Muddled Thinking on Korea, Iraq, Vietnam

rakesh bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Sun Sep 15 13:32:13 MDT 1996


I shall be reading more about the Vietnam War this semester for the course
in which I am assisting.  I have no doubt that I have many misuderstandings
of this period, and as Louis G's challenge forced me to look at some of the
sources I was relying on and read almost a decade ago, I now see that I had
not remembered them correctly. (I will not attempt to clarify my suggestion
of US war in Korea prefigured the later intervention in Vietnam.)

In particular, Louis G rightly argues that I have misrepresented the nature
of public opposition to the Vietnam War.

>This is dubious.   Roper,  Gallup,  etc.,  consistently found that,  as far
>as US intervention in Southeast Asia was concerned,   opposition among the
>public overwhelmingly derived from the belief that "we" were unlikely to
>"succeed" at "reasonable cost."     Of course,  the type of student
>opposition headquartered at a relatively few elite universities dwelt upon
>"moral" and "human rights" issues,   but their influence on the attitude of
>the general public was negligible....
>Similarly,  at no time did the public,  or---according to the polls--even a
>substantial portion of it,  view the US actions as "imperialist".
>("Aggressive"?    Perhaps.    Depending on your definition,  Rakesh.)

1. I had indeed drawn false conclusions from a study by Bruce Andrews cited
by Noam Chomsky. Andrews found that "lower-status groups" tended to be less
willing than others to support government policy. One reason, he suggests,
is that with "less formal education, poitical attentiveness, and media
involvement, they were saved from the ful brunt of Cold War appeals during
the 1950s and were, as a result, inadequately socialized in the
anticommunist world view." (Quoted in Noam Chomsky, 1982. Towards A New
Cold War, p 89.) Yes, this finding does not support my point that public
opposition to the war was grounded in opposition to US imperialism or
aggression.

2. One of Chomsky's main arguments is that media and academic opposition
hardly ever passed certain bounds. Chomsky characterizes this opposition as
carried out from the perspective of rational imperialism. Here he suggests
that the elites tended to ask questions about whether the war could be won
or whether victory would cost too much in tax dollars or American lives.
What was not questioned by the elite was whether the US was fighting
against the interests and wishes of the mass of the Vietnamese people in
both the South and North by supporting Diem and successive South Vietnamese
governments.

Louis G' cites evidence that the American public did not conceive of the
war as imperialist or aggressive in this sense--of course this could have
been the result of the propaganda machine which Chomsky and Herman attempt
to lay bare.  All I can do in my muddled defense here is to ask the
question of whether ordinary Americans, especially from lower-status
groups, were more likely to understand and analyze US intervention as
imperialist or aggressive in the specific sense of propping up a government
in South Vietnam which was not favored by the majority of the Vietnamese
people and thus imposing its will against a 'recalcitrant' Vietnamese
people. Perhaps many Americans actually did not believe the US was
protecting sovereignty and democracy in South Vietnam. Or perhaps more
ordinary people were likely to take this skeptical view than the academic
and media elites.

 And since I believed that the US public has as a result of the Vietnam War
become skeptical of the idea that US intervention is  motivated by lofty
ideals of democracy, freedom and sovereignty, I was arguing that it has
been essential to portray the US war today against Iraq as one of the
defense of the rights of minorities (Kurds) or sovereign nations (Kuwait
and Saudi Arabia). This means the utter cynicism of the Western defense of
the Kurds has to be kept from the public, as well as the fantastic history
of the imperialist creation of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.    After all, what
is Kuwait? how did it emerge? and what sort of economic tricks was Kuwait
playing on Iraq before Saddam intervened? These are all good questions.
These are questions I am suggesting that ordinary Americans may be  more
likely to raise and be interested in then media and academic elites.

At the same time, I suggested in an earlier post that the American public
has however degraded itself into accepting rather cyncical reasons (we want
to maintain access to "our" cheaper oil) for accepting the US bombings and
comprehensive sanctions--which are clearly devastating the Iraqi people
more than Saddam.

 I was pointing to the utter lack of sympathy most Americans have for the
Iraqi people, not arguing against the justified hatred people have for
Saddam.  This is what I meant by the specificity of Western imperialism in
the Arab world--an almost unmitigated racist absense of concern for the
Arab people who are more the victims of Saddam and other potentates. That
is, one may rightly consider that Saddam is not,as Louis G sarcastically
described him, "a better class of victim", but that does not justify the
absence of public concern for what the the occupation, bombardment and
comprehensive sanctions carried out by one's government has meant for the
people of Iraq.

To my question of why there was more public opposition to the US
government's low intensity warfare and sanctions in Central America than
there is today to full-scale bombings and sanctions in Iraq, Louis G offers
this hypothesis:

>Much of "our" "indifference" to what
>happens in Iraq is derived from the fact that most of us view Saddam Hussein
>as a vicious dictator who completely lacks the attributes of that "better
>class of victim" that has evoked some limited sympathy among Americans in
>the past.    It is a tenable view,  and one that of course serves
>imperialism well.   It is a tenable view,  and one that of course serves
>imperialism well.    There is,  after all,  a qualitative difference between
>armed landless peasants fighting in the ranks of the FMLN,  and various
>predatory Arab potentates that go on and off the CIA payroll with alacrity
>and whose chief concerns have nothing to do with the welfare of their
>people.    It is more the nature of the Arab world itself,  as it exists in
>the public imagination,  than it is Middle East realities that determines
>public opioion.

Let us leave aside the condescension in the so-called solidarity of many
Norteamericanos for the FMLN.

What I want to request here:  stop apologizing for public opinion (and no
doubt this will be taken as more evidence for my alienation from the
American working class); there is simply not much concern for the welfare
of the Arab people. That is, why does the American public seem so unable to
differentiate between predatory Arab potentates and the people of the Arab
world? Or why do Americans tend to imagine the Arab masses as only
terrorists? The effect in both cases is a racist absence of concern for the
Arab people and a frightening unwillingness to do anything which suggests
solidarity with the Arab masses whom have subjected to US economic and
military terrorism.

Do you really think anybody believes that the US is there to protect the
interests of minorities championed by liberal human rights groups or the
Arab masses?

Louis adds:
>Since,  typically,  only part of Rakesh's post is in English,  I shall
>reserve my comments on his "certain specificity to Western imperialism" when
>he tells us what,   exactly,   he means by this.

I have now spelled out one ('superstructural') aspect of what I meant by
the specificity to Western imperialism in the Arab world--a specially
virulent racism which has the effect of putting Arab people as a whole
outside the pale of common humanity and concern and thus the effect, as
well,  of undermining solidaristic activity in the imperialist countries.
I am also waiting for a discussion of the the goals and strategy of US
intervention in the Arab world--beating up on a strawman like me does not
do much to advance our understanding of that.

  And I do appreciate Louis G' criticism that my posts are often badly
written.  I hope this is clearer.

Comradely
Rakesh





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