1960s >> 1967 >> no-759-november-1967

The Review Column: Deadlock in Vietnam

In Vietnam, if we are to believe them, both sides want to end the war but neither can stop fighting. The North Vietnamese say they would like to start peace talks—if the Americans would first stop the bombing.

The Americans say they are only too willing to stop the bombing—if the Vietcong stop their infiltration and attacks.

The only thing standing in the way of breaking this deadlock, apparently, is a little matter of mutual misunderstanding of each other’s intentions.

We have, of course, heard this one before.

Modern wars do not happen because of misunderstandings, nor lack of communication, nor stubborness on the part of a country’s leaders.

At the most, these factors can only contribute to a situation caused basically by the conflicting interests of capitalist society.

These interests—economic, strategic, commercial, political—spring from the very nature of capitalism and the system cannot exist without them. They divide the world’s peoples, they distort our lives, they waste enormous human resources in the quest for an ever more powerful means of waging war.

In Vietnam, the Americans are fighting desperately to protect access to the raw materials in South East Asia and because it has become a sticking point in Washington’s twenty year old struggle in the Far East.

If Vietnam goes, the surrender of the rest of Indo-China may follow. American influence and control in an area important for its mineral wealth and its markets would be severely restricted, perhaps leaving Russia and China to squabble over the spoils.

This is a typically complex and perilous struggle. Each side is committed to the stage where no end is in sight and the only consolation is the precarious fact that so far it has not developed into something worse.

Scarborough Follies
Another year, another autumn, another Labour Party conference. We have, by now, not the message. In 1963, again at Scarborough, Labour heard Harold Wilson say that a better life was just around the corner, as soon as we had a Labour government to set the scientist free.

In 1964 they heard Wilson—then Prime Minister—assure them that, with Labour in power, better times were definitely on the way.


In 1965 Wilson was on the defensive, struggling to justify his government’s incomes policy and what he called redeployment—not, he insisted, unemployment. All of this was, he said, a necessary preliminary to the better days which everyone knew lay ahead.


In 1966 it was an outright wage freeze, credit restrictions—in fact everything which under the Tories had been stigmatised as top-go—which Wilson said must be endured before we could come into Labour’s Promised Land.


This year it was the same old story. Better times are coming—in fact, Wilson can actually see the hoped-for improvements which prove to him that we are almost round the comer. But before that, there is a little matter of wage restriction, unemployment and cutting the unions down to size which must be gone through.


So it goes on, year after year.
Party conferences, as everyone now knows, have little meaning other than as exercises in public relations. This year the Labour leaders used their gathering to defend their records and, with one or two exceptions, they did it with diabolical skill.


The delegates accepted it. The wonder is that they never tire of hearing the same weary promises, the same cynical justification of broken pledges, the same old visions of prosperity just over the horizon.


Labour Party members, it is clear, are content that they will never arrive at the Promised Land. But surely even they must see that they are not even travelling hopefully?


Horizon of Horror
“If, then, man is to have a future at all, it will have to be a future overshadowed with the permanent possibility of thermo-nuclear holocaust.”


That was Americans Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, speaking about the decision to establish a screen of anti-ballistic missile sites in the United States.


This is another stage in the nuclear arms race. The screen is designed to counter the latest generation of Russian missiles, which were developed in answer to the Americans building up their missile stocks, which they did because they were convinced that the Russians were drawing ahead in the race . . . .


The next stage will be more fearsomely efficient missiles, with devices designed to pierce the screen; it will be other screens by other nuclear powers, with all of them working on ways to beat the defences of the rest.


Somewhere in all this, someone is still presumably touting around the deterrent theory.


These latest devices will have to be tested, almost certainly in the air. Whether Russia or America does this first, we shall be subjected to a campaign of excuses for the breaking of the Test Ban Treaty—and of course the other side will announce itself free of all obligations under the Treaty.


The Treaty was, in fact, no more than a pause in the development of the world’s nuclear horrors, while the super powers digested their knowledge of the Bomb and built up their stocks of it. It did not mean the end of the arms race.


It did not, first of all, prevent the emergence of new nuclear powers—France and China—and it did not prevent the established powers testing their weapons, when they needed to, underground.


This situation has exhausted itself and the time has come for another lurch upwards in the crazy, murderous spiral.


If we require evidence of the increasing horror and degradation of capitalism, of its inability to satisfy human needs, we have no need to look further than the progress man daily makes in perfecting what could be the means of his own annihilation.