PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
The war waged by the United States against the people of Vietnam is surely one of the most brutal within living memory. It is not possible to isolate this war from its historical and social context. It must be noted that, since World War II, the great industrial powers in the West have killed four million peasants in the course of intervening in their countries with massive military power. One hundred and fifty thousand peasants were killed by the French in Madagascar, a quarter of a million by the British in Kenya, one million by the French in Algeria and a further million and a half by the French and the Americans in Indochina.
The people of Vietnam are a small agrarian people, with little industry and without a developed technology. Notwithstanding this, the United States, in the first nine months of 1966, dropped more bombs on half of this small agrarian country (North Vietnam) than in the entire Pacific theatre during World War II. This is the supreme atrocity.
If any one man is responsible for alerting Western opinion to the nature of this war and for arousing consciousness about the struggle of the people of Vietnam, it is Wilfred Burchett. I rejoice in taking this opportunity to acknowledge my own considerable debt to him, for his book The Furtive War* was, for me, a vital document which first made imminent and vivid the extraordinary struggle waged by the people of Vietnam. In a sense, I date my own deep and full involvement in the defense of the people of Vietnam from my reading of Wilfred Burchett’s book. He is the contemporary historian, the meticulous reporter who has chosen to identify himself with the people of Vietnam and has served them exceedingly well. It is because he has written so movingly and with such conviction that many of us have been enabled to become directly involved in the Vietnamese cause. Burchett has found that just combination of moral and political commitment with unfailingly accurate and factual reporting which at once inform and engage those fortunate to come in contact with his work.
Vietnam North continues his report from Vietnam which, together with The Furtive War and Vietnam: Inside Story of the Guerilla War (New York, 1965), comprises a notable contribution to contemporary history that will be read and studied with admiration for many generations. Burchett writes from day to day involvement with the people who have waged a struggle against such incredible odds that I am not sure of an historical parallel with which to compare the Vietnamese resistance to American aggression.
“Pilots conscious of their targets and of the weapons they carry and use–men responsible for the murder of thousands of civilians–were considered for trial in Vietnam after their capture. This possibility brought an hysterical and ugly response in the Western press. The very attempt to judge the responsibility of pilots who have bombed the people of Vietnam is held illegitimate.”
Vietnam North deals with a question of abiding importance: How does an agrarian people without an air force survive bombing which, in its very concentration and power, is so massive and unrelenting? How is it that the supply of food can continue? How is it that the victims of these bombings can be treated? How are epidemics avoided? What enables the Vietnamese to sustain their morale? What sort of war is it that the Americans are waging? Burchett, from the inside, conveys something of the elan, the daily heroism and the inestimable spirit of resistance which emanate from the villages. The Vietnamese peasant, downtrodden through history, starved and brutalized by feudal overlords, deprived of learning under alien regimes, withstands four million pounds of bombs daily, jelly-gasoline and fragmentation bombs which lacerate those rendered exposed by the vast tonnages.
Writing in the New York Times of October 30, 1966, James Reston, one of the most esteemed American reporters, heads his article: “That Coon Skin on the Wall.” He speaks of “delight with the President’s folksy admonition to the troops at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam: ‘Come home with that coon skin on the wall’.” One of the pejorative terms applied to American Negroes in the United States is “coon.” In the part of the world from which the American President comes, coming home with a coon skin has the connotation of killing an Indian or a Negro. The New York Times is no more embarrassed by this implied racism than the rest of the Western press has shown itself in reporting the American war against the Vietnamese people.
“Anyone who has spent much time in the field has seen the heads of prisoners held under water and bayonet blades pressed against their throats…. Victims have bamboo slivers run under their finger-nails, wires from a field telephone connected to arms, nipples or testicles. ” (New York Times, November 28, 1965.)
“One of the most infamous methods of torture is partial electrocution-‘frying’, as one U.S. adviser called it. Two wires were attached to the thumbs of a Vietcong prisoner. The mechanism produced an electric current that burned and shocked the prisoner. Other techniques… involve cutting off the fingers, ears, finger-nails or sexual organs of another prisoner. A string of ears decorates the wall of a Government military installation. One American installation has a Vietcong ear preserved in alcohol.” (New York Herald-Tribune, April 25, 1965.)
Malcom Browne, correspondent for the Associate Press, reported: “Interrogation involves connection of electrodes from (this) generator to the temples of the subject, or other part of the body. In the case of women prisoners the electrodes often are attached to the nipples…. Many of the soldiers enjoy beating up Vietcong prisoners.The subjects of interrogation so often die under questioning that intelligence seems to be a secondary matter.”
The Western press abounds in such descriptions. Equally, the press reports without evident concern the bombing of hospitals, schools and sanatoria: “The Government regards hospitals as fair targets for ground or air attack. When asked if Americans officially condone these attacks, a U.S. military spokesman said: ‘There has not been a definite policy ruling’. ” (New York Times, July 25, 1962.)
Since this admission that hospitals are fair target, the systematic bombardment of the North has occurred, in the course of which hospitals and sanatoria have been subjected to conscious and sustained attack.
Johnson, who enjoins his men to tack coon skins to the wall, said on March 15, 1948, in the House of Representatives: “No matter what else we have of offensive or defensive weapons, without superior air power America is a bound and throttled giant, impotent and easy prey to any yellow dwarf with a pocket knife.”
This, then, is the ideology which permits the bombardment of the people of North Vietnam and the use of torture. This is the mentality which directs experiments with chemicals, poison gas and bacterial devices. There must be no doubt about what is planned. “If,” said Hanson Baldwin in theNew York Times, “the United States is willing to commit upwards of a million troops, it should be able to mop up after the air havoc is complete”.
We learn in Vietnam North how the Vietnamese endure. It is time to assess the full record of what has happened. We must understand what were the motive forces for this war. We must assess the reasons for it and come face to face with its nature. Through this, we must examine our own relationship to the war of oppression waged against the Vietnamese and to the Vietnamese resistance itself.
In the West, many who profess to be sympathetic to the people of Vietnam occupy themselves primarily with devising schemes wherein the Vietnamese must treat the United States as moral equals. No matter that this great industrial colossus has waged a war of extermination. No matter that the Vietnamese endure forced labour and a policy of scorched earth in the South, as well as torture, mutilation and poisoning. No matter that new and fiendish weapons are employed experimentally against a people whose only offense is to struggle violently for their national independence and the right to conduct their own affairs. Western opinion, and notably a part of that which claims sympathy for the Vietnamese, fails to make the moral distinction between the aggressor and the victim.
Wilfred Burchett’s book Vietnam North engenders in my mind a series of thoughts: The Vietnamese are conducting their resistance in their own country. The warships which sit off the shores of Vietnam are treated in the West as immune from reprisal. The bases in Thailand, Laos and South Vietnam are considered immune from Vietnamese reprisal. The Vietnamese people would have every right not merely to destroy the Seventh Fleet, from which brutal attacks against their whole country emanate, but to destroy the bases in all those countries which host these citadels of mass murder. Beyond this, the people of Vietnam would be within their rights to bomb San Francisco, New York and Chicago. In a curious immoral way, the entire discussion concerning the war in Vietnam presupposes that the Vietnamese, in their own country, are to be judged harshly if they resist overly. Yet it could be argued that, were there one reprisal against an American city, it would do much to bring home the grotesque injustice of this war.
Pilots conscious of their targets and of the weapons they carry and use–men responsible for the murder of thousands of civilians–were considered for trial in Vietnam after their capture. This possibility brought an hysterical and ugly response in the Western press. The very attempt to judge the responsibility of pilots who have bombed the people of Vietnam is held illegitimate. What viciousness and racism! The rules are made in the West. An agrarian people is isolated by the United States and, if they resist, that is proof of their wickedness. If they move from resistance to reprisal, that is treated as cause for their wholesale annihilation. The perpetrators of the attack are treated as immutably safe from reprisal. The cities of the United States are not to experience what the Vietnamese suffer. The aircraft carriers and the bases are out of bounds to Vietnamese reprisal. They are to be allowed to continue their attacks unimpeded by anyone, least of all the victims. This base and inhuman morality is implicit in every Western report I have seen. This is nothing other than racist arrogance–the morality of the brute and the bully.
Wilfred Burchett’s book, like the Vietnamese struggle itself, is a defense of civilization and of human morality.
London, November 1, 1966.
* Wilfred G. Burchett, The Furtive War: The United States in Vietnam and Laos, New York, 1965.
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