Thursday , February 06, 2014 - 9:54 AM
This year marks the 50th anniversary of key events, including the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which led to the expansion of the Vietnam war.
That war was one of our longest wars and one of the greatest tragedies to profoundly affect this nation. Starting in 1946, the U.S. government sympathized with and supported, sometimes with its own military, forces that were defeated in 1975. The first U.S. casualties occurred in 1959; between then and the departure of the last U.S. troops in early 1973, the U.S. military suffered more than 58,000 deaths.
Reviewing the history, this tragedy occurred largely because foreign policy decision makers and the U.S. media of the 1950s ignored warnings and misrepresented basic facts.
Although most Americans ignored the war until about 1965, when the casualties escalated, a remarkably prescient warning about Vietnam was given over a decade earlier, in June 1954, by Paul M. Sweezy, an economist and historian who had taught at Harvard. In a publication he edited, The Monthly Review, he asked: “Are we going to take the position that anti-communism justifies anything, including colonialism, interference in the affairs of other countries, and aggression? That way, let us be perfectly clear about it, lies war and more war leading ultimately to full-scale national disaster. ... The time for decision is now. ... Tomorrow may be too late.”
Sweezy’s prophetic warning never reached a mass audience; he was a socialist at a time when that evoked hysteria. The nation ignored him, to its peril, and did indeed experience the “full-scale national disaster” in Vietnam Sweezy warned about. Critical events occurred in July 1954, at Geneva Switzerland. It was agreed that there would be a temporary partition of Vietnam at the 17th parallel until a July 1956 election could be held which would unify Vietnam. Shortly afterward, the U.S. government, and hence the media, totally misrepresented those events. The key fact — that the partition was only temporary — was not brought to light until the Pentagon Papers (a 47 volume top-secret history of Vietnam from WWII to May 1968) was published. According to the U.S. government and media, the Geneva Accords had created two separate nations, a North Vietnam and a South Vietnam. This colossal falsehood, repeated countless times, spawned another false narrative: that the U.S. purpose in Southeast Asia was to defend the weak nation of South Vietnam from attacks by the strong nation of North Vietnam.
Daniel Ellsberg obtained the Pentagon Papers, at great personal risk to himself, and became perhaps the greatest whistleblower in our history. Yet even he believed the false narrative as a Pentagon official. Only after he read the accords did he find that the U.S. government-media version was a “brazen reversal of the letter and spirit of the accords as written.” This changed him from a strong supporter of the war to a vehement critic.
Indeed, the Geneva Accords declared that the “demarcation line is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary.” They further speak of the “territorial integrity” of just one Vietnam, not a North and a South.
Moreover, at the 1954 Geneva Conference, the U.S. representative, Undersecretary of State Walter Bedell Smith, spoke of Vietnam as one nation. The U.S. government accepted the unitary character of Vietnam throughout the Conference.
But the U.S. feared the July 1956 election because as President Dwight D. Eisenhower noted on page 372 of his book “Mandate For Change:” “I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had election been held ... possibly 80 percent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh ...” Thus to block the elections, Eisenhower moved to make the temporary split of Vietnam permanent by promising and providing aid to a dictator in the south. The dictator, Diem, on six separate occasions from 1955 to 1957, ignored or rejected requests to hold the national election the Geneva Accords promised. In making the temporary partition permanent, the U.S. created South Vietnam.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media employs people who missed essential points of the Pentagon Papers:
• On April 29, 2000, this paper published an Associated Press piece that states: “When Vietnam gained its independence from France in 1954 it was divided into two countries — the communist north and non-communist south.”
• On May 2, 2004, this paper published an Associated Press article which quoted CNN saying: “Following the French withdrawal, Vietnam was officially divided into a communist North and a non-communist South-setting the stage for U.S. involvement.”
The media was less pessimistic about the Vietnam War’s outcome than the internal documents of the intelligence agencies. But the war’s supporters considered it overly pessimistic and labeled it “adversarial.” Yet, had the media done its homework, rather than relying on government officials, it would have fundamentally destroyed the narrative that caused so many to support the war.
“Ignorance is the root of all misfortune.” — Plato
Jones lives in West Haven.
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