Click On Title To Link To "Wikipedia"'s Entry For The Fall Of Saigon And A Famous Photograph Of The Evacuation Of The United States Embassy In The Wake Of The North Vietnamese Army Advances On Saigon.
April 30th Marks The 34th Anniversary Of The Military Victory Of The North Vietnamese Army/South Vietnamese National Liberation Front With The Fall Of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
Other years I have used this occasion to review some work directly related to that victory from the view point of highlighting some exploit of the victors in that war- our side. One should not underestimate the importance of that victory by a determined, if outgunned military force, in crimping the style of American imperial policy for a significant period (and some would argue its continuing effect today). One should also note, sadly, that this event (always dramatically visualized in the mind’s eye by those pictures of the helicopters evacuating American and other personnel from the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy) the last clear cut anti-capitalist victory that we have been able to celebrate. That, in itself, is cause for reflection.
This year, with the almost daily growing evidence by the Obama administration that it is seeking to escalate the American presence in the quagmire that is Afghanistan beyond any rational necessity, I wish to review the memoir of one of the American architects of the American escalation in Vietnam, Secretary of War Robert Strange McNamara. As McNamara’s version of the Vietnam saga unfolds, and not incidentally or accidentally his craven attempt to reshape the history of his involvement in that process as well, one cannot help but see that the same sense of American hubris is at play now. As always to be on the safe side here the slogan remains- Obama- All U.S./Allied Troops Out Of Iraq and Afghanistan Now!
The Fog Of War, Part II- War Secretary Robert McNamara’s View Of His Handiwork in Vietnam
In Retrospect: The Tragedy And Lessons Of Vietnam, Robert Strange McNamara with Brain VanDeMark, Random House, 1995
Anyone who had caught the Friday March 27, 2009 headlines is aware that the Democratic Party-run Obama government has called for some 4,000 additional troops for Afghanistan and what they, euphemistically, call civilian support teams in order to bolster the sagging regime of “Mayor of Kabul” Karzai. Those numbers are in addition to the 17,000 extras already committed by the Obama regime in February. Does the word escalation seem appropriate here?
One of the problems of having gone through the Vietnam experience in my youth (including periods of lukewarm support for American policy under John F. Kennedy, a hands-off attitude in the early Lyndon B. Johnson years and then full-bore opposition under the late Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford regimes) is a tendency to view today’s American imperial policy in the same by-the-numbers approach as I took as a result of observing the Vietnam War as it unfolded. There are differences, some of them hugely so, between Vietnam and Afghanistan. Just as, I have previously noted in this space, there are differences between Vietnam and the recently “completed” Iraq War. (Hey, I’m just going by what the media tells me is going on. They wouldn’t lead us astray, would they?)
But, I keep getting this eerie feeling in the back of my neck every time I hear, or see, anything concerning Afghanistan coming out of this new Obama administration. They appear clueless, yet are determined to forge ahead with this policy that can only lead to the same kind of quagmire than Vietnam and Iraq turned into. That is where the analogies to Vietnam do connect up. In this regard, I have recently been re-reading Kennedy/Johnson War Secretary Robert Strange (that’s his middle name, folk, I didn’t make it up and didn’t need to) McNamara’s memoirs, written in 1995, of his central role in the development of Vietnam policy, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam”.
Obviously McNamara has put his own ‘spin’ on his personal role then in order to absolve himself (a little) before history. That is to be expected. What comes through crystal clear, however, because in the final analysis McNamara still doesn’t get it, is that when you’re the number one imperial power all the decisions you make are suppose to fall into place for your benefit because you represent the “good guys”. Regardless of what you do, or do not, know about the internal workings of the situation at hand. The Kennedy/Johnson administrations were almost totally ignorant of the internal working of Vietnamese society. That is why I have that eerie, very eerie, feeling about this Obama war policy.
In the normal course of events former high level bureaucrats in American presidential administrations usually save their attempts at self-justification for high ticket published memoirs or congenial `softball' speaking tours and conferences. In short, they prefer to preach to the choir at retail prices. Apparently, Cold Warrior extraordinaire Secretary of War Robert Strange McNamara felt that such efforts were very necessary in his case and hence he had to go to the prints in order to whitewash his role in the history of his times. Despite an apparent agreement with his “ghost writer” not to cover certain subjects and be allowed to present his story his way it is always good to catch a view of how the other side operates. It ain't pretty.
After a lifetime of relative public silence, at the age of 8o something, McNamara decided to give his take on events in which he was a central figure like dealing with the fact of American imperial military superiority in the post- World War II period, dealing with the Russians and the fight for American nuclear superiority during the Cold War, the ill-conceived Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the later Cuban Missile crisis and above all his role in the escalation of the wars in Southeast Asia, primarily Vietnam.
Very little here focuses on his time at the World Bank, a not unimportant omission that would highlight my point that he might have changed his clothing in the course of his career but not his mindset. While those of us interested in learning the lessons of history have long understood that to know the political enemy is the beginning of wisdom one will not find much here that was not infinitely better covered by the late journalist David Halberstam in his classic “The Best and The Brightest”.
McNamara has chosen to present his story in the form of parables, or rather, little vignettes about the “lessons” to be drawn from experiences (eleven in all by the way). Thus, we are asked to sit, embarrassingly, through McNamara's freshman course in revisionist history as he attempts to take himself from the cold-hearted Cold Warrior and legitimate “war criminal” to the teddy-bearish old man who has learned something in his life- after a lifetime of treachery. Yet, like that freshman course there are things to be learned despite the professor and more to learn, if only by reading between the lines, than he or she wanted to express.
McNamara presents his take by dividing the Vietnam War buildup, at least at the executive level, into periods; the early almost passive Kennedy days; the post Kennedy assassination period when Lyndon Johnson was trying to be all things to all men; the decisive post-1964 election period; and, various periods of fruitless and clueless escalation. It is this process that is, almost unwittingly, the most important to take from this world. Although McNamara, at the time of writing was an older and wiser man, when he had power he went along with ever step of the “hawks”, civilian and military. He led no internal opposition, and certainly not public one. This is the classic “good old boys” network where one falls on one’s sword when the policy turns wrong. And he is still scratching his head over why masses of anti-war protesters chanted “war criminal” when they confronted him with his deeds. And then listen to the latest screeds by current War Secretary Gates concerning Afghanistan. It will sound very familiar.
In the end, if one took his story at face value, one could only conclude that he was just trying to serve his bosses the best way he could and if things went wrong it was their fault. Nothing new there, though. Henry Kissinger has turned that little devise into an art form. Teary-eyed at the end McNamara might be as he acknowledges his role in the mass killings of his time, but beware of a wolf in sheep's clothing. Yet, you need to read this book if you want to understand how these guys (and gals) defended their state then, and now.
As is always appropriate on international working class holidays and days of remembrance here is the song most closely associated with that movement “The Internationale” in English, French and German. I will not vouch for the closeness of the translations but certainly of the spirit. Workers Of The World Unite!
The Internationale [variant words in square brackets]
Arise ye workers [starvelings] from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant.
Away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise
We'll change henceforth [forthwith] the old tradition [conditions]
And spurn the dust to win the prize.
So comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale unites the human race.
So comrades, come rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale unites the human race.
No more deluded by reaction
On tyrants only we'll make war
The soldiers too will take strike action
They'll break ranks and fight no more
And if those cannibals keep trying
To sacrifice us to their pride
They soon shall hear the bullets flying
We'll shoot the generals on our own side.
No saviour from on high delivers
No faith have we in prince or peer
Our own right hand the chains must shiver
Chains of hatred, greed and fear
E'er the thieves will out with their booty [give up their booty]
And give to all a happier lot.
Each [those] at the forge must do their duty
And we'll strike while the iron is hot.
Debout les damnés de la terre
Debout les forçats de la faim
La raison tonne en son cratère
C'est l'éruption de la fin
Du passe faisons table rase
Foules, esclaves, debout, debout
Le monde va changer de base
Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout
C'est la lutte finale
Groupons-nous, et demain (bis)
Sera le genre humain
Il n'est pas de sauveurs suprêmes
Ni Dieu, ni César, ni tribun
Producteurs, sauvons-nous nous-mêmes
Décrétons le salut commun
Pour que le voleur rende gorge
Pour tirer l'esprit du cachot
Soufflons nous-mêmes notre forge
Battons le fer quand il est chaud
L'état comprime et la loi triche
L'impôt saigne le malheureux
Nul devoir ne s'impose au riche
Le droit du pauvre est un mot creux
C'est assez, languir en tutelle
L'égalité veut d'autres lois
Pas de droits sans devoirs dit-elle
Egaux, pas de devoirs sans droits
Hideux dans leur apothéose
Les rois de la mine et du rail
Ont-ils jamais fait autre chose
Que dévaliser le travail
Dans les coffres-forts de la bande
Ce qu'il a crée s'est fondu
En décrétant qu'on le lui rende
Le peuple ne veut que son dû.
Les rois nous saoulaient de fumées
Paix entre nous, guerre aux tyrans
Appliquons la grève aux armées
Crosse en l'air, et rompons les rangs
S'ils s'obstinent, ces cannibales
A faire de nous des héros
Ils sauront bientôt que nos balles
Sont pour nos propres généraux
Ouvriers, paysans, nous sommes
Le grand parti des travailleurs
La terre n'appartient qu'aux hommes
L'oisif ira loger ailleurs
Combien, de nos chairs se repaissent
Mais si les corbeaux, les vautours
Un de ces matins disparaissent
Le soleil brillera toujours.
Wacht auf, Verdammte dieser Erde,
die stets man noch zum Hungern zwingt!
Das Recht wie Glut im Kraterherde
nun mit Macht zum Durchbruch dringt.
Reinen Tisch macht mit dem Bedranger!
Heer der Sklaven, wache auf!
Ein nichts zu sein, tragt es nicht langer
Alles zu werden, stromt zuhauf!
Volker, hort die Signale!
Auf, zum letzten Gefecht!
Erkampft das Menschenrecht
Es rettet uns kein hoh'res Wesen
kein Gott, kein Kaiser, noch Tribun
Uns aus dem Elend zu erlosen
konnen wir nur selber tun!
Leeres Wort: des armen Rechte,
Leeres Wort: des Reichen Pflicht!
Unmundigt nennt man uns Knechte,
duldet die Schmach langer nicht!
In Stadt und Land, ihr Arbeitsleute,
wir sind die starkste Partei'n
Die Mussigganger schiebt beiseite!
Diese Welt muss unser sein;
Unser Blut sei nicht mehr der Raben
und der machtigen Geier Frass!
Erst wenn wir sie vertrieben haben
dann scheint die Sonn' ohn' Unterlass!