US Vice President Kamala Harris toured southeast Asian nations last month, and finished with a visit to Vietnam. Before she arrived in Vietnam, she gave a speech in Singapore attacking China for its allegedly ‘bullying’ behaviour. VP Harris has been promoting an Indo-Pacific military buildup; however, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chin stated that Hanoi, regardless of its maritime disputes with Beijing, would not join any anti-China military alliance.
Just to clarify – the United States is seeking the military cooperation of a nation it spent decades pulverising with weapons. Be that as it may, VP Harris placed flowers at a memorial in Hanoi, thinking it was erected in honour of former military aviator the late John McCain. It transpired that the site which VP Harris visited was built in honour of the Vietnamese defenders who shot down McCain, turning him over to civilian authorities.
VP Harris was not making a cultural faux pas – that can be forgiven. By honouring the cause for which McCain was fighting – involving the bombing of infrastructure in North Vietnam – Harris was contributed to the effort to rehabilitate the American war in Indochina. The site which she visited – the place where McCain was shot down and captured – was constructed to remind visitors of the criminal actions of American imperialism in Vietnam.
Harris, by singling out McCain to whom to pay homage, disrespected the Vietnamese who fought against the American empire. She demonstrated that the US is not sorry for its destructive impact on the people and ecology of Vietnam.
The US ruling class, since the defeat of its forces in Vietnam in 1975, has eagerly sought to reverse the main political consequence of that defeat – domestic mass opposition to imperialist wars overseas. Rather than accept the presence of anti-war hostility among the population, successive US administrations have launched PR campaigns to minimise the criminal actions of US foreign policy, and demonise domestic critics of the Vietnam war.
Rehabilitating the American war on Vietnam began in the late 60s with the Nixonian inspired ‘bringing the POW/MIAs home’ mythology, which I have examined in detail in previous articles (part one is here; part two published here). The putative concern for those killed in action was cynically manipulated to divert attention from American crimes in Indochina, and garner public support for the failing military operation in Vietnam.
While that issue reached its peak in the 1980s and 90s, it petered out by the 2000s. A new way had to be found to revitalise super-patriotic whitewashing of America’s war on Vietnam. The renewed campaign to rehabilitate the Vietnam war was initiated, not by conservative Republican politicians, but by ostensibly antiwar Democrat and former President Barack Obama.
In 2012, on Memorial Day, Obama took the opportunity to announce a multi pronged series of commemorative activities, intended to last over the next 13 years. Intended as a national activity to honour the allegedly ‘disrespected’ Vietnam veterans, the commemorative events are politically motivated to revive a ‘warrior spirit’ and to distort the main US responsibility for keeping the war going for decades. Obama maintained that 2012 marked 50 years – 1962 – since the first American combat troops were deployed to Vietnam.
Had the Obama administration bothered to consult the historical record, US intervention in Vietnam began, not in 1962, but covertly in the mid-1950s. As the French war effort to recolonise its former possessions in Indochina were failing, the Eisenhower administration stepped up its secretive activities to sabotage efforts by the Vietnamese to achieve independence. Undermining the intended 1956 democratic elections, the US created a false statelet called ‘South Vietnam’, and proceeded to maintain its artificial proxy through state violence.
The Saigon regime, utterly dependent on American support for its survival, tortured dissidents and used police-state methods against any and all opposition. The United States dropped thousands of tonnes of bombing ordnance in Indochina, used napalm and chemical weapons to obliterate villages, and attempted to sabotage civilian infrastructure.
Obama was elected to office for, among other things, opposition to overseas wars. The George W Bush administration stood thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the public. Obama and the Democrats exploited this popular opportunity to war to get elected. However, Obama’s record in office indicates that he advocated new wars, and dedicated himself to downplaying the crimes of US imperialism in Vietnam.
The antiwar protesters, combined with Vietnam veterans, launched a principled campaign against US military aggression, and have nothing for which to apologise.