Get Out of Vietnam
United States policy in Vietnam has been guided primarily by one objective: containment of China. To say, on the one hand, that the U.S. is waging an imperialist war for private profits, is to deny the economic realities of the situation in Vietnam. And to maintain, as the Administration has, that the U.S. is defending the "freedom" of the South Vietnamese is to belie the political realities; from 1946 to 1954 the United States helped finance a French war against all of Vietnam, and since 1954 has supported a series of dictatorships in South Vietnam.
For 20 years the U.S. has sought to thwart Communist--and specifically Chinese Communist--policies by maintaining a U.S.-controlled military force in Vietnam. There is little need to give a coup-by-coup account of U.S. mistakes in Southeast Asia. The past few months have revealed to nearly everyone, conservatives and liberals alike, that American military policy in South Vietnam has been a failure.
One question now being debated in the Administration is simply this: Should the U.S. declare war on North Vietnam? The CRIMSON pointed out in an editorial on Nov. 17, 1964, shortly after the disaster at Bienhoa airforce base, that General Khanh's proposals for attacking the North were gaining favor with American policy makers. The recent American air strikes against North Vietnam revealed that these views now have more than verbal support in the Administration. Some observers feel that McGeorge Bundy is the chief advocate of the attacks on the North, and that he was in Vietnam two weeks ago in order to direct the aid strikes.
The Case for War
Those who urge war on North Vietnam maintain that this is the only way to salvage the military strategy that has failed up to now. This argument, which has found increasing acceptance in Washington, states that it is better to fight now, forcing China into a new Korea while her nuclear deterrent is still ineffective, than ten years from now, when China controls most of Southeast Asia and has a delivery system for her nuclear weapons. A new Korea would also give the United States an excuse to destroy the facilities which are developing China's deterrent.
Hanson W. Baldwin expressed essentially this point of view in the magazine section of this Sunday's New York Times, and summed up his argument by stating, "....it is far better to fight in Vietnam--on China's doorstep--than fight some years hence in Hawaii, on our own frontiers."
At best the argument for war shows a lack of imagination. It proposes to save the failing military strategy simply by expanding the scope of that strategy. At worst, the argument for war represents a willingness to throw aside any pretense of American support of self-determination, freedom, or peace. The CRIMSON cannot support such a strategy.
Not only would a war policy insure for Vietnamese and Americans a far bloodier struggle than the one in which they are now engaged, but a new drawn-out Korea would threaten the whole with nuclear holocaust. At home Americans would have to shelve indefinitely the issues of poverty, unemployment, and civil rights, in order to divert their creative energies to the destructiveness of war.
Rigidity vs. Reality
Part of the problem with present American policy is the rigidity of its stance towards Communist powers. For example, in 1945 and 1946, when the Communist Ho Chi Minh government established itself, Ho appealed to the U.S. for aid, and looked upon the United States and China as his closest allies. American support for the French war soon corrected Ho's views.
It would be foolish to suggest that Ho Chi Minh is still America's friend, but the rigidity of 1945-46 reveals the failure of the "hard-nosed" military strategists to distinguish one communist from the next. Instead of using the splits in the Communist bloc to weaken and contain China, the recent air strikes against North Vietnam seem calculated to bring Hanoi, Peking, and Moscow closer together. The Administration must begin to develop a new diplomacy toward emerging nations, which may have socialist or communist systems, but which can have friendly relations with the United States. Such a policy would be consistent with the containment of China in Southeast Asia.
The U.S. must also realize that the cold war is a battle "for the hearts and minds of men," a familiar idea, the essential truth of which has been long forgotten. If Chinese Communist idealogy is to be effectively contained, the United States should present a counter-example more appealing than the war and dictatorship that have been brought to South Vietnam. While a new Korea might be temporarily "successful" in South Vietnam, it would weaken American prestige in the rest of Asia, Africa, and even Latin America.
Stop the Air Attacks
The United States must begin its new diplomacy by ceasing all air attacks against North Vietnam. And America should recognize that the rice bowl of South Vietnam and the industry of the North have to be reunited, if Vietnam is to become a viable economic unit.
The steps toward a united Vietnam must include negotiation leading to withdrawal of American troops. A workable program for achieving this end might look like this:
* The Administration could send a mission to Hanoi to find out just what concessions can be won from Ho Chi Minh. The U.S. has some strong bargaining points; ever since Vietnam has been split up, the North has suffered from agricultural shortages which can only be remedied by drawing on the giant rice fields in the South. Furthermore, Ho has not yet aligned himself with the Peking Communist bloc, and there is evidence that he might welcome the chance to end the war and use U.S. aid to make his nation less dependent on a threatening China.
* The nations which formally divided Vietnam at Geneva in 1954 could meet again and immediately negotiate a cease-fire for, say one year. At the conference Vietnam would be militarily neutralized and the U.S. could bargain with Ho for as much political non-alignment as it can get. But the facts must be faced: a united Vietnam will be Communist.
* At the end of the cease-fire period, elections could be held for a new government, and the U.S. would pull out.
Whatever the details of negotiation and withdrawal, that is the only course which will allow the United States to begin to correct the errors of 20 years of military foreign policy in Southeast Asia. Militarily oriented strategies must be abandoned for a new diplomacy that has a response other than armed hostility to an emerging Communist nation. If China attacks Vietnam after the U.S. pulls out, that may be the time for another Korea. But a war policy now would do little to enhance U.S. power in Asia, would surely weaken U.S. prestige everywhere else in the world, and would threaten an escalation that might kill us all.