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How Europe Sees Vietnam

Brass Tacks

By Geoffrey L. Thomas

While U.S. troops and the Vietcong ambush each other in the ladrang Valley, Europe's former imperial powers view the fighting with widely divergent reactions, Sneering French cynics calmly predict another Dienbienphu--the climactic 1954 defeat of the Frech by the Vietminh. Most Germans, on the other hand, solicitously approve of America's every move. And the English are simply to preoccupied to object more than mildly.

This broad spectrum of opinion on Vietnam reflects the different foreign and domestic concerns of the three major European powers. In Germany confidence in the U.S. is the cornerstone of foreign policy. Without atomic weapons or an effective army of their own, the Germans worry about the Communists along their eastern border. They continually approach the White House or the State Department for assurance of American determination to defend them. But the fear of desertion remains, and the Germans are terribly anxious to please. They hope to inspire confidence by supporting President Johnson everywhere, and not surprisingly about 70 per cent of the population favors the U.S. position in Vietnam.

Germans figure that if the U.S. meets its commitments in Southeast Asia, it will most likely meet its commitment in Germany. But they also believe that America will act only where its most immediate interests are involved, and they therefore want the largest possible American force in Germany.

Some Germans became upset last July when Cyrus Vance, then Secretary of the Army, appealed for volunteers for Vietnam from the U.S. Seventh Army in Germany. If the demands of the Vietnam war should ever necessitate removal of American troops from Germany, a very abrupt and highly vocal about-face in German opinion can be expected.

In France, the Vietnam argument is not whether to criticize the U.S. but how much. France's major concern is how to wield world influence, after ceasing to be a world power. Independence from the U.S. is essential to this end, and so is broad appeal to the "third world" of have-not nations.

Unlike Germany, France doesn't have to tailor its foreign policy to American demands. DeGaulle knows we won't abandon Europe and that Russia won't jeopardize its internal development by provoking war. Besides, France's atomic force gives it some small measure of security even if the U.S. should ever withdraw.

The French view of the Vietnam war isn't strictly anti-American. They just merely think we're stuck with a bad policy that is a stumbling block to the settlement of other international issues. Although some analysts admit that recent American military sucesses may stave off defeat and produce a stalemate, the majority feel that the Viet-cong is going to win. After their own decade of disastrous fighting in Southeast Asia, such pessimism from the French is understandable. And after seeing American strategists in Paris, copying French battle reports, debriefing vetran officers, and reimplementing French battle plans, most French generals remain unimpressed. They know what the Vietnam mess is like, and they want no part of another military encounter there.

As for Britain, it has been too burdened by fiscal instability and the Rhodesia crisis, to become involved in the Vietnam war. Prime Minister Wilson tried once to be helpful by sending the Davies mission to Hanoi. But England wants to pull its troops out of Malaysia, and no doubt a good many Labour backbenchers would like to lash out more loudly against the war. But until Britain can become less dependent on U.S. help to steady the pound, their protest will be unheeded.

The most striking similarity in these three divergent European views on Vietnam is the common desire not to get involved. The longer the U.S. stays in Vietnam, the more it risks its world prestige. Even those European powers from whom we have inherited the burden of imperialism won't support us indefinitely. Therefore, if the U.S. intends to become involved in a long war in Vietnam, it must also be prepared to go the unpleasant duration alone.

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