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Frenchmen Answer Panelists, Denounce US Vietnam Policy

Cite Own Mistakes


Three French members of the International Seminar of Henry S. Kissinger, professor of Government, have drawn up a letter representing "what the French participants would have said in the August 5 Forum about Vietnam."

Signed by Claudine Herrmann, Emanuel Devaud, and Jerome Peignot, the letter contradicts the majority of the panel of seminar participants, who suggested that public opinion in their countries is behind American policy in Vietnam.

The letter notes that "our country's past policy does not give us the least right to judge the foreign policy of as great a people as the United States," but continues "in our humble way we must briefly speak to you, perhaps because our country is more concerned by this problem than most peoples in Western Europe."

"We made in Vietnam, and elsewhere, all possible mistakes to say the least. For this reason we know the justification for a foreign army fighting in Vietnam and we cannot believe those stories which always cradled the misery of the poor peoples. We were, as President Johnson said, the "vital shield of freedom," but we were the only ones to believe that and finally this shield was only covered with blood and mud. We were also, as he said, "the guardians at the gate" against the communist aggression; but what kind of aggression is it when the Vietnamese people are in their own country, arbitrarily divided, when the only foreigners in Vietnam are the troops of a western people, who also defend the feudal structure of the local society, the oppression of peasants and the corruption of the leading class?

"The fact which we should consider is that Vietnam has been ravaged by war for more than twenty years, only because external powers don't approve a change in its social system, a change which is wished by most of the inhabitants of Vietnam. There will be no solution in Vietnam, if this country must remain a stake for interests, which are not the interests of the Vietnamese people themselves.

"To quote President Johnson again, "safely and peace" are not certainly "in the retreat or in weakness." Perhaps they exist in the admission of the major powers that each nation must choose by itself its own destiny and the form of its government, whatever that form may be. This seems to us the meaning of national independence, which our people found again with the hard end of the decolonization. If we are not able to remain indifferent to suffering of Vietnamese people, it is also because the principle of national independence is indivisible. We remember the words of John Donne, which introduce a novel about another ruthless war: Ask not for whom the bell tolls: it is for ourselves, for all of us.

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