The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?
by John Marciano
(Monthly Review Press, £14.65)
by Steven Andrew
Morning Star | 06 February, 2017
FOR the past few decades, an unholy alliance of politicians, generals, journalists and academics have spent unlimited time and resources trying to convince the world that the US invasion of Vietnam was done with the best of intentions, the general narrative being that it was an idealistic crusade centred on the defence of democracy.
If crimes did occur, these were very much exceptional mistakes and, if they weren’t, actions do have to be contextualised. After all, wasn’t the communist enemy 10 times worse?
It’s an unremitting campaign and one which has returned with a vengeance as the empire continues to justify ongoing warfare against all those not willing to play ball.
Commemoration of the war has also been an assault on the truth which has united Democrat and Republican alike, exposing once again all that is rotten at the heart of a “democratic” system completely dominated by the ultra-rich.
Presidents Clinton, Obama and Trump can position themselves wherever they want.
But when it comes to Vietnam and, indeed, every other imperialist intervention before, during and after, it’s very much business as usual.
Even the mildest of criticisms is demonised as unpatriotic and, unsurprisingly, long term anti-war activist John Marciano has a different take on things altogether. In this short but intense volume, he quickly demolishes some of the more perennial myths that have grown up around the conflict.
The war on Vietnam is very much seen as coming in a long line of invasions motivated purely by the need to defend the interest of monopoly capital.
Beneath all the hypocritical platitudes about freedom, Marciano shows that US foreign policy is far more about ensuring access to cheap labour, markets and raw materials and destroying all those societies who try to take a different, if not explicitly, non-capitalist path.
Irrespective of what the liberal consensus is today, the stance taken by former president Kennedy towards Vietnam was hardly one of someone who respected the right to national independence.
Differences between him and other members of the militaristic elite were more ones of effective strategy than moral outlook.
Marciano is unafraid to argue that both the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident and the ridiculous but still ongoing cult about missing-in-action GIs have no factual basis.
He ably demonstrates the horrific extent to which the US military used huge amounts of chemical and biological weaponry and totally exposes the oft-repeated lie about the massacre at My Lai standing alone in its brutality.
On the home front, the book explores the carefully constructed image of an anti-war movement dominated by middle-class, toytown revolutionaries who were all too happy to stab serving soldiers in the back — 10 out of 10 for anyone who can name an earlier German movement willing to make political capital out of this one — pointing out how opposition to the war was far more working class and multinational than later accounts depicted.
Alleged hostility to soldiers would hardly have sat comfortably alongside the work of the massively influential Vietnam Veterans Against the War and with the widespread and subsequently ignored network of safe houses, bust funds, coffee shops and underground newspapers set up specifically for, and often by, conscripts.
Marciano’s book is an excellent riposte to those who would revise history but it’s sad that it still has to be made.
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