The Antitraveller
Voyaging Is Victory

origins of the vietnam war

The gradual US invasion of Vietnam represents a violent journey down the road of US control over the Third World. The early years reflect an all-too common strategy of intervention in the affairs of other states.

 

In 1945 a defeated Japan was forced to concede its occupation of the former French colony of Vietnam. The newly free Vietnamese drafted a Declaration of Independence, based on the principles of the French Revolutions Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence (another ironic moment in international relations), against colonial rule that had robbed its natural resources and enslaved and starved large numbers of the population. Its leader Ho Chi Minh sought their right to self-determination, as espoused by the Charter, in letters to Truman and the UN. It fell on deaf ears, and the French re-occupied, bombing North Vietnam in 1946 and starting an 8 year war against Ho and his Viet Minh, with extensive military and financial aid from the US. The French withdrew from the North in 1954, after a peace accord was made in Geneva, on the proviso that in two years there would be a free election for a unified Vietnam. Before that time however, the US installed Ngo Dinh Diem, who continued the assault against communist resistance, tortured and massacred political prisoners, and made sure there wasn’t the promised elections.

 

Obviously a leader that needs to rule with extreme violence, with external assistance, isn’t going to win a free election. The US’ man in Saigon was put there and supported to maintain regional strategic and material interests, justified by the ‘domino theory’ that if one country is let go to communism others will follow, and hegemonic purchase on the region will be lost. Was this theory sound rationale for US involvement in Vietnam? The fact that it was so firmly held, and repeated so often by politicians and state dept planners, from the end of WW2 right through the entire war in Vietnam, is evidence enough that it was the driving motivation for involvement. And it certainly makes rational sense if we accept the US’ elites desire for global domination. Not in the sense that the spread of communism is a threat to ‘freedom’ or democracy or the rights of nations to self-determination or any such lofty rhetoric. But that ideological threat, the example of the possibility of social and economic progress outside of the US system of imperial control, could sway country after country away from colonialism and capitalism. That was a very real threat to the US. Japan was the ‘super domino’ that could not be allowed to slip from the US grip. Not that Japan would go communist, but that in a region outside of US control it would by necessity have to accommodate its neighbours interests for economic survival.

 

The origins of the Vietnam war fits into the numerous examples of the US need to maintain ‘stability’ in Third World regions and the violent lengths it will go to to do it. The support of the brutal Diem rule maintained the same system of colonial rule as the French, a ruling class controlling a peasant population. The US would have liked a Western-friendly dictator to control the little jungle country so that it stayed in its place in the exploitable Third World periphery. The enduring success of this model, from Africa to the Middle East and Latin America, attests the fact that the people of the Third World are not granted human rights because its just not profitable for the centres of power. Globalisation has for the most part enabled this system of control to continue without the need for excessive military intervention ,with some notable exceptions of course. But in the ’50s and ’60s, the alternatives to global capitalism were more prominent, and necessitated more violent means for ideological control over emerging independent former-colonies.

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