US cover design


Copyright Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation Ltd. - with permission

March 13, 1964

UK cover design

The war in Vietnam is eighteen years old. [In March 1964] It began as a broad movement of resistance to the French under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, a Communist. The French fought with ferocity against an unarmed peasantry. Using guerrilla tactics, the Vietnamese drove the French out of the North of Vietnam and finally defeated them in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The negotiations at Geneva led to the establishment of an international Commission, intended to stabilize peace and watch over any attempt at foreign intervention.
      Before developing what I wish to say about this subject, I should like to make clear that the facts in this article are taken from daily papers and similar sources. Many are taken from bulletins of committees concerned with Vietnam. Some are from reports of the South Vietnam Liberation Red Cross and others from a very interesting book by Wilfred G. Burchett called The Furtive War. Many of the facts have passed unscathed through the crucible of American denial. Many of them have been accepted even by the American authorities. All of them, I have good reason to believe, are incontrovertible.
      It is important to realize that, since the French were defeated finally at Dien Bien Phu in '954) the war has been conducted surreptitiously under American direction. A substantial number of American forces began to be committed there after the French withdrawal and the Geneva talks. One of the most important aspects of this war has been that the United States pretended for many years that no such war was taking place and that the war which was not taking place was not being conducted by Americans. I have experienced some frustration in attempting to bring to light the fact that the war has been taking place and that Americans have been deeply involved in its conduct. At first, Western newspapers and even persons connected with the peace movement in the West held that there was no evidence of American direction of this war. The New York Times stated this several times Finally, in the course of controversy, it was allowed that American participation was solely in an advisory capacity.
      When it was alleged that chemicals were being employed by the United States forces in Vietnam, it was first denied and then alleged that the chemicals employed were used against American advice and wishes. It was then admitted that they were used under the direction of the United States, but it was said that chemicals were harmless to human beings and were intended solely for the purpose of clearing vegetation and foliage. I brought to public attention impressive and documented evidence concerning the use of additional chemicals and asked for international investigation of these allegations and the evidence adduced to support them. I was informed by various Western newspapers that no observers had found harmful results through the use of these chemicals and that no condemnatory comment had been made by the International Control Commission.
      It is odd that this is advanced on behalf of that Commission. The function of the Commission was to regulate and prevent intervention from the outside. The failure of this International Commission to make known its observation of American participation was in violation of its mandate and does not inspire confidence in its ability to detect chemicals where it failed adequately to detect armed forces, aircraft, military supplies and a full-scale war. I shah wish to return to these more contemporary aspects of the war in Vietnam. It is sufficient here to note that the extraordinary war which has been raging in Vietnam managed to elude the juridical commitments of the Geneva agreements. It encompassed repression and extermination without great hindrance on the part of the Control Commissions set up at Geneva, escaped for some time the notice of the Western press and enjoyed restrained consideration by those nominally committed to opposition to Cold War, small wars and wars of annihilation.
      The history of French and Vietnamese relations, particularly in the North, is much the same as that of the United States and South Vietnam. At the time of the conclusion of the Second World War, a movement of rebellion began, acquired new strength and culminated in the Geneva decisions. Vietnam was to he partitioned for an interim period, with the North under the control of the forces of Ho Chi Minh, and the South under the control of pro-Western groups. It was agreed that there would be a general election throughout Vietnam, out of which unification and neutralization were expected to come. The Geneva Conferences of 1954 were designed to bring neutralization to all of Indo-China. The United States, though not a signatory to these agreements, accepted them in name and professed them to be the basis of American policy in Indo-China.
      In fact, the United States quickly decided that it was impossible to permit a general election, in view of what it considered to be 'the disturbed state of the country'. The United States began to intervene actively with arms, money and men, and established in power a ruling oligarchy subservient to American interests. This direct foreign intervention destroyed the purpose of the Geneva agreements and was a test for the International Control Commission. Its failure to resist this violation steadfastly prepared the way for violence, the intrusion of the Cold War and the present threat to the peace of the world in South East Asia
      John Foster Dulles had urged the use of nuclear weapons at Dien Bien Phu. His desire to encompass the area in the Cold War led to the formation of the South East Asia Treaty Organization. The purpose of this body was to forestall neutrality and to forge a military alliance of anti-communists. The United States favoured Ngo Dinh Diem, a rich refugee from North Vietnam. He and his family, together with the Nhu family, represented a group of landowners and the Catholic hierarchy in Vietnam - a small, closely-knit circle. The Diem family installed officers and relatives in various provinces, who administered them virtually as private estates. Various religious sects and cults in Vietnam were subdued because they failed to prove sufficiently loyal to the Diem regime. The Diem and Nhu families were dependent upon American backing for their power. American policy aimed at keeping South Vietnam in the anti-Communist camp and at opposing all groups not subservient to that purpose The 'Vietcong'
'Vietcong'. The United States has sought to slur the guerrilla movement by naming it the 'Vietcong'. 'Vietcong' means 'Vietnamese Commies'. No group in South Vietnam refers to itself by that abbreviated name. Those who chose that name for the guerrillas ignored something very important. They relied on the fact that in the USA the term 'Communist' is enough to alarm the public and to smear any movement, and never realized until too late what favourable Connotations 'Communist' has elsewhere. The US has, by its own intended slander, reinforced the good image Communists have had in South-East Asia through associating Communism with movements for national liberation, and movements of the people for independence and social justice. It is ironic that when the us realized its grave blunder, it sought to rectify the situation by renaming the liberators. As reported in the New York Times on June 5, 1962, the United States Information Agency sponsored a contest 'for a new name for the Vietcong guerrillas', admitting that it didn't think 'communist is the type of a name to inspire hatred among the country's illiterate masses'. It offered a cash prize for a 'colloquial peasant term implying disgust or ridicule.' In South Vietnam, the only names which meet that test are 'French' and 'American'.
were to be eradicated, despite the fact that they were neutralist. Diem's regime was one of terror and persecution. Ghastly tortures were inflicted upon the peasants. It is instructive that it has been possible for 350,000 people to be placed in camps as political prisoners and for the greater part of the rural population to be uprooted and put in camps without vigorous protest taking place. Part of the responsibility for this default lies with the suppression of facts which, until the last two years, characterized Western reports about Vietnam. Part of the fault lies with the silence of peace groups, frightened to appear to be seen supporting 'the Communist side' of things
      One case is related in The Furtive War. It is that of a young girl:
'One day', she says, 'I came home and there were two security agents waiting for me. I was taken to the town of Faifo and for months on end I was tortured very badly . . . Once I recovered consciousness and found I was stark naked, blood oozing from wounds all over my body. There were others in the cell. I heard a woman moaning, and in the half dark saw a woman in a pool of blood. She had been beaten into having a miscarriage. Then I made out an old man. An eye had been gouged out and he was dying. Alongside him was a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old boy, also dead; a little further away, another dead youth with his head split open. They had thrown me there, hoping the sight of this would break me down.'
Finally, she was covertly conveyed to North Vietnam. This story was subsequently confirmed by neutral enquirers. It is typical of many among the 350,000 political prisoners.
      The vast majority of peasants support the guerrillas. It is estimated that 160,000 have died and as many as 700,000 have been maimed. In order to combat the support of the population, Diem and the Americans instituted what were called 'strategic hamlets', into which the inhabitants of rural areas and existing villages were, in cruel circumstances, moved at a moment's notice. 'Strategic hamlets' were, in reality, prisons. Those who had been forcibly brought into them were unable to get out. These 'hamlets' were surrounded by spikes, moats and barbed wire and were patrolled by guards with dogs. They have all the character of concentration camps. The Observer estimated that sixty-five per cent of the rural population, or over seven million people, were inside these 'hamlets' by mid-1963. Their establishment was the result of a decision on the part of the United States, publicly set out by W. W. Rostow, an adviser of the State Department. He suggested that Vietnam should be used as an experimental area for the development of anti-guerrilla techniques and weapons by American forces.
      The rural population was staffed into the 'strategic hamlets' so that they would be shut off from the guerrilla forces, who depended for their food and manpower upon them. I wrote letters to the Washington Post and the New York Times in 1963 in which I sought to set out the full nature of this war, which I designated as a war of annihilation and atrocity. The New York Times vigorously denounced me for making such a charge. [See Chapter 1 for full texts of the exchange with the New York Times]
      The State Department denied that chemicals were used in Vietnam and the New York Times admitted editorially that weed-killers were used, but stated that napalm was not used by Americans but only by Vietnamese governmental forces. Madame Nhu stated: 'If they don't like our chemicals, why don't they get out of our jungles?' The New York Times failed to remember its own reports of June 19, 1962, which refer to the destruction of nearly 1,400 villages by governmental forces. Napalm and chemicals were used in the course of this devastation. My charge of atrocity was based upon the ruthless use of chemicals and jelly-gasoline, the devastation of civilian populations, and the use of concentration camps.
      In addition to uprooting the population and establishing the hamlets, the United States sent special helicopters which could fire small rockets and ammunition in excess of that used by any aircraft during the Second World War. The Americans, as mentioned earlier, professed that their soldiers and airmen in Vietnam were only there in an advisory capacity and were not responsible for Diem's doings. At the same time, they took great pains to conceal from the world the sort of things that were being done. The New York Times, in its editorial comments, illustrates this attempt.
      In the course of controversy in the pages of the Observer, I sought to bring to the attention of people facts which I had before me in the form of photographs and documents which gave particulars of villages, dates, individuals and specific chemicals, and the use of toxic chemicals in Vietnam by American forces. I have evidence that over 1,000 people were caused severe illness, characterized by vomiting, bleeding, paralysis and loss of sight and consciousness. Other evidence concerned the destruction of fruit trees, vegetables, cattle and domestic animals. Further evidence specified the use of toxic gas on densely populated areas. This evidence was provided in part by the South Vietnam Liberation Red Cross and in part by the Foreign Minister of North Vietnam. It has been offered to any international agency for impartial consideration. The replies to my setting out of this evidence were indicative of Western attitudes towards this war. Dennis Bloodworth, the Far Eastern Correspondent of the Observer, blandly stated that I was 'apparently referring to the defoliation campaign known as "Operation Ranchhand"' and said that the weedkillers were popularly known in America and had been used widely without causing harm to animals or to humans. He contended that a propaganda campaign was being employed in which it was falsely said that these chemicals had ill effects and suggested that I was assisting in a Communist propaganda campaign.
      Let us now consider some of the statements which have appeared in the American and British press over the past two years. These statements will help to indicate the nature of the war and the validity of the editorial protests which have peppered my appeals about the situation in Vietnam. With respect to the contention that Americans served only as advisers, it is worth looking at the New York Times of March 17, 1962. It was stated that, after two Vietnamese pilots pulled out of formation and launched a full attack on Diem's palace, Americans were designated to accompany every Vietnamese pilot on a mission. The Saturday Evening Post of March 23, 1963, published a long report in which it contradicted the New York Times' statement that uniformed Americans were 'solely advisers and trainers'. The Post's report said: 'Virtually all the fighting is done by us troops.'
      Richard Hughes in the Sunday Times of January 13, 1963, speaks of the 'Washington fiction that no United States troops are involved in combat and that United States officers and trainers are on the scene merely to 'advise, support and assist". The Americans are now operating more than 200 helicopters and scores of reconnaissance and troop transport planes in the combat areas. Probably half of all bombing and strafing missions of the South Vietnam Air Force are undertaken by Americans serving as pilots and co-pilots'. It is illustrative, as well, of the nature of this war to quote the Kew York Times and other American papers for the period 1962 to 1963. On July 7, 1962, the New York Times stated:'Tactical air support is used extensively. It is difficult to ascertain whether the people who are being killed by napalm and fragmentation bombs are guerrillas or merely farmers.'On June 16, 1962, the New York Times had stated:'Though the Government makes some attempt to re-educate the captured guerrillas, many are shot.'The New York Times had stated on June 5, 1962:'Seven leprosy clinics were wiped out by mistake in bombing raids last fall.'The Chicago Daily News is more direct in its statement of January 18, 1963:'The Government regards Vietcong hospitals as fair targets for ground or air attack. If Vietnamese commanders order an airstrike on a medical centre, the planes bomb and strafe it, even when Americans are along as advisers or instructors. When asked if Americans officially condone these attacks, a us military spokesman said: "There has not been a definite policy ruling for Vietnam". Planes of the Vietnamese Air Force are frequently piloted by Americans.'The New York Times which, editorially, overlooks its news reports (as when it reported the razing of sixty per cent of the villages of the country) might have been advised to listen to the Voice of America on January 6, 1963. It was stated that during the year 1962 the American Air Force carried out 50,000 attacks on villages and upon virtually all of the peasant population outside of the Strategic hamlets. This report was confirmed by the United States Defence Department. Senator Michael Mansfield of Montana stated that there were American troops in every fighting action in Vietnam. Senator Mansfield referred to the action as 'America's secret war'. Areas in which heavy guerrilla activity was reported were denuded of population and then virtually obliterated.The New York Times managed to say on October 21, 1962:'Americans and Vietnamese march together, fight together and die together, and it is hard to get much more involved than that.'The New York Herald Tribune of November 23, 1962, stated:'The United States is deeply involved in the biggest secret war in its history. Never have so many US military men been involved in a combat area without any forma] programme to inform the public about what is happening. It is a war fought without official] public reports or with reports on the number of troops involved or the amount of money and equipment being poured in.'This war in which seven million people have been placed in internment camps, 160,000 killed, 700,000 tortured, 350,000 imprisoned - requiring 16,000 camps - was described by The Nation of 19 January, 1963:'It is dirty, cruel war. As dirty and as cruel as the war waged by the French forces in Algeria, which so shocked the American conscience. 'The Nation continued:'The truth is that the United States Army, some 10,000 miles from home, is fighting to bolster up an open and brutal dictatorship In an undeclared war that has never received the constitutional sanction of the United States Congress. 'The concealment to which I have referred has included the effects of what were euphemistically called 'weedkillers'. Dennis Bloodworth described how in April, 1963, South Vietnamese officials 'rubbed defoliation on their hands and arms in the presence of foreign correspondents who had selected the canisters from which it should be drawn - and in one case drank some of it' (Observer, 9 February, 1964).
      It is interesting to examine these weedkillers and their effects. The Times of 16 May, 1963, disclosed the death by pesticide of birds of fifty-eight species and described fifty pesticides in widespread use as responsible for 'acute poisoning' of animals and human beings. President Kennedy found it necessary to halt their use and to begin a formal investigation. It was stated in the United States that chemicals used there for purposes of defoliation and the killing of weeds resulted in California in 1,100 cases of serious illness and 150 deaths (Reuter, May 16, 1963). Dr Jerome Weisner, the Chief Science Advisor to President Kennedy, designated unregulated use of these weedkillers as potentially 'more dangerous than radioactive fallout'. The actual use of those weedkillers has killed and caused serious illness in Britain, the United States and Scandinavia.
      Napalm is a chemical which burns unremittingly and cannot be extinguished. The victims suppurate before terrified observers. The object of this weapon is to create hysteria and panic, as well as to annihilate. This weapon has been used on over 1,400 villages. The United States has spent one million dollars daily on the war. The Observer of 8 September, 1963, estimates that there has been an average number of 4,000 casualties monthly. The Central intelligence Agency has spent an estimated sum monthly of 250,000 dollars on private armies, espionage and intrigue, according to The Times of September 10, 1963.
      This war was largely conducted under the nominal rule of Diem. Diem grew more and more reckless and was at last murdered in a coup which most agreed was engineered by the United States, after a number of eminent Buddhist priests had burned themselves to death. It is noteworthy that the military oligarchy which succeeded Diem complained that he was secretly attempting to negotiate with the North, but not, noticeably, that his tyranny was unpalatable to the population. The death of Diem brought no amelioration. He had been, in fact, only the tool of the Americans and the sole change brought by his death was that the Americans had open responsibility for whatever they had formerly blamed on Diem and for what was done under his regime.
      The National Liberation Front was formed on December 20, 1960, unifying the various elements of revolt against American domination.
National Liberation Front. In this common front, all those forces combined who had suffered and decided on armed self-defence. It constitutes an organization of many segments of the population. Communists and non-Communists alike were victims of Diem's regime; they united in self-defence. Much of the leadership comes from the intellectuals, who felt the lack of freedom most severely; doctors, lawyers, and university professors play prominent roles in the Committees of the National Liberation Front. Many religious leaders were instrumental in the organizing of the Front. They represent the majority (Buddhists) and the minorities (some Roman Catholics and many ethnic minorities whose unique ways of life were intolerable to the bigot, Ngo Dinh Diem) of South Vietnam's worshippers. Small businessmen and even progressive landlords joined peasant farmers, fishermen, and workers to help form the Front against the common enemy and oppressor.

      By 1961, 10,000 Diem troops had deserted and joined the guerrillas with their arms. Let us consider again the treatment accorded to this popular revolt. Homer Bigart described in the New York Times of January 30, March 27, March 29, April I, April 4, April 20, May 10, June 24 and July 25, all in 1962, the following programme:
'The rounding up of the entire rural population in strategic hamlets, the burning of all abandoned villages with the grain and possessions of the inhabitants and the "locking" of strategic villages behind barbed wire.'
      It is clear that the majority of the inhabitants wish their country to be neutral. This the American Government cannot tolerate. The euphemisms used for the military operations which have belatedly been acknowledged to be the full responsibility of the United States are instructive. 'Operation Sunrise', 'Pacification of the West' and 'Morning Star' resulted, in the area attacked, in the destruction of all villages, fields and crops. In 1962 alone, according to General Paul D. Harkins, 30,000 peasants were killed. The Christian Science Monitor described this process on March 8, 1963:
'Since the army finds sullen villagers and does not know which are pro-Communist and which are merely dissatisfied with Saigon, and since the army must do its job, it shoots anyone seen running or looking dangerous. It often shoots the wrong peasants. They are in the records of battle listed as Communists. Anyone killed is automatically a Vietcong.'
On January 25, 1963, Life had photos of napalm bombings with the following caption:'Swooping low across enemy infested land, US pilot instructors watch Vietnamese napalm strike. The object of the fire bombing is to sear all foliage and to flush the enemy into the open.''The New York Times also reported that us advisers made a tally of guerrilla corpses after each battle to make sure that Diem's troops were using American equipment to maximum advantage, so that they could display a good "bag".' (Militant, April '5, 1963.)In the light of all this evidence, it is strange to find the New York Times saying on April 8, 1963:
'Napalm has been used by the South Vietnam Air Force and has certainly killed innocent people, as other weapons have done in all wars. American [my emphasis] advisers have opposed its employment on both moral and practical grounds against all except clearly identified military targets.'
This definition appears to include sixty per cent of the villages, hospitals and clinics and all peasants who run or look dangerous. This editorial reply contradicts the New York Times' own news reports about American use and insistence upon the use of napalm and other weapons on non-military areas.
      Many people in the Pentagon are urging that the war should be extended to an invasion of North Vietnam. President Johnson has announced that those countries which are directing and supplying the (so-called) Communist guerrillas in South Vietnam are .playing a deeply dangerous game. A map in the New York Times of April I, 1962, shows the forces of the Liberation Front in the far South around Saigon, and nowhere near the borders of Laos or North Vietnam. Both British and American reporters have stated that primitive guerrilla weapons have been used by the 'Vietcong', in addition to those plentiful supplies captured from the forces of the nominal government of South Vietnam. The London Times of February 24 has stated that it is now considered doubtful whether the Government of South Vietnam has any will to win the war. The Observer of March 1, 1964, quoted an American official as stating that the trouble lay in the fact that, while the United States wished to extend the war, the Vietnamese only wanted to end the war.
      The situation which faces those who have conducted this war is grave. Should the United States retire and allow victory to the NLF? Should America engage in a naked war of conquest, which will be clearly seen as such, and attempt to establish again a Government dependent entirely upon alien armed force? This 'enemy' controls nearly seventy per cent of South Vietnam. The majority of the NLF was described as non-Communist by former Premier Tran Van Huu in Paris, as reported in the Observer. The 'Vietcong' official policy asks for a neutral and disengaged South Vietnam. Despite all the attempts on the part of the Western press to describe this war as one in which a helpless democratic people is under ruthless attack from an aggressive Communist neighbour, it is evident that the NLF is a popular front which has fought an appalling tyranny in South Vietnam and has been opposed by the United States at an incalculable cost to the population. Why is this non-Communist, neutralist, popular front so ruthlessly opposed? Even the Communist North has declared, through Ho Chi Minh, that it wishes to be unified with the South on terms of neutrality in the Cold War and independence of Russia, China and the West (The Times, 5 November, 1963).
      The policy of the United States which has led to the prospect of an American invasion of North Vietnam will likely bring on Chinese involvement, with war with China as the result. The Soviet Union would then be drawn in There are few parallels with the war in Vietnam. It has lasted nearly two decades; two Western industrial powers of overwhelming might have fought peasant guerrillas in a manner reminiscent of the Japanese during the Second World War. Everything short of nuclear weapons has been employed. Atrocity has characterized the conduct of the war throughout its history. The Western press has hesitatingly discovered some of the facts about this war during the last two years. The Western peace movement has been conspicuously silent or restrained in its setting out of the truth about the war. The war has had no purpose Its extension will bring direct conflict between the Cold War powers, with the possible destruction of mankind as the culmination of this folly. The tragedy in Vietnam indicates the extent to which it is possible to hide or disguise terrible crimes and it is time that people in the West raised their voices for an end to the bloodshed.
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