Friday, January 12, 2018

Review of Hue by Mark Bowden

A comrade of mine posted this review of Bowden's Hue book on Amazon:

The American War in Vietnam as seen by those who fought in it

ByMarc Lichtmanon January 12, 2018

At present the US government is involved in more wars than most people, including Congress, can keep track of. Those in Iraq and Afghanistan are the longest wars in US history. But they don’t talk much in terms of “winning” any more. And the thought of using large-scale ground troops brings back memories of Vietnam, even for those of the rulers too young to have any of their own….

This book by Mark Bowden is a work of oral history: It’s the fighting in Hue primarily as seen by US marines, and to a somewhat lesser extent by the Vietnamese fighting them. It’s never dull, and not for those with queasy stomachs. At first, I was angry at the marines for their pride in hoisting an American flag, but then I realized at least it was honest—posting the flag of South Vietnam would have been a total lie.
World War II was the last war the US can claim to have won. And even then, it didn’t fully go the way they expected. There were many unforeseen consequences, as there usually are. (The major unforeseen consequence of World War I was the Russian Revolution, see History of the Russian Revolution).

The Second World War gave an impetus to the anti-colonial revolution, frequently under Stalinist leadership. After the war there was a debate over “who lost China.” China wasn’t lost, of course, but became fully independent in the revolution of 1949. The US had hoped to keep large numbers of troops in both Europe and Asia at the end of the war, but as the GIs saw it, their war was over, and they demanded to come home. A popular pamphlet about this, written during the Vietnam War by socialist leader Mary-Alice Waters, is now available in 007: New International no. 7: Opening Guns of World War III: Washington's Assault on Iraq, retitled “1945: When U.S. troops said ‘No!’” The rest of that issue is mostly on the Gulf War of 1990–91. A short Marxist view on what US motives in the World War really were can be found in an article in Revolution, Internationalism, and Socialism: The Last Year of Malcolm X (New International no. 14) (New International, Number 14), as well as in the book Socialism on Trial: Testimony at Minneapolis Sedition Trial.

Another unforeseen consequence of World War II and the colonial revolution was the rise of the Black struggle in the US (see the three volumes in the series America in the King Years by Taylor Branch, and Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power). In 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr, branded the US “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He was right. The US killed more than a million, a majority of whom were civilians, in the Vietnam War, and it’s not clear if that includes all the deaths in Cambodia and Laos. Then there were the deaths of more than 58,000 US GIs, in a war that they increasingly came to oppose.

The Branch books give you a wonderful idea of what was happening in the US at the time of the Vietnam War, although thy should be supplemented with Out Now: A Participant's Account of the Movement in the United States Against the Vietnam War the definitive history of the antiwar movement, by a central leader of it, Fred Halstead.

Even when the press turned against the war, they were more interested in covering the “peace candidates” of the Democratic Party on the one hand, and the Yippies and Weather Underground on the other than in mass peaceful demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands, including many Vietnam veterans and active duty GIs.

South Vietnam was never a country. It was a super-sized military base that wound up in US hands because the Moscow and Beijing Stalinists pressured Ho Chi Minh to compromise. Indochina had been a French colony. The Vietnamese Communist Party had been in the leadership of a movement during World War II that defeated Japanese/Vichy French occupiers. Stalin ordered them to let British troops into the country to preside over the cease fire. The Vietnamese Trotskyists warned that the British would simply hand rule back over to the French, but they didn’t listen, and assassinated the leader of this group. The French, naturally, came back.

Then Ho’s Viet Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam) defeated French rule in 1954, but he was pressured by Moscow and Beijing to compromise with the US, who had supported French colonialism. The southern part of the country was to be administered by emperor Bao Dai, who had previously collaborated with the Japanese and Vichy French. The French moved out according to schedule, but the US moved in to take their place. The elections which were to have been held to reunify the country weren’t held; a number of US political leaders stated that if they had been held, Ho Chi Minh would have won with 80% of the vote. To be on the safe side, the US never signed these accords! The South Vietnamese military were as busy at coups and attempted coups as they were in fighting “the Communists.” The US was involved in most of these, if not from the beginning, then after they decided who to back.

Some people want you to believe that the aim of the Stalinists, who thy call "Communists," was to take over the world. In reality, they usually tried to prevent revolutions, or insisted on compromise when none was needed. This is a huge topic, but I suggest starting with The Revolution Betrayed. Did the US really win the Cold War? Begin with that, and then read New International No.11: U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War.

According to this book, General Vo Nguyen Giap, the architect of the victory against the French was against the concept of Tet Offensive, and Ho Chi Minh not too enthusiastic either. The idea of this as the final offensive was way off base, and at least in Hue, a popular uprising was pretty much a physical impossibility once the fighting started. But it still exposed the lies the US government had continually been telling, and in that sense, this was the beginning of the end for the American War in Vietnam.

For a socialist view on US politics today, begin with The Clintons' Anti-Working-Class Record (Why Washington fears working people?), and Cuba and the Coming American Revolution….

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