An anniversary not commemorated

The US media loves to commemorate anniversaries. But I have not heard of any plans to address the fact that this year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the worst atrocities of modern times: when John F. Kennedy began the bombing of Vietnam.

It is hard to pin down the date when the US war with Vietnam began, since the US edged into it and never formally declared it to be a war. But a plausible case can be made that the war began with the initiation of the bombing campaign.

Jean Bricmont, a physicist at the University of Louvain in Belgium, writes about the lessons of that war in the latest (subscriber only) May 16-31, 2012 edition of the CounterPunch newsletter. Here are some excerpts.

Although forgotten, that 1962 intervention was the beginning of one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century and the worst since 1945. Three countries – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos – were devastated for decades to come, millions of human lives were lost, even if no one knows exactly how many. In their “body counts,” the Americans applied the “mere gook rule”: if it’s dead and slant-eyed, it’s a Viet Cong, that is, a communist guerilla. That way of counting had the advantage of playing down the number of civilian casualties.

When it comes to the Vietnamese, there is no Duty of Memory. No law punishes the massive revisionism that prevails in our culture regarding that non-event. There are no museums or statues to remind us of the millions of victims slaughtered or maimed in that conflict. There are no university chairs endowed to study that tragedy. Men who took part in those massacres or justify them are still welcomed by governments all around the world, without fear of being accused of “complicity” or “minimizing genocide.”

The Vietnamese received no reparations for the suffering inflicted upon them. Nobody ever apologized for what had been done to them. They never insisted: they were content with their victory. They never demanded that an International Criminal Court judge their aggressors. At most, they politely requested cooperation in “healing the wounds of war,” which, of course, was contemptuously rejected. As the future Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter put it, “the destruction was mutual.” Indeed: some 50,000 dead on one side, several million on the other. One nation intact, the other in ruins.

The Vietnam war was what radicalized me. When I entered university in Sri Lanka in 1969, I believed the entire rationale for the US invasion of Vietnam, the whole spiel of the US taking upon itself the noble goal of rolling back the evil Communist plans for global domination. By the time I graduated in 1973, I had come to see that what the US was doing was a war crime of massive proportions and that governments lie all the time.

I can even pinpoint the key stage in my re-thinking. I was wandering around in the university library, not in the mood for studying, and more or less at random picked out a book from the shelves by Noam Chomsky that dealt with the war. I now forget exactly which book it was (Chomsky is a prolific writer) but suspect that it was American Power and the New Mandarins (1968). I vividly recall the impact it had on me, as he laid bare the lies and deceit that lay behind the US claims, and the complicity of the media and intellectuals in propagating those lies.

My understanding of politics and the media was changed forever.


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