Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seeds of Vietnam war planted sixty years ago.

In the 50s and 60s Americans looked at Russia and China and saw a frightening threat to democracy. The 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis for instance produced anxiety that exceeded common sense. The threat of nuclear missile exchange prompted school officials to order safety drills. Kids huddled under their desks with arms over heads. None of that would have spared those children from incineration. But it did teach fear of communism.

Flag of the Communist Party of Vietnam

I barely knew Vietnam existed in 1963. The bulk of Americans shared a same or similar ignorance, but top American officials for several years had been feeling threatened by a course of significance to France and Vietnam.  France had been losing its war to defeat a nationalist and a communist movement fighting for a liberated Vietnam. Excluding the nationalist aspect, American officials focused on the communist aspect. While the Viet Minh resisted French occupation of Vietnam for Vietnamese reasons, Americans in Congress and the White House labeled their struggle international communist aggression.

Vietminh victory at the battle of Dien Bien Phu convinced France to drop the effort to hold on to French Indo-China.   At the 1954 Geneva Conference, the signatories accepted a two year, temporary partition of Vietnam into North and South. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics during this time moved from north to south. The Geneva Accords specified an internationally supervised election take place in 1956 to unify the country and choose a president.

The 1954 Geneva Conference
The Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh had been fighting the French for the entirety of Vietnam, but agreed to partition in hopes it could achieve this aim without bloodshed. The United States refused to sign the Accord. American officials felt alarmed because to them French capitulation translated into communist expansion. The Eisenhower administration was hampered by blinders and apparently could not detect the difference between the internal affairs of Vietnam and what it deemed the worldwide threat of communist expansion.

Ho Chi Minh 1946
I was part of that American mentality. I felt patriotism entwined with anti-communism.  I felt my country was obligated to oppose communism anywhere in the world.

As were most Americans, I was ignorant. As long as were fed tripe dosed with fear of communism, we dutifully supported the U.S. policy of containment. Most of us believed our leaders told the truth to common citizens, and no one relished the prospect of being perceived as un-American or soft on communism.

As a super-power obsessed with its anti-communism, the United States intended to subvert Vietnamese re-unification. After all, it had not agreed to the terms of the Geneva Accord. President Eisenhower backed Ngo Dinh Diem, who declared South Vietnam an independent country. Diem then “won” a South Vietnamese referendum to top office by more than 95% of the vote. Although obviously fraudulent, the United States granted diplomatic recognition and allied itself with Diem’s government. Diem trashed the 1956 Vietnam-wide re-unification election by refusing to participate. Sources report he would have without almost a single doubt lost the election to Ho Chi Minh.

Ngo Dinh Diem
Sponsored by the United States, in 1955 eight nations formed an alliance called the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. (SEATO) Composed of Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and the United Kingdom---the allied nations agreed to collaborate to fight communism in Southeast Asia. The battle lines were drawn. The seeds that would grow into a harvest of tragically mistaken war were now planted.

At the Vietnam War Memorial



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