25 years ago, continued

jacdon at SPAMearthlink.net jacdon at SPAMearthlink.net
Mon May 1 11:12:12 MDT 2000

>From Jack A. Smith

Julio Pino wrote of the lessons learned from Vietnam in “25
Years Ago”:   “An anti-imperialist movement must be built that
can counter all possible US tactics against those forces who
challenge US hegemony, and as long as GI's aren't coming home in
body bags, that won't be easy to do. IMHO, the US left failed in
mobilizing the public against the aggressions on Iraq and Yugoslavia
precisely because it was primed for the wrong kind of war, and is
now unequipped politically for the widening conflict in Colombia.”

Julio and I are in agreement on a number of points in his posting.
One of the most important political results of Washington’s 20-year
aggression against the peoples of Indochina has been the so-called
“Vietnam syndrome,” expressing the disinclination of the people of the
United States to become embroiled in a prolonged war which results in a
serious number of deaths for “our” side.

This, indeed, has forced imperialism to alter its military tactics.
Virtually all U.S. military adventures since 1975 have been relatively
quick campaigns engaging overwhelming force against a defenseless
victim.  The U.S.-NATO war against Yugoslavia was entirely fought from
unreachable altitudes above 30,000 feet,  allowing imperialism to crush
an adversary without one American death.   It’s extraordinary that 25
years after the U.S. defeat in Indochina, the “syndrome” continues to
affect Pentagon tactics.  True, the U.S. circumnavigated the problem by
adopting new tactics, but this is in its way a testament to the power of
the people.

Che’s call for “two, three, many Vietnams” fell upon very attentive ears
in the Pentagon.   And its answer, so far, has been “no more Vietnams.”
I say “so far” because conditions are always open to change.  The
Vietnam war was fought on several secondary fronts, as well as the
principal front of the battlefield itself.   There was the
antiwar/resistance front at home in the U.S.  There was the diplomatic
front at the lengthy peace talks, in which, I think, the DRV/NLF side
proved the more adept.  Then there was the front consisting of “blocs.”
Each side was part of a bloc of allies which could provide a “reliable
rear area” and various kinds of support, including crucially needed war
supplies.  I think the absence of this latter “front” may turn out to be
important in terms of the maturing struggle in Colombia.  With the
collapse of the USSR and many of the socialist countries, today’s
“natural allies” (the remaining socialist countries and anti-imperialist
movement) are not in a position to provide the FARC with anything like
the aid extended to the NLF.  Even without this secondary front,
however, the FARC appears to have abundant supplies, internal support
and a secure enough base to cause Uncle Sam many doubts about testing
the Vietnam syndrome to the point of direct intervention.  At the same
time, the U.S. is absolutely determined not to permit a “second Cuba”
anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, so greater intervention of one kind
or another may well take place if the revolutionary forces continue on
their present course.

In terms of the U.S. left, specifically in regard to Iraq and
Yugoslavia, I do not believe the difficulty was that progressive forces
were “primed for the wrong kind of war.”  True, there was a time
problem: Washington moved very fast in both cases, with less than a
half-year build-up—and our movements generally take much longer than
that to become effective.  There also were two other problems:  The
propaganda arm of U.S. imperialism performed extraordinarily well,
controlling battlefield news coverage and the entire mass media.  And,
of course, nearly all the casualties were on the other side.

But the main problem, as I saw it as an activist, was political.  In
both instances, the anti-imperialist impulse was compromised by
important splits in progressive and left ranks.

In the case of Iraq, the left formed two main coalitions.  One coalition
saw the principal aspect of the Gulf War as being U.S. imperialism’s
efforts to destroy a rising secondary power with the potential to
disrupt Washington hegemony over the Middle East and its fabulous oil
resources at a moment when the Soviet Union was about to bow out of the
political picture.  It aimed all its blows at imperialism.  A second
coalition  “balanced” its opposition to impending and actual U.S.
aggression by equally condemning the Iraqi invasion of neighboring
Kuwait (without the slightest attempt to understand the history of the
region or the big power geopolitical game being played out before its
very eyes) and also lend credence to imperialism’s demonization of
Saddam Hussein.  The efforts of this “balanced” approach, in my opinion,
created political confusion and compromised unity in the struggle
against imperialism.

A somewhat similar situation existed regarding last year’s 78-day
bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. This time the split was so deep
that only one significant coalition came into formation—and much of the
rest of the left was ineffectively standing on the sidelines
“gesticulating and criticizing” when it wasn’t arguing to itself about
the nature of the Milosovic regime in Belgrade.  The national coalition
that was formed, largely at the behest of the International Action
Center, directed its blows entirely at U.S. aggression because
the Clinton administration’s Balkan adventure was by far the chief
issue of the moment.  Day after day, American warplanes blasted
concentrating mainly at the civil infrastructure, in order to render the
country inconsequential as a possible barrier to U.S.-NATO expansion in
the region.  Unfortunately, the question of self-determination for
Kosovo, of the nature of the Milosovic regime and other secondary
matters preoccupied a portion of the left to the point of
paralysis-in-action, and thus contributed toward a weakening of the
antiwar forces.  In my own region of New York State, the group I am
associated with (the Mid-Hudson National People’s Campaign) conducted
four street protests and two fairly large indoor meetings in opposition
to the war.   They were quite successful despite the fact that a number
of people with progressive politics did not get involved.  True, the
government’s mass propaganda was extremely effective and a number of
former anti-war liberals thought it was a “just” war,  but a good deal
of the left’s inability to get deeply involved in opposition was
predicated upon “balancing” a critique of imperialism with a critique of
the Milosovic government, thus allowing the one to undermine the other.
        Thus in answer to Julio Pino’s point, I do not ascribe the
failure to mobilize on being “primed for the wrong kind of war,”  but
upon its inability to understand the need, in the midst of crisis, for
the left to aim all its limited ammunition at the main enemy  (U.S.
imperialism) and to unite in action despite differences for the sake of
the common struggle.  This is not to say differences should be buried.
But they should not be allowed to weaken the struggle against
imperialism when it is on the march.


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