The Crime of Vietnam

Review of John Marciano, The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration? (Monthly Review Press, 2016), 196 pgs., paperback.

On May 16, 2012, President Obama announced a Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and the “more than 58,000 patriots” who died there. The Commemoration is sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the National Park Service and the Department of Defense. It will last for thirteen years until the 50th anniversary of the end of the conflict arrives in 2025. It will “sponsor thousands of activities over the next ten years, including concerts, educational curricula, school visits by veterans, symposia, school projects, memorial festivities, and POW/MIA ceremonies.”

The Commemoration’s events and activities will:

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  • Thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action, for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.
  • Highlight the service of the armed forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of federal agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations that served with, or in support of, the armed forces.
  • Pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the Vietnam War.
  • Highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to the military research conducted during the Vietnam War.
  • Recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the allies of the United States during the Vietnam War. The American War in Vi... John Marciano Best Price: $4.49 Buy New $13.07 (as of 10:10 UTC - Details)

That same month—on Memorial Day—Obama gave a Commemoration speech at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., in which he told Vietnam Veterans: “You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor. You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised. You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated.” Gushed Obama: “Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home. Thank you. We appreciate you. Welcome home.”

The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration? was written in response to this Commemoration. It challenges “the official story that will be taught about the American war in Vietnam.” But it also does so much more. It argues that the Vietnam War was unjust, dishonorable, “a violation of international law,” and “a criminal act of aggression.” And how could it not be since the U.S. military destroyed 9,000 out of 15,000 Vietnamese hamlets, 25 million acres of farmland, and 12 million acres of forest; dropped twice as many bombs on Vietnam than used by the United States in all of World War II; sprayed 20 million gallons of herbicides that poisoned the land; made millions of refugees, a million widows, 300,000 orphans and another 500,000 children who lost one parent, 200,000 prostitutes, and 180,000 disabled; and killed over 3 million Vietnamese—none of whom were a threat in any way to a single American or a single blade of grass in America?

What a shame that so many conservatives still defend U.S. intervention in Vietnam. What an outrage that Reagan called the Vietnam War “a Noble Cause.”

John Marciano is Professor Emeritus at SUNY Cortland and the author (with William Griffen) of Teaching the Vietnam War (1979). He is also “an antiwar and social justice activist.” The author is also a myth buster, for in his new book on the Vietnam War he destroys myth after myth about the war. He also challenges the dominant view that “U.S. wars are just and honorable, fought for a Noble Cause, the essence of which is the belief that the United States is ‘a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power, but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life.”

After acknowledgments and an introduction, The American War in Vietnam has six chapters:

  1. The Noble Cause principle and the Actual History
  2. French Colonialism and the Origins of the American War in Vietnam King James, His Bible,... Laurence M. Vance Buy New $19.95 (as of 11:36 UTC - Details)
  3. The Diem Regime and President John F. Kennedy
  4. President Johnson and the Escalation of the War
  5. President Nixon, “Vietnamization,” and the End of the War
  6. Some Lessons and Myths of the American War in Vietnam

These are followed by detailed notes, a select bibliography, and a comprehensive index.

The first chapter destroys the “noble cause principle.” The foundation of this belief is that the United States is the “exceptional” and “indispensable” nation chosen by God to remake the word in its image. But, Marciano asks and answers: “What if someone with a documented history of violence against others thought of himself as exceptional, chosen by destiny or God? People would rightfully reject this self-proclaimed greatness and justice toward others, and reasonably conclude that the person making such claims was dangerous or unstable.” The United States has been “fundamentally imperialist” from the beginning. Marciano cites Vietnam veteran S. Brian Willson on how General George Washington’s “scorched earth campaign” against the Iroquois Indians “established imperial U.S. military principles for centuries to come:

  • total war/genocide targeting all inhabitants for elimination
  • preventing peace
  • pre-emptive war
  • terror
  • crime of self-defense
  • revenge

And then there was the constant military aggression against and intervention in Latin American countries, the helping to overthrow governments in Africa, plunging into the Korean War and then supporting one dictator after War, Empire, and the M... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $5.24 Buy New $9.79 (as of 09:10 UTC - Details) another in South Korea and assorted killers in other countries. The terrible truth is that “the United States and its ‘surrogate mercenaries have unleashed terror bombing campaigns against unarmed civilian populations . . . in scores of countries, causing death and destruction to millions of innocents.’” Marciano concludes that the “Noble Cause principle cannot stand up to the endless violence that spans nearly 240 years of United States history—or more than four hundred years if the count begins with Colonial settler wars against Native Americans.”

Chapter 2 provides the necessary background to U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Marciano begins at the beginning: the brutal and violent French Colonial rule that began in 1850 and only ended toward the end of World War II. He relates how after the war: “U.S. vessels brought French troops to Vietnam so they could join recently released Japanese troops to support France’s attempt to crush the Vietnamese independence movement.” After the French finally withdrew from Vietnam in the mid-1950s, the United States foolishly “blocked the proposed 1956 elections that Ho Chi Minh would surely have won” and installed the corrupt and brutal Diem regime in South Vietnam.

Chapters 3 through 5 chronologically go through the Vietnam War while pointing out the blunders of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. It is all here: Kennedy’s covert “private” war against Vietnam, the role of the CIA, Agent Orange, the overthrow of Diem, the Pentagon Papers, Tonkin Gulf, the Tet Offensive, the Hue Massacre, the My Lai massacre, the Phoenix Program, “Vietnamization,” antiwar activists, the military antiwar movement, Nixon’s manipulation of the POW/MIA issue, the role of the media, the drug myth, the abuse of returning veterans myth, the Paris Peace Conference.

In his concluding chapter, Marciano explores many ideas and events relating to the Vietnam War:

  • It was an imperialist war.
  • The U.S. committed war crimes including torture.
  • Washington lied.
  • The war was a crime—not a mistake.
  • Martin Luther King condemned the war—and was vilified for it.
  • The corporate media didn’t oppose the war—only how it was fought.
  • The first antiwar protests came from the Merchant Marine services. War, Christianity, and... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $8.95 Buy New $9.95 (as of 09:10 UTC - Details)
  • Myths and lies about the antiwar movement are endless.
  • Appeals to support the troops should be critically examined.
  • My Lai was a massacre—not an “incident.”
  • Ecocide is an essential legacy of the war.
  • The U.S. government doesn’t “hate” war—it loves it.
  • The conflict proves again that “war is the health of the state.”
  • Vietnamese resistance to U.S. aggression was justified.

The Vietnam War was not a mistake, a blunder, a noble cause, or a painful chapter in American history; it was a crime that will forever be a blight on the United States.

The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration? is one of the most important books ever written on the Vietnam War. If you only read one book on the Vietnam War in your life, then read this book. If you think you have read enough books on the Vietnam War, then you haven’t read enough until you have read this one. If you own several books on the Vietnam War, then you need to get just one more. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.