Is Asperger’s a Learning Disability?

Currently many services for both children and adults diagnosed with the Asperger's Difference fall under the umbrella of learning disabilities. Indeed some professionals seem eager to broaden the definition of learning disabilities to encompass a whole host of individuals whose learning patterns may diverge somewhat from the norm. To confuse matters more the term is often interchanged freely with learning difficulties. Why should we take offence at these sweeping generalisations? After all in the spirit of official initiatives such the Same As You report in Scotland we should all embrace diversity and simultaneously be lulled into a false sense of equality.

What is a Learning Disability?

In practice it replaces the older terms mental handicap and mental retardation. However offensive this category may seem, it does specifically refer to individuals with a significant intellectual deficit, usually defined as 70 or below in crude IQ terms. To avoid confusion with learning difficulty, the term intellectual disability is preferred in scientific literature. Learning disabilities cover a very wide spectrum with diverse causes and aetiologies. Many individuals with learning disabilities do live fulfilling lives, have accomplished major feats in arts and sports, some work and a few have had families. Although people with learning disabilities may lack the intellect to analyse society methodically, many have excellent social skills and crave company when left alone for brief periods. Intelligence is indeed multifaceted and clearly in many learning disabled individuals the faculties of instinctive socialisation, so lacking in AS individuals, are very much intact.

And what about Learning Difficulties?

As we all learn new skills in slightly different ways, we all have relative learning difficulties. Some children may learn to read later and still flourish at university. Cultural comparisons prove instructive, e.g. in the UK children start formal education at the age of 5, but in most other European children do not begin to learn to read or write at school before they turn 6 or 7, yet often overtake their UK counterparts in key literacy and numeracy benchmarks by school leaving age. Asperger's is often considered a pervasive developmental disorder, but delay would more accurately describe the phenomenon. Although many aspies are hyperlexic at a young age and excel at maths, we tend to have a longer learning curve when it comes to coalescing different strands of knowledge and excellence or applying specialised skills to new more fruitful purposes. This is largely because of the different way we process information focusing on one task and on one aspect at time and then matching all the pieces in a puzzle before moving on. We can learn to approximate, but usually in a characteristically methodical way.

Aspies are not alone in having a learning pattern that doesn't fit in well with mainstream schooling, but certainly belong to the group of students who benefit most from more personalised attention, something that is hard with class sizes of 20 or more. Currently the main options available for children on the spectrum are either learning support in a mainstream setting or so-called special needs education.

The latter option often means mixing a diverse group of students with radically different needs and sensitivities. Most aspies have considerable academic potential in marked contrast with the intellectually disabled. However, if we interpret learning difficulty in its more literal sense, this may well apply to aspies as we don't respond to teamwork and group teaching methods as positively as other kids. Ironically many talented aspies thrive in more traditional or formal teaching environments, but may still encounter problems coping with socialising patterns outwith the classroom. Even if more resources were available for special schools for ASD children, this would not be the best way to prepare teenagers and young adults for their integration into the real world of university and work.

In practice with tight spending restrictions and large class sizes, auxiliary learning support staff is the commonest option today to help students with AS. While this approach may be preferable to special needs education, it suffers three drawbacks. The learning support worker is unlikely to have the same academic and pedagogic expertise as a trained teacher. With a plethora of other developmental conditions and social problems, the learning support worker may not empathise sufficiently with the predicament of an aspie to help him or her flourish academically. Third students requiring learning support staff are singled out as weirdoes or thickos, and thus excluded from much socialising essential to a balanced childhood.

More important we need to take a more critical look at current social trends in the UK and how they impact socially vulnerable children and young adults. Successive governments have failed miserably in bringing down class sizes to continental European levels. Much of a child's day is dedicated to groupwork, in which aspies are at a natural disadvantage. More disturbingly children and young adults have never been so engrossed in a virtual world of 24 hour TV, video games, action heroes and pop music with role models with whom few can realistically hope to compete. In previous eras social rules, while more formal and rigid, were easier to follow for individuals who lack a predisposition for learning through social immersion and interpretation of subtle body language. Increasing emphasis is placed on presentation, networking and soft skills. Never has the gap between rhetoric, with platitudes about embracing diversity and delivering equal opportunities, and action been so wide, i.e. people are learning to lie convincingly and conform to a hive mentality at younger and younger ages.

Some aspies cope by overcompensating their conformity with the expectations of mainstream society, but in the process suppress so much of their real selves that they are forced to live a very sheltered life. Others simply adopt an isolated counterculture (although usually controlled by the same corporate forces responsible for the more social aspects of our hedonistic culture) often spending hours or days on end watching TV or engrossed in video games. A small minority grow paranoid of mainstream society and develop misanthropic tendencies.

With a growing number of adults being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and more considering themselves borderline AS, many psychologists and neurologists (e.g. Simon Baron-Cohen) feel we should reappraise our assessment of AS as a marginal disorder affecting fewer than 1% of people. Rather it should be viewed as one end of a continuum that extends across the general population. There have always been people with more introvert or extrovert, conformist or rebellious, independent or gregarious, focused or versatile tendencies. Minor genetic or epigenetic differences (encoding within genes that may be influenced by environmental factors) responsible for our neurological wiring interact with the social environment to form our characters.

If education and social services are serious about helping AS individuals thrive at college and work, then why not change the overall environment to reach out to a wider section of the community who feel marginalised, experience prejudice and bullying and are vulnerable to mental health problems. Smaller class sizes, less social competition at work, less noise and loud music in public places and less emphasis on presentation make sense for everyone but the coolest dudes in town.

A recent EU directive seeks to address discrimination against workers because of their advanced age as more and more companies feel the younger generation are more culturally attuned with the needs of their customers. We should extend this principle to make it equally unfair to discriminate against people because of their perceived lack of social skills or aloof expressions. Eye contact and body language should not be issues that employers may consider.

As most AS individuals have endured personal ordeals, it comes as little surprise that many lack either the experience or qualifications they need to access the kind of jobs for which they are best suited. Employers should be encouraged to relax requirements for people on the spectrum and extra financial help should be given to enable full or part-time study to let AS individuals catch up with their neurotypical peers and find their niche in society.

It is society as a whole and not just those labelled different, who should embrace people with disabilities. Our disabilities are very subjective, more a handicap in a world obsessed with social conformity and self-image.


Technical Aspects of Fragmentation Bombs

In Vietnam the Americans are utilizing a new type of anti-personnel arm based on the following principle: a hollow metallic envelope into which are cast certain projectiles such as ball-bearing-like pellets, needles, etc., numbering into the hundreds. These explode on the ground or in the air to fire the projectiles in a sunburst pattern for many metres. The effects of the projectiles are insignificant on fixed installations. Two types of these weapons are principally in use in Vietnam. The ‘pineappleÂ' bomb with {117} cylindrically symmetrical explosion: this weapon consists of a hollow metallic envelope made of an alloy of copper and iron with traces of zinc, having a total weight of 800 grammes and a thickness of 7 millimetres. Into the envelope, which resembles the shape of a pineapple, are cast 300 pellets of steel 6.3 millimetres in diameter. On the top of the bomblet are placed six ‘wingsÂ' which are folded when the bomb is at rest and which snap up in flight by means of a spring at their base. These fins stabilize the fall of the bomb in the same manner as the feathers do a badminton shuttlecock. The lower part of the bomblet is closed with a metallic plate pierced by a hole through which penetrates the point of a spring-loaded firing pin. Upon impact - if the bomblet falls vertically, as it is supposed to - the spring releases and the percussive force causes the explosion of 160 grammes of Cyclotol A3 which is composed of 91 per cent hexogene trimethylene-trinitramine and 9 per cent wax, an explosive three times more powerful than TNT. The explosion projects the pellets in a sun-burst pattern at an angle of about 20° with the horizontal to a distance of 15 metres; the pieces of the casing are propelled about 50 metres. Craters from these bomblets are small: 30 to 40 centimetres maximum diameter in loose soil and with a depth of 10 to 20 centimetres; their damage to structures is insignificant.

Method of employment: a pod containing 19 cylindrical tubes of a diameter slightly larger than the bomblets is fixed beneath an aircraftÂ's wings and parallel to them. Each tube contains 20 bomblets with the fins folded back. The aeroplane flies horizontally at an altitude of about 800 metres and fires the pineapples from the tubes by means of a directed explosion of several grammes of powder. The bomblets disperse in the same manner as a ‘stickÂ' of parachutists over an elliptical zone about 500 metres long by 250 metres wide. This weapon was first used, to the best of our knowledge, on 8 February 1965 against Le Thuy, in the province of Quang Binh.

From a purely military point of view, these weapons had two drawbacks: 1. there were numerous ‘dudsÂ' as the bomblet did not always fall vertically as was necessary for proper detonation; 2. the horizontal, straight-and-level flight of the aircraft at the low level - no more than 1,000 metres - necessary to assure maximum effective dispersal of the pineapple bomblets rendered the attacking {118} aircraft extremely vulnerable to ground-fire. For these reasons the pineapple anti-personnel weapon seems to have been largely superseded by the ‘guavaÂ' bomb with spherically symmetrical explosion. This weapon is round, resembling a conventional hand grenade, and has a total weight of 400 grammes. Like the pineapple, it consists of a hollow envelope 7 millimetres thick of the same alloy and is filled with 50 grammes of Cyclotol A3. Into the casing are cast 260 to 300 steel balls 5.56 millimetres in diameter. Also cast into the casing in meridional direction are 4 small fins or ‘wingsÂ' which catch the wind and by friction set up a spinning motion along the polar axis. In the centre of the explosive filling a new type of detonator is located which operates by centrifugal force. This detonator consists of three small hammers which are cocked by the spinning of the bomblet and which are spring-loaded. If the spinning stops for any reason, the hammers fall, exploding the bomblet, and firing the steel pellets into an isotropic distribution in a sun-burst pattern for a distance of about 15 metres.

It is the nature of the bomb that when it touches the ground or even if, while in flight, it glances off a roof, a wall, or a branch of a tree, thereby interrupting or changing the axis of rotation away from the original polar axis, or, as shown by blast studies in Japan, if the axis changes spontaneously or the rate of spinning slows, the bomblet explodes. Like the pineapple, the craters produced are small and the effect of the bomblet on structures is insignificant. Method of employment: these bomblets are packed into a hollow #145;motherÂ' bomb casing about 2.1 metres long by 40 centimetres in diameter which holds roughly 640 guava bomblets. The mother bombs have a timing device which separates the container casing at an altitude of about 800 metres. The 640 guava bomblets are flung out and follow a parabolic trajectory and are distributed over the objective in an elliptical pattern about one kilometre long by about 500 metres wide.

This weapon was used for the first time on about 18 April 1966, on the village of Moc Chan in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Because of the spherical symmetry of the explosion and the tendency for a percentage of the bomblets to explode as air-bursts, traditional trenches and open individual shelters are rendered ineffective for cover; these weapons are therefore extremely {119} dangerous. They are usually employed in a three-stage raid: first comes observation, then bombardment with high explosives and/or napalm and then by CBUs (container bomb units) containing the guava steel pellet bombs.


Report from Cambodia and North Vietnam

We spent the first few days in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, speaking to government leaders.... Then we went to Svay Rieng where, after meeting with the provincial governor, we were taken to the border at Bave - this is the border with South Vietnam. It was interesting to see that in Bave there was a deliberate attempt on the part of the South Vietnamese puppet border guards to create an incident with the Cambodian officers accompanying us. At one stage, when a Cambodian photographer tried to photograph the border, the South Vietnamese puppet officers came to our side of the border with pistols cocked and threatened military action unless the film was handed back to them. Fortunately an incident was prevented only by the tact displayed by the Cambodian officers on the Cambodian side of the border.

We were told that there was a Special Forces camp just across the border and that the Americans flew in with helicopters, strafed Cambodian villages, and then took away villagers for interrogation. In the village of Soc Noc I spoke to a villager named Muy Tith, twenty-nine years old, who had been captured by the United States Special Forces. He told me that he was tortured and beaten by the South Vietnamese Special Forces and also by the Americans, who then asked him whether there were any Viet Cong in his village. As the man could not speak any Vietnamese, he kept saying, ‘No, no, no!Â' until finally, after tying him up for two hours and beating him consistently, they released him and let him go back to his village. We were also told that others had not been so lucky, and while we were in the village of Soc Noc there were {133} twelve villagers who had not been returned: no one knew what had happened to them...

After we had seen the villages which had been bombed by the United States, after we had seen the destruction which had been caused by these attacks, and after we had met the victims of these attacks, we went back to Phnom Penh. After two days of talks with officials there, we went on the so-called Sihanouk and Ho Chi Minh Trails, which were long journeys. It was absolutely clear to us from the trails we visited that it would have been impossible for any large force, whether it belonged to the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam or whether, as the United States claimed, it belonged to North Vietnamese divisions, to use those trails. It was impossible for any heavy trucks to go on those trails, and further on the river could not be bridged. We saw the area where the United States said that there was an airport which landed North Vietnamese and NLF battalions when they were coming back or going to the South. It was very clear to us that this was in a clearing, but the rough nature of the ground and the fact that there had been bushes growing on it for over the last two years, would have made it impossible for any plane to land. We also saw near the site of the so-called airport a lot of diamond mining going on, and they had large bamboo sticks sticking up into the sky, which the United States claimed were antennae for an underground radio station.

In any event, there was no doubt in our minds that neither the Sihanouk nor the Ho Chi Minh Trails could be used by the North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front forces, and that the United States was merely using this as an excuse to bomb and strafe Cambodian border villages. This becomes increasingly significant when one learns that at the recent conference in Guam, it was suggested to President Johnson by Westmoreland and other military leaders that two Cambodian provinces be occupied and the war extended to Cambodia to stop the infiltration of North Vietnamese troops. In Cambodia we found (and any other investigation teams that go to Cambodia will find the same) that there was no evidence whatsoever that there had been infiltration by the North Vietnamese forces.

Continuing our journey into the southern districts of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, we visited Ninh Binh province {134} and spoke to the Roman Catholics there and saw for ourselves the churches which had been bombed. The churches were mainly isolated, with a couple of mud huts next to them.

But the most traumatic experience was in the province of Thanh Hoa. It was 29 January 1967.... We were told that at 2.30 P.M. that afternoon we would be taken to the hospital in Thanh Hoa to meet and interview some of the victims of the air raids. But the same day, while we were having lunch, we heard the planes roaring overhead and making their way towards the town. Then we heard the bombing and the thuds which have become a feature of life in North Vietnam today. We were told that the trip was off. A major said that they were bombing Thanh Hoa.

At 4.00 P.M. we visited the hospital, the first place on our itinerary. This was the hospital where we should have been at 2.30. At 3.00 P.M. it had been bombed and some of the patients killed. While they were being removed from the hospital and taken to the first-aid station, there was another attack and the first-aid station had been completely destroyed. Incendiary bombs had been used and some houses were still burning. When we visited Thanh Hoa, it was on fire. There were embers and flames everywhere. We saw a large crater caused by an American rocket. Anti-personnel weapons had been used.

Mrs Nguyen Thi Dinh had rushed out of her house just in time to save herself, but she saw her house and its contents burned to the ground. When I spoke to her, she was weeping silently. She said, ‘Do you think I will ever forgive them for what they are doing to us? Never! Never! They must be made to pay for their crimes.Â'

Two hundred homes had been damaged or destroyed, and 125 families were homeless.

A hospital with Red Cross markings and a first-aid station had been singled out and destroyed. If the shelters provided by the authorities had not been so effective, the casualties would no doubt have been higher. Half of Thanh Hoa had been evacuated in advance as well, and this too was fortunate. I looked around for anything which could conceivably have been a military target in the town itself. There was no sign of any military object.

The part of the province which had been bombed almost without respite was Dinh Gia district, at its southern extremity. The {135} bombing was so heavy that no one had been taken there before for fear of casualties. We travelled there during the night, crossed a few bridges, and reached Dinh Gia safely. The next day was the most depressing day I spent in Vietnam. I saw bombed schools and hospitals. They had been direct hits. There could be no doubt whatsoever that this was deliberate. In the village of Hai Nan, a coastal village not far from the 7th Fleet, almost every house had been destroyed. The attack which had destroyed the village had taken place four days earlier. The destruction was obviously fresh.

I spoke to Nguyen Thi Tuyen, a twelve-year-old girl who had lost a leg. She told me her story in the following words:

I had just returned from school and was about to have a bath when the aircraft came from the direction of the sea. They dived down and dropped lots of bombs. I grabbed my younger brother and rushed to the shelter, but it was too late. A bomb fragment hit my brother in the stomach and killed him. Another fragment cut my leg off, as you can see for yourself. Our house was burned down. My uncle could not put the flames out in time. Now I live with some relatives. Will you please tell me why they are bombing us? ...

This was the story in almost every village I visited. These were no military targets, and the United States could not but be aware of this fact. The schools in the district had been dispersed to avoid casualties. Some of them were in shelters. Hospitals had been dispersed. Hospitals which had been bombed previously were now under the ground. At this stage I think it is fair to point out that the Vietnamese doctors are the most impressive group of people I have met anywhere. They are dedicated, and they have seen more suffering than anyone else, but it has not affected their morale in the least. {136}/


Report from North Vietnam

I arrived in Hanoi on the evening of 30 December 1966. The following afternoon I inspected bomb damage in Hanoi. This was the result of raids on 2, 13 and 14 December 1966. We were informed that some 450 bombs had been dropped altogether in the course of these attacks. The 2 December raid hit a doctorÂ's house near the centre of Hanoi by missile, injuring the doctor himself and severing the foot of a child. The 14 December raid damaged the Chinese Embassy, among others; it was possible to see the damage from outside the gates, but we had no opportunity to inspect at closer quarters. In the attack of 13 December an area of working-class housing in Hanoi was bombed: the area looked like a battlefield, and we were told 300-plus dwellings had been completely destroyed - certainly there was little that was habitable left standing, and the area was pitted with craters. We interviewed a number of local inhabitants and ascertained the nature of the raid; they said there had been four deaths and ten injuries, and that the bombs had exploded in the air before actually striking the ground.1

On 1 January 1967, we drove south, starting at an early hour, to inspect bomb damage in outlying population centres. The first step was Phu Ly, about sixty kilometres from Hanoi, and not far {120} south from road and rail bridges that have been frequently bombed. Once a thriving town, it is now almost completely destroyed, having suffered eight raids up to the time of my visit. The main street and market were smashed flat, and among destroyed buildings I made out a church, a school and a pagoda. The water-control dam had obviously been bombed, and craters, as yet unfilled, were obvious near by. We were told that total casualties in Phu Ly were eleven dead and twenty-nine wounded.

Next stop was Nam Dinh, formerly an important textile city of some 93,000 inhabitants. Repeated bombing had, however, led to mass evacuation and dispersal of industry. US bombing had commenced on 22 May 1965, and up to the end of November 1966 there had been, we were told, 641 air raids, using some 4,930 bombs of various kinds. We inspected the damage, which included new workersÂ' flats, kindergarten and schools. We agreed that much of the damage to wood and brickwork was consistent with the use of fragmentation bombs. We looked at Hang Thao Street, which had been subjected to a sudden and savage surprise attack on 14 April 1966, killing forty-nine people and wounding over 100. It had been the busiest street in town, but had been largely evacuated. We interviewed a thirty-three-year-old mother, Tram Ahi Mai, three of whose six children had been killed in the 14 April raid - one of them a babe in arms. While we were in Nam Dinh there was a ten-minute air-raid alert, from about 9.55 A.M. till about 10.5 A.M. Note that this was during the New Year truce.2 Planes approached but then veered off. We were told that they had not been reconnaissance planes. We scrambled over the rubble of what had been busy commercial streets. I noticed a good many rats among the ruins; this, one presumes, is something of a public health menace.

Since we were in the vicinity of Nam Phong village, and it had been bombed the previous day (31 December 1966) at 5.10 A.M. - just fifty minutes before the truce came into effect - we proceeded to it. It looked as if the dikes had been the target here. The local people interviewed claimed that there had been ‘manyÂ' (some said twelve) raids on the dikes. Appreciating the dangers of breached {121} or weakened dikes the people - everybody in the village it appeared - were toiling to make good the damage. We saw the corpse of an eighteen-year-old boy whose head had been sliced open by a bomb fragment. Three others had been killed - the husband and two children of a family of whom mother and baby remained. We also interviewed an orphan who had been living with his grandmother, also killed in this raid. Much damage had been inflicted upon the flimsy wood and thatch huts and outbuildings of the village. There wasnÂ't a possible military target within miles, as far as we could see. There were, as always and everywhere in North Vietnam, bridges, but in the immediate neighbourhood of Nam Phong none but flimsy bamboo pontoon-type constructions, obviously unsuited to military traffic. The only conclusion open to me is that the target here in Nam Phong was the dikes, with the intention of weakening and/or breaching them so that when the rains come later in the year serious flooding and inundation of the crops will occur.

After lunching at Nam Dinh, we pressed on south to Phat Diem in Ninh Binh province. All the way from Hanoi we had been able to observe the extent of damage to communications systems, and my conclusion was that attacks on bridges, roads and railways had had their military purpose frustrated completely by the initiative and improvisations of the Vietnamese. This might conceivably account for the apparent extension of bombing bit by bit to more and more blatantly civilian targets - including targets well off the main north-south communications routes - such as Phat Diem.

Phat Diem has been described by some US reports as a ‘naval baseÂ'. It is clear on the ground that it is nothing of the sort, and it must unquestionably be clear as well, that it is not from the air. The town is in the heart of a Roman Catholic area, as is clear from the large number of spires which decorate the landscape. It seemed to me that Phat Diem had been subjected to a pretty systematic attempt to flatten all modern-looking stone and brick buildings. This seemed to be the pattern of the bomb runs, along the line of the main street. We inspected a number of churches. The first had been attacked and badly damaged in a raid on 10 July 1966. Across the river another had been completely smashed flat, so that the grounds seemed to me to be just a pattern of {122} water-filled craters. It was interesting to see that attempts were being made to make the best of a bad job by growing vegetables on bomb sites (and on the roofs of air-raid shelters). This second church was said to have taken something like forty-eight bombs in all. The third church, the biggest of the ones we saw, had been badly damaged as far as we could see examining its exterior façade: Mass was in progress, and we did not enter. My conclusions about Phat Diem are roughly as follows. There are no local military targets (if one excludes the fishing boats and the bridges). No main road runs through Phat Diem, and the road which does go through the town runs east-west not north-south. There is no railway and no industry in the region. It is a fairly prosperous agricultural town, which used to be well-known for its handicrafts, especially basket-work. The main access bridge looked to me too flimsy for heavy military traffic. Bombing, therefore, would seem to have no reason but terrorism of the population. This is a comparatively densely populated area, with 5,700 people in two square kilometres. What had prevented much heavier casualties was obviously the intensive shelter-building programme, combined with strict discipline associated with taking shelter as soon as the alert sounded. We were informed that total fatal casualties in more than fifty raids on Phat Diem had been in the region of 100. But seventy-two of these had been suffered during the course of one sneak raid on the fourth church we visited; this raid, on 24 April 1966, had caught a congregation on the point of leaving after a service, and it had been the first raid of the long series.

On 3 January, I spent the day considering evidence of the bombing of hospitals, the use of fragmentation bombs, and the nature of civilian casualties. The morning was spent at the Department of Health building, where we heard testimony and interviewed doctors and others who had been eye-witnesses of American raids on hospitals and sanatoria. We interviewed Dr Oai, who witnessed the repeated bombing of Quynh Lap leprosorium. The first raid occurred at 8 P.M. on 12 June 1965, the planes flying over and then returning to drop twenty-four bombs and fire missiles. A night nurse was wounded. The following morning, all patients had been evacuated, but at 1.45 P.M. on 13 June 1965, when some of the patients had returned, large numbers of US planes came over {123} and bombed and strafed the hospital in turn. The centre was demolished completely. In the following few days, the Americans returned again and again until the sanatorium had been completely destroyed. The raids of 12-21 June 1965 were reported to have killed 140 patients in all. Dr Oai was moved to another hospital, while the remaining patients were dispersed to a variety of institutions. We also interviewed three other eye-witnesses - a man Hoang-Sinh, who had been wounded in one of the raids, Duong Thi Lien and Vu Thanh Mui, two women. These corroborated the testimony of Dr Oai in respect of the most important details - i.e. the height of the planes, the fact that the bombs were followed up by strafing of the patients and staff as they sought shelter. Dr Oai, in response to questions, asserted that there had been ‘at least sevenÂ' low-flying reconnaissance flights before the first bombings. The implication is, of course, that the Americans must have known what the target at Quynh Lap was.

We also interviewed a patient at the time of the June raids, Nguyen Van Ang. whose testimony again corroborated the evidence of the others. I asked the North Vietnamese present whether they had any admissions from captured American airmen that they had actually been briefed to bomb Quynh Lap, knowing it to be a leprosorium. They said they would inquire about this, but I never heard any more about it. It seemed to me that some such evidence from the US side would absolutely clinch the argument. As it is, I am sure the weight of evidence now available affords strong grounds for indicting the Americans of deliberate bombing of hospitals. The point about what the US pilots were told in their briefing meetings is, however, an important point upon which, I hope, further evidence will become available.

In the afternoon of 3 January 1967, we visited St PaulÂ's Surgical Hospital, Hanoi. The surgeon-in-charge introduced the hospital, and said we would be seeing victims of US bombing of Hanoi and neighbourhood. Many wounded, he explained, had been evacuated, but the worst injured had to be kept there for expert attention. He and two other doctors took us through the details of a number of cases, showed us X-rays, showed us some victims nearing discharge, and finally showed us round some of the patients in bed. I quote from my notebook: {124}

Victims of the raid of 13 December 1966 [presumably on Hanoi - M.C.], a girl of six years - Vu Thi Hanh - and her brother - Vu Hong Nguyen - of four years. The mother had been killed in a raid on the south of North Vietnam. The girl had suffered a skull fracture, but had been cured and evacuated; the boy had had an arm fracture.
A baby of ten months, Le Dinh Lap, injured on the same day at the same place. Feet injuries. Also a splinter entered just below the eyebrow and lodged in the skull. Has been operated upon, and is considered satisfactory, despite a remaining fragment. Found beside his dead mother. The father was absent at the time. Older siblings had fortunately been evacuated.

Ngo Van Phu - fragment caused bleeding in the brain, operated upon, and now in good health.
Nguyen Thi Thanh - another case of fragment injury. Also operated on and saved (ten months old).
Nguyen Thuan - pellets from an anti-personnel fragmentation bomb in the skull - hit fifty kms. north of Hanoi - at Vinh Phuc.
Nguyen Quang, a school-boy of twelve years, also at Vinh Phuc. Fragment entered the temple region and produced severe damage to the eyes - yet another fragmentation bomb victim.

The surgeon-in-chief interrupted at this point to speak more generally about fragmentation bombs. He stressed that the fragments are particularly dangerous lodging in the skull, menacing not only the life but also the intelligence of the children if they survive. They continually threaten abscesses. They violate the Geneva Conventions. Victims are horribly mutilated. The objectives of US bombing, he said, are the populated areas, and mothers and children are the most frequent victims. These tiny fragments from fragmentation bombs, he said, cause permanent mutilation. The seriousness of the injuries is caused by the force of the explosion of each container (300 in each ‘motherÂ' bomb) and by the smallness of the fragments.

Dr Dang Hung Khanh, a traumatologist, took over, and took us through a number of cases of bad burning and more fragmentation-bomb victims. He had several cases of fragmentation bomb damage from Gia Lam province, near Hanoi, and from Van Dien, about ten kilometres south of Hanoi. He stressed in general that the fragments are dangerous because they travel very low, so that even those who throw themselves on the ground can be badly hit. {125}

I am not a medical doctor, and so must leave evaluation of the cases from that point of view to others better qualified. But the sheer number of fragmentation bomb victims we saw at the St PaulÂ's Surgical Hospital, Hanoi, fits in with the impression we had from other evidence about the frequency of their employment by the Americans in North Vietnam. One can corroborate in various ways, all of which we did. First, one can inspect bombed buildings for characteristic marks. Second, one can interview local eye-witnesses of raids. Third, one can examine fragments of bomb-casing and unexploded or recovered bombs in situ. The impression that builds up is unmistakable and unavoidable in its implications - namely that the United States is deliberately, consistently and methodically employing fragmentation bombs - a specifically anti-personnel weapon - throughout North Vietnam.

We inspected some of the patients and confirmed on inspection what had been said about them as cases. We heard their own stories of how they had been injured. I quote one typical interview from my notebook:

We interview another patient, Nguyen thi Thanh (ten months), through the mother Ngo thi Ky (29), Hoang Hanh Street, Hanoi, 1/2 km. from Hanoi central market. ‘At noon on the 13th [December -M.C.] I went to work. At 3 P.M. there was bombing and I hastened to rejoin my household, but everything was destroyed; but baby had been sent to hospital, and the baby was wounded [burned?]. I went to the hospital; the babyÂ's brain was sticking out of his head. I thank the doctors very much who looked after my baby. Our house was completely burned down, and the neighbouring house all [too]. When the bombs fell, I was at the small lake.Â' ‘Did you see the planes?Â' ‘I took shelter, but saw the planes come in. When I am at work, neighbours look after the baby - in the raid they were lightly wounded. It was doctors and nurses who removed the child to hospital.Â' The doctor commented that a fragment in the head originally caused left-sided paralysis, but that this had gone.

Afterwards, we toured one or two wards, and I was appalled at some of the terrible injuries to patients from fragmentation bombs. The only limitation on our compilation of cases was obviously the amount of time at our disposal. In the hospital were cases of fragmentation-bomb damage to people living both in Hanoi, and the north, south, east and west of it. In other words, it {126} would appear that these weapons are used regularly throughout North Vietnam.

On Wednesday, 4 January, we visited the Hanoi War Crimes Investigating Committee, to be briefed on the American raids on Hanoi and suburbs. An interesting point to which I would draw attention, in connexion with what I had to say about the hospital evidence, is that the Hanoi Committee estimated that so far fragmentation bombs had outnumbered other types of bombs in a ratio of greater than 6:1. We inspected fragments of recovered bombs and other visible and tangible evidence of this from the Hanoi area.

We went on to visit Tu Ky hamlet in the village of Hoang Liet, in the suburbs of Hanoi. We interviewed Nguyen Thi San, an elderly woman of fifty-seven; she described the 2 December 1966 raid, explaining how the US planes ‘dive-bombed and strafedÂ'. The school here is a ruin, the ground pitted with many bomb craters. All round this agricultural hamlet the ground is ploughed up with water-filled bomb craters, like a miniature Ypres or Passchendaele. There is no military target in sight. The Tu Ky pagoda also badly damaged.

We then visited Phu Xa, in the suburbs again of Hanoi. It was completely destroyed in the course of a raid on 13 August 1966. It has since been rebuilt. The hamlet grows mulberry for silk. There are now deep trenches and shelters everywhere, because many people died (twenty-four) and many others were wounded (twenty-three) during the first attack, in which fragmentation bombs predominated. We saw a large fragment of bomb case, clearly stamped ‘Loading date 7/66Â' and marked with its weight ‘139 lbs.Â' There is a village memorial, with many relics and artefacts of the raid. Besides human casualties, the people of the village have recorded the destruction caused to crops, farm animals, etc.

On Friday, 6 January, we attended the press conference of the visiting Japanese delegation, whose report will be submitted independently to the International War Crimes Tribunal. This was interrupted by an air-raid alert lasting about fifteen minutes. (I had twice before this, and once more subsequently, to take shelter during alerts; the last one, later this day, was accompanied by fairly heavy anti-aircraft fire, but I did not record any bombs {127} falling. The Japanese had been bombed, and had brought back some interesting evidence of the use of napalm, etc.

Early on Saturday, 7 January, I left Hanoi by plane for Phnom Penh.


  1. The raid of 14 December 1966 badly damaged a trade-union school and nearby workersÂ' housing, only completed a few years ago. This is a site about four kilometres from the mile-long bridge spanning the Red River. Here we were told there had been two deaths and seven wounded.Back
  2. We were told that Ninh Binh town had been bombed at 10 A.M. on 31 December 1966 - in contradiction of the New Year cease-fire. Twenty people were reported killed and wounded.Back

The United States in Vietnam 1944-66: Origins and Objectives of an Intervention

The United States in Vietnam 1944-66: Origins and Objectives of an Intervention

The intervention of the United States in Vietnam is the most important single embodiment of the power and purposes of American foreign policy since the Second World War, and no other crisis reveals so much of the basic motivating forces and objectives - and weaknesses - of American global politics. A theory of the origins and meaning of the war also discloses the origins of an American malaise that is global in its reaches, impinging on this nationÂ's conduct everywhere. To understand Vietnam is also to comprehend not just the present purposes of American action but also to anticipate its thrust and direction in the future.

Vietnam illustrates, as well, the nature of the American internal political process and decision-making structure when it exceeds the views of a major sector of the people, for no other event of our generation has turned such a large proportion of the nation against its governmentÂ's policy or so profoundly alienated its {76} youth. And at no time has the government conceded so little to democratic sentiment, pursuing as it has a policy of escalation that reveals that its policy is formulated not with an eye to democratic sanctions and compromises but rather the attainment of specific interests and goals scarcely shared by the vast majority of the nation.

The inability of the United States to apply its vast material and economic power to compensate for the ideological and human superiority of revolutionary and guerrilla movements throughout the world has been the core of its frustration in Vietnam. From a purely economic viewpoint, the United States cannot maintain its existing vital dominating relationship to much of the Third World unless it can keep the poor nations from moving too far towards the Left and the Cuban or Vietnamese path. A widespread leftward movement would critically affect its supply of raw materials and have profound long-term repercussions. It is the American view of the need for relative internal stability within the poorer nations that has resulted in a long list of United States interventions since 1946 into the affairs of numerous nations, from Greece to Guatemala, of which Vietnam is only the consummate example - but in principle no different from numerous others. The accuracy of the ‘dominoÂ' theory, with its projection of the eventual loss of whole regions to American direction and access, explains the direct continuity between the larger United States global strategy and Vietnam.

Yet, ironically, while the United States struggles in Vietnam and the Third World to retain its own mastery, or to continue that once held by the former colonial powers, it simultaneously weakens itself in its deepening economic conflict with Europe, revealing the limits of AmericaÂ's power to attain its ambition to define the preconditions and direction of global economic and political developments. Vietnam is essentially an American intervention against a nationalist, revolutionary agrarian movement which embodies social elements in incipient and similar forms of development in numerous other Third World nations. It is in no sense a civil war, with the United States supporting one local faction against another, but an effort to preserve a mode of traditional colonialism via a minute, historically opportunistic comprador class in Saigon. For the United States to fail in Vietnam {77} would be to make the point that even the massive intervention of the most powerful nation in the history of the world was insufficient to stem profoundly popular social and national revolutions throughout the world. Such a revelation of American weaknesses would be tantamount to a demotion of the United States from its present role as the worldÂ's dominant super-power.

Given the scope of United States ambitions in relation to the Third World, and the sheer physical limits on the successful implementation of such a policy, Vietnam also reveals the passivity of the American military establishment in formulating global objectives that are intrinsically economic and geopolitical in character. Civilians, above all, have calculated the applications of American power in Vietnam and their strategies have prompted each military escalation according to their definitions of American interests. Even in conditions of consistent military impotence and defeat, Vietnam has fully revealed the tractable character of the American military when confronted with civilian authority, and their continuous willingness to obey civilian orders loyally.

It is in this broader framework of the roots of United States foreign policy since 1945 that we must comprehend the history and causes of the war in Vietnam and relate it to the larger setting of the goals of AmericaÂ's leaders and the function of United States power in the modern world.


Throughout the Second World War the leaders of the United States scarcely considered the future of Indochina, but during 1943 President Roosevelt suggested that Indochina become a four-power trusteeship after the war, proposing that the eventual independence of the Indochinese might follow in twenty to thirty years. No one speculated whether such a policy would require American troops, but it was clear that the removal of French power was motivated by a desire to penalize French collaboration with Germany and Japan, or de GaulleÂ's annoying independence, rather than a belief in the intrinsic value of freedom for the Vietnamese. Yet what was critical in the very first American position was that ultimate independence would not be something that {78} the Vietnamese might take themselves, but a blessing the other Great Powers might grant at their own convenience. Implicit in this attitude was the seed of opposition to the independence movement that already existed in Vietnam. Indeed, all factors being equal, the policy towards European colonialism would depend on the extent to which the involved European nations accepted American objectives elsewhere, but also on the nature of the local opposition. If the Left led the independence movements, as in the Philippines, Korea or Indochina, then the United States sustained collaborationist alternatives, if possible, or endorsed colonialism.

Although Roosevelt at Yalta repeated his desire for a trusteeship, during March 1945 he considered the possibility of French restoration in return for their pledge eventually to grant independence. But by May 1945 there was no written, affirmative directive on United States political policy in Indochina. The gap was in part due to the low priority assigned the issue, but also reflected growing apprehension as to what the future of those countries as independent states might hold.1

At the Potsdam Conference of July 1945, and again in the General Order Number 1 the United States unilaterally issued several weeks later, the remaining equivocation on Indochina was resolved by authorizing the British takeover of the nation south of the 16th parallel and Chinese occupation north of it, and this definitely meant the restoration of the French whom the British had loyally supported since 1943. One cannot exaggerate the importance of these steps, since it made the United States responsible for the French return at a time when Washington might have dictated the independence of that nation. By this time everyone understood what the British were going to do.

Given the alternative, United States support for the return of France to Indochina was logical as a means of stopping the triumph of the Left, a question not only in that nation but throughout the Far East. Moreover, by mid-August French officials were hinting that they would grant the United States and England equal economic access to Indochina. Both in action and thought the United States government now chose the reimposition of {79} French colonialism. At the end of August de Gaulle was in Washington, and the President now told the French leader that the United States favoured the return of France to Indochina. The decision would shape the course of world history for decades.2

The OSS worked with the Viet Minh, a coalition of Left and moderate resistance forces led by Ho Chi Minh, during the final months of the war to the extent of giving them petty quantities of arms in exchange for information and assistance with downed pilots, and they soon came to know Ho and many of the Viet Minh leaders. Despite the almost paranoid belief of the French representatives that the OSS was working against France, the OSS only helped consolidate WashingtonÂ's support for the French.3 They and other American military men who arrived in Hanoi during the first heady days of freedom were unanimous in believing that Ho ‘... is an old revolutionist ... a product of Moscow, a communistÂ'.4 The OSS understood the nationalist ingredient in the Vietnamese revolution, but they emphasized the communist in their reports to Washington.5

During September the first British troops began arriving in the Indochinese zone which the Americans assigned them and imposed their control over half of a nation largely Viet Minh-controlled with the backing of the vast majority of the people. The British arranged to bring in French troops as quickly as they might be found, and employed Japanese troops in the Saigon region and elsewhere. ‘[On] 23 September,Â' the British commander later reported to his superiors, ‘Major-General Gracey {80} had agreed with the French that they should carry out a coup dÂ'état; and with his permission, they seized control of the administration of Saigon and the French Government was installed.Â'6 The State DepartmentÂ's representative who visited Hanoi the following month found the references of the Vietnamese to classic democratic rhetoric mawkish, and ‘perhaps naïvely, and without consideration of the conflicting postwar interests of the “Big” nations themselves, the new government believed that by complying with the conditions of the wartime United Nations conferences it could invoke the benefits of these conferences in favour of its own independence.Â'7 From this viewpoint, even in 1945 the United States regarded Indochina almost exclusively as the object of Great Power diplomacy and conflict. By the end of the Second World War the Vietnamese were already in violent conflict with the representatives not only of France, but also of England and the United States, a conflict in which they could turn the wartime political rhetoric against the governments that had casually written it. But at no time did the desires of the Vietnamese themselves assume a role in the shaping of United States policy.

1946-9: United States inaction and the genesis of a firm policy

It is sufficient to note that by early 1947 the American doctrine of containment of communism obligated the United States to think also of the dangers Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh posed, a movement the United States analysed as a monolith directed from Moscow. It is also essential to remain aware of the fact that the global perspective of the United States between 1946 and 1949 stressed the decisive importance of Europe to the future of world power. When the United States looked at Indochina they saw France, and through it Europe, and a weak France would open the door to communism in Europe. But for no other reason, this {81} meant a tolerant attitude towards the bloody French policy in Vietnam, one the French insisted was essential to the maintenance of their empire and prosperity, and the political stability of the nation. Washington saw Vietnamese nationalism as a tool of the communists.

In February 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall publicly declared he wished ‘a pacific basis of adjustment of the difficulties could be foundÂ',8 but he offered no means towards that end. Given the greater fear of communism, such mild American criticisms of French policy as were made should not obscure the much more significant backing of basic French policy in Washington. By early 1949 Washington had shown its full commitment to the larger assumptions of French policy and goals, and when Bao Dai, the former head of the Japanese puppet regime, signed an agreement with the French in March 1949 to bring Vietnam into the French Union, the State Department welcomed the new arrangement as ‘... the basis for the progressive realization of the legitimate aspirations of the Vietnamese peopleÂ'.9 Such words belied the reality, for the course of affairs in Asia worried Washington anew.

The catalysis for a reconsideration of the significance of Vietnam to the United States was the final victory of the communists in China. In July 1949 the State Department authorized a secret reassessment of American policy in Asia in the light of the defeat of the Kuomintang, and appointed Ambassador-at-Large Philip Jessup chairman of a special committee. On 18 July Dean Acheson sent Jessup a memo defining the limits of the inquiry: ‘You will please take as your assumption that it is a fundamental decision of American policy that the United States does not intend to permit further extension of Communist domination on the continent of Asia or in the southeast Asia area... Â'10 At the end of 1949 the State Department was still convinced the future of world power remained in Europe, but, as was soon to become evident, this involved the necessity of French victory in Vietnam. {82}

Most significant about the Jessup CommitteeÂ's views was the belief that, as a State Department official put it, ‘In respect to south-east Asia we are on the fringes of crisisÂ', one that, he added, might involve all of Asia following China.11 It appears to have been the consensus that Bao Dai, despite American wishes for his success, had only the slimmest chance for creating an effective alternative to Ho in Vietnam. The Committee compared French prospects to those of Chiang Kai-shek two years earlier, and since they acknowledged that the Viet Minh captured most of their arms from the French, the likelihood of stemming the tide seemed dismal.

There were two dimensions to the Vietnam problem from the United StatesÂ' viewpoint at the end of 1949. First, it was determined to stop the sweep of revolution in Asia along the fringes of China, and by that time Vietnam was the most likely outlet for any United States action. Second, it was believed that small colonial wars were draining France, and therefore Europe, of its power. Yet a Western victory had to terminate these struggles in order to fortify Europe, the central arena of the Cold War. ‘I found all the French troops of any quality were out in Indochina,Â' Marshall complained to the Jessup Committee, .... and the one place they were not was in Western Europe. So it left us in an extraordinarily weak position there. ...Â'12 Massive American intervention in Vietnam was now inevitable.

1950-53: America escalates the war in Indochina

The significance of the struggle in Vietnam for the United States always remained a global one, and for this reason Vietnam after 1950 became the most sustained and important single issue confronting Washington. The imminent crisis in Asia that the Jessup Committee had predicted was one John Foster Dulles, even then one of the key architects of United States diplomacy, also anticipated. Dulles, however, thought it a mistake to place the main emphasis on American policy in Europe, and he, like everyone else in Washington, was not in the least impressed by the future of {83} the Associated States of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia which the United States recognized on 7 February 1950, with a flurry of noble references to independence and democracy. A ‘series of disasters can be prevented,Â' Dulles advised in May 1950, ‘if at some doubtful point we quickly take a dramatic and strong stand that shows our confidence and resolution. Probably this series of disasters cannot be prevented in any other way.Â' It would be necessary, he believed, even to ‘risk warÂ'.13

The official position of the Truman Administration at this time was to insist on regarding Vietnam as essentially an extension of a European affair. As Charles E. Bohlen of the State Department explained it in a top-secret briefing in April:

As to Indochina, if the current war there continues for two or three years, we will get very little of sound military development in France. On the other hand, if we can help France to get out of the existing stalemate in Indochina, France can do something effective in Western Europe. The need in Indochina is to develop a local force which can maintain order in the areas theoretically pacified...
It is important, in order to maintain the French effort in Indochina, that any assistance we give be presented as defence of the French Union, as the French soldiers there would have little enthusiasm for sacrificing themselves to fight for a completely free Indochina in which France would have no part.
Suffice it to say, the French were hard pressed economically, and they needed United States aid on any terms, and in May 1950 direct United States economic aid was begun to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Immediately after the Korean affair Truman pledged greater support to the French and the Bao Dai regime. 15

During mid-October 1950, shortly after some serious military reverses, Jules Moch, the French Minister of National Defence, arrived in Washington to attempt to obtain even greater United States military aid. By this time, despite earlier reticence, the French had come to realize that the key to their colonial war was in Washington. {84}

The aggregate military aid the United States contributed to the French effort in Vietnam is a difficult matter of book-keeping, but total direct military aid to France in 1950-53 was $2,956 million, plus $684 million in 1954. United States claims suggest that $1.54 billion in aid was given to Indochina before the Geneva Accords, and in fact TrumanÂ's statement in January 1953 that the United States paid for as much as half of the war seems accurate enough, and aid rose every year to 1954.16 The manner in which this aid was disbursed is more significant.

The United States paid but did not appreciate French political direction, though no serious political pressure was put on the French until 1954. Dulles, for one, was aware of Bao DaiÂ's political unreliability and inability to create an alternative to the Viet Minh, and he regretted it. ‘It seems,Â' he wrote a friend in October 1950, ‘as is often the case, it is necessary as a practical matter to choose the lesser of two evils because the theoretically ideal solution is not possible for many reasons - the French policy being only one. As a matter of fact, the French policy has considerably changed for the better.Â'17 It was Dulles, in the middle of 1951, who discovered in Bao DaiÂ's former premier under the Japanese, Ngo Dinh Diem, the political solution for Indochina. At the end of 1950 he was willing to content himself with the belief that the expansion of communism in Asia must be stopped. The French might serve that role, at least for a time.

In developing a rationale for United States aid, three major arguments were advanced, only one of which was later to disappear as a major source of the conduct of United States policy in Vietnam. First of all, the United States wished to bring France back to Europe via victory in Vietnam: ‘The sooner they bring it to a successful conclusion,Â' Henry Cabot Lodge explained in early 1951, ‘the better it would be for NATO because they could move their forces here and increase their building of their army in Europe... Â'18 The French insistence until 1954 on blocking {85} German rearmament and the European Defence Community until they could exist on the continent with military superiority over the Germans, a condition that was impossible until the war in Vietnam ended, gave this even more persuasive consideration special urgency. From this viewpoint, Vietnam was the indirect key to Germany. In the meantime, as Ambassador to France David Bruce explained it, ‘I think it would be a disaster if the French did not continue their effort in Indochina.Â'19

Victory rather than a political settlement was necessary because of the two other basic and more permanent factors guiding United States policy. The United States was always convinced that the ‘dominoÂ' theory would operate should Vietnam remain with the Vietnamese people. ‘There is no question,Â' Bruce told a Senate committee, ‘that if Indochina went, the fall of Burma and the fall of Thailand would be absolutely inevitable. No one can convince me, for what it is worth, that Malaya wouldnÂ't follow shortly thereafter, and India ... would ... also find the Communists making infiltrations. ..Â'20 The political character of the regime in Vietnam was less consequential than the larger United States design for the area, and the seeds of future United States policy were already forecast when Bruce suggested that ‘... the Indochinese - and I am speaking now of the... anti-Communist group - will have to show a far greater ability to live up to the obligations of nationhood before it will be safe to withdraw, whether it be French Union forces or any other foreign forces, from that countryÂ'.21 If the French left, someone would have to replace them.

Should Vietnam, and through it Asia, fall to the Viet Minh, the last major American fear would be realized. ‘[Of] all the prizes Russia could bite off in the east,Â' Bruce also suggested, ‘the possession of Indochina would be the most valuable and in the long run would be the most crucial one from the standpoint of the West in the east. That would be true not because of the flow of rice, rubber, and so forth... but because it is the only place where any war is now being conducted to try to suppress the overtaking of the whole area of south-east Asia by the Communists.Â'22 {86}

Eisenhower and Nixon put this assumption rather differently, with greater emphasis on the value of raw materials, but it has been a constant basis of United States policy in Vietnam since 1951. ‘Why is the United States spending hundreds of millions of dollars supporting the forces of the French Union in the fight against communism?Â' Vice President Richard Nixon asked in December 1953. ‘If Indochina falls, Thailand is put in an almost impossible position. The same is true of Malaya with its rubber and tin. The same is true of Indonesia. If this whole part of south-east Asia goes under Communist domination or Communist influence, Japan, who trades and must trade with this area in order to exist, must inevitably be oriented towards the Communist regime.Â'23

The loss of all Vietnam [Eisenhower wrote in his memoir], together with Laos on the west and Cambodia on the southwest, would have meant the surrender to Communist enslavement of millions. On the material side, it would have spelled the loss of valuable deposits of tin and prodigious supplies of rubber and rice. It would have meant that Thailand, enjoying buffer territory between itself and Red China, would be exposed on its entire eastern border to infiltration or attack. And if Indochina fell, not only Thailand but Burma and Malaya would be threatened, with added risks to East Pakistan and South Asia as well as to all Indonesia.24

Given this larger American conception of the importance of the Vietnam war to its self-interest, which impelled the United States to support it financially, the future of the war no longer depended largely on whether the French would fight or meet the demands of the Vietnamese for independence. Already in early 1952 Secretary of State Dean Acheson told Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, as recorded in the latterÂ's memoir, ‘... of the United StatesÂ' determination to do everything possible to strengthen the French hand in Indochina. On the wider question of the possibility of a Chinese invasion, the United States Government considered that it would be disastrous to the position of the Western powers if south-east Asia were lost without a struggle.Â'25 If Acheson promised prudence {87} by merely greatly increasing arms aid to the French, he also talked of blockading China. The war, even by 1952, was being internationalized with America assuming ever greater initiative for its control. When Eisenhower came to the Presidency in January 1953, Acheson presented Vietnam to him as ‘an urgent matter on which the new administration must be prepared to actÂ'.26 Given DullesÂ's experience and views on the question, AchesonÂ's words were not to be wasted.

By spring 1953 the United States government was fully aware of the largely tangential role of the French in its larger global strategy, and it was widely believed in Congress that if the French pulled out the United States would not permit Vietnam to fall. The United States was increasingly irritated with the French direction of affairs. The economic aid sent to Vietnam resulted merely in the creation of a speculative market for piastres and dollars which helped the local compradors enrich themselves while debilitating the economy. ‘Failure of important elements of the local population to give a full measure of support to the war effort remained one of the chief negative factors,Â' the State Department confided to Eisenhower.27 ‘[It] was almost impossible,Â' Eisenhower later wrote, ‘to make the average Vietnamese peasant realize that the French, under whose rule his people had lived for some eighty years, were really fighting in the cause of freedom, while the Viet Minh, people of their own ethnic origins, were fighting on the side of slavery.Â'28 Bao Dai, whom the United States had always mistrusted, now disturbed the Americans because, Eisenhower recalls, he ‘... chose to spend the bulk of his time in the spas of Europe...Â'29

The French, for their part, were now divided on the proper response the massive American intervention into the war demanded. But during July 1953 Bidault and Dulles conferred and Dulles promised all the French desired, also admonishing them not to seek a negotiated end to the war. In September the United States agreed to give the French a special grant of $385 million to {88} implement the Navarre Plan, a scheme to build French and puppet troops to a level permitting them to destroy the regular Viet Minh forces by the end of 1955. By this time the essential strategy of the war supplanted a strict concern for bringing France back to NATO, and the Americans increasingly determined to make Vietnam a testing ground for a larger global strategy of which the French would be the instrument. Critical to that strategy was military victory.

The difficulty for the United States undertaking was that, as General LeClerc had suggested several years earlier, there was.... no military solution for VietnamÂ'.30 The major foreign policy crisis of late 1953 and early 1954, involving DullesÂ's confusing ‘massive retaliationÂ' speech of 12 January 1954, was the first immediate consequence of the failure of the Navarre Plan and the obvious French march towards defeat. The vital problem for the United States was how it might apply its vast military power in a manner that avoided a land war in the jungles, one which Dulles always opposed in Asia and which the Americans too might lose. At the end of December 1953 Dulles publicly alluded to the possibility that in the event of a Chinese invasion of Vietnam the Americans might respond by attacking China, which several weeks later was expressed again in the ambiguous threat of the American need ‘... to be willing and able to respond vigorously at places and with means of its own choosingÂ'.31 Every critical assumption on which the United States based its foreign and military policy they were now testing in Vietnam.

1954: the Geneva Conference

Given the larger regional, even global, context of the question of Vietnam for the United States, a peaceful settlement would have undermined the vital promise of Washington since 1947 that one could not negotiate with communism but only contain it via military expenditures, bases and power. In February 1954, as Eden records, ‘... our Ambassador was told at the State Department {89} that the United States government was perturbed by the fact that the French were aiming not to win the war, but to get into a position from which they could negotiateÂ'.32 The United States was hostile to any political concessions and to an end to the war. To the French, many of whom still wished to fight, the essential question was whether the United States government would share the burden of combat as well as the expense. The French would make this the test of their ultimate policy.

At the end of March the French sought to obtain some hint of the direction of United States commitments, and posed the hypothetical question of what United States policy would be if the Chinese used their aircraft to attack French positions. Dulles refused to answer the question, but he did state that if the United States entered the war with its own manpower, it would demand a much greater share of the political and executive direction of the future of the area.33

It is probable that the United States government in the weeks before Geneva had yet to define a firm policy for itself save on one issue: the desire not to lose any part of Vietnam by negotiations and to treat the existing military realities of the war as the final determining reality. EdenÂ's memory was correct when he noted that in April the Under Secretary of State, Walter Bedell Smith, informed the British government .... that the United States had carefully studied the partition solution, but had decided that it would only be a temporary palliative and would lead to Communist domination of south-east AsiaÂ'.34

During these tense days words from the United States were extremely belligerent, but it ultimately avoided equivalent actions, and laid the basis for later intervention. On 9 March Dulles excoriated Ho and the Viet Minh and all who ‘... whip up the spirit of nationalism so that it becomes violentÂ'. He again reiterated the critical value of Vietnam as a source of raw materials and its strategic value in the area, and now blamed China for the continuation of the war. After detailing the alleged history of broken Soviet treaties, Dulles made it clear that the United States would go to Geneva so that ‘... any Indochina discussion {90} will serve to bring the Chinese Communists to see the danger of their apparent design for the conquest of south-east Asia, so that they will cease and desistÂ'.35 Vice-President Richard Nixon on 16 April was rather more blunt in a press conference: Geneva would become an instrument of action and not a forum for a settlement. ‘[The] United States must go to Geneva and take a positive stand for united action by the free world. Otherwise it will have to take on the problem alone and try to sell it to others. ... This country is the only nation politically strong enough at home to take a position that will save Asia. ... Negotiations with the Communists to divide the territory would result in Communist domination of a vital new area.Â'36

The fact the United States focused on, Chinese ‘responsibilityÂ' for a war of liberation from the French that began in 1945, years before the Chinese communists were near the south, was not only poor propaganda but totally irrelevant as a basis of military action. There was at this time no effective means for United States entry into the war, and such power as the Americans had would not be useful in what ultimately had to be a land war if they could hope for victory. War hawks aside, the Pentagon maintained a realistic assessment of the problem of joining the war at this time from a weak and fast-crumbling base, and for this reason the United States never implemented the much publicized schemes for entering the war via air power. The United States government was, willy nilly, grasping at a new course, one that had no place for Geneva and its very partial recognition of realities in Vietnam.

On 4 April Eisenhower proposed to Churchill that the three major NATO allies, the Associated States, the ANZUS countries, Thailand and the Philippines form a coalition to take a firm stand on Indochina, by using naval and air power against the Chinese coast and intervening in Vietnam itself. The British were instantly cool to the amorphous notion, and they were to insist that first the diplomats do their best at Geneva to save the French from their disastrous position. Only the idea of a regional military alliance appealed to them.37 Despite much scurrying and bluster, {91} Dulles could not keep the British and French from going to Geneva open to offers, concessions and a détente.

On 7 May, the day before the Geneva Conference turned to the question of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, Dien Bien Phu fell to the victorious Vietnamese. Psychologically, though not militarily, the United States saw this as a major defeat in Vietnam. Militarily, about three quarters of Vietnam belonged to the Vietnamese and imminent French defeat promised to liberate the remainder. That same evening Dulles went on the radio to denounce Ho as a ‘Communist ... trained in MoscowÂ' who would ‘deprive Japan of important foreign markets and sources of food and raw materialsÂ'.38 Vietnam, Dulles went on, could not fall ‘into hostile handsÂ', for then ‘the Communists could move into all of south-east AsiaÂ'.39 Nevertheless, ‘The present conditions there do not provide a suitable basis for the United States to participate with its armed forcesÂ', and so the hard-pressed French might wish an armistice. ‘But we would be gravely concerned if an armistice or cease-fire were reached at Geneva which would provide a road to a Communist takeover and further aggression.Â'40

The United States position meant an explicit denial of the logic of the military realities, for negotiations to deprive the Viet Minh of all of their triumphs was, in effect, a request for surrender. Even before the Conference turned to the subject, the United States rejected - on behalf of a larger global view which was to make Vietnam bear the brunt of future interventions - the implications of a negotiated settlement.

The Geneva Agreement

Others have authoritatively documented the United StatesÂ' role during the Geneva Conference discussions of 8 May-21 July - the indecision, vacillation and American refusal to acknowledge the military and political realities of the time. The British, for their part, hoped for partition, the Russians and the Chinese for peace {92} - increasingly at any price - and the Vietnamese for Vietnam and the political rewards of their near-military triumph over a powerful nation. The American position, as the New York Times described it during these weeks, was .... driving the US deeper into diplomatic isolation on south-east Asian questionsÂ', and ‘Though the US opposes ... these agreements, there appears to be little the US can do to stop themÂ' 41

To the Vietnamese delegation led by Pham Van Dong, the question was how to avoid being deprived of the political concomitant of their military triumph, and they were the first to quickly insist on national elections in Vietnam at an early date - elections they were certain to win. As the Conference proceeded, and the Russians and then the Chinese applied pressure for Vietnamese concessions on a wide spectrum of issues - the most important being the provisional zonal demarcation along the 17th parallel - the importance of this election provision became ever greater to the Viet Minh.

To both the Vietnamese and the United States, partition as a permanent solution was out of the question, and Pham Van Dong made it perfectly explicit that zonal regroupments were only a temporary measure to enforce a cease-fire. Had the Viet Minh felt it was to be permanent, they unquestionably would not have agreed to the Agreements. When Mendès-France conceded a specific date for an election, the world correctly interpreted it as a major concession to Vietnamese independence. By the end of June, the Vietnamese were ready to grant much in the hope that an election would be held. During these very same days, Eden finally convinced the United States that a partition of Vietnam was all they might hope for, and on 29 June Eden and Dulles issued a statement which agreed to respect an armistice that ‘does not contain political provisions which would risk loss of the retained area to Communist controlÂ'.42 Since that loss was now inevitable, it ambiguously suggested that the United States might look askance at elections, or the entire Agreement itself. When the time came formally to join the other nations at Geneva in endorsing the Conference resolutions, the United States would not consent to do so. {93}

The final terms of the Agreements are too well known to need more than a resume here. The ‘Agreement on Cessation of HostilitiesÂ' that the French and Vietnamese signed on 20 July explicitly described as ‘provisionalÂ' the demarcation line at the 17th parallel. Until general elections, the Vietnamese and French respectively were to exercise civil authority above and below the demarcation line, and it was France alone that had responsibility for assuring conformity to its terms on a political level. Militarily, an International Control Commission was to enforce the terms. Arms could not be increased beyond existing levels. Article 18 stipulated ‘... the establishment of new military bases is prohibited throughout Vietnam territoryÂ', and Article 19 that ‘the two parties shall ensure that the zones assigned to them do not adhere to any military allianceÂ', which meant that Vietnam could not join the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization the United States was beginning to organize.43 The Final Declaration issued on 21 July ‘takes noteÂ' of these military agreements, and ‘... that the essential purpose of the agreement relating to Vietnam is to settle military questions with a view to ending hostilities and that the military demarcation line is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundaryÂ'.44 Vietnam was one nation in this view, and at no place did the documents refer to ‘NorthÂ' or ‘SouthÂ'. To achieve political unity, ‘... general elections shall be held in July 1956, under the supervision of an international control commissionÂ', and ‘consultations will be held on this subject between the competent representative authorities of the two zones from 20 July 1955 onwardsÂ'. 45

To the United States it was inconceivable that the French and their Vietnamese allies could implement the election proviso without risk of total disaster. It is worth quoting EisenhowerÂ's two references to this assumption in his memoir: ‘It was generally conceded that had an election been held, Ho Chi Minh would have been elected Premier.Â'46 ‘I have never talked or corresponded {94} with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai.Â'47

The United States therefore could not join in voting for the Conference resolution of 21 July, and a careful reading of the two United States statements issued unilaterally the same day indicates it is quite erroneous to suggest that the United States was ready to recognize the outcome of a Conference and negotiated settlement which it had bitterly opposed at every phase. EisenhowerÂ's statement begrudgingly welcomed an end to the fighting, but then made it quite plain that ‘... the United States has not itself been a party to or bound by the decisions taken by the Conference, but it is our hope that it will lead to the establishment of peace consistent with the rights and needs of the countries concerned. The agreement contains features which we do not like, but a great deal depends on how they work in practice.Â'48 The ‘United States will not use force to disturb the settlement We also say that any renewal of Communist aggression would be viewed by us as a matter of grave concern.Â'49 Walter Bedell SmithÂ's formal statement at Geneva made the same points, but explicitly refused to endorse the 13th article of the Agreement requiring consultation by the members of the Conference to consider questions submitted to them by the ICC,‘... to ensure that the agreements on the cessation of hostilities in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are respectedÂ'.50

1955-9: the aftermath of Geneva: the US entrenchment

The United States attached such grave reservations because it never had any intention of implementing the Geneva Agreements, and this was clear from all the initial public statements. The Wall {95} Street Journal was entirely correct when on 23 July it reported that ‘the US is in no hurry for elections to unite Vietnam; we fear Red leader Ho Chi Minh would win. So Dulles plans first to make the southern half a showpiece - with American aidÂ'.51

While various United States missions began moving into the area Diem controlled, Dulles addressed himself to the task of creating a SEAT 0 organization which, as Eisenhower informed the Senate, was .... for defence against both open armed attack and internal subversionÂ'.52 To Dulles from this time onwards, the SEATO treaty would cover Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, even though they failed to sign the Treaty and in fact the Geneva Agreement forbade them to do so. Article IV of the SEATO treaty extended beyond the signatories and threatened intervention by the organization in case of aggression ‘against any State or territoryÂ' in the region, or if there was a threat to the ‘political independence ... of any other State or territoryÂ'.53 Under such an umbrella the United States might rationalize almost any intervention for any reason.

The general pattern of United States economic and material aid to the Diem regime between 1955 and 1959, which was $2.92 billion in that period, indicates the magnitude of the American commitment, $1.71 billion of which was advanced under military programmes, including well over a half billion dollars before the final Geneva-scheduled election date.

That elections would never be held was a foregone conclusion, despite the efforts of the North Vietnamese, who on 1 January 1955 reminded the French of their obligation to see the provision respected. Given the internecine conduct of the local opposition and its own vast strength among the people, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam had every reason to comply with the Geneva provisos on elections. During February 1955 Hanoi proposed establishing normal relations between the two zones preparatory to elections, and Pham Van Dong in April issued a joint statement with Nehru urging elections to reunify the country. By this time {96} Diem was busy repressing and liquidating internal opposition of every political hue, and when it received no positive answer to its 6 June pleas for elections, the DRV again formally reiterated its opposition to the partition of one nation and the need to hold elections on schedule. During June the world turned its attention to DiemÂ's and DullesÂ's response prior to the 20 July deadline for consultations. DiemÂ's response was painfully vague, and the first real statement came from Dulles on 28 June when he stated that neither the United States nor the regime in the south had signed the Agreement at Geneva or was bound to it, a point that Washington often repeated and which was, in the case of the south, patently false. Nevertheless, Dulles admitted that in principle the United States favoured ‘... the unification of countries which have a historic unityÂ', the myth of two Vietnams and two nations not yet being a part of the American case. ‘The Communists have never yet won any free election. I donÂ't think they ever will. Therefore, we are not afraid at all of elections, provided they are held under conditions of genuine freedom which the Geneva armistice agreement calls for.Â'54 But the United States, it was clear from this statement, was not bound to call for the implementation of the agreement via prior consultations which Diem and Washington had refused until that time, nor did Dulles say he would now urge Diem to take such a course.

Diem at the end of April 1955 announced he would hold a national referendum in the south to convoke a new national assembly and on 16 July he categorically rejected truly national elections under the terms of Geneva until ‘.. . proof is ... given that they put the superior interests of the national community above those of CommunismÂ'.55 ‘We certainly agree,Â' Dulles stated shortly thereafter, ‘that conditions are not ripe for free elections.Â'56 The response of the DRV was as it had always been:

Geneva obligated the Conference members to assume responsibility for its implementation including consultations preparatory to actual elections, and in this regard Diem was by no means the responsible party. But the British favoured partition, {97} and the French were not about to thwart the United States government. The fraudulent referendum of 23 October which Diem organized in the south gave Diem ninety-eight per cent of the votes for the Presidency of the new ‘Government of VietnamÂ'. Three days later Washington replied to the news by recognizing the legitimacy of the regime.

In reality, using a regime almost entirely financed with its funds, and incapable of surviving without its aid, the United States partitioned Vietnam.

To the DRV, the United States and the Diem AdministrationÂ's refusal to conform to the Geneva Agreements was a question for the members of the Geneva Conference and the ICC to confront, and while it had often made such demands - during June and again in November 1955, and directly to Diem on 19 July - in September and again on 17 November 1955 Pham and Ho publicly elaborated their ideas on the structure of an election along entirely democratic lines. All citizens above eighteen could vote and all above twenty-one could run for office. They proposed free campaigning in both zones and secret and direct balloting. The ICC could supervise. On 25 February 1956, Ho again reiterated this position.

On 14 February 1956, Pham Van Dong directed a letter to the Geneva co-chairmen pointing to the repression in the south, its de facto involvement in an alliance with the United States, and the French responsibility for rectifying the situation. He now proposed that the Geneva Conference reconvene to settle peacefully the problem of Vietnam. The British refused, and again on 6 April the Diem government announced that ‘it does not consider itself bound by their provisions Â'.57 On 8 May the Geneva co-chairmen sent to the north and south, as well as to the French, a demand to open consultations on elections with a view to unifying the country under the Geneva Agreements. Three days later the DRV expressed readiness to begin direct talks in early June at a time set by the Diem authorities. Diem refused. The DRV continued to demand consultations to organize elections, submitting notes to this effect to the Geneva co-chairmen and the Diem government in June and July 1957, March and December 1958, July 1959 and July 1960, and later, for arms reduction, resumption {98} of trade and other steps necessary to end the artificial partition of Vietnam. These proposals failed, for neither Diem nor the United States could survive their successful implementation.58

WashingtonÂ's policy during this period was clear and publicly stated. On 1 June 1956, after visiting Diem with Dulles the prior March, Walter S. Robertson, Assistant Secretary of State, attacked the Geneva Accords, which ‘... partitioned [Vietnam] by fiat of the great powers against the will of the Vietnamese peopleÂ'. He lauded DiemÂ's rigged ‘free election of last MarchÂ' and stated the American determination ‘to support a friendly non-Communist government in Vietnam and to help it diminish and eventually eradicate Communist subversion and influence.... Our efforts are directed first of all towards helping to sustain the internal security forces consisting of a regular army of about 150,000 men, a mobile civil guard of some 45,000, and local defence units. ... We are also helping to organize, train and equip the Vietnamese police force.Â'59 Such policies were, of course, in violation of the Geneva Agreements forbidding military expansion. The term ‘eradicateÂ' was an apt description of the policy which the United States urged upon the more-than-willing Diem, who persecuted former Viet Minh supporters, dissident religious sects and others. An estimated 40,000 Vietnamese were in jail for political reasons by the end of 1958, almost four times that number by the end of 1961. Such policies were possible because the United States financed over seventy per cent of DiemÂ's budget, and the main United States emphasis was on the use of force and repression. There were an estimated minimum of 16,600 political liquidations between 1955 and 1959, perhaps much higher. Suffice it to say, every objective observer has accepted Life magazineÂ's description in May 1957 as a fair estimate:

Behind a facade of photographs, flags and slogans there is a grim structure of decrees, ‘re-education centresÂ', secret police. Presidential ‘Ordinance No. 6Â' signed and issued by Diem in January 1956 provides that ‘individuals considered dangerous to national defence and common security may be confined on executive orderÂ' in a ‘concentration campÂ'. ... Only known or suspected Communists ... are {99} supposed to be arrested and ‘re-educatedÂ' under these decrees. But many non-Communists have also been detained. ... The whole machinery of security has been used to discourage active opposition of any kind from any source.60

The International Control CommissionÂ's teams complained of these violations in the south, and in the north they claimed that the only significant group to have its civil liberties infringed was the Catholic minority, approximately one tenth of the nation. The cooperation of the DRV with the ICC was a critical index of its intentions, and an example of its naive persistence in the belief Geneva had not in reality deprived it of its hard-fought victory. The vast military build-up in the south made real cooperation with the ICC impossible, and its complaints, especially in regard to the airfields and reprisals against civilians, were very common. In certain cases the Diem regime permitted ICC teams to move in the south, but it imposed time limits, especially after 1959. Although there is no precise way of taking a count of what figures both Diem and the United States were attempting to hide, by July 1958 the DRVÂ's estimate that Diem had 450,000 men under arms was probably correct in light of RobertsonÂ's earlier estimate of United States plans and the $1.7 billion in military expenditures for Diem through 1959.61

Although the large bulk of American aid to Diem went to military purposes, the section devoted to economic ends further routed an entirely dependent regime to the United States. That economic aid was a total disaster, exacerbated a moribund economy, ripped apart the urban society already tottering from the first decade of war, and enriched Diem, his family and clique. Yet certain germane aspects of the condition of the southern economy are essential to understand the next phase of the revolution in Vietnam and further American intervention, a revolution the Americans had frozen for a time but could not stop.

The Viet Minh controlled well over half the land south of the 17th parallel prior to the Geneva Conference, and since 1941 they {100} had managed to introduce far-reaching land reform into an agrarian economy of grossly inequitable holdings. When Diem took over this area, with the advice of United States experts he introduced a ‘land reformÂ' programme which in fact was a regressive ‘modernizationÂ' of the concentrated land control system that had already been wiped out in many regions. Saigon reduced rents by as much as fifty per cent from pre-Viet Minh times, but in fact it represented a reimposition of tolls that had ceased to exist in wide areas. In cases of outright expropriation, landlords received compensation for property that they had already lost. In brief, the Diem regimeÂ's return to power meant a reimposition of a new form of the prewar 1940 land distribution system in which seventy-two per cent of the population owned thirteen per cent of the land and two thirds of the agricultural population consisted of tenants ground down by high rents and exorbitant interest rates. For this reason, it was the landlords rather than the peasantry who supported ‘agrarian reformÂ'.

Various plans for resettling peasants in former Viet Minh strongholds, abortive steps which finally culminated in the strategic hamlet movement of 1962, simply helped to keep the countryside in seething discontent. These agrovilles uprooted traditional villages and became famous as sources of discontent against the regime, one which was ripping apart the existing social structure. In brief, Diem and the United States never established control over the larger part of south Vietnam and the Viet MinhÂ's impregnable peasant base, and given the decentralization and the corruption of DiemÂ's authority, there was no effective basis for their doing so. The repression Diem exercised only rekindled resistance.62

In the cities the dislocations in the urban population, constantly augmented by a flow of Catholic refugees from the north, led to a conservative estimate in 1956 of 413,000 unemployed out of the Saigon population of two million. The $1.2 billion in non-military aid given to the Diem regime during 1955-9 went in large part to pay for its vast import deficit which permitted vast quantities of American-made luxury goods to be brought into the countryÂ's {101} inflationary economy for the use of the new comprador Class and DiemÂ's bureaucracy.

The United States endorsed and encouraged the military buildup and repression, but it did not like the strange mélange of mandarin anti-capitalism and Catholic feudalism which Diem jumbled together in his philosophy of personalism. Diem was a puppet, but a not perfectly tractable one. The United States did not appreciate the high margin of personal graft, nor did it like DiemÂ's hostility towards accelerated economic development, nor his belief in state-owned companies. Ngo Dinh Nhu, his brother, regarded economic aid as a cynical means of dumping American surpluses, and the United States had to fight, though successfully, for the relaxation of restrictions on foreign investments and protection against the threat of nationalization. Ultimately Diem was content to complain and to hoard aid funds for purposes the United States thought dubious.

The US thought of Vietnam as a capitalist state in south-east Asia. This course condemned it to failure, but in April 1959, when Eisenhower publicly discussed Vietnam, ‘... a country divided into two parts, and not two distinct nationsÂ', he stressed VietnamÂ's need to develop economically, and the way ‘... to get the necessary capital is through private investments from the outside and through government loansÂ', the latter, in so far as the United States was concerned, going to local capitalists.63

1959-64: the resistance is rekindled

Every credible historical account of the origins of the armed struggle south of the 17th parallel treats it as if it were on a continuum from the war with the French of 1945-54, and as the effect rather than the cause of the Diem regimeÂ's frightful repression and accumulated internal economic and social problems. The resistance to DiemÂ's officials had begun among the peasantry in a spontaneous manner, by growing numbers of persecuted political figures of every persuasion, augmented by Buddhists and Viet {102} Minh who returned to the villages to escape, and, like every successful guerrilla movement, it was based on the support of the peasantry for its erratic but ultimately irresistible momentum. On 6 May 1959, Diem passed his famous Law 10-59 which applied the sentence of death to anyone committing murder, destroying to any extent houses, farms or buildings of any kind, or means of transport, and a whole list of similar offences. ‘Whoever belongs to an organization designed to help to prepare or perpetrate crimes ... or takes pledges to do so, will be subject to the sentences provided.Â'64

The regime especially persecuted former members of the Viet Minh, but all opposition came under the sweeping authority of DiemÂ's new law, and between 1958 and the end of 1961 the number of political prisoners quadrupled. The resistance that spread did not originate from the north, and former Viet Minh members joined the spontaneous local resistance groups well before the DRV indicated any support for them. Only in 1960 did significant fighting spread throughout the country.

At the end of 1960 the United States claimed to have only 773 troops stationed there. By December 1965 there were at least fourteen major United States airbases in Vietnam, 166,000 troops, and the manpower was to more than double over the following year.65 This build-up violated the Geneva Accords, but that infraction is a fine point in light of the fact that the United States always had utter contempt for that agreement. In reality, the United States was now compelled to save what little it controlled of the south of Vietnam from the inevitable failure of its own policies.

It is largely pointless to deal with the subsequent events in the same detail, for they were merely a logical extension of the global policies of the United States before 1960. One has merely to juxtapose {103} the newspaper accounts in the United States press against the official rationalizations cited in Washington to realize how very distant from the truth Washington was willing to wander to seek justification for a barbaric war against a small nation quite unprecedented in the history of modern times. To understand this war one must always place it in its contextual relationship and recall that the issues in Vietnam were really those of the future of United States power not only in south-east Asia but throughout the entire developing world. In Vietnam the United States government has vainly attempted to make vast power relevant to international social and political realities that had bypassed the functional conservatism of a nation seeking to save an old order with liberal rhetoric and, above all, with every form of military power available in its non-nuclear arsenal.

By 1960 it was apparent that Diem would not survive very long, a point that an abortive palace revolt of his own paratroop battalions emphasized on 11 November. When Kennedy came to office amidst great debates over military credibility and the need to build a limited-war capability, Vietnam inevitably became the central challenge to the intellectual strategists he brought to Washington. In May 1961, Kennedy and Dean Rusk denounced what they called DRV responsibility for the growth of guerrilla activity in the south, a decision Rusk claimed the Communist Party of the DRV made in May 1959 and reaffirmed in September of the following year. This tendentious reasoning, of course, ignored the fact that the prior September, Pham Van Dong had again urged negotiations on the basis of reciprocal concessions in order to achieve unity without recourse to ‘war and forceÂ'.66 By the fall two missions headed by Eugene Staley and the leading limited-war theorist, General Maxwell Taylor, went to Vietnam to study the situation. On 18 October Diem declared a state of emergency, and on 16 November Kennedy pledged a sharp increase in aid to the regime, which newspapers predicted would also involve large United States troop increases. During November the Wall Street Journal, for example, admitted that aid would be going to a regime characterized by ‘corruption and favouritismÂ', and described {104} the ‘authoritarian nature of the countryÂ' which allowed the National Liberation Front, formed at the end of December 1960, to build up a mass base among ‘the farmers who welcome an alternative to corrupt and ineffective appointees of the regimeÂ'.67

The United States government could hardly admit that the problem in southern Vietnam was the peopleÂ's revolt against the corruption of an oppressive regime that survived only with American guns and dollars, and not very well at that, and so it was necessary, while once again violating the Geneva Accords, to build up the myth of intervention from the DRV. At this time, the United States government effected a curious shift in its attitude towards the Geneva Accords, from denouncing or ignoring it to insisting that it bound the other side and, implicitly, that the United States had endorsed it. When asked about how a vast increase in United States military aid affected the agreement, Washington from this time on insisted, in RuskÂ's words, that ‘the primary question about the Geneva Accords is not how those Accords relate to, say, our military assistance programme to south Vietnam. They relate to the specific, persistent, substantial, and openly proclaimed violations of those Accords by the north Vietnamese. ... The first question is, what does the north do about those Accords?Â'68 ‘If the North Vietnamese bring themselves into full compliance with the Geneva Accords,Â' Rusk stated on 8 December as he released the so-called White Paper, ‘there will be no problem on the part of South Vietnam or any one supporting South Vietnam.Â'69 Only the prior month Ho publicly called for the peaceful reunification of the country via the terms of Geneva.70 Not surprisingly, Rusk never referred to the question of elections.

The United States White Paper of December 1961 was inept, and an excellent source of information for disproving nearly all the American claims of the time. It consisted of a melange of data, case histories and quotes from DRV statements, most obviously {105} out of context. As for China or Russia supplying the NLF with arms, the White Paper admitted, ‘The weapons of the VC are largely French- or US-made, or handmade on primitive forges in the jungle.Â'71

Evidence ranged from South Vietnamese interrogation records to reproductions of human anatomy from a Chinese text book to photos of medical equipment made in China and the cover of a private diary. The White Paper exhibited no military equipment and the long extracts from various DRV congresses and publications revealed merely that the DRV was officially committed to ‘... struggle tenaciously for the implementation of the Geneva AgreementsÂ' and ‘peaceful reunification of the fatherlandÂ'.72 The State DepartmentÂ's incompetent case was less consequential than the renewed and frank exposition of the ‘dominoÂ' theory: if all of Vietnam chose the leadership of Ho and his party, the rest of Asia would ‘fallÂ'. Above all, as the American press acknowledged, if the United States did not intervene the shabby Diem regime would collapse without anything acceptable replacing it.Â'73

During early 1962 the United States announced and began the Staley Plan - Operation Sunrise - for razing existing villages and regrouping entire populations against their will, and in February created a formal command in Vietnam. Officially, to meet ICC complaints, the United States reported 685 American soldiers were in Vietnam, but in fact reporters described the truth more accurately, and Washington intensified a long pattern of official deception of the American public. Yet the United States position was unenviable, for on 27 February DiemÂ's own planes bombed his palace. This phase of the story need not be surveyed here - more pliable and equally corrupt men were to replace Diem. One American officer in April 1962 reported of growing NLF power, ‘When I arrived last September, the Viet Cong were rarely encountered in groups exceeding four or five. Now they are frequently met in bands of forty to sixty.Â'74

On 1 March, while alleging DRV responsibility for the war, {106} Rusk declared it ‘all in gross violation of the Geneva AccordsÂ'. The problem, he argued over the following years, came from the north. As for the DRVÂ's appeal that the Geneva Conference be reconvened, he suggested, ‘There is no problem in South Vietnam if the other side would stay its hand.... I donÂ't at the moment envisage any particular form of discussion... Â'75 No later than March, American forces in Vietnam were actively locked in combat.

Despite propaganda of the lowest calibre which the State Department and White House issued, more authoritative statements from various government agencies indicated reluctance to base planning on the fiction that the DRV started the war in Vietnam. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report of January 1963 admitted that the NLF ‘is equipped largely with primitive, antiquated, and captured weaponsÂ'.76 Despite the weakness of the NLF in this regard against a regular army of well over 150,000, plus police, etc., ‘by 1961 it was apparent that the prospects for a total collapse in South Vietnam had begun to come dangerously closeÂ'.77 American intervention had stayed that event. Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee in early March, General David Shoup, Commandant of the Marine Corps, freely admitted there was no correlation between the size of the NLF and the alleged infiltrators from the north: ‘I donÂ't agree that they come in there in the numbers that are down there....Â'78

Not until July 1963 did the United States publicly and unequivocally claim that, for the first time, it had captured NLF arms manufactured in Communist countries after 1954.

By the summer of 1963 it was obvious that the American government and its ally Diem were headed towards military defeat in Vietnam and new and unprecedented political resistance at home. DiemÂ's oppression of all political elements, his active persecution of the Buddhists, the failure of the strategic hamlet programme, the utter incompetence of his drafted troops against {107} far weaker NLF forces, the American press described in detail. At the beginning of September Washington was apparently bent on pressuring Diem but preserving him against mounting Buddhist protests, but as Kennedy admitted on 9 September as audible stirrings from senators were heard for the first time, ‘What I am concerned about is that Americans will get impatient and say, because they donÂ't like events in south-east Asia or they donÂ't like the government in Saigon, that we should withdraw.Â'79 Quite simply, he stated four days later, ‘If it helps to win the war, we support it. What interferes with the war effort we oppose.Â'80 The Americans would not sink with Diem.

On 21 October, after some weeks of similar actions on forms of economic aid, the United States Embassy in Saigon announced that it would terminate the pay for DiemÂ's own special political army unless they went into the field. On 30 October this private guard was sent out of Saigon. The next day a military coup brought DiemÂ's long rule to an end.81

The United States recognized the new Minh coup on 4 November, amid disturbing reports of continued squabbling within its ranks. On the 8th Rusk confirmed that the mood in Washington was now tending towards winning military victory by rejecting a neutralist solution for Vietnam south of the 17th parallel, linking it to ‘far-reaching changes in North VietnamÂ', again insisting that the north was responsible for aggression. ‘The other side was fully committed - fully committed in the original Geneva settlement of 1954 to the arrangements which provided for South Vietnam as an independent entity, and we see no reason to modify those in the direction of a larger influence of North Vietnam or Hanoi in South Vietnam.Â'82 The creation of this deliberate fiction of two Vietnams - North and South - as being the result of the Geneva Accords now indicated that the United States government would seek military victory. {108}

The new regimes were as unsatisfactory as the old one, and by mid-December the American press reported dissatisfaction in Washington over the dismal drift of the war. In his important dispatches in the New York Times at the end of 1963, David Halberstam described the failure of the strategic hamlet programme, the corruption of Diem, the paralysis of Minh in these terms:

The outlook is that the situation will deteriorate unless the Government can wrest the initiative from the guerrillas. Unless it can, there appear to be only two likely alternatives. One is a neutralist settlement. The other is the use of United States combat troops to prop up the Government.83
The drift towards a neutralist solution at the beginning of 1964 was so great that Washington sought to nip it in the bud. In his New YearÂ's Message to the Minh regime, President Johnson made it clear that ‘neutralization of South Vietnam would only be another name for a Communist takeover. Peace will return to your country just as soon as the authorities in Hanoi cease and desist from their terrorist aggressionÂ'.84 Peace would be acceptable to the Americans after total victory. To alter their losing course, they would escalate.

At the end of January, as the Khanh coup took over, one of the new rulerÂ's grievances against his former allies was that some had surreptitiously used the French government to seek a neutral political solution. During February, the New York Times reported that Washington was planning an attack on the north, with divided counsels on its extent or even its relevance to internal political-economic problems. The United States preferred air bombing and/or a blockade, because as Hanson Baldwin wrote on 6 March, ‘The waging of guerrilla war by the South Vietnamese in North Vietnam has, in fact, been tried on a small scale, but so far it has been completely ineffective.Â'85

On 15 March Johnson again endorsed the ‘dominoÂ' theory and {109} avowed his resolution not to tolerate defeat. On 26 March McNamara in a major address stressed the ‘great strategic significanceÂ' of the issue, and Vietnam as ‘... a major test case of communismÂ's new strategyÂ' of local revolution, one that might extend to all the world unless foiled in Vietnam. Behind the DRV, the Secretary of Defense alleged, stood China. The Americans rejected neutralism for Vietnam, reaffirmed aid to the Khanh regime, and darkly hinted at escalation towards the north.86 During these same days, for the first time in two decades key members of the Senate voiced significant opposition to a major foreign policy. It had become a tradition in the Cold War for Presidents to marshal support from Congress by creating crises, thereby defining the tone of American foreign policy via a sequence of sudden challenges which, at least to some, vindicated their diabolical explanations. A ‘crisisÂ' was in the making.

All of the dangers of the Vietnamese internal situation persisted throughout spring 1964. On 24 July the New York Times reported that Khanh was exerting tremendous pressures on the United States to take the war to the north, even by ‘liberatingÂ' it. During these same days both the French, Soviet and NLF leaders joined U Thant in a new diplomatic drive to seek an end to the war by negotiations. Washington, for its part, resisted these pacific solutions.

On 4 August Johnson announced that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had wantonly attacked the US destroyer Maddox in the Bay of Tonkin and in international waters, and as a result of repeated skirmishes since the 2nd he had ordered the bombardment of North Vietnamese installations supporting the boats. The following day he asked Congress to pass a resolution authorizing him to take all action necessary ‘to protect our Armed ForcesÂ'.87 It was maudlin, fictional and successful.

It was known - and immediately documented in Le Monde - that the United States had been sending espionage missions to the north since 1957 - as Baldwin had implied the prior February - and that on 30 July South Vietnamese and United States ships had raided and bombarded DRV islands. It was too far-fetched that {110} DRV torpedo boats would have searched out on the high seas the ships of the most powerful fleet in the world, without scoring any hits which the United States might show the sceptical world. On 5 August the press asked McNamara for his explanation of the events. ‘I canÂ't explain them. They were unprovoked ... our vessels were clearly in international waters ... roughly 60 miles off the North Vietnamese coast.Â' When asked whether reports of South Vietnamese attacks in the area during the prior days were relevant, McNamara demurred: ‘No, to the best of my knowledge, there were no operations during the period ....Â'88 In testimony before the Senate during the same days it emerged that United States warships were not sixty miles but three to eleven miles off DRV territory, even though, like many states, the DRV claimed a twelve-mile territorial limit. Over subsequent days more and more information leaked out so that the essential points of the DRV case were confirmed, the long history of raids on the north revealed. By the end of September the entire fantasy was so implausible that the New York Times reported that the Defense Department was sending a team to Vietnam to deal with what were euphemistically described as ‘contradictory reportsÂ'. They did not subsequently provide further details, for ‘contributing to the Defense DepartmentÂ's reticence was the secret mission of the two destroyersÂ', a mission the New York Times described as espionage of various sorts.89

The United States escalated in the hope that it could mobilize a Congress at home and sustain the Khanh regime in Vietnam, which nevertheless fell the following month. During these days the United States government admitted that the war was now grinding to a total halt as the Vietnamese politicians in the south devoted all their energy to Byzantine intrigues. With or without war against the DRV, the United States was even further from victory. In assessing the condition in the south a year after the downfall of Diem, the New York Times reported from Saigon that three years after the massive increase of the American commitment, and a {111} year after DiemÂ's demise, ‘the weakness of the Government [has] ... once again brought the country to the brink of collapse.

... Once again many American and Vietnamese officials are thinking of new, enlarged commitments - this time to carry the conflict beyond the frontier of South VietnamÂ'.90

The bombing of the DRV

On 20 December 1964, there was yet another coup in Saigon, and during the subsequent weeks the difficulties for the United States resulting from the court manoeuvres among generals who refused to fight were compounded by the growing militancy of the Buddhist forces. By January of 1965 the desertion rate within the South Vietnamese army reached thirty per cent among draftees within six weeks of induction, and a very large proportion of the remainder would not fight. It was perfectly apparent that if anyone was to continue the war the United States would have to supply not only money, arms, and 23,000 supporting troops as of the end of 1964, but fight the entire war itself. During January, as well, a Soviet-led effort to end the war through negotiations was gathering momentum, and at the beginning of February Soviet Premier Kosygin, amidst American press reports that Washington in its pessimism was planning decisive new military moves, arrived in Hanoi.

On the morning of 7 February, while Kosygin was in Hanoi, American aircraft bombed the DRV, allegedly in response to a NLF mortar attack on the Pleiku base in the south which cost eight American lives. There was nothing unusual in the NLF attack, and every serious observer immediately rejected the official United States explanation, for the government refused to state that the DRV ordered the Pleiku action, but only claimed the DRV was generally responsible for the war. The United States attack had been prepared in advance, Arthur Krock revealed on 10 February, and the New York Times reported that Washington had told several governments of the planned escalation before the 7th. The action was political, not military in purpose, a response to growing {112} dissatisfaction at home and pressures abroad. It was already known that de Gaulle was contemplating a move to reconvene the Geneva Conference - which he attempted on the 10th, after DRV urgings - and during the subsequent weeks, as the United States threatened additional air strikes against the DRV, both Kosygin and U Thant vainly attempted to drag the United States government to the peace table. In response, the Americans now prepared for vast new troop commitments.91

On 26 February, the day before the State Department released its second White Paper, Rusk indicated willingness to consider negotiations only if the DRV agreed to stop the war in the south for which he held it responsible. Hence there was no possibility of negotiating on premises which so cynically distorted the facts, and which even Washington understood to be false. ‘[They] doubt that Hanoi would be able to call off the guerrilla war,Â' the New York Times reported of dominant opinion in Washington barely a week before the Rusk statement.92 The DRV could not negotiate a war it did not start nor was in a position to end. The United States determined to intervene to save a condition in the south on the verge of utter collapse.

In its own perverse manner, the new White Paper made precisely these points. It ascribed the origins of the war, the ‘hard coreÂ' of the NLF, ‘manyÂ' of the weapons to the DRV. The actual evidence the Paper gave showed that 179 weapons, or less than three per cent of the total captured from the NLF in three years, were not definitely French, American or homemade in origin and modification. Of the small number of actual case studies of captured NLF members offered, the large majority were born south of the 17th parallel and had gone to the north after Geneva, a point that was readily admitted, and which disproved even a case based on the fiction - by now a permanent American premise - that Vietnam was two countries and that those north of an arbitrarily imposed line had no right to define the destiny of one nation.93 The tendentious case only proved total American {113} responsibility for the vast new increase in the aggression. Despite the growing pressure for negotiations from many sources, and because of them, by March the United States decided to implement the so-called ‘McNamara-Bundy PlanÂ' to bring about an ‘honourableÂ' peace by increasing the war. On 2 March air strikes against the DRV were initiated once more, but this time they were sustained down to this very day. There were incredulously received rumours of vast increases in troop commitments to as high as 350,000. Washington made an accurate assessment in March 1965 when it realized it could not expect to save Vietnam for its sphere of influence, and that peace was incompatible with its larger global objectives of stopping guerrilla and revolutionary upheavals everywhere in the world. Both McNamara and Taylor during March harked back to the constant theme that the United States was fighting in Vietnam ‘to halt Communist expansion in AsiaÂ'.94 Peace would come, Johnson stated on 13 March, when ‘Hanoi is prepared or willing or ready to stop doing what it is doing to its neighboursÂ'.95 Twelve days later the President expressed willingness to grant a vast development plan to the region - which soon turned out to be Eugene BlackÂ's formula for increasingly specialized raw-materials output for the use of the industrialized world - should the Vietnamese be ready to accept the fiction of DRV responsibility for the war.

It made no difference to the United States government that on 22 March the NLF, and on 8 April the DRV, again called for negotiations on terms which in fact were within the spirit of the Geneva Accords the United States had always rejected. It was less consequential that on 6 April the official Japanese Matsumoto Mission mustered sufficient courage to reject formally the thesis of DRV responsibility for the war in the south and its ability, therefore, to stop the Vietnamese there from resisting the United States and its intriguing puppets. More significant was the fact that, as it announced 2 April, the Administration had finally decided to send as many as 350,000 troops to Vietnam to attain for the United States what the armies of Diem, Khanh, and others could not - victory. The official position called for ‘peaceÂ', but in his famous Johns Hopkins speech on 7 April Johnson made it {114} clear that ‘we will not withdraw, either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreementÂ'. Though he agreed to ‘unconditional discussionsÂ', he made it explicit that these would exclude the NLF and would be with an end to securing ‘an independent South VietnamÂ', which is to say permanent partition and a violation of the Geneva Accords.96 From this time onwards the United States persisted in distorting the negotiating position of the DRVÂ's four-point declaration and effectively ignored the demand of the NLF for ‘an independent state, democratic, peaceful and neutralÂ'. It refused, and has to this day, a voice for the NLF in any negotiations, and insisted that the NLF and DRV had attached certain preconditions to negotiations which in fact did not exist and which on 3 August the NLF again attempted to clarify - to no avail.

Experience over subsequent years has shown again and again that the words ‘peaceÂ' and ‘negotiationsÂ' from official United States sources were from 1964 onwards always preludes to new and more intensive military escalation.97

To the United States government the point of Vietnam is not peace but victory, not just in Vietnam but for a global strategy which it has expressed first of all in Vietnam but at various times on every other continent as well. JohnsonÂ's own words in July 1965 stressed this global perspective while attributing the origins of the war to the DRV and, ultimately, China.

Its goal is to conquer the south, to defeat American power and to extend the Asiatic dominion of Communism.

And there are great stakes in the balance...

Our power, therefore, is a very vital shield. If we are driven from the field in Vietnam, then no nation can ever again have the same confidence in American promise or American protection. ... We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.98

One does not have to approve of this vision to accept it as an accurate explanation of why the United States government is willing to violate every norm of civilized behaviour to sustain the successive corrupt puppet governments in the south. But any {115} careful reading of the declarations of Rusk and McNamara in the months preceding and following this statement reveals that it was not the Geneva Accords but rather SEATO and, more critically, the survival of United States power in a world it can less and less control that has defined the basis of United States policy in Vietnam. This official policy, as Rusk expounded it again in March 1966, is that Vietnam is ‘the testing groundÂ' for wars of liberation that, if successful in one place, can spread throughout the world.99 When, as in January 1966, Under Secretary of State George Ball explained that Vietnam ‘is part of a continuing struggle to prevent the communists from upsetting the fragile balance of power through force or the threat of forceÂ', in effect he meant the ability of the United States to contain revolutionary nationalist movements, communist and noncommunist alike, unwilling to accept United States hegemony and dedicated to writing their own history for their own people.100


Any objective and carefully prepared account of the history of Vietnam must conclude with the fact that the United States must bear the responsibility for the torture of an entire nation since the end of the Second World War. The return of France to Vietnam, and its ability to fight for the restoration of a colony, was due to critical political decisions made in Washington in 1945, and the later repression depended on financial and military aid given to France by the United States. First as a passive senior partner, and then as the primary party, the United States made Vietnam an international arena for the Cold War, and it is a serious error to regard the war in Vietnam as a civil conflict, or even secondarily as a by-product of one for in that form it would hardly have lasted very long against a national and radical movement that the vast majority of the Vietnamese people always have sustained.

The United States government responded to its chronic inability to find a viable internal alternative to the Viet Minh and the NLF by escalating the war against virtually the entire nation. To escape certain defeat time and time again, it violated formal {116} and customary international law by increasing the scale of military activity. The United States met each overture to negotiate, whether it came from the Vietnamese, the French or the Russians, by accelerated warfare in the hope of attaining its unique ends through military means rather than diplomacy.

Ultimately, the United States has fought in Vietnam with increasing intensity to extend its hegemony over the world community and to stop every form of revolutionary movement which refuses to accept the predominant role of the United States in the direction of the affairs of its nation or region. Repeatedly defeated in Vietnam in the attainment of its impossible objective, the United States government, having alienated most of its European allies and a growing sector of its own nation, is attempting to prove to itself and the world that it remains indeed strong enough to define the course of global politics despite the opposition of a small poor nation of peasants. On the outcome of this epic contest rests the future of peace and social progress in the world for the remainder of the twentieth century, not just for those who struggle to overcome the legacy of colonialism and oppression to build new lives, but for the people of the United States themselves.


  1. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conference of Berlin (Washington, 1969), I, p.920.Back
  2. Charles de Gaulle, Memoirs de Guerre: Le Salut, 1944-6 (Paris, 1964), pp. 467-8. See also Marcel Vigneras, Rearming the French (Washington, 1957), p. 398.Back
  3. General G. Sabathier, Le Destin de LÂ'Indochine (Paris, 1952), pp. 336-8. During October 1945 Major Patti of the OSS approached DRV officials with the offer to trade aid in building an infrastructure for certain economic rights for American interests. The offer was declined, but it is most questionable if Patti spoke with official authority or whether this was a means for obtaining information.Back
  4. General Philip Gallagher to General R. B. McClure, 20 September 1945 (Department of State Report, Gallagher Papers).Back
  5. Department of State, Research and Intelligence Service, Biographical Information on Prominent Nationalist Leaders in French Indochina, 25 October 1945.Back
  6. UK Documents Relating to British Involvement in the Indo-China Conflict, 1945-65, Cmd 2834 (London, 1965), p.50. See also F. S. V. Donnison, British Military Administration in the Far East 1943-6 (London, 1956), pp. 404-8.Back
  7. Department of State Report, Gallagher Papers, p.10.Back
  8. New York Times, 8 February 1947. See also Bernard Fall, Two Viet Nams (New York, 1963), pp. 75-6.Back
  9. William C. Bullitt, ‘The Saddest WarÂ', Life, 29 December 1947, p.69.Back
  10. US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearings: Nomination of Philip C. Jessup (Washington, 1951), p. 603.Back
  11. Department of State, Conference on Problems of United States Policy in China, 6-8 October 1949, p.207; see also pp. 99 ff.Back
  12. ibid., pp. 222-5.Back
  13. ibid., p.405.Back
  14. ‘Statement of Charles E. Bohlen Before the Voorkeers Group, 3 April 1950Â', Joseph Dodge Papers, Detroit Public Library.Back
  15. Ellen J. Hammer, The Struggle for Indochina (Oxford University Press, 1954), pp. 270-72.Back
  16. US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 14 January 1965 (Washington, 1965), p. 137; US AID, Obligation and Loan Authorization (Washington, 1962), p.12; Harry S. Truman, Memoirs New English Library, 1965), II, p.519.Back
  17. Dulles to Frank C. Laubach, 31 October 1950, Dulles Papers.Back
  18. US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearings (Washington, 1951), p.207.Back
  19. ibid.Back
  20. ibid., p.208.Back
  21. ibid.Back
  22. ibid., p.211.Back
  23. Allan B. Cole (ed.), Conflict in Indo-China and International Repercussions: A Documentary History, 1945-55 (Ithaca, 1956), p.171.Back
  24. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mandate for Change (Heinemann, 1963), p. 333.Back
  25. Anthony Eden, Full Circle (London, 1960), p.92.Back
  26. Truman, op cit., II, p.519.Back
  27. Eisenhower, op. cit., p.168.Back
  28. ibid., p.337.Back
  29. ibid., p.338.Back
  30. Quoted in Alexander Werth, ‘Showdown in Viet NamÂ', New Statesman, 8 April 1950,p.397.Back
  31. Department of State Press Release, No. 8, p.4. {89}Back
  32. Eden, op. cit., p.100.Back
  33. Eisenhower, op. cit., p.345.Back
  34. Eden, op. cit., p. 102.Back
  35. Department of State, American Foreign Policy, 1950-55 (Washington, 1957), II, pp. 2374 ff.Back
  36. Cole, op. cit.; p.174.Back
  37. UK Documents Relating to British Involvement, pp. 66-7.Back
  38. American Foreign Policy, II, p.2385.Back
  39. ibid., p. 2386.Back
  40. ibid., pp. 2389-90.Back
  41. New York Times, 27 June 1954.Back
  42. Eden, op. cit., p. 149.Back
  43. US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Background Information, p. 35, pp. 28-42.Back
  44. ibid., pp. 58-9.Back
  45. Eisenhower, op. cit., pp. 337-8.Back
  46. loc. cit.Back
  47. ibid., p.372.Back
  48. Background Information, p.60.Back
  49. ibid.Back
  50. ibid., pp. 60-61.Back
  51. Wall Street Journal, 23 July 1954.Back
  52. US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearings (Washington, 1954),p.1.Back
  53. Background Information, p.63.Back
  54. American Foreign Policy, II, p. 2404.Back
  55. Cole, op. cit., pp. 226-7.Back
  56. Quoted in F. B. Weinstein, VietnamÂ's Unheld Election (Ithaca, 1966), p.33.Back
  57. UK Documents Relating to British Involvement, p.95.Back
  58. Weinstein, op. cit., p.53.Back
  59. American Foreign Policy: Current Documents (Washington, 1959). p.861.Back
  60. Quoted in Robert Scheer, How the United States Got Involved in Vietnam (Santa Barbara, 1965), p.40. See also Nguyen Kien, Le Sud-Vietnam Depuis Dien Bien Phu (Paris, 1963), p.109; Jean Lacouture, Le Vietnam Entre Deux Paix (Paris, 1965), p.46.Back
  61. DRV, Imperial Schemes (Hanoi, 1958), pp. 30 ff.Back
  62. Jean Lacouture and Philippe Devillers, La Fin dÂ'une Guerre: Indochine 1954 (Paris, 1960), pp. 301-2; Kien, op. cit., pp. 122-30; Lê Châu, La Révolution Paysanne du Sud-Vietnam (Paris, 1966), pp. 16-24, 54-79.Back
  63. Background Information, p.75. See also Kien, op. cit., p.131; John D. Montgomery, The Politics of Foreign Aid (Pall Mall, 1963). pp. 67-94; Fall, op. cit., pp. 303-6.Back
  64. Marvin E. Gettleman (ed.), Vietnam: History, Documents and Opinions on a Major World Crisis (New York, 1965; Penguin Books 1966), p.79. See also Fall, op. cit., p.344; Devillers in Gettleman, op. cit., pp. 210 ff.; Lacouture, op. cit., pp. 34 ff.; Z, ‘The War in VietnamÂ', pp. 216; James Alexander, ‘Deadlock in VietnamÂ', Progressive, September 1962, pp. 20-24; and especially George McT. Kahin and John W. Lewis, The United States in Vietnam (New York, 1967), Chapter V.Back
  65. Background Information, p.137; New York Times, 1 December 1965; New York Herald Tribune, 17 October 1966.Back
  66. DRV, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Memorandum (Hanoi, 1962), p.33; see also Background Information, pp. 76-8.Back
  67. Wall Street Journal, 8 November 1961.Back
  68. Background In formation, p.81; New York Times, 13 December 1961.Back
  69. Background In formation, p. 83.Back
  70. Lacouture, op. cit., pp. 56-7.Back
  71. Department of State, A Threat to the Peace: North Viet-NamÂ's Effort to Conquer South Viet-Nam (Washington, 1961), I, p.9.Back
  72. ibid., II, p.5.Back
  73. ibid., I, p.52; New York Times, 27 November 1961.Back
  74. New York Times, 19 April 1962.Back
  75. Background Information, pp. 88-9.Back
  76. US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Viet Nam and Southeast Asia (Washington, 1963), p.5.Back
  77. ibid.Back
  78. US Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Hearings: Military Procurement Authorization, 1964 (Washington, 1963), p.707.Back
  79. Background Information, p.101; New York Times, 27 April, 23 July, 9, 21 September 1963.Back
  80. New York Times, 13 September 1963.Back
  81. Franz Schurmann et al., The Politics of Escalation in Vietnam (New York, 1966), pp. 23-5; New York Times, 3 October 1963; Background Information, p. 102.Back
  82. New York Times, 9 November 1963.Back
  83. ibid., 23 December 1963; 29 November, 10, 14, 15, 20 December 1963.Back
  84. Background Information, pp. 106-7.Back
  85. New York Times, 6 March 1964; 23 February 1964; Schurmann et al., op. cit., pp. 27-34.Back
  86. Background Information, pp. 111-17.Back
  87. ibid., p. 124.Back
  88. New York Times, 6 August 1964; Le Monde, 6-12 August 1964.Back
  89. New York Times, 11, 14 August, 25 September 1964; Schurmann et al., op. cit., pp. 35-43; DRV, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Memorandum, August 1964 (Hanoi, 1964); US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearings: The Gulf of Tonkin (Washington, 1968).Back
  90. New York Times, 2 November 1964; 25, 27, 28 August, 4 September 1964.Back
  91. ibid., 19 January, 3, 8, 10, 12, 13 February 1965; Schurmann et al., op. cit., pp. 44-61.Back
  92. New York Times, 18 February 1965; 26 February 1965.Back
  93. Text in Gettleman, op. cit., pp. 284-316; answer by I. F. Stone, ibid., pp. 317-23.Back
  94. New York Times, 12 March 1965; 1, 3, 28 March 1965.Back
  95. ibid., 8 April 1965.Back
  96. ibid., 8 April 1965; 26 March, 3,7 April 1965.Back
  97. Schurmann et al., op. cit.Back
  98. New York Times, 29 July 1965.Back
  99. Department of State, The Heart of the Problem ... (Washington, 1966), pp. 12-13; Why Vietnam? (Washington, 1965), pp. 9ff.Back
  100. George W. Ball, The Issue in Viet-Nam (Washington, 1966), p 18.Back

Outline of the General Introductory Report

After a brief introduction recalling the origins, the composition, the competence and the procedures of the Tribunal, the report contains two parts:

  1. The rules of law which apply.
  2. The crimes charged.

Part 1: The rules of law which apply

Crimes against the peace and wars of aggression

  1. Definition: Crimes against the peace are thus defined by article 6 of the Nuremberg statutes: ‘planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international
    treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoingÂ’.
  2. The illegality of recourse to war in international relations has been stated in numerous texts, of which the most important is the Paris Pact of 27 August 1928 (the Briand-Kellogg Pact), bearing the signature of the President of the United States of America. This is the text which was invoked at the greatest length by the Nuremberg judgements condemning the wars of aggression charged to Germany.
  3. Other international texts condemning recourse to war and bearing the signature of the United States of America will also be cited.
  4. Recourse to war is also unlawful according to the terms of article 2, paragraphs 3 and 4, of the United Nations Charter.
  5. But recourse to war is not only an unlawful act; it is also a criminal act. The discussion which arose at Nuremberg on this {68} point no longer presents any more than a theoretical character, the Nuremberg verdict and the United Nations resolution of 11 December 1946 having hallowed, in positive international law, the criminal character of recourse to war.
  6. Independently of the violation of the fundamental international rule condemning recourse to war in international relations, a war can furthermore constitute a more precise violation of the specific obligations resulting from such and such a treaty. it is in this sense that the Nuremberg judgement enumerated twenty-six agreements violated by Germany.
  7. It should be emphasized that since Nuremberg the notion of war of aggression has undergone a certain evolution. The United Nations Charter mentions in two different paragraphs the necessity to have recourse to peaceful means in order to resolve international disputes on the one hand, and the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of a State on the other. For its part, the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 14 December 1960 proclaimed the necessity to permit all peoples ‘to peacefully and freely exercise their rights to complete independence and integrity of their national territory’. Therefore it seems that a difference must henceforth be made between a war waged in order to resolve an international dispute, and a war waged in order to attack the national existence of a state. In the latter case, one is certainly confronted with an international crime of greater seriousness, and one can even wonder if it is not a question of a crime of aggression ofa particular nature, distinct from the crimes of aggression previously described.

War crimes

  1. War crimes are thus defined by the Nuremberg statutes: violations of the laws and customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave
    labour or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing
    hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military
  2. The fundamental text concerning the rights and practices of {69} war is constituted by the fourth Convention of The Hague of 18
    October 1907, and the ruling which is annexed to it. Article 25 of said ruling hallowed the fundamental principle of positive international law according to
    which ‘belligerents do not have an unlimited right concerning the choice of means of doing harm to the enemy’. Other articles decree the principal
  3. Concerning the treatment of prisoners of war, of the wounded and the sick, and the protection of civilians in time of war, the
    basic texts in force are the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which went into effect on 21 October 1950.
  4. As for gases and analogous substances, the basic text is the Geneva Protocol of 1925. This protocol was not ratified by the United States, but it is commonly admitted that its provisions express a
    customary law of universal applicability.
  5. The entirety of the rules, recognized by the United States of America as binding, is contained in an
    official manual (‘Department of the Army field manual’) entitled The Law of Land Warfare, published by the United States Department of Defense
    in 1956 (reference number: FM 27-10). There is a companion volume of the treaties and Conventions which the American army is required to respect. We shall
    frequently have occasion, in the course of the TribunalÂ’s discussions, to refer to these two documents, which can in no way be contested by the United
    States government.

Crimes against humanity

  1. They are thus defined by the Nuremberg statutes: ‘murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connexion with any crimes within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated’.
  2. Discussion of crimes against humanity committed outside of a state of war and those which could be committed in the course of war - discussion which was taken up before the Nuremberg Tribunal - is of no interest to the debates which will take place before our Tribunal. {70}
  3. Crimes against humanity are characterized especially by the extent of the affected populations, and by the motives for these crimes.
  4. In certain cases, the same facts can simultaneously constitute a crime against humanity and a war crime.


  1. Genocide, as it is denounced by the International Convention of 9 December 1948, consists of the destruction or the persecution of human groups conceived of as national, ethnic,
    racial or religious entities.
  2. The crime can be committed by the following acts: murder of members of the group, serious attack on the physical or
    mental integrity of members of the group, intentional submission of the group to conditions of existence which, by their very nature, will lead to its partial
    or total physical destruction, measures designed to prevent births within the group, and finally, forced transference of children from the group to another

Part 2. The crimes charged

General comment

The enunciation of the principal crimes condemned under inter national penal law, and with which the United States of America is charged, as this enunciation will be briefly made in this introductory report, can only constitute, at this stage of the debates, a statement of grievances, for which there is not yet any supporting evidence.

Each category of crimes will be dealt with in detailed reports, which will be accompanied, in each case, by supporting evidence.At the end of the discussions, and before the deliberation, a statement will be made, which
will sum up all the facts established in the course of the hearings.{71}

Crimes against the peace and wars of aggression

  1. When the Geneva Accords were signed in 1954, a legal settlement governing Vietnam was created. This legal settlement was accepted by all the interested parties, and by the
    general body of these nations.
  2. By using armed force to modify this legal settlement, the United States has replaced a state of peace with an
    armed conflict. Therefore, it bears the responsibility for the transition from the state of peace to the state of war, and it has consequently committed what
    is considered in international law to be a war of aggression, a crime against the peace.
  3. The nature of the Geneva Accords of July 1954 will be briefly recalled, that is, an agreement on the cessation of hostilities signed by the commander-in-chief of the PeopleÂ’s Army of Vietnam and by the
    commander-in-chief of the forces of the French Union, followed by two declarations, the final declaration made by the various participants, and a declaration
    made by the United States representative.
  4. A brief summary will be made of the main provisions of the Geneva Accords, in particular those relating to the independence, the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Vietnam, and also those stressing the temporary nature of the demarcation line, and the impossibility of its being interpreted as constituting a political and territorial boundary.
    There will also be reference to certain essential provisions of the Geneva Accords, namely the prohibition of any persecution arising from activities which took place during the preceding war, the prohibition on introducing
    new troops, military personnel, weapons and munitions, as well as the installation of military bases.
    Finally, mention will be made of the elections scheduled for July 1956, and the obligation to begin preparing them by undertaking contacts in July 1955.
  5. The foregoing provisions will be compared with the behaviour of the United States of America, and it will be pointed out that, beginning even before 1954, a certain number of actions already testified to the intention of the United States to seize Vietnam. In this connexion will be recalled the conditions under {72} which the United States set up the Diem government in Saigon a few weeks before the Geneva Accords.
    This confrontation will enable us to realize the progressive character of the American aggression, and of the successive violations of the Geneva Accords (persecution of former members of the resistance, refusal to hold the elections scheduled for 1956, introduction on a large scale of weapons and personnel, introduction of paid men).
  6. In the face of this aggression, the struggle of the people of South Vietnam until 1959 assumed the character of a national struggle against foreign intrusion, by taking the form only of a political struggle.
    It is only from 1959 on, and in face of the development of American aggression, that the struggle in the South took the form of an armed conflict, which was led, from 1960 on, by the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam.
  7. Finally, we will deal with the conditions in which American aggression against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam took place, and also with the so-called politics of escalation, underlining the concomitant threat to peace in south-east Asia and throughout the world.
  8. We will stress the weakness of the arguments invoked by the United States in order to justify its activities, particularly as they are presented in the ‘juridical memorandum on the legality of United States participation in the defence of Vietnam’
    dated 4 March 1966, presented before the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate.
  9. The conclusion will be that the United States seems to have committed a crime against the peace, that is to say, it has waged a war of aggression in violation of both general and particular treaties, with the additional
    factor that, in this case, recourse to force is directed against the territorial integrity and political independence of a state - Vietnam - whose integrity
    and independence are recognized by the Geneva Accords.
  10. It is not only a question of a war of aggression which, like every war that sets out to settle an international dispute by force, is unlawful and criminal, but also a war of aggression conducted against the right to live of the Vietnamese people.
  11. The Nuremberg judgement rightly declared that a war of {73} aggression is the supreme international crime, since it contains within it all the other crimes. It is
    this crime that has been committed by the United States in Vietnam, but we Will see that it has been accompanied by numerous other crimes.

War crimes properly so called

  1. In this introductory report, we do not set out to recall in detail all the war crimes imputed to the American armed forces
    in the execution of its military operations.
  2. Massive, systematic and intentional bombing of the civilian population and of civilian objectives
    (hospitals, schools, churches, pagodas, etc ...). All information will be brought before the Tribunal dealing with the extraordinary extent of these bombings -
    which are regularly preceded by reconnaissance flights - and also with the quantity, nature and diversity of the devices employed. Among the witnesses who will
    give evidence on this question will be, in first place, the members of the investigating commissions who went to North Vietnam on behalf of the
  3. Policy of destruction, persecution and massacre in South Vietnam, in contempt of international rules on the treatment of civilian
    populations in occupied territories.
  4. Murders. tortures or harmful treatment inflicted upon prisoners of war in contempt of the provisions of the
    International Conventions of Geneva of 1949.(e) Besides the use of certain weapons or devices in unlawful conditions allowing the commission of the
    above-mentioned crimes, the use of new weapons of a patently ‘anti-personnel’ nature, directed against civilian populations. In this regard, very
    special attention will be given to the so-called fragmentation bombs, which the Tribunal will be asked to declare to be prohibited weapons.
  5. Massive deportation of populations, and concentration in special camps created for this purpose. A detailed study of these camps (sometimes called
    ‘strategic hamlets’) will be made, and they will be compared to the concentration camps organized by Germany during the last World War, and which
    were the object of the judgement at Nuremberg.
  6. A detailed study of the gases and toxic products employed {74} by the United States army will be
    made, including not only a scientific analysis of these products, but also the particular conditions under which they are used.

Crimes against humanity

  1. As we have recalled, crimes against humanity are distinguished, in fact, from war crimes only by their scope and by the intention to
    exterminate which inspires them.
  2. We believe that we can demonstrate to the Tribunal that the crimes we have just listed have had far-reaching
    consequences for the populations affected, and that they have been perpetrated with the obvious objective of exterminating one part of the population of
    Vietnam in order to force the other part into surrendering.


The International Convention on genocide esteems that this crime is committed when a group of human beings. considered to be a national, ethnic or religious entity, is massacred or persecuted.

If all the crimes we have just listed (crimes against the peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity) are taken as a whole, one can say that, if one gives the most restricted interpretation to
the text on genocide, one is nevertheless dealing with such a crime.

This crime, which is the culmination of the war of aggression, and which includes all crimes perpetrated in conducting the war, constitutes an attempt to exterminate an entire nation.


The war being waged by the United
States in Vietnam, both in principle and in the way it is being executed, is criminal according to Positive International Law.

It has culminated in the crime of genocide, which has already been, and is still being, committed.

To have some idea of the contempt with which United States {75} representatives treat the question of the legality of their intervention in Vietnam, one has only to quote an interview given by Mr Henry Cabot Lodge, at that time United States Ambassador in Saigon. In the course of this interview, he replied as follows:

Question: Questions have recently been raised on the legal aspect of what we are doing in Vietnam. In what way are we justified by International Law?

Answer: As far as IÂ’m concerned, the legal
aspect of this affair is of no significance. ....1


  1. US News and World Report, 15 February 1965.

Aims of the Tribunal agreed at the Constituting Session, London, 15 November 1966

We constitute ourselves a Tribunal which, even if it has not the power to impose sanctions, will have to answer, amongst others, the following questions:

  1. Has the United States Government (and the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and South Korea) committed acts of aggression according to international law? {59}
  2. Has the American army made use of or experimented with new weapons or weapons forbidden by the laws of war?
  3. Has there been bombardment of targets of a purely civilian character, for example hospitals, schools, sanatoria, dams, etc., and on what scale has this occurred?
  4. Have Vietnamese prisoners been subjected to inhuman treatment forbidden by the laws of war and, in particular, to torture or mutilation? Have there been unjustified reprisals against the civilian population, in particular, execution of hostages?
  5. Have forced labour camps been created, has there been deportation of the population or other acts tending to the extermination of the population and which can be characterized juridically as acts of genocide?

This Tribunal will examine all the evidence that may be placed before it by any source or party. The evidence may be oral, or in the form of documents. No evidence relevant to our purposes will be refused attention. No witness competent to testify about the events with which our inquiry is concerned will be denied a hearing. The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam have assured us of their willingness to cooperate, to provide the necessary information, and to help us in checking the accuracy and reliability of the information. The Cambodian Head of State, Prince Sihanouk, has similarly offered to help by the production of evidence. We trust that they will honour this pledge and we shall gratefully accept their help, without prejudice to our own views or attitudes. We renew, as a Tribunal, the appeal which Bertrand Russell has addressed in his name to the Government of the United States. We invite the Government of the United States to present evidence or cause it to be presented, and to instruct its officials or representatives to appear and state their case. Our purpose is to establish, without fear or favour, the full truth about this war. We sincerely hope that our efforts will contribute to the world's justice, to the re-establishment of peace and the liberation of oppressed peoples.

International War Crimes Tribunal1


  1. A list of the members of the Tribunal can be found on p. 369. {60}{61}{62}

    Back to Table of Contents

Foreword to the 1967 International War Crimes Tribunal

"We are not judges. We are witnesses. Our task is to make mankind bear witness to these terrible crimes and to unite humanity on the side of justice in Vietnam."

With these words, Bertrand Russell opened the second session of the International War Crimes Tribunal, in November 1967. The American people were given no opportunity, at that time, to bear witness to the terrible crimes recorded in the proceedings of the Tribunal. As Russell writes in the introduction to the first edition, '... it is in the nature of imperialism that citizens of the imperial power are always among the last to know - or care - about circumstances in the colonies'. The evidence brought before the Tribunal was suppressed by the self-censorship of the mass media, and its proceedings, when they appeared in print, were barely reviewed.

Russell wrote that 'it is in the United States that this book can have its most profound effect'. He expressed his faith in the essential decency of the American people, his faith that the ordinary man is not a gangster by nature, and will react in a civilized way when he is given the facts. We have yet to show that this faith is justified. Russell hoped to 'arouse consciousness in order to create mass resistance ... in the smug streets of Europe and the complacent cities of North America'. By now, there are few who can honestly claim to be unaware of the character of the American war in Vietnam. There are few, for example, who can now claim ignorance of the 'new Oradours and Lidices' described, in testimony to the Tribunal, by a West German physician who spent six years in Vietnam (see p.306). But consciousness has yet to create mass resistance. The streets of Europe and the cities of North America remain smug and complacent - with the {9} significant and honourable exception of the student youth. The record of the Tribunal stands as an eloquent and dramatic appeal to renounce the crime of silence. The crime was compounded by the silence that greeted its detailed documentation and careful studies. However, although no honest effort was made to deal with the factual record made public in the proceedings of the Tribunal, its work did receive some oblique response. The Pentagon was forced to admit that it was, indeed, using anti-personnel weapons in its attack against North Vietnam (though it could not resist the final lie that the targets were radar stations and anti-aircraft batteries). The hypocritical claim that the American bombing policy was one of magnificent restraint, that its targets were 'steel and concrete', was finally exploded beyond repair. A State Department functionary who had become an object of general contempt for his unending deceit regarding Vietnam demeaned himself still further by informing journalists that he had no intention of 'playing games with a 94-year-old Briton', referring tto one of the truly great men of the twentieth century. Those who were prepared to go beyond the mass media for information could learn something about the work of the Tribunal from such journals as Liberation, as could readers of the foreign press, in particular, Le Monde. The Tribunal Proceedings, along with the documentary study, In the Name of America, which appeared in the same year, and the honest and courageous work of many fine war correspondents, helped to crumble the defences erected by the government, with the partial collusion of the media, to keep the reality of the war from popular consciousness.

Though not reported honestly, the Tribunal was sharply criticized. Many of the criticisms are answered, effectively I believe, in Part 1 of this book. There are two criticisms that retain a certain validity, however. The participants, the 'jurors' and the witnesses, were undoubtedly biased. They made no attempt, in fact, to conceal this bias, this profound hatred of murder and wanton destruction carried out by a brutal foreign invader with unmatched technological resources.

A second and less frivolous criticism that might be raised is that the indictment is, in a sense, superfluous and redundant. This is a matter that deserves more serious attention.

The Pentagon will gladly supply, on request, such information {10} as the quantity of ordnance expended in Indochina. From 1965 through 1969 this amounts to about four and a half million tons by aerial bombardment. This is nine times the tonnage of bombing in the entire Pacific theatre in the Second World War, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki - 'over 70 tons of bombs for every square mile of Vietnam, North and South ... about 500 pounds of bombs for every man, woman and child in Vietnam'.1 The total of 'ordnance expended' is more than doubled when ground and naval attack are taken into account. With no further information than this, a person who has not lost his senses must realize that the war is an overwhelming atrocity.

A few weeks before the Tribunal began its second session, forty-nine volunteers of International Voluntary Services wrote a letter to President Johnson describing the war as 'an overwhelming atrocity'. Four of the staff leaders resigned. These volunteers had worked for many years in Vietnam. They were among the few Americans who had some human contact with the people of Vietnam. Their activities, and even the letter of protest, indicate their belief - surprisingly uncritical - in the legitimacy of the American effort in Vietnam.2 In this letter they refer to 'the free strike zones, the refugees, the spraying of herbicide on crops, the napalm . .. the deserted villages, the sterile valleys, the forests with the huge swaths cut out, and the long-abandoned rice checks'. They speak of the refugees 'forcibly resettled, landless, in isolated desolate places which are turned into colonies of mendicants'; of 'the Saigon slums, secure but ridden with disease and the compulsion towards crime'; of 'refugees generated not by Viet Cong terrorism, but by a policy, an American policy' - a process described by cynical American scholars as 'urbanization' or 'modernization'.

So effective is urbanization in Vietnam that Saigon is now estimated to have a population density more than twice that of {11} Tokyo. Experts in pacification ('peace researchers', to use the preferred term) assure us that 'the only sense in which [we have demolished the society of Vietnam] is the sense in which every modernizing country abandons reactionary traditionalism'.3 The methods of 'urbanization' are described, for example, by Orville and Jonathan Schell:

We both spent several weeks in Quang Ngai some six months before the [Song My] incident. We flew daily with the FACS (Forward Air Control). What we saw was a province utterly destroyed. In August 1967, during Operation Benton, the 'pacification' camps became so full that Army units were ordered not to 'generate' any more refugees. The Army complied. But search-and-destroy operations continued.

Only now peasants were not warned before an airstrike was called in on their villages because there was no room for them in the swamped pacification camps. The usual warning by helicopter loudspeaker or air-dropped leaflets were stopped. Every civilian on the ground was assumed to be enemy by the pilots by nature of living in Quang Ngai, which was largely a free-fire zone.

Pilots, servicemen not unlike Calley and Mitchell, continued to carry out their orders. Village after village was destroyed from the air as a matter of de facto policy. Airstrikes on civilians became a matter of routine. It was under these circumstances of official acquiescence to the destruction of the countryside and its people that the massacre of Song My occurred.

Such atrocities were and are the logical consequences of a war directed against an enemy indistinguishable from the people.4

Elsewhere, Orville Schell quotes a Newsweek correspondent returning from Quang Ngai: 'Having had experience in Europe during World War II, he said what he had seen was 'much worse than what the Nazis had done to Europe'.' Schell adds: 'Had he written about it in these terms? No.'5 Vietnamese-speaking field workers of the American Friends Service Committee describe more recent stages of modernization, as seen from the ground: {12}

In one such removal, during Operation Bold Mariner in January 1969, 12,000 peasants from the Batangan Peninsula were taken to a waterless camp near Quang Ngai over whose guarded gate floated a banner saying, 'We thank you for liberating us from communist terror.' These people had been given an hour to get out before the USS New Jersey began to shell their homes. After eight weeks of imprisonment they were ferried back to what was left of their villages, given a few sheets of corrugated metal and told to fend for themselves. When asked what they would live on until new crops could be raised, the Vietnamese camp commander said, 'Maybe they can fish.'6

Reports by Western observers are limited to areas more or less under American control. The most intensive attacks are therefore unreported in the West. We do, however, have Vietnamese reports, which will, perhaps, be given somewhat greater credence than heretofore now that the incident at Song My, which they described with accuracy at the time, has finally been made public. To select one such report virtually at random:

In Trang Bang on the evening of October 24 [1969], three flights of B52s made three sorties, killing 47 people, wounding many others (mostly children, and old folks), completely levelling 450 houses and devastating 650 hectares of fields. On the night of October 25, B52s flew nine attacks in Quang Tri and Quang Nam provinces, dumping more than 1,000 tons of bombs, killing 300 people, wounding 236 others, setting afire 564 houses and damaging hundreds of hectares of fields and orchards. In Pleiku, a fertile region, many flights of B52s came in on the morning of October 17 and released 700 tons of bombs which wrought havoc in hundreds of hectares of fields and orchards ...

In the area of Nui Ba and the villages of Ninh Thanh, Hiep Ninh Thanh, Hiep Ninh of the Tay Ninh Cao Dai persuasion, the US puppets resorted to toxic chemicals to destroy the crops and kill civilians. American hovercraft dumped tens of thousands of CS cans while helicopters dropped hundreds of thousands of toxic bombs on the villages. Moreover, enemy guns and mortars fired more than 5,000 gas shells affecting over 1,000 people, with 13 children under 13 killed (Ninh Thanh and Hiep Ninh villages) and more than 100 hectares of crops completely destroyed.7

{13} And on and on, without end.

The facts are, of course, familiar in a general way to the highest authorities in the United States. The Under Secretary of the Air Force, Townsend Hoopes, wrote a memorandum in March 1968 in which he pointed out that:

...ARVN and US forces in the towns and cities are now responding to mortar fire from nearby villages by the liberal use of artillery and air strikes. This response is causing widespread destruction and heavy civilian casualties - among people who were considered only a few weeks ago to be secure elements of the GVN constituency. ... The present mode and tempo of operations in SVN is already destroying cities, villages and crops, and is creating civilian casualties at an increasing rate.8

He describes the savage American reaction to the conquest of many cities by the NLF in the Tet offensive in January 1968 - for example, in Saigon, where in an effort to dislodge the 1,000 soldiers who had taken the city, 'artillery and air strikes were repeatedly used against densely populated areas of the city, causing heavy civilian casualties'; or in Hue, where the American reoccupation left 'a devastated and prostrate city'. 'Eighty per cent of the buildings had been reduced to rubble, and in the smashed ruins lay 2,000 dead civilians.9 ... Three quarters of the city's {14} people were rendered homeless and looting was widespread, members of the ARVN being the worst offenders'. Elsewhere, the story was much the same:

Everywhere, the US-ARVN forces mounted counterattacks of great severity. In the delta region below Saigon, half of the city of Mytho, with a population of 70,000, was destroyed by artillery and air strikes in an effort to eject a strong VC force. In Ben Tre on 7 February, at least 1,000 civilians were killed and 1,500 wounded in an effort to dislodge 2,500 VC.

According to Hoopes, the combat photographer David Douglas Duncan, whose war experience covers the Second World War, Korea, Algeria and the French war in Vietnam, 'was appalled by the US-ARVN method of freeing Hue'. He quotes him as saying:

The Americans pounded the Citadel and surrounding city almost to dust with air strikes, napalm runs, artillery and naval gunfire, and the direct cannon fire from tanks and recoilless rifles a total effort to root out and kill every enemy soldier. The mind reels at the carnage, cost, and ruthlessness of it all.

Hoopes also reports that a 'sizable part' of the PAVN force of 1,000 escaped. Compare the figures on casualties, cited above.

These events occurred too late to be considered by the Tribunal. I need not elaborate on what has been revealed since. Some indications are given in my book, After Pinkville. For far more, see the book by Edward Herman, cited in footnote 1 on p. 11.

I have mentioned all of this in connexion with the question, raised earlier, as to whether it is necessary, today, to publicize the detailed reports of the Tribunal. Is it not true that by now the monstrous character of the war has penetrated the American consciousness so fully that further documentation is superfluous? Unfortunately, the answer must be negative. To see why, consider again the case of Townsend Hoopes, who is now a leading 'dove'. {15}

A reviewer of his book in the New York Times describes it as the most persuasive presentation of the case for American withdrawal from Vietnam. It is instructive to compare his position with that of the 'hawks' on the one hand, and that of the Tribunal, on the other. Such a comparison shows how narrow is the gap between the 'hawks' and the 'doves', and how far removed the dove-hawk position still remains from the consciousness that Russell hoped would be aroused by the factual record and historical and legal argument of the Tribunal. I want to stress that Hoopes's is one of the most humane and enlightened voices to be heard within the mainstream of American opinion today, surely among those who have had any significant role in the formation and implementation of policy. For this reason, his views are important and deserve careful consideration.

America's early strategy, as Hoopes describes it, was to kill as many VC as possible with artillery and air strikes:

As late as the fall of 1966... a certain aura of optimism surrounded this strategy. Some were ready to believe that, in its unprecedented mobility and massive firepower, American forces had discovered the military answer to endless Asian manpower and Oriental indifference to death. For a few weeks there hung in the expectant Washington air the exhilarating possibility that the most modern, mobile, professional American field force in the nation's history was going to lay to rest the time-honoured superstition, the gnawing unease of military planners, that a major land war against Asian hordes is by definition a disastrous plunge into quicksand for any Western army.

But this glorious hope was dashed. The endless manpower of Vietnam, the Asian hordes with their Oriental indifference to death, confounded our strategy. And our bombing of North Vietnam also availed us little, given the nature of the enemy. As Hoopes explains, quoting a senior US Army officer: 'Caucasians cannot really imagine what ant labour can do.' In short, our strategy was rational, but it presupposed civilized Western values:

We believe the enemy can be forced to be 'reasonable', i.e. to compromise or even capitulate, because we assume he wants to avoid pain, death, and material destruction. We assume that if these are inflicted on him with increasing severity, then at some point in the process he will want to stop the suffering. Ours is a plausible strategy - for those who are rich, who love life and fear pain. But happiness, wealth, and {16} power are expectations that constitute a dimension far beyond the experience, and probably beyond the emotional comprehension, of the Asian poor.

Hoopes does not tell us how he knows that the Asian poor do not love life or fear pain, or that happiness is probably beyond their emotional comprehension.10 But he does go on to explain how 'ideologues in Asia' make use of these characteristics of the Asian hordes. Their strategy is to convert 'Asia's capacity for endurance in suffering into an instrument for exploiting a basic vulnerability of the Christian West'. They do this by inviting the West 'to carry its strategic logic to the final conclusion, which is genocide'. The Asians thus 'defy us by a readiness to struggle, suffer, and die on a scale that seems to us beyond the bounds of humanity.... At that point we hesitate, for, remembering Hitler and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we realize anew that genocide is a terrible burden to bear.'

Thus by their willingness to die, the Asian hordes, who do not love life, who fear no pain and cannot conceive of happiness, exploit our basic weakness, our Christian values which make us reluctant to bear the burden of genocide, the final conclusion of our strategic logic. Is it really possible that one can read these passages without being stunned by the crudity and callousness?

Let us continue. Seeing that our strategy, though plausible, has failed, the Air Force Staff worked out several alternative strategies, which they presented to the new Secretary of Defense, Clark Clifford, in March 1968. The Air Staff preferred the following:

an intensified bombing campaign in the North, including attacks on the dock area of Haiphong, on railroad equipment within the Chinese Buffer Zone, and on the dike system that controlled irrigation for NVN agriculture.

But Hoopes and Air Force Secretary Harold Brown demurred. Why? They felt 'there was little assurance such a campaign could either force NVN to the conference table, or even significantly reduce its war effort'; furthermore, 'it was a course embodying {17} excessive risks of confrontation with Russia'. If they had any other objections to intensified bombing of the dike system of NVN, Hoopes does not inform us of them.11 Hoopes himself preferred, rather, the following tactics:

a campaign designed to substitute tactical airpower for a large portion of the search-and-destroy operations currently conducted by ground forces, thus permitting the ground troops to concentrate on a perimeter defence of the heavily populated areas ... the analysis seemed to show that tactical air-power could provide a potent 'left jab' to keep the enemy in the South off balance while the US-ARVN ground forces adopted a modified enclaves strategy, featuring enough aggressive reconnaissance to identify and break up developing attacks, but designed primarily to protect the people of Vietnam and, by population control measures, to force exposure of the VC political cadres.12

In a letter of 12 February 1968 to Clark Clifford, Hoopes explains his preferences in similar terms. We should, he urges, stop the militarily insignificant bombing of North Vietnam and undertake a less ambitious ground strategy in the South, trying merely to control (the technical term is 'protect') the populated areas. This policy:

would give us a better chance to develop a definable geographical {18} area of South Vietnamese political and economic stability; and by reducing the intensity of the war tempo, it could materially improve the prospect of our staying the course for an added number of grinding years without rending our own society... .

Compare these recommendations with the tactics now being followed by the Nixon administration. Secretary of the Army Resor, testifying before the House Appropriations Committee,13 refused to predict how long the war would last, but he sees time as 'running on our side':

Therefore, if we can just buy some time in the US by these periodic progressive withdrawals and the American people can just shore up their patience and determination, I think we can bring this to a successful conclusion.

To this remark General Westmoreland added: 'I have never made the prediction that this would be other than a long war.'

Thus the present Secretary of the Army agrees with the Hoopes letter of February 1968, that we may be able to stay the course for 'an added number of grinding years' if the American people will consent, if this policy will not rend our own society. And with this judgement, finally, Mr Hoopes disagrees:

Vietnam is not of course the only source of division in America today, but it is the most pervasive issue of our discord, the catalytic agent that stimulates and magnifies all other divisive issues. In particular, there can be no real truce between the generations - no end to the bitterness and alienation of even the large majority of our youth that is neither revolutionary nor irresponsible - until Vietnam is terminated.

This is the primary reason why, he urges, we must withdraw from Vietnam.

So the hawks and the doves divide: can the American people stay the course until victory, or will the polarization and discord in American society make this effort inadvisable, not in our national interest?

I do not want to suggest that the spectrum from Hoopes to Resor exhausts the contemporary debate over Vietnam, but there is little doubt that it represents the range of views and {19} assumptions expressed within the mainstream of 'responsible' American opinion. With this observation, we can return to the Tribunal. Its assumptions, of course, fall entirely outside of this spectrum. It is unfortunate, but undeniable, that the central issue in the American debate over Vietnam, in respectable circles, has been the question: can we win at an acceptable cost? The doves and the hawks disagree. Hawks become doves as their assessment of the probabilities and costs shifts, and if the American conquest were to prove successful, they would, no doubt, resume their former militancy. The Tribunal is concerned with very different questions. It does not ask whether the US can win at an acceptable cost, but rather whether it should win, whether it should be involved at all in the internal affairs of the Vietnamese, whether it has any right to try to settle or even influence these internal matters by force. Until this becomes the unique and overriding issue, within the United States, the debate over Vietnam will not even have begun.

Inevitably, despite disclaimers, the Russell Tribunal will evoke memories of Nuremberg and Tokyo. With the revelation of the Song My atrocities, the issues raised in the War Crimes trials have become, at last, a matter of public concern. We can hardly suppress the memory of our initiative at Nuremberg and Tokyo, or the explicit insistence of the US prosecutor, Robert Jackson, that the principles of Nuremberg are to be regarded as universal in their applicability. After the trials, he wrote:

If certain acts and violations of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. We are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.14

It might be argued that the verdict of Nuremberg and Tokyo was merely the judgement of victors, who sought vengeance and retribution rather than justice. I think there is merit in this accusation, but - right or wrong - it does not affect the broader question of the legitimacy of the principles that were recognized in the Charter of the War Crimes Tribunals. Legal niceties aside, the citizen is justified in taking these principles as his guide. {20}

A classic liberal doctrine holds that: 'Generally speaking, it is the drawn sword of the nation which checks the physical power of its rulers.'15 It is the fundamental duty of the citizen to resist and to restrain the violence of the state. Those who choose to disregard this responsibility can justly be accused of complicity in war crimes, which is itself designated as 'a crime under international law' in the principles of the Charter of Nuremberg. This is, in essence, the challenge posed to us by the Russell Tribunal.

Richard A. Falk has written about this matter in an important recent article.16 He points out that 'Song My stands out as a landmark atrocity in the history of warfare, and its occurrence is a moral challenge to the entire American society'. Nevertheless, it would 'be misleading to isolate the awful happenings at Song My from the overall conduct of the war'. Among the war policies that might, he argues, be found illegal, are these: '(1) the Phoenix Programme; (2) aerial and naval bombardment of undefended villages; (3) destruction of crops and forests; (4) 'search-and-destroy' missions; (5) 'harassment and interdiction' fire; (6) forcible removal of civilian population; (7) reliance on a variety of weapons prohibited by treaty.' That these policies have been followed, on a massive scale, is not in question. Falk argues that: 'if found to be 'illegal', such policies should be discontinued forthwith and those responsible for the policy and its execution should be prosecuted as war criminals by appropriate tribunals'. He also notes how broad was the conception of criminal responsibility developed, under American initiative, in the War Crimes Trials. In Falk's paraphrase, the majority judgement of the Tokyo Tribunal held as follows:

A leader must take affirmative acts to prevent war crimes or dissociate himself from the government. If he fails to do one or the other, then by the very act of remaining in a government or a state guilty of war crimes, he becomes a war criminal.

And Falk emphasizes the obligation of resistance for the citizen, if {21} the evidence is strong that the state is engaged in criminal acts.

It is correct, but irrelevant, to stress the vast differences in the political processes of America and the fascist states. It is correct, but hardly relevant, to point out that the United States has stopped short of carrying 'its strategic logic to the final conclusion, which is genocide' (Hoopes). Thus one cannot compare American policy to that of Nazi Germany, as of 1942. It would be more difficult to argue that American policy is not comparable to that of fascist Japan, or of Germany prior to the 'final solution'. There may be those who are prepared to tolerate any policy less ghastly than crematoria and death camps and to reserve their horror for the particular forms of criminal insanity perfected by the Nazi technicians. Others will not lightly disregard comparisons which, though harsh, may well be accurate.

Nazi Germany was sui generis, of that there is no doubt. But we should have the courage and honesty to face the question whether the principles applied to Nazi Germany and fascist Japan do not, as well, apply to the American war in Vietnam. Recall the objectives of 'denazification', as formulated by those who were responsible for this policy. General Lucius D. Clay, in 1950, described the primary objective as follows: 'to safeguard the new German democracy from Nazi influence and to make it possible for anti-Nazi, non-Nazi and outspoken democratic individuals to enter public life and replace the Nazi elements which had dominated all life in Germany from 1933 to 1945'.17 He reports that:

This was, perhaps, the most extensive legal procedure the world had ever witnessed. In the US Zone alone more than 13 million persons had been involved, of whom over three and two-thirds million were found chargeable, and of these some 800,000 persons were made subject to penalty for their party affiliations or actions. All this was, of course, apart from the punishment of war criminals many of whom were high-ranking Nazis.

Field-Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery saw the objective of the allied forces in Germany as 'to change the heart, and the way of life, of the German people'. Denazification involved a cultural and ideological change, to proceed side-by-side with economic reconstruction.18 {22} We can certainly ask whether three and two-thirds million Germans in the US Zone were more guilty of complicity in war crimes than any Americans. And we can ask whether a cultural and ideological change in the United States, at the very least, is not imperative if many others, who fear neither pain nor death, are not to be spared the fate of Vietnam.

Some of these questions arise in a revealing exchange between Townsend Hoopes and two young journalists who published an interview with him in the Village Voice (see note 14 above). Hoopes insisted that:

War crimes tribunals would be the worst thing that could happen in this country. That would amount to McCarthyism. You're proposing a system of legal guilt for top elected officials. The traditional way to deal with these top officials is to throw the rascals out.

In an article in which he comments on 'the curious piece of reporting' of Coburn and Cowan, Hoopes explains further that 'a democratic and an entirely elective form of retribution' has already been visited upon Lyndon Johnson, and that his 'closest collaborators' may also be excluded from high office.19 Hoopes does not say whether this form of 'retribution' would also have been more appropriate in the case of the Japanese and German war criminals should the West, then, merely have guaranteed a democratic election in which they might have been deprived of office? He does, however, reject the suggestion that civilian officials be held accountable for such incidents as the Song My massacre, or for the bombing of North Vietnam, or for such policies as those enumerated by Falk, cited above. In fact, Coburn and Cowan report that 'in the friendliest possible terms, he accused our 'generation' of wanting to impose a totalitarian system of morality' which would lead to 'universal anarchy'. Coburn and Cowan, in turn, ask:

If Tojo can be sentenced to be executed by an American war crimes tribunal for leading Japan into a 'war of aggression', should the only punishment for an American President be that he is voted out of office while his Secretary of Defense serves a secure term as President of the World Bank?

This seems a not unreasonable question, certainly not unreasonable for those who take seriously the statement of Justice Jackson, quoted earlier. Nor do Coburn and Cowan appear unreasonable when they add that: 'The 'anarchists' who frighten us most are those who wield the big bombs, control the courts, and assume for themselves the power to declare all their enemies outlaws.'

Hoopes strongly disagrees. It is these strange conclusions that make the Coburn-Cowan article such 'a curious piece of reporting'. To him it is 'crystal clear ... that such views could not conceivably be held or expressed by anyone who was a young man during the Second World War or who was engaged in the mortal struggles of its aftermath - in Greece, in Germany, in Berlin, in Korea'. Only 'sensitive, clever children' could be moved to such harsh judgements, 'unshaped by historical perspective and untempered by any first-hand experience with the unruly forces at work in this near-cyclonic century'. Those who designed our Vietnam policy were 'struggling in good conscience to uphold the Constitution and to serve the broad national interest according to their lights'; they were, 'almost uniformly, those considered when they took office to be among the ablest, the best, the most humane and liberal men that could be found for public trust', and 'no one doubted their honest, high-minded pursuit of the best interests of their country, and indeed of the whole non-Communist world, as they perceived these interests'. To be sure, they were deluded by the 'tensions of the Cold War years'. The tragedy of Vietnam, as he sees it, is that these good men were unable to perceive that the triumph of the national revolution in Vietnam would be 'neither a triumph for Moscow and Peking nor a disaster for the United States'. Furthermore, their policies received wide public support. 'Set against these facts, the easy designation of individuals as deliberate or imputed 'war criminals' is shockingly glib, even if one allows for the inexperience of the young.' Similarly, it would be 'absurd' even to ask whether a war crimes tribunal, even in principle, should try Nixon and Kissinger as 'war criminals' (even though they continue to 'buy some time in the US' so that the war can be brought 'to a successful conclusion', in the words of the present Secretary of the Army).

One should, I believe, agree with Townsend Hoopes that 'what the country needs is not retribution, but therapy in the form of {24} deeper understanding of our problems and of each other'. No one, to my knowledge, has urged that those responsible for the massacre of the people of Vietnam, their forced evacuation from their homes,20 and the destruction of their country, be jailed or executed, or even that 'denazification' procedures of the sort instituted against thirteen million Germans in the US Zone be applied to the American population. Let us, by all means, try rather to achieve a deeper understanding of our problems. Among these problems is the fact that one of the most liberal and enlightened commentators on contemporary affairs can assure us that Asian hordes care nothing of death, fear no pain and cannot conceive of happiness, while as for us - it is our Christian values that impel us to stop short of a final solution. Among our problems is the fact that the same spokesman can summon up the kind of 'historical perspective' that sees our intervention in Greece, in the 1940s, as a 'mortal struggle' (against whom?); or the fact that those who were, quite possibly, the most humane and liberal men that could be found for public trust could set out to annihilate the Vietnamese in the belief (whether honest or feigned - it hardly matters) that they were combating a communist monolith that included 'Moscow and Peking' (in 1965!). One of our problems is the doctrine developed by Mr Hoopes, in accordance with which - to take his words literally - no policy carried out by the best American leaders with wide public support could be criminal, could in principle demand any response other than 'to throw the rascals out'.

In fact, is it not a trifle naive (or even 'glib') of Mr Hoopes to suggest that we throw the rascals out? Did we vote the rascals in? Richard Barnet, in a recent study, writes:

Most of the men who have set the framework of America's national-security policy, as I found when I studied the background of the top 400 decision-makers, have come from executive suites and law offices {25} within shouting distance of one another in fifteen city blocks in New York, Washington, Detroit, Chicago, and Boston. It is not surprising that they emerge from homogeneous backgrounds and virtually identical careers with a standard way of looking at the world. They may argue with one another about means but not about ends.21

No one who considers carefully the role of the executive in civil-military decisions in the post-war world, or the role of the private economic empires in determining national policy (either in their own protected domain, or within the parliamentary system itself), or the kinds of choices presented by the two competing candidate-producing organizations can so easily speak of 'throwing the rascals out'. It would require social revolution, leading to a redistribution of power throughout the industrial as well as the political system, for a significant change to take place in the top decision-making positions in American society. For this reason alone, one must fully accept the judgement that 'what the country needs is not retribution, but therapy in the form of deeper understanding of our problems' - and appropriate action to remedy these problems, which, given our enormous power, are problems of life and death for a good part of the world.

These problems should be on the agenda for any thinking person. More immediate, however, is the problem of bringing about a withdrawal of American force from Vietnam. There is no indication that any such policy is envisioned, at present. Rather, it is clear that the US government is hoping to stay the course until victory is achieved, adjusting tactics, where necessary, to buy some time at home. For this reason, the Proceedings of the Tribunal is a document of first importance; the spirit and convictions that underlie it must, as Russell hoped, become a part of the consciousness of all Americans.

Richard Falk concludes the article I quoted earlier, writing:

Given the perils and horrors of the contemporary world, it is time that individuals everywhere called their government to account for indulging or ignoring the daily evidences of barbarism... the obsolete pretensions of sovereign prerogative and military necessity had better be challenged soon if life on earth is to survive.

The Tribunal takes one step - small, perhaps, but significant. The Tribunal, or another like it, should turn to Czechoslovakia, to Greece, to a dozen other countries that are suffering in the grip of the imperialist powers or the local forces that they support and maintain. Still more important, the work initiated by the Tribunal should be carried further by groups of citizens who take upon themselves the duty of discovering and making public the daily evidences of barbarism, and the still more severe duty of challenging the powers - state or private - that are responsible for violence and oppression, looking forward to the day when an international movement for freedom and social justice will end their rule. {27}{28}


  1. Edward S. Herman, 'Atrocities' in Vietnam: Myths and Realities (Pilgrim Press, 1970). In a careful analysis, he estimates South Vietnamese civilian casualties at over a million dead, over two million wounded, and he notes that two years ago the total number of refugees 'generated' mainly by the American scorched earth policy was estimated at almost four million by the Kennedy Committee of the 90th Congress.Back
  2. The letter appears as an Appendix in Don Luce and John Sommer, Vietnam: the Unheard Voices (Cornell University Press, 1969).Back
  3. Ithiel Pool, New York Review of Books, 13 February 1969, letters.Back
  4. New York Times, letter, 26 November 1969. The war in Quang Ngai and Quang Tin provinces is described in unforgettable detail by Jonathan Schell, The Military Half (Vintage Books, 1968).Back
  5. 'Pop me some dinks', New Republic, 3 January 1970.Back
  6. Vietnam: 1969, AFSC White Paper, 5 May 1969, 160 N. 15th Street, Philadelphia, Penna. 19102.Back
  7. South Viet Nam: The Struggle, publication of the NLF Information Commission, No.48, 15 November 1969.Back
  8. Limits of Intervention (McKay, 1969).Back
  9. The NLF claims that 2,000 victims of the American bombardment were buried in mass graves (see Wilfred Burchett, Guardian, 6 December 1969). This is consistent with Hoopes's account. Hoopes states that, after ten days of fighting, 300 local officials and prominent citizens were found in a mass grave. This corresponds roughly with the estimate of Police Chief Doan Cong Lap, who estimated the total number executed as 200; he also gives the figure of 3,776 civilian casualties in the battle of Hue (Stewart Harris, The Times, 27 March 1968). Apart from Harris, I know of only one journalist who has given a detailed eye-witness report from Hue at the time, namely Marc Riboud. US authorities were unable to show him the mass graves reported by the US mission. Riboud reports 4,000 civilians killed during the reconquest of the 'assassinated city' of Hue (Le Monde, 13 April 1968). AFSC staff people in Hue were unable to confirm the reports of mass graves, though they reported many civilians shot and killed during the reconquest of the city (see the report by John Sullivan of AFSC, 9 May 1968). For attempts to evaluate government propaganda on mass killings in Hue, see D. Gareth Porter and Len E. Ackland, 'Vietnam: the bloodbath argument', Christian Century, 5 November 1969; Vietnam International, December 1969 (6 Endsleigh Street, London, W.C.1); Tran Van Dinh, 'Fear of a bloodbath', New Republic, 6 December 1969. The only other accounts I have seen merely convey information given out by American government sources.Back
  10. This is not quite accurate. He does provide a brief philosophical discussion of Buddhist beliefs, which tend 'to create a positive impetus towards honourable death'.Back
  11. As Gabriel Kolko notes, in testimony to the Tribunal, the barbarism of Seyss-Inquart in opening the dikes in Holland was considered one of the most monstrous crimes of the Second World War, and was prominent among the charges that led to his death sentence at Nuremberg. Note also Kolko's discussion of the bombing of dikes in the Korean war, and the testimony given regarding American bombing of dikes in North Vietnam. Eye-witness reports of the bombing of dikes in the Red River Delta have appeared in the American press. See Christian Science Monitor, 8 September 1967, quoted in my American Power and the New Mandarins (Chatto & Windus, 1969), p.15.Back
  12. As we know from other sources, the VC political cadres thus 'exposed' were to be eliminated by 'Operation Phoenix', which, in the year 1968, is claimed to have killed 18,393 persons. See Senator Charles E. Goodell, New Republic, 22 November 1969 (cited in Herman, op. cit.), and also Judith Coburn and Geoffrey Cowan, 'Training for terror: a deliberate policy?', Village Voice, 11 December 1969. On 'population control measures', see William Nighswonger, Rural Pacification in Vietnam (Praeger, 1967). For earlier precedents during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, see my American Power and the New Mandarins, pp. 195-203.Back
  13. 8 October 1969, released 2 December. Quoted in I. F. Stone's Weekly, 15 December 1969.Back
  14. Quoted in an article to which I return in a moment: Judith Coburn and Geoffrey Cowan, 'The war criminals hedge their bets', Village Voice, 4 December 1969.Back
  15. Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Limits of State Action, 1792 (Cambridge University Press, 1969), J. W. Burrow (ed.).Back
  16. 'The circle of responsibility', The Nation, 26 January 1970. Falk is Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Princeton University.Back
  17. The Present State of Denazification, reprinted in Constantine Fitzgibbon, Denazification (Norton, 1969).Back
  18. Fitzgibbon, op. cit.Back
  19. 'The Nuremberg Suggestion', Washington Monthly, January 1970. Noam Chomsky.Back
  20. Coburn and Cowan report the views of Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, who says in a statement to Congress on the refugee situation that the figures may be misleading, since the war-torn Vietnamese are used to disruption and 'have been moving around for centuries'. Since this is true, to a far greater extent, of the American population, there would presumably be even less reason to protest, if they were driven from their homes by a foreign invader.Back
  21. The Economy of Death (Atheneum, 1969). See also the detailed analysis by Gabriel Kolko, The Roots of American Foreign Policy(Beacon Press, 1969), Chapter 1.Back

Speech to the First Meeting of Members of the War Crimes Tribunal, London, 13 November 1966¹

Allow me to express my appreciation to you for your willingness to participate in this Tribunal. It has been convened so that we may investigate and assess the character of the United StatesÂ' war in Vietnam.

The Tribunal has no clear historical precedent. The Nuremberg Tribunal, although concerned with designated war crimes, was possible because the victorious allied Powers compelled the vanquished to present their leaders for trial. Inevitably, the Nuremberg trials, supported as they were by state power, contained a strong element of realpolitik. Despite these inhibiting factors, which call in question certain of the Nuremberg procedures, the Nuremberg Tribunal expressed the sense of outrage, which was virtually universal, at the crimes committed by the Nazis in Europe. Somehow, it was widely felt, there had to be criteria against which such actions could be judged, and according to which Nazi crimes could be condemned. Many felt it was morally necessary to record the full horror. It was hoped that a legal method could be devised, capable of coming to terms with the magnitude of Nazi crimes. These ill-defined but deeply felt sentiments surrounded the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Our own task is more difficult, but the same responsibility obtains. We do not represent any state power, nor can we compel the policy-makers responsible for crimes against the people of Vietnam to stand accused before us. We lack force majeure. The procedures of a trial are impossible to implement.

I believe that these apparent limitations are, in fact, virtues. We are free to conduct a solemn and historic investigation, uncompelled {57} by reasons of state or other such obligations. Why is this war being fought in Vietnam? In whose interest is it being waged? We have, I am certain, an obligation to study these questions and to pronounce on them, after thorough investigation, for in doing so we can assist mankind in understanding why a small agrarian people have endured for more than twelve years the assault of the largest industrial power on earth, possessing the most developed and cruel military capacity.

I have prepared a paper, which I hope you will wish to read during your deliberations. It sets out a considerable number of reports from Western newspapers and such sources, giving an indication of the record of the United States in Vietnam. These reports should make it clear that we enter our inquiry with considerable prima facie evidence of crimes reported not by the victims but by media favourable to the policies responsible. I believe that we are justified in concluding that it is necessary to convene a solemn Tribunal, composed of men eminent not through their power, but through their intellectual and moral contribution to what we optimistically call ‘human civilizationÂ'.


Inaugural Statement

Our Tribunal was formed, on the initiative of Lord Bertrand Russell, to decide whether the accusations of ‘war crimesÂ' levelled against the government of the United States as well as against those of South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, during the conflict in Vietnam, are justified.

During this inaugural session, the origin, function, aims and limits of the Tribunal must be clarified: the Tribunal means to explain itself, without sidetracking, on the question of what has been called its ‘legitimacyÂ'.

In 1945, something absolutely new in history appeared at Nuremberg with the first international Tribunal formed to pass judgement on crimes committed by a belligerent power. Until then there had been a few international agreements, for instance the Briand-Kellogg pact, which were aimed at limiting the jus ad bellum; but as no other body had been created to implement them, the relations between the powers continued to operate under the law of the jungle. It could not be otherwise: the nations which had built their wealth upon the conquest of great colonial empires would not have tolerated being judged upon their actions in Africa or Asia.

From 1939, the Hitlerian furies had endangered the world to such an extent that the horrified Allies decided, since they were to be the victors, to judge and condemn the wars of aggression and conquest, the maltreatment of prisoners and the tortures, as well as the racist practices known as ‘genocideÂ', unaware that they were condemning themselves, in this way, for their own actions in the colonies.

For this reason, that is to say because they were recognizing the Nazi crimes, and because, in the more universal sense, they were opening the way to a real jurisdiction for the denunciation and {63} condemnation of war crimes wherever committed, and whoever the culprits, the Tribunal of Nuremberg is still the manifestation of a change of capital importance: the substitution of jus ad bellum by jus contra bellum.

Unfortunately, as is wont to happen whenever a new force is created by historical exigencies, this Tribunal was not free from serious faults. It has been said that it was a diktat of the victors to the vanquished and, which comes to the same thing, that it was not really being international: one group of nations was judging another. Would it have been more worthwhile to have taken the judges from neutral countries? I cannot say. What is certain, however, is that, although the decisions were perfectly just by ethical standards, they did not convince all Germans. The legitimacy of the magistrates and their sentences is contested to this day. Also, it has been declared that, if the fortunes of war had been otherwise, a tribunal of the Axis could have condemned the Allies for the bombing of Dresden or for that of Hiroshima.

Such a body would not have been difficult to set up. It would have sufficed that the body created for the judgement of the Nazis had continued after its original task, or that the United Nations, considering all the consequences of what had just been achieved, would, by a vote of the General Assembly, have consolidated it into a permanent tribunal, empowered to investigate and to judge all accusations of war crimes, even if the accused should be one of the countries that had been responsible for the sentencing at Nuremberg. In this way, the implicit universality of the original intention would have been clearly defined. However, we know what did happen: hardly had the last guilty German been sentenced than the Tribunal vanished and no one ever heard of it again.

Are we therefore so pure? Have there been no war crimes since 1945? Have we never had further resort to violence or to aggression? Have there been no more ‘genocidesÂ'? Has no large country ever tried to break by force the sovereignty of a smaller one? Has there never been reason for denouncing more Oradours or Auschwitzes?

You know the truth: in the last twenty years, the great historical act has been the struggle of the underdeveloped nations for their freedom. The colonial empires have crumbled, and in {64} their place independent nations have grown or have reclaimed ancient and traditional independence which had been eliminated by colonialism. All this has happened in suffering, sweat and blood. A tribunal such as that of Nuremberg has become a permanent necessity. I have already said that, before the Nazi trials, war was lawless. The Nuremberg Tribunal, an ambiguous reality, was created from the highest legal principles no doubt but, at the same time, it created a precedent, the embryo of a tradition. Nobody can go back, stop what has already existed, nor, when a small and poor country is the object of aggression, prevent one from thinking back to those trials and saying to oneself: it is this very same thing that was condemned then. In this way, the hasty and incomplete measures taken and then abandoned by the Allies in 1945 have created a real gap in international affairs. We sadly lack an organization which has been created and affirmed in its permanency and universality and which has irreversibly defined its rights and duties. It is a gap which must be filled and yet which no one will fill.

There are, in fact, two sources of power for such a body. The first is the state and its institutions. However, in this period of violence most governments, if they took such an initiative, would fear that it might one day be used against them and that they would find themselves in the dock with the accused.

And then, for many, the United States is a powerful ally: who would dare ask for the resurrection of a tribunal whose first action would be to demand an inquiry on the Vietnam conflict? The other source is the people, in a revolutionary period, when institutions are changing. But, although the struggle is implacable, how could the masses, divided by frontiers, unite and impose on the various governments an institution which would be a true Court of the People?

The Russell Tribunal was born of this doubly contradictory conclusion: the judgement of Nuremberg had necessitated the existence of an institution to inquire into war crimes and, if necessary, to sit in judgement; today neither governments nor the masses are capable of forming one. We are perfectly aware that we have not been given a mandate by anyone; but we took the initiative to meet, and we also know that nobody could have given us a mandate. It is true that our Tribunal is not an institution. But, {65} it is not a substitute for any institution already in existence: it is, on the contrary, formed out of a void and for a real need. We were not recruited or invested with real powers by governments: but, as we have just seen, the investiture at Nuremberg was not enough to give the jurists unquestioned legality. . . . The Russell Tribunal believes, on the contrary, that its legality comes from both its absolute powerlessness and its universality.

We are powerless: that is the guarantee of our independence. There is nothing to help us except for the participation of the supporting committees which are, like ourselves, meetings of private individuals. As we do not represent any government or party, we cannot receive orders. We will examine the facts ‘in our souls and our consciencesÂ', as we say, or, if one prefers, in the full liberty of our spirits. None of us can state, today, how the discussions will turn out and whether we answer yes or no to the accusations, or whether we will come to a conclusion at all, perhaps deciding that the evidence, though real, is insufficiently proven. What is certain, in any case, is that our weakness, even if we are convinced by the proof brought before us, would not enable us to condemn. What can even the lightest sentence mean if we do not have the means to put it into effect? We will therefore limit ourselves, should this arise, to declaring that this or that act does in fact fall under the jurisdiction of Nuremberg, and that it is therefore a war crime and that, if the law were applied, it would be appropriate for this or that sentence to be carried out. In this case, if possible, we will name the guilty. Thus, the Russell Tribunal will have no other function in this inquiry and its conclusions, but to make everybody understand the necessity for international jurisdiction - which it has neither the means nor the ambition to replace and the essence of which would be to resuscitate the jus contra bellum, stillborn at Nuremberg, and to substitute legal, ethical laws for the law of the jungle.

From the very fact that we are simple citizens, we have been able, in coopting ourselves from all over the world, to give our Tribunal a more universal structure than that which prevailed at Nuremberg. I do not only mean that a larger number of countries is represented; from this point of view there are still many gaps. But, most of all, whilst in 1945 the Germans were represented only in the dock, or sometimes as witnesses, here {66} several members of the jury are from the USA. This means that they come from the country whose very policy is our subject and that they have, therefore, their own ways of understanding it. Whatever may be their conclusions, the intimate relation with their own country and its institutions and traditions will necessarily be reflected in this TribunalÂ's conclusions.

Whatever may be our wishes for impartiality and universality, we are very conscious that this does not legitimize our undertaking. What we would really like is that our legitimation would be in retrospect, or a posteriori. In fact we do not work for ourselves nor for our own edification, and we do not presume to impose our conclusions like a thunderbolt. In truth, we would wish, with press collaboration, to maintain constant contact between ourselves and the masses all over the world who are painfully watching the tragedy in Vietnam. We hope that they will be learning while we learn, that they will watch and understand, and come to their own conclusions. These conclusions, whatever they may be, we would wish to be reached individually and independently of those we come to ourselves. This session is a communal undertaking for which the final term should be, as a philosopher said, ‘une verité devenueÂ'. If the masses agree with our judgement, it will become truth, and we, at the very moment when we step back so that they will become the guardians and powerful supporters of that truth, will then know that we have been legitimized. When the people show their agreement they will also show a greater need: that a real ‘War Crimes TribunalÂ' be created on a permanent basis, that these crimes may be denounced and not sanctioned anywhere and at any time.

These last remarks reply to a critical comment made, without ill-feeling, in a Paris newspaper: ‘What a strange Tribunal: jurymen but no judge!Â' It is true, we are only jurymen, we have no power to condemn, nor to acquit anyone. Therefore, we are not prosecutors. There will not even be a real accusation. Maître Matarasso, President of the Legal Commission, will read you a statement of the charges registered. The jurists, at the end of the session, will have to pronounce on these statements: are they justified or not? But judges exist everywhere. It is for the peoples of the world and, in particular, the American people that we are working. {67}