This Is What We Fight Against


Copied below is an excerpt from Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire by Noam Chomsky.  This brief excerpt is filled with falsehoods and false assertions as is typical of Chomsky, yet Chomsky is still praised 1 in the media 2 for his supposedly astute observations on foreign policy, particularly with regard to the Vietnam War.  Chomsky’s list of interviews 3 would make any vainglorious egoist salivate.

The famous American intellectual, historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., once wrote of Chomsky, Chomsky, it soon becomes evident, does not understand the rudiments of political analysis.  Indeed, despite occasional pretenses of reasoned discussion, he is not much interested in the analytical process” 4

The prominent linguist, Paul Postal, once wrote of Chomsky, “After many years, I came to the conclusion that everything he says is false. He will lie just for the fun of it. Every one of his arguments was tinged and coded with falseness and pretense. It was like playing chess with extra pieces. It was all fake.” 5

The problem with dealing with the Chomskys of the world is that they can make false statement after false statement, but those who seek to correct their lies are forced to provide voluminous documentation to support their refutations.  Otherwise the argument becomes a rather childish “he said, she said” back and forth that resolves nothing.

Each endnote in this article explains the factual basis for refuting Chomsky’s claims and provides links to supporting documentation that the reader may access.  However, readers should not be misled.  Although Chomsky is clearly on the fringes of far left ideology, the basics of his arguments are echoed in the arguments of many on the left in what is called the “orthodox” view of the Vietnam War.

What happened in Vietnam in the early 1960s is gone from history. 6 It was barely discussed at the time 7, and it’s essentially disappeared 8. In 1954, there was a peace settlement between the United States and Vietnam 9. The United States regarded it as a disaster 10, refused to permit it to go forward 11, and established a client state in the South, which was a typical client state, carrying out torture, brutality, murders 12. By about 1960, the South Vietnamese government had probably killed seventy or eighty thousand people. 13 The repression was so harsh that it stimulated an internal rebellion, which was not what the North Vietnamese wanted. 14 They wanted some time to develop their own society. But they were sort of coerced by the southern resistance into at least giving it verbal support. 15

 By the time John F. Kennedy became involved in 1961 16, the situation was out of control 17. So Kennedy simply invaded the country 18. In 1962, he sent the U.S. Air Force to start bombing South Vietnam, using planes with South Vietnamese markings 19. Kennedy authorized the use of napalm, chemical warfare, to destroy the ground cover and crops 20. He started the process of driving the rural population into what were called “strategic hamlets,” essentially concentration camps 21, where people were surrounded by barbed wire, supposedly to protect them from the guerillas who the U.S. government knew perfectly well they supported. 22 This “pacification” ultimately drove millions of people out of the countryside while destroying large parts of it. 23 Kennedy also began operations against North Vietnam on a small scale. 24 That was 1962.

 In 1963, the Kennedy administration got wind of the fact that the government of Ngo Dinh Diem it had installed in South Vietnam 25 was trying to arrange negotiations with the North. Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were trying to negotiate a peace settlement. So the Kennedy liberals determined that they had to be thrown out. 26 The Kennedy administration organized a coup in which the two brothers were killed and they put in their own guy, meanwhile escalating the war 27. Then came the assassination of President Kennedy. Contrary to a lot of mythology, Kennedy was one of the hawks in the administration to the very last minute. 28 He did agree to proposals for withdrawal from Vietnam, because he knew the war was very unpopular here 29, but always with the condition of withdrawal after victory. 30 Once we get victory, we can withdraw and let the client regime go. 31

  4. Schlesinger Jr., Arthur M. “Three cheers for Professor Chomsky: But Not Just Now” Chicago Tribune 23 Mar. 1969:P4 Print cf.
  5. Postal, Paul The New Yorker 31 March 2003 cf.
  6. This is a rather curious assertion given that Vietnam was evoked repeatedly in reference to the recent war in Iraq.  The words “quagmire” and “Vietnam” were used frequently.  Furthermore, reporting of events at the Abu Ghraib prison and in the town of Haditha evoked references to “My Lai”, a well-known atrocity during the Vietnam War. cf.,,,
  7. Here Chomsky even disagrees with and contradicts himself.  In a review of Robert Buzzanco’s Vietnam and the Transformation of American Life Chomsky wrote, “The Indochina wars have cast a long shadow over world affairs. For the victims, they were a devastating catastrophe. Their legacy for the United States was substantial, interacting in complex ways with internal developments in American society.” cf.
  8. This is another curious assertion.  The Vietnam War is often called “the first televised war”.  The war came, literally, in pictures and stories, into the living rooms of Americans on a daily basis. cf.,
  9. This statement is demonstrably false.  The Geneva Accords signatories were France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.  Neither the United States nor South Vietnam was signatories.  South Vietnam wasn’t even invited to attend, although they did. cf.

    Furthermore, the United States released a statement that “it would view any renewal of the aggression in violation of the aforesaid agreements with grave concern and as seriously threatening international peace and security”, and Ngo Dinh Diem, Premier of the Government of Vietnam stated that since the Government of Viet Nam had not been a party to the agreement they were not obligated to honor it. cf.,,

  10. Contrary to Chomsky’s claim, the United States praised the agreement and stated, “In the case of nations now divided against their will, we shall continue to seek to achieve unity through free elections supervised by the United Nations to insure that they are conducted fairly.”

    It further stated, “With respect to the statement made by the representative of the State of Viet-Nam, the United States reiterates its traditional position that peoples are entitled to determine their own future and that it will not join in an arrangement which would hinder this. Nothing in its declaration just made is intended to or does indicate any departure from this traditional position.“

    Perhaps what Chomsky is referring to here is the 1956 elections that were supposed to take place according to the Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference, which no country signed.  Pham Van Dong, a high ranking communist at the conference admitted that the communists never expect there to be any elections.  Some scholars misquote Eisenhower to support the point that the US wouldn’t support elections because they knew that Ho would win, but Diem was very clear that elections “monitored” by communists were out of the question. cf.,,,,

  11. Since the United States was not a signatory to the Geneva Accords it had no power or authority to “refuse to permit it to go forward” as Chomsky falsely claims. cf.
  12. Rather than creating a client state, as Chomsky asserts, the United States sought a treaty with the nations of Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom to agree to the mutual defense of Southeast Asia and the Asian signatory parties to the agreement against communist aggression. cf.

    The United States also signed agreements of support with the governments of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and provided economic and military aid to all three governments long before the Geneva Accords as well as subsequent to them.  cf.,,,,,

  13. R. J. Rummel is a recognized expert on democide, the killing by a government of its own citizens.  Rummel estimates between 361,000 and 720,000 civilian casualties of the South Vietnamese government for the period from 1960 to 1975.  Given an average of between 24,000 and 48,000 annual deaths, Chomsky’s “seventy or eighty thousand” dead in 1960 alone is wildly off the mark. Furthermore, the Chomsky’s of the world never mention the civilians killed by the communists; 50,000 alone in the land reforms in the North, another 500,000 in the North after the reforms, 216,000 in the South during the war and as much as 1.2 million after the war.  cf.,
  14. Ho Chi Minh established the communist Viet Minh in 1945, near the end of WWII.  By 1947 they were committing acts of terror in South Vietnam and establishing a political infrastructure in preparation for taking control of all of Vietnam.  The DRV has now admitted that they committed to an invasion of the South in 1959.  As Jeffrey Race wrote, the idea that the Viet Cong were an indigenous rebellion “is not supported by historical evidence”. cf., pp. 47,48,,
  15. The idea that North Vietnam was coerced into supporting supposedly independent South Vietnamese guerillas is bizarre.  It conflicts with all the known evidence.

    Ho Chi Minh established the Viet Minh in 1945.  Once he had consolidated power he immediately began purging his ranks of any nationalists and anti-communists to ensure that only communism would rule Vietnam.  Some were murdered.  Others were turned over to the French for bounties.  His organization completely subsumed the VNQDD (the true Vietnamese nationalist movement) within 24 months of him assuming power. The VNQDD then migrated to South Vietnam and took up arms against the communists.  cf.,,, ,,

  16. This statement is curiously worded.  It sounds as if Chomsky thinks Kennedy decided to get involved in South Vietnamese affairs.  To the contrary, Kennedy took office in 1961 and, as President of the United States, was obligated to deal with problems that existed prior to his election.
  17. The situation in Vietnam in 1961 was not nearly as bleak as Chomsky paints it.  To be sure, there were manifest problems, as there are when any new government is formed in a country embroiled in turmoil, but the Diem government had been firmly in control of South Vietnam since 1956 and its biggest problems were being caused by the communists from the North, not the various internal factions that constantly vied for political power and prominence. cf.,,,,,
  18. This is a blatant lie.  The US provided military advisors to South Vietnam beginning in 1950 and continuing through the years of French rule.  When South Vietnam became an independent nation, the US continued to advise and train the South Vietnamese Army.  The US did not send combat troops to Vietnam until February 1965.  The US sent both advisors and combat troops at the request of the South Vietnamese government. cf.,,,,
  19. What Chomsky is referring to here is Operation Farmgate, a covert mission by the US Air Force to train the South Vietnamese Air Force and support the South Vietnamese Army operations against the Viet Cong with reconnaissance as well as offensive and defensive air support.  They did not indiscriminately bomb South Vietnam, as Chomsky implies but did provide air support for South Vietnamese Army combat operations against the Viet Cong.  cf.,,
  20. The US used napalm in Vietnam both to reduce ground cover and to attack enemy forces.  The US also used chemical defoliants in Operation Ranch Hand to reduce ground cover that enemy forces used for concealment, particularly roadside cover that could be used to conceal ambushes.  Neither napalm nor chemical defoliants are prohibited weapons under international law when used against enemy troops or uninhabited areas or to reduce an enemy’s access to cover. The use of napalm was prohibited by the US after 1968 and herbicide use ceased in 1971. cf.,,,,,
  21. The Strategic Hamlet program was proposed “by R. G. K. Thompson, head of the newly arrived British Advisory Mission”, not by Kennedy or any of his advisors.  The US military was opposed to the program, because they felt it would divert ARVN resources from the task of driving the Viet Cong out of South Vietnam.  Diem adopted the program enthusiastically despite US reservations.  It involved the construction of fortified hamlets, villages entirely surrounded by ditches, earthworks, bamboo stakes, fences and sometimes barbed wire, to protect the citizens from attack.  It also involved training the villagers to fight the Viet Cong and keep them out of their hamlet. cf.,,
  22. The idea that every rural Vietnamese citizen supported the Viet Cong is laughable.  The Vietnam War was much like the American Civil War.  Brother fought against brother, family against family, neighbors against neighbors. Communist cadres infiltrated the entire of South Vietnam. One side fought for tyranny.  The other side fought for freedom. cf.,,,4538354,,,
  23. The Strategic Hamlet Program did not drive peasants out of the countryside.  Its purpose was to build secure hamlets in the area where the peasants lived and worked their farms.  It did relocate them in the general area where they had lived, but it created resentment among the populace.  Their homes were burned once they were moved, and they lost their ancestral lands where their forebears were buried.  There were later programs that did drive the peasants into the cities, but that was more a result of the war coming to their areas than any pacification efforts.  When war comes, peasants leave.  The Viet Cong stayed and fought – and died. cf.,‎,
  24. Chomsky’s claim is ambiguous at best.  Does “operations against North Vietnam” mean combat operations inside North Vietnam?  Or does it mean operations in South Vietnam against North Vietnamese forces?  And who does Chomsky consider to be North Vietnam?  Does he refer to the conventional forces often called the NVA?  Or does he mean the Viet Cong?  (Likely not.)  Or is he referring to PAVN, the North Vietnamese name for all their forces, conventional and guerilla?  Without more specificity, it’s hard to know what Chomsky is referring to and therefore hard to rebut his claim.

    As 1962 began, there were 700 US advisors in Vietnam.  By the end of the year, that number had increased to 12,000.  The Navy SEALS were formed early in 1962 and came to Vietnam to train their South Vietnamese counterparts.  They did not engage in combat operations until after the Gulf of Tonkin incident.  Special Forces soldiers (now known as Green Berets) first arrived in Vietnam in 1957.  They worked as trainers and advisors to South Vietnamese counterinsurgency forces until 1965 when they assumed a combat role.  As discussed in endnote 17, the Air Force was involved in covert combat operations in 1962, but those were exclusively in South Vietnam. The US Navy served in a strictly advisory and intelligence gathering role until 1965. cf.,,

  25. Diem was not installed by the United States.  He was offered positions under Bao Dai in 1945, in Ho Chi Minh’s government in 1946 and in the French government in 1947.  He turned them all down.  The Emperor Bao Dai appointed him Premier of the Republic of South Vietnam in 1954 and he lost to Diem in a referendum in 1956. The US supported him, because he was the best person available. cf.,,
  26. Diem staunchly resisted any attempts to negotiate with the communists.  In 1955 he announced that he would never negotiate with the communists.  He never did. Diem’s handling of the Buddhist crisis brought on his coup. The Kennedy administration did not stop the coup or alert Diem once they became aware of it, but it was not their initiative.

    In 1963 Diem’s brother, Nhu, reached out the North Vietnamese and proposed settlement negotiations, according to some South Vietnamese generals.  However, this is widely seen by scholars as an attempt to offset the growing news of efforts by the Kennedy Administration, principally Averill Harriman, to depose Diem.  Neither Diem nor his brother Nhu went through with the negotiations.   cf.,,,,,

  27. Contrary to Chomsky’s assertion, the coup did not originate in Washington.  It was not even the first attempt by South Vietnamese to depose Diem.  To be sure, there was widespread dissatisfaction within the Kennedy administration with Diem’s performance and some members of the Administration actively encouraged dissent within the South Vietnamese military leadership.

    However, when the news of a coup first surfaced and up to mere days before it was accomplished, there was a great deal of ambiguity within the administration regarding the appropriate course of action (to support or not to support the coup).  After the coup had occurred, the South Vietnamese generals, not Kennedy, decided whom to put in charge.  They decided on a two tier government, with the former Vice President of Vietnam, Nguyễn Ngọc Thơ,  in charge of half of it. cf.,,,,

  28. Kennedy was no hawk.  He sought for ways to extricate the US from Vietnam, grudgingly approved requested troop increases and was considering withdrawal shortly before his assassination. The greatest evidence that Kennedy was not a hawk is that despite being surrounded by hawks that constantly urged him to commit US troops to various conflicts, Kennedy seldom approved their plans.  In fact, it has been written that JFK “drove his hawkish advisers crazy” because he wouldn’t succumb to their arguments. cf.,,,,
  29. This comment prompts this writer to ask what planet Chomsky is living on.  In 1963, polling on the Vietnam issue was uncommon.  In 1965, public support stood at 60.1%.  Public support for the war peaked in 1966 and then began a gradual decline.  It wasn’t until 1971 that opinions against the war exceeded those who supported the war. cf.,,,
  30. Here Chomsky makes a counterfactual assertion.  Kennedy had, in fact, decided to withdraw from Vietnam even if it meant that the US commitment would be viewed as a failure. In a November 14, 1963 press conference he stated unequivocally “that is our object, to bring Americans home”.  In fact, the Pentagon Papers state that “A formal planning and budgetary process for the phased withdrawal of U.S.  forces from Vietnam was begun amid the euphoria and optimism of July 1962”.  That process didn’t end until five months after Kennedy’s assassination. cf.,,,
  31. Chomsky’s last statement is blatant character assassination.  Nowhere in the record does Kennedy express such an attitude toward the Vietnamese people.  It is part and parcel of the long-claimed “racist” attitude of America toward “brown people” that pervades the communist apologia.