Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 7. 1965.
Vietnam: A Dialogue
Vietnam: A Dialogue
For many weeks American academic circles have been the scene of much discontent: the focus of this discontent has been current United States policy in South Vietnam.
The United States' role in the Dominican Republic has added further fuel to the heated dialogue between the academics and the Administration.
A week ago this dialogue took a new turn: a debate broadcast over national radio networks took place. Opponents and proponents of the current Vietnam policy, primarily drawn from within Academia confronted each other.
To place the following report in perspective two prefatory comments are necessary: firstly, the academic world, both professors and students, is divided on the rightness or otherwise of current USA policy—it could also be noted that neither supporters nor opponents of the Johnson Line are in internal unilateral agreement.
Secondly, the Johnson policy has been to treat with disdain most of its critics: in many cases members of the government, notably Secretary Dean Rusk, have resorted to the familiar labels of "unpatriotic attitudes" or even less appropriate comments to damn its critics before the American public.
In the following article I will try to present a distillation of the Debate: I have attempted to present all views as accurately and fairly as possible, for this reason personal comment will be kept to a minimum.
In order to preserve some continuity I have divided the comments into three: (i) Comments on Past Policy in South Vietnam: (ii) The Present Dilemma: (iii) The Lines of Resolution. Inevitably these somewhat artificial categories overlap.
A Vietnamese woman walks through the ruins of her village—burnt in the war. A South Vietnamese soldier stands behind her
On Past Policy In South Vietnam
Professor Kahin, Professor of Government and Director of the South-East Asia Programme. Cornell University, led the opposition to Administration policy. He implicitly questioned both the motives and the wisdom of USA policy in the South-East Asian region.
Of the motives he raised the issue of USA self-interest as opposed to the national self-interest of South-East Asia and he noted, "Our policy-makers have exhibited an inability to appreciate Asian nationalism and inability to work with rather than against this powerful force."
Of the (past) wisdom of USA policy, he added, "since World War II American officials have made such grave errors in policy toward South-East Asia that we have every right to be sceptical about their ability to respond intelligently to the present situation in South Vietnam."
In both the above contexts he elaborated and documented his charges in relation to USA policy toward (then Nationalist) now Communist China. Indonesia, Laos, Burma: in the context of Vietnam, he noted that the pre-1954 alliance of the USA with France was a grave error, and added, "we (USA) temporised with our commitment to national self-determination and backed France in her efforts to establish control over South Vietnam. By supporting her attempt to establish a Vietnamese regime which lacked nationalist support, we helped ensure that Vietnamese patriots would have no real alternative but to rally to the banner of Ho Chi Minh."
Unfortunately few significant comments challenged the above assertions We leave the historical issues by noting the comment Professor W. A. Williams, [unclear: Pr]fessor of History, University of [unclear: Wi] consin, when he noted "that [unclear: th] success of USA foreign policy [unclear: ov] the last 70 years, where such [unclear: Polic] has been successful, changed [unclear: th] reality on which that [unclear: polic] was based. A new outlook needed." In the above context [unclear: h] was referring to the USA policy makers' desire to see South-[unclear: Eas] Asia accept its ideas as to [unclear: Govern]ment and development.
In conclusion: it seems to [unclear: th] writer that the present [unclear: dilemma] in South-East Asia, as [unclear: elsewher] is reducible to the realised [unclear: an] reasonable need for vast social [unclear: an] economic changes. The speed [unclear: a] which these changes are desire is understandable, but often unrealistic.
Are these changes to take [unclear: plac] through evolution, and a maintenance of the present social [unclear: structur] or through revolution, where [unclear: rad]ical changes in the socio-[unclear: politica] structure will be a necessity?
The South-East Asian theatre [unclear: i] clearly, the battleground for [unclear: com]peting solutions to South-[unclear: Eas] Asia's problems. Equally clearly the Western World cannot do [unclear: socio] economically for the non-[unclear: Weste] world what it has done for [unclear: itsel] then perhaps South-East [unclear: Asi] would be better off without [unclear: ou] presence.
The Present Dilemma
All participants agreed that [unclear: th] issues in South Vietnam were [unclear: in] credibly complex: equally, all [unclear: par]ties were prepared to tackle [unclear: thes] issues forthrightly.
Has the USA a right to be [unclear: i] South Vietnam in the first place is containment a viable policy What of the "Domino theory"? [unclear: T] what extent is the Viet Cong [unclear: a] indigenous movement, to what extent is it controlled by Ho [unclear: Ch] Minh? What is the exact role [unclear: o] North Vietnam in the present [unclear: con]flict? Of China? Of Russia? Is [unclear: th] USA policy toward China [unclear: realist] in the present setting? What is [unclear: th] USA policy toward China? Have [unclear: w] done enough to bring about [unclear: politico] economic stability in this area; Is not such a policy a better [unclear: defenc] against a countervailing [unclear: ideolog] than open warfare?
If Hanoi wanted to stop the Viet Cong Could they?
All these and many other questions were debated—for the most part in a calm and rational fashion —by both sides. To deal with all the questions and all the answers that were proposed would be manifestly impossible in a short article and would be an injustice to the complexity of those issues. The following summary points emerged:
• On the Indigenous Support for the Viet Cong:
"It is widely agreed that the Viet Cong controls 50 per cent of [unclear: rura] South Vietnam. The Viet Cong is successful not because of its socioeconomic policy but because of its organisational skills: organisational control does not necessarily mean widespread public support Contrarily, there is evidence against such widespread public support: The Diem regime made many enemies, yet few of them joined the Viet Cong." (Professor Robert A Scalapino, Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley: Principal speaker in favour of the Administration's policy).
"It is agreed by the supporters of USA Government policy that the Viet Cong is a carbon copy of the Viet Minh. The Viet Minn led the revolution against the French —could they have led such a revolution without the support of the people?" (Professor Williams, Wisconsin).
• Of Violence, Terror, Destruction and Murder:
"There has been violence, terror and murder on both sides — to establish where or on whose shoulders the balance of terror lies is a fruitless pastime and serves no useful purpose." (Professor Scalapino).page 7
This was one of the few [unclear: oints] of unanimity.
Of the Role of North Vietnam:
"While there is considerable [unclear: con- uence] of interests between Hanoi [unclear: nd] the Viet Cong, can we [unclear: auto-atically] assume that the two are [unclear: e] and the same? Is this congru-[unclear: ce] of interest sufficient to enable [unclear: anoi] to recall the Viet Cong? [unclear: ould] they do so?" (Professor [unclear: ahin]).
"In 1963 the North Vietnamese [unclear: mmunist] Party abandoned its [unclear: utrality] and allied itself with [unclear: iping] this must have had some feet on the policy formation of [unclear: orth] Vietnam as a whole."
"The Viet Cong are clearly linked Hanoi; Hanoi is clearly linked China. But, If on all sides we [unclear: ust] ask the question 'What does [unclear: a] think and say?' then per-[unclear: ps] Asian Nationalism is doomed [unclear: on] the start." (Both Professor [unclear: alapino]).
Comment: Clearly the role of [unclear: orth] Vietnam is critical in the [unclear: etnamese] conflict: it was clear [unclear: om] the debate that not enough is known as to the level of indig-[unclear: ous] support for the Viet Cong in [unclear: uth] Vietnam It is equally clear, [unclear: ing] newspaper and information [unclear: ports] as a criterion, that the USA Administration is not suffic-[unclear: ntly] clear on this point.
If the Viet Cong is an indigenous [unclear: ovement] can military action [unclear: ainst] North Vietnam be sustained [unclear: plomatically], politically or mor-[unclear: ly]?
Contrarily if indigenous move-[unclear: ents] are being "used" by North [unclear: etnamese] agents for political [unclear: poses] then, in that case, a differ-[unclear: t] situation would clearly prevail, clear answers to the above questions are known, then they should more widely known.
Of China's Role:
"We (the USA) set ourselves [unclear: als] in South-East Asia which [unclear: not] be achieved by the means [unclear: e] are willing to employ. If you [unclear: se] yourself the wrong question [unclear: u] find it extremely complex to [unclear: ve] a simple and correct answer [unclear: here] is an essential contradiction [unclear: tween] what we profess to want [unclear: d] the policies and risks we are [unclear: epared] to employ … If you [unclear: ally] want to achieve in Asia what [unclear: e] spokesmen for our government [unclear: y] they want to achieve in Asia, they must be prepared to go to [unclear: ar] with China." (Professor Hans [unclear: rgenthau], professor of Political [unclear: ience] and Director, Centre for [unclear: e] Study of American Foreign pol-[unclear: y], University of Chicago).
"We (the USA) sit here with a [unclear: jection] of Asia as we would want We upset the non-aligned. We [unclear: ing] in far more arms than our [unclear: ponents]. A great deal has happened in the last 20 years, but not the field of Sino-USA relations, [unclear: n] the USA hope to contain China [unclear: hen] she does not even have offic-[unclear: l] relations or contacts with that [unclear: untry]?" (Professor Mary Wright, [unclear: ofessor] of History, Yale Univer-[unclear: ty].)
"Can China be contained mili-[unclear: rily], when in fact her influence exerted politically, economically [unclear: d] diplomatically?" (Professor [unclear: rgenthau]).
Of American Military Activities:
"The introduction of USA troops [unclear: d] increased air power is a com-[unclear: ensatory] move to overcome polit-[unclear: al] instability. Can the USA, by self, bring about stability? As resident Kennedy said, 'In the [unclear: nal] analysis it's their war—they [unclear: he] Vietnamese) are the ones who [unclear: ave] to win or lose it. We can help [unclear: em]. We can give them equip-[unclear: ent]. We can send our men out [unclear: ere] as advisers. But they have win the war'." (Professor Kahin).
"Is the present military pledge of any military or political group in [unclear: etnam]? Can the USA 'hold' [unclear: etnam]? If so, how many men [unclear: ould] be needed? Or, does our [unclear: ledge] to support Vietnam not demand a minimum degree of per-[unclear: rmance] and co-operation from [unclear: aigon]—political as well as mili-[unclear: ry] Does our pledge to support [unclear: at] country not also demand some [unclear: gree] of popular support for the [unclear: overnment] of that country? To [unclear: ontain] South Vietnam militarily, has been estimated that the USA [unclear: ould] need to use up to one million [unclear: en]. The United States does not have forces of this size immediately available: to send a small proportion of this number of men would use up our entire strategic reserve. We would be over-committed, and we would endanger our obligations elsewhere." (Professor Kahin).
"If we do pull out of Vietnam then there will be war." (Professor Scalapino).
Lines of Resolution
The chief spokesman in favour of the Administration's policy, Dr. Scalapino argued that only three logical possibilities are tenable in South Vietnam: they are withdrawal, negotiation or escalation. Having mentioned this, Scalapino discussed the first two of these possibilities and virtually ignored the question of escalation, or seemed to disregard it as a possibility. Other speakers, on both sides, seemed to concentrate most of their attention on withdrawal or negotiation. I will do similarly.
• On Outright Withdrawal:
"(Withdrawal) would only serve to reinforce 'National Liberation Movements' and would at the same time reduce the credibility of USA strike-capacity throughout Asia. Withdrawal would prove Peking right and Russia wrong—this would tend to militate against the spirit of moderation that does exist within International Communism." (Professor Scalapino).
"Once the USA is proved not to be a 'paper tiger' a new dialogue will have been started in the Communist World." (Professor Scalapino).
Comment: No speakers favoured complete, immediate, unilateral withdrawal: many saw withdrawal as a possibility, only after negotiations were undertaken.
• On Peace Talks and Negotiations: "The USA offer of 'unconditional' peace talks contains at least two implicit conditions; Firstly, that South Vietnam be recognised as an independent State, this is contrary to the Geneva Accords which we (the USA) uphold, and secondly, that the Viet Cong withdraw from South Vietnam—since it is often conceded that the Viet Cong control up to 50 per cent of the countryside, and since it is highly contentious that Hanoi could (or would) order such a withdrawal, this implicit condition flies in the face of political reality." (Professor Kahin).
Letters— In this issue are on page 5.
"Much has been said of the USA offer of unconditional negotiations. The point is that what is important is not what the USA intends, but what it does in relation to what it intends. Of course we want a negotiated settlement: I'm sure many people in our government pray for a negotiated settlement, but those people cannot see the implicit, unspoken conditions that make such a negotiated settlement, at the moment, an impossibility. Firstly, we refuse to negotiate with the Viet Cong; secondly, we implicitly state that we (the USA) remain there for the time being—that is to say we remain there as long as no stable government exists there, and that will take a very long time." (Professor Morgenthau).
"From Peking's view (and they have only lost one gun, now Mr McNamara's property, and no men) nothing better could happen that the USA be engaged in waging a war in Vietnam that she cannot hope to win, yet cannot afford to lose. Why should Peking under such circumstances recommend negotiations? Would you negotiate from such a position of strength Negotiation requires mutual willingness and objectivity, neither of which seems to exist at the moment." (Professor Morgenthau).
"We (the USA) will certainly gain more from peace talks and through the development of stability than through the infusion into South Vietnam of more and more USA troops. The USA should give U Thant an unequivocal mandate to undertake complete negotiations." (Professor Kahin).
"The overwhelming majority of people here today support negotiation as a tool; but on what terms should such negotiation take place? Negotiation demands a willingness on all sides to negotiate. China has already refused the hand of U Thant, Britain, through Sir Patrick Gordon Walker, India, who offered to mediate with an Afro-Asian force, and it (Peking) has sabotaged the proposed Cambodian Conference. What of Hainoi? We are still hoping that Hanoi will break its tie with China and negotiate." (Professor Scalapino).
• On the Need for Free and Independent Elections:
"It was unfortunate that free and independent elections were agreed to in the first place: such a thesis (free elections) contravene basic Marxist-Leninist assumptions." (Professor Scalapino).
"Between the years 1954-1958 Hanoi asked for elections: Hanoi still says it wants to hold to the Geneva Accords, and those Accords specify provisions for elections. Therefore, can it not be presumed that Hanoi supports such elections?" (Professor Mary Wright).
Where From Here?
"Our first objective should be for a truly independent and nonaligned Asia. Secondly, we should negotiate with the Communists as Communists, and other parties in terms of who they represent. We should urge peaceful co-existence and economic co-operation with China: All negotiatory channels must be kept open." (Professor Scalapino).
It was at this point that the formal debate ended. What was its value? The discussions were full, frank and informative: fuller, franker and much more informative than were many of the "administrative hand-outs" that the American Press had been receiving. It can be concluded, then, that the debate served to inform the listening public. How well, how critically, and how objectively it served such a function I leave the reader to judge on the basis of the extracts I have Quoted, I would note that the full text of all major addresses has subsequently been published in the New York Times of May 16.
The discussions, in my view did not provide answers, so much as they did provide us with the questions we should be asking ourselves. If the USA and her allies support the doctrine of self-determination in South-East Asia, then questions such as "What is the level of indigenous support for the Viet Cong in South Vietnam?" of "Who controls the Viet Cong?" or "Does the present regime in South Vietnam have a popular base of public support"—all these (and other) questions are of obvious importance. Furthermore, if the USA and her allies want negotiations they should clearly specify the premises on which such negotiations are predicated.
"Less Than Frank"
The most disturbing aspect on the contemporary USA scene is the feeling that the Johnson Administration has been less than fair to its critics and less than frank with the American people.
The New York Times bitingly summarised this view when it editorially noted: "That high-ranking representatives of government in Washington and in Saigon have so obscured, confused or distorted news, or have made such fatuously erroneous evaluations about the course of the war, that the credibility of the United States Government has been all but sacrificed."
This comment attains greater significance when it is remembered that a spokesman for the Newspaper Editors of the USA felt compelled to state that "the American Press in South Vietnam faces stronger restrictions than it ever has in war-time" and that the Press in the USA "is getting contradictions, double-talk and halftruths from the government concerning the situation in South Vietnam."
These criticisms are among the most serious that can be levelled: so far I have seen no answer from the Administration to them.
Turning to a more optimistic note one can observe that it is a healthy sign indeed that the criticisms levelled in the "Great Debate" were done so before the nation as a whole: the nation benefited from such an experience. One can but hope that the academic community in New Zealand and the Government also will play a similarly important role in the affairs that affect that country some time in the not too distant future.