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The Legacy of War

The Legacy of War

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Published by: api-3854189 on Oct 19, 2008
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The Legacy of War
excerpted from the book
Rogue States
The Rule of Force in World Affairs
by Noam chomsky
South End Press, 2000, paper
The Legacy of War

In February 1965, the United States escalated the war against South Vietnam
radically, and also, on the side, began regular bombing of the North at a much lower
level. That was a big public issue in the United States: Should we bomb North
Vietnam? The bombing of the South was ignored. The same shows up in the internal
planning, for which we now have an extremely rich record, not only from the
Pentagon Papers, but from tons of declassified documents that have been released in
the last couple of years. It turns out-again, one of the very few interesting
revelations of the Pentagon Papers-that there was no planning for the escalated
bombing of the South. There was very meticulous planning about the bombing of
the North-carefully calibrated, when should we do it, and a lot of agonizing about it.
The bombing of the South at triple the scale of the North is barely discussed. There
are a few casual decisions here and there. The same shows up in McNamara's recent
memoirs. He discusses at great length the bombing of the North. The bombing of the
South he literally doesn't mention. He mentions what he did on January 21, 1965, a

really important day: there was a big discussion about whether to bomb North
Vietnam. He doesn't mention what we know from other documents, that on that
same day, he authorized for the first time the use of jet planes to escalate the
bombing of South Vietnam over and above the massive bombing that had been
going on for years-that's not even mentioned.

I think the reason for that in public consciousness and in internal planning is
unpleasantly obvious, but it may be worth paying attention to, if people are willing
to look in the mirror. The reason is that the bombing of North Vietnam was costly to
the United States. For one thing, it was costly in international opinion because it was
a bombing of what was by then regarded as a state, which had embassies and so on.
Besides, there was a danger that there could be a retaliation. The United States was
bombing an internal Chinese railroad, which went from southwest to southeast
China. It was built through the northern part of Vietnam because of the way the
French built railroads. The US was bombing Russian ships; it was bombing Russian
embassies. China and Russia might respond. So it was dangerous. There were
potential costs to the bombing of North Vietnam. On the other hand, the bombing of
South Vietnam on a vastly greater scale was costless. There was nothing the South
Vietnamese could do about it. Accordingly, it was not an issue at the time. There
were no protests about it. Virtually none. Protests were almost entirely about the
bombing of the North, and it has essentially disappeared from history, so that it
doesn't have to be mentioned in McNamara's memoirs or in other accounts, and, as
I say, there wasn't even any planning for it. Just a casual decision: it doesn't cost us
anything, why not just kill a lot of people? It's an interesting incident that tells you a
lot about the thinking that runs from the earliest days right to the present. We're not
talking about ancient history as when we talk about Amalek and the Frankish wars
and Genghis Khan.

The war then, of course, expanded. The US expanded the war to Laos and
Cambodia. As in Vietnam, and Laos and Cambodia, too, the targets were primarily
civilian. The main target, however, was always South Vietnam. That included
saturation bombing of the densely populated Mekong Delta and air raids south of
Saigon that were specifically targeting villages and towns. They were deciding, "let's
put a B-52 raid on this town." Huge terror operations like "Speedy Express" and
"Bold Mariner" and others were aimed specifically at destroying the civilian base of
the resistance.

You might say that the My Lai massacre was a tiny footnote to one of these
operations, insignificant in context. The Quakers had a clinic nearby, and they knew
about it immediately because people were coming in wounded and telling stories.
They didn't even bother reporting it because it was just standard, it was going on all
the time. Nothing special about My Lai. It gained a lot of prominence later, after a
lot of suppression, and I think the reason is clear: it could be blamed on half-crazed,
uneducated GIs in the field who didn't know who was going to shoot at them next,
and it deflected attention away from the commanders who were directing the
atrocities far from the scene-for example, the ones plotting the B-52 raids on

villages. And it also deflected attention away from the apologists at home who were
promoting and defending all of this. All of them must receive immunity from
criticism, but it's okay to say a couple of half-crazed GIs did something awful. I was
asked by the New York Review of Books to write an article about My Lai when it
was exposed, and I did, but I scarcely mentioned it. I talked about the context,
which I think is correct.

By the early 1970s, it was clear enough that the United States had basically won that
war. It had achieved its basic war aims, which, as revealed in the documentary
record, were to ensure that successful, independent development in Vietnam would
not be what's called "a virus" infecting others beyond, leading them to try the same
course, perhaps leading ultimately even to a Japanese accommodation with an
independent Asia, maybe as the industrial heart of a kind of new order in Asia out of
US control. The US had fought World War II in the Pacific largely to prevent that
outcome, and was not willing to accept it in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Years later, McGeorge Bundy, who was national security advisor for Kennedy and
Johnson, reflected that the United States should have pulled out of Vietnam in 1966,
after the slaughter in Indonesia. It was very much like what just happened in
Rwanda. The army either killed or inspired the killing of about half a million to a
million people within a few months, with direct US support and encouragement.
Crucially, it destroyed the only mass-based political party in the country. The
slaughter was mostly of landless peasants. The slaughter was described by the CIA
as comparable to those of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. It was greeted with undisguised
euphoria here, across the political spectrum, and very much in public. It has to be
read to be believed. It will surely disappear from history. It's just much too
embarrassing, although it's available in public. Bundy's point was that with
Vietnam already largely destroyed by 1966, and the surrounding territory now
inoculated Indonesia-style, there was no longer any serious danger the virus would
infect anyone, and the war was basically pointless for the United States.

After War

Well, the war did go on. We left a horrifying legacy: perhaps 4 million killed in
Indochina and many millions more orphaned, maimed, and made into refugees,
three countries devastated-not just Vietnam. In Laos at this moment people are still
dying from unexploded bomblets that are left from the most intense bombing of
civilian areas in history, later exceeded by the US bombing of Cambodia.

In Vietnam, one part of the legacy of the war in the present is the continuing impact
of the unprecedented campaign of chemical warfare that was initiated under the
Kennedy administration. The chemical warfare has indeed received a good deal of
coverage here. The reason is that US veterans were affected by it. So, you know
about Agent Orange and dioxin and their effect on US soldiers; that did receive
coverage. Of course, however much they were affected, that's not a fraction of the
effect on Vietnamese, and that receives virtually no attention, though there is
occasionally some. I have found very few articles on this. The Wall Street Journal

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