitalistic global economy. They believed that the war had also been fought to preserve Vietnamese socialism, and they wondered whether their victory was being lost.
Some of the Vietnamese who had fought on the side of the Saigon regime and had fled to the United States saw themselves as having fought for freedom because they had fought against communism, and they described their loss of the war as having been abandoned by the United States. Twenty years of U.S. support, and eight years of intensive U.S. military firepower were not enough for them. The idea, as expressed by President Johnson in 1964, that it was a war that the Vietnamese rather than "American boys" had to win was not acceptable to them. Neither was President Nixon's "Vietnamization" of the war.
Some Americans agreed with them. Some in the U.S. continued to see the North as invaders of the South and to see the war as simply Communist expansion. They believed that those fighting on the side of the Saigon regime were stabbed in the back by U.S. television, journalists, demonstrations and weak-kneed politicians. A few described help from the Soviet Union and China as having made the communist victory possible – without comparing the level of that support to the support that the United States gave to Saigon for more than a decade.
Some Americans felt the same about pulling out of Vietnam as had some of the French in 1954. The French public had to some extent been indifferent about the fate of the Vietnamese, but some French military men were upset as they left on shore those Vietnamese they had promised never to abandon. Those in Vietnam who supported the French had been a minority, but they had committed themselves to the side of the French and were now exposed to the hostilities of other Vietnamese. Many swam to the French ships and begged to be taken aboard. The French watching this felt shame and that they had been betrayed.
In 1975, some Americans believed that what they saw of Vietnamese trying to flee Vietnam with the Americans meant that the South Vietnamese in general appreciated what the United States was doing in Vietnam. Some others saw this as confusing the minority who sided with the United States with the majority of South Vietnamese. If the South Vietnamese had been overwhelmingly supportive of the regime in Saigon in its fight against the communists, why, with all that firepower given them by the United States, could they not have won against the communists? What was the high rate of desertions among those drafted into Saigon's army about?
One of Saigon's wartime prime ministers, Nguyen Kao Ky, took an exceptional position among Vietnamese veterans living in the United States. He saw the roll of hearts and minds in Saigon's defeat. In his book, How We Lost the War in Vietnam, he described the U.S. role in Vietnam as "misguided" and naive concerning the opinions of the common Vietnamese.
Some Americans who were critical of their government promoting war in Vietnam believed that to liberate a people it is best to have most of them wanting that liberation. They believed that winning the war should never have become an issue because U.S. forces should not have been in Vietnam to begin with, and they tended to view U.S. involvement in Vietnam as a product of arrogance. Some other Americans wondered why the U.S. had been able to stop the Communists from taking over South Korea but could not stop North Vietnam from taking over South Vietnam. They believed in winning, and they believed that justice would have been served and righteousness would have prevailed if the U.S. had applied whatever force and violence was necessary to win a "victory" in Vietnam. Victory alone, they believed, would have given meaning to the sacrifice of the fallen.
That the U.S.military didn't win in Vietnam some of them viewed as a stab-in-the-back. An opposing view was that the war was a mistake and that increasing the deaths by a more intensified violence would not have erased that mistake.
Copyright © 1998-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.