If one war can be more depraved and dehumanising than another, then only in these terms is there a winner in Vietnam. For more than thirty years, virtually non-stop, Vietnam has been ravaged by the modern military hardware of rival armies. Back in 1941 the Japanese; then the British, then the French, the Vietnamese themselves, and finally the Americans. The wholesale slaughter and destruction, and the indifference to human suffering has been common to them all. The lying and hypocrisy of the politicians on all sides has been outstripped only by their gory deeds.
In the name of peace, the war steadily escalated for eight years. In the name of freedom, brutal dictators were installed and people whose “freedom” was denied burned themselves alive in protest. In the name of democracy, elections were suspended. In the name of liberation, many hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have been blown to pieces or burned alive with napalm. On the ideological pretence of stemming “communism” every conceivable horror and outrage has been practised. Regardless of how many Vietnamese were killed in the process, they had to be “saved”. The utter ruthlessness of governments purporting to be champions of the “free” world could hardly be surpassed by those of police-state dictatorships.
Humiliation & Protest
America has suffered the humiliation of having to bring members of her armed forces to trial, accused of atrocities against the people they were supposed to be defending, while those atrocities were condoned by the then deputy leader of British Labour government. We have witnessed the spectacle of returning military personnel denouncing the war and their own brutal conduct. The American Army has had to face the desertion of tens of thousands of its men, while the scale of drug-taking was so vast among those who remained in the war, it had to be virtually ignored.
There have been massive demonstrations against the war, throughout America’s largest cities, with the added irony that the same coercive State apparatus which carried on the war was frequently used against the demonstrators. In Britain, as in other parts of the world, there were also demonstrations. The British “left” which organised the protests here were not opposed to the war as such, but were anti-America, and favoured a Northern victory. They dragged out all the anti-working-class arguments about national independence and home-rule to justify their support for the bloody butchers on the other side. As with CND before them, the protest reached fever pitch and then fizzled out. Since October 1968 there has been hardly a peep out of them. Such movements inevitably dissipate the enthusiasm of the workers who support them. Capitalism mocks all such limited objectives when its vital interests are at stake. The tragedy is that this same enthusiasm coupled with Socialist ideas could rid the world of the scourge of capitalism itself.
As the misery and the bombing drag on towards the end of another year, it is worth remembering that it was the post-war British Labour government who restarted the war after taking over from the Japanese in 1945. In September of that year 20,000 British troops arrived, and General Gracey was set up as military dictator.
Despite the fact that the Vietminh (the forerunners of today’s Vietcong) had control of Saigon, the Labour government co-operated with the French ruling class, who wanted their colony back. The Labour government helped ship back French troops. General Gracey closed down the press and used the Japanese army to post a proclamation saying: “I hereby warn all wrongdoers, especially looters and saboteurs of public property and those carrying out similar activities, that they will be summarily shot.”
After arming former French prisoners who immediately started shooting up the Vietminh, Gracey disarmed them, and used Japanese forces to put down the guerrilla war he had sparked off. He ordered British troops: “Always use the maximum force to ensure wiping out any hostiles we may meet”. Like the Americans, the British had no way of knowing “hostiles” from innocent people. A British and Japanese military operation followed before the British left it to the French to continue the slaughter in March 1946. It was thus that “liberation” came to the people of Vietnam. Even the great American butcher General MacArthur (who wanted to use A-bombs in Korea) condemned as “ignoble” the conduct of the British Labour government in Indo-China.
With Friends Like These …
The French government carried on the war for eight years with financial aid from America, and the active support of the French Communist Party, whose deputies consistently voted for increased arms expenditure, in full knowledge that the arms were being used for killing their own “comrades” in Indochina. During 1946 Charles Tillon, a Communist, was in fact Minister for Armaments. These same deputies including Thorez, the C.P. Vice-Premier, voted unanimous congratulations to General Leclere after the bombardment of Haiphong where 6,000 civilians were killed.
On the other side, Ho Chi Minh wasted no time proving himself at least as treacherous and murderous as his adversaries. After running phony elections in January 1946, where 70 seats were promised to non-Communists (provided they did not compete in the election) he spent the next ten months liquidating 202 out of 444 elected representatives. The Vietminh carried out wholesale murder of opponents, in particular Trotskyists. One popular Trotskyist leader Ta Tu Thau, had three trials and three acquittals before he was shot. As a result of Cardinal Spellman’s campaign of propaganda half a million Catholics left North Vietnam in the mid-1950’s. This helped create serious food shortages, which led to peasant uprisings in late 1956. Ho Chi Minn’s army crushed the “rebels” and killed or deported 6,000 farmers.
. . . who needs the Enemy?
The Chinese ruling class whilst pouring military aid into the North and conducting a propaganda war against “American Imperialism” has supplied steel for American army and air bases. The Russian bosses have done much the same thing, trading with both sides, and there have been the usual hypocritical accusations and counter-accusations hurled between the Chinese and Rusian rulers.
If Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon have been the wililng tools of American capitalism in prosecuting the war, (backed up by Wilson and Heath on behalf of British capitalism) Mao Tse Tung, Brezhnev and Ho Chi Minh were as soaked in the blood of the working class as their western counterparts.
Wilson’s Labour government supplied some of the napalm which American forces used to burn alive so many thousands of men, women, and children. They also trained South Vietnamese forces and built bases for the U.S. air force.
Workers Have no Country
If anyone doubts that the sordid economic motives of capitalism lie behind the war in Vietnam, the U.S. News and World Report for the 16 April 1954 said: “One of the world’s richest areas is open to the winner in Indo-China — tin, rubber, rice, key strategic raw materials are what the war is really about” (quoted in Solidarity Pamphlet, The Rape of Vietnam, from which other material in this article has been taken).
The fact that the world has absorbed the emotional shock waves of the war in Vietnam, and a generation has lived with the stock-piling of H-bombs, is a measure of the terrifying extent of capitalism’s conditioning. It is also a damning indictment of this system of society.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties including the World Socialist Party of the U.S. have consistently opposed all wars. Taking our stand on the basis of the interests of the world’s working class, we condemned the two world wars as thieves’-quarrels of rival capitalist classes. We declared that no war is worth the shedding of a single drop of workers’ blood. We re-affirm that attitude. Vietnam is likewise a thieves’ war. The workers and peasants own no country on either side. They will find themselves as firmly shackled to the juggernaut of exploitation, whoever emerges as their new masters. Neither can “peace” be long secure, for fresh conflicts and future wars are inseparable from continuing capitalism. Vast air bases and thousands of planes stand in readiness to continue the war, despite the much-trumpeted withdrawal of ground forces. More than three million dead for nothing. And how many more millions will be slaughtered before the working class gets rid of the slaughter-house, remains a very open question.