1948-1991: US intervention and war in South East Asia

US troops in Vietnam

Noam Chomsky's very brief account of US military, economic and "diplomatic" action in Indochina in the last half of the 20th century.

Submitted by Steven. on September 9, 2006

The US wars in Indochina fall into the same general pattern
as the interventions in Latin America such as Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador... By
1948 [three years after the Saigon
Commune uprising
] the State Department recognised quite clearly that the
Viet Minh, the anti-French resistance led by Ho Chi Minh, was the national
movement of Vietnam. But the Viet Minh did not cede control to the local oligarchy.
It favoured independent development and ignored the interests of foreign investors.

There was fear the Viet Minh might succeed, in which case
"the rot would spread" and the "virus" would "infect"
the region, to adopt the language the planners used year after year after
year. (Except for a few madmen and nitwits, none feared conquest - they were
afraid of a positive example of successful development.)

What do you do when you have a virus? First you destroy
it, then you inoculate potential victims, so that the disease does not spread.
That's basically the US strategy in the Third World.

If possible, it's advisable to have the local military
destroy the virus for you. If they can't, you have to move your own forces
in. That's more costly, and it's ugly, but sometimes you have to do it. Vietnam
was one of those places where we had to do it.

Right into the late 1960s, the US blocked all attempts
at political settlement of the conflict, even those advanced by the Saigon
generals. If there were a political settlement, there might be progress toward
successful development outside of our influence - an unacceptable outcome.

Instead, we installed a typical Latin American-style terror
state in South Vietnam, subverted the only free elections in the history of
Laos because the wrong side won, and blocked elections in Vietnam because
it was obvious the wrong side was going to win there too.

The Kennedy administration escalated the attack against
South Vietnam from massive state terror to outright aggression. Johnson sent
a huge expeditionary force to attack South Vietnam and expanded the war to
all of Indochina. That destroyed the virus, all right - Indochina will be
lucky if it recovers in a hundred years.

While the United States was extirpating the disease of
independent development at its source in Vietnam, it also prevented its spread
by supporting the Suharto takeover in Indonesia in 1965, backing the overthrow
of Philippine democracy by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, supporting martial law
in South Korea (despite people’s
and Thailand and so on.

Suharto's 1965 coup in Indonesia was particularly welcome
to the West, because it destroyed the only mass-based political party there
[the Communist Party the PKI - the CIA handed Suharto membership lists, then
crossed people out as they were murdered]. That involved the slaughter, in
a few months, of about 700,000 people, mostly landless peasants - "a
gleam of light in Asia," as the leading thinker of the New York Times,
James Reston, exulted, assuring his readers that the US had a hand in this

The West was very pleased to do business with Indonesia's
new "moderate" leader, as the Christian Science Monitor described
General Suharto, after he had washed some of the blood off his hands - meanwhile
adding hundreds of thousands of corpses in East Timor and elsewhere. This
spectacular mass murderer is "at heart benign," the respected London
Economist assures us - doubtless referring to his attitude towards Western

After the Vietnam war was ended in 1975 (following the mass rebellion of American GIs),
the major policy goal of the US has been to maximise repression and suffering
in the countries that were devastated by our violence. The degree of the cruelty
is quite astonishing.

When the Mennonites tried to send pencils to Cambodia,
the State Department tried to stop them. When Oxfam tried to send ten solar
pumps, the reaction was the same. The same was true when religious groups
tried to send shovels to Laos to dig up some of the unexploded shells left
by American bombing.

When India tried to send 100 water buffalo to Vietnam
to replace the huge herds that were destroyed by the American attacks - and
remember, in this primitive country, water buffalo mean fertiliser, tractors,
survival - the United States threatened to cancel Food for Peace aid. (That's
one Orwell would have appreciated.) No degree of cruelty is too great for
Washington sadists. The educated classes know enough to look the other way.

In order to bleed Vietnam, we've supported the Khmer Rouge
indirectly through our allies, China and Thailand. The Cambodians have to
pay with their blood so we can make sure there isn't any recovery in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese have to be punished for having resisted US violence.

Contrary to what virtually everyone - left or right -
says, the United States achieved its major objectives in Indochina. Vietnam
was demolished. There's no danger that successful development there will provide
a model for other nations in the region.

Of course, it wasn't a total victory for the US. Our larger
goal was to reincorporate Indochina into the US-dominated global system, and
that has not yet been achieved.

But our basic goal - the crucial one, the one that really
counted - was to destroy the virus, and we did achieve that. Vietnam is a
basket case, and the US is doing what it can to keep it that way. In October
1991, the US once again overrode the strenuous objections of its allies in
Europe and Japan, and renewed the embargo and sanctions against Vietnam. The
Third World must learn that no one dare raise their head. The global enforcer
will persecute them relentlessly if they commit this unspeakable crime.

From What
Uncle Sam Really Wants
, by Noam Chomsky.

Buy What Uncle Sam Really Wants now

Chomsky is of course an American citizen, and so “we” and “our”
refers to the US. The article has been edited slightly by libcom – US
to UK spellings and a few small details have been added for the reader new
to the topic