vietnam

Oliver Stone's "Heaven and Earth", a forgotten classic about the war in Vietnam.
The Korean war is often called the forgotten war. Of course there are many more wars far more forgotten, for example the massive U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic that smashed the new democracy there from 1965-1966. However, what has been forgotten is the massive bloodbath that resulted from the Korean War, during which 3.5 million Koreans died. The Vietnam war is far more well known because it awakened a generation to the vicious nature of American imperialism. Growing up (I was born a couple years after it ended) it was the last major war the U.S. had waged; since then, America's overt wars were kept brief specifically to avoid another Vietnam. The brief wars of the '80s and '90s: Grenada, Libya, Panama, and Iraq. The long wars were the covert wars: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Angola.

Vietnam was chiefly known to my generation through Hollywood movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. Thus like most back then I never really even thought to ask, why did the war begin in the first place? What was it all about? Never once in these films did they ever have a Viet Cong explain what they were fighting for. Actually, in fairness to Platoon director Oliver Stone, I should mention that he did eventually make the brilliant Heaven and Earth, which attempted to tell the story of the war from the perspective of a Vietnamese woman. Of course, not even this film is told from the perspective of the NLF, the National Liberation Front. Instead the protagonist survives by collaborating with the Americans, eventually marrying an American soldier who turns out to be a war criminal, a special forces soldier who committed all manner of atrocities as part of America's psychological operations against the Vietnamese. Sorry for the early tangent but I can't help but mention this forgotten classic. My point is that while the Vietnam war used to receive a great deal of attention, the actual reasons for the war have been less discussed.

Recently I did a bit of research on the origins of both these wars - the "hottest" wars of the Cold War. I relied on two classic but suppressed books on the subject. First there is The Hidden History of the Korean War 1950-1951 by I.F. Stone. Next, The War Conspiracy by Peter Dale Scott. Both works seek to re-examine the forces that led us into these wars. I was rather surprised at certain similarities between the origins of these wars and the origins of the so-called war on terror. The players had changed but the game remained much the same.

The Korean War marked a major escalation in the Cold War. It was used as the justification for a massive increase in military spending and led to the dominance of the permanent, ever-growing military industrial complex. For Americans at the time the origins seemed clear. It was an attack by the communist countries on the "Free World." America was embroiled in Cold War hysteria and few dared question what had actually happened; to do so meant being branded a communist. Thus it is remarkable that I.F. Stone decided to write such an iconoclastic book at the height of McCarthyism. He had decided to investigate the actual origins of the war. He writes his book like a mystery, leaving it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. Thus I'll be discussing it based on the conclusions I've draw. Others (naive believers in American benevolence) might be more inclined to view things differently after reading the book.

First I.F. Stone examines the various motives of the players involved. First there is the North Koreans - they wanted to reunite the Korean peninsula. However, they stood the best chance of doing this peacefully, as the South Korean Syngman Rhee dictatorship was unpopular and extremely unstable at the time, with his parliament in full revolt. Here I should point out the most important fact about both the Korean and Vietnamese wars: although supposedly conducted in defense of democracy, the real origin of both wars lay in America's determination to deny the Koreans and the Vietnamese the opportunity to vote on their status. This is because they knew that their designated puppets would lose the elections. Thus both countries were supposed to be allowed to be reunited after an election and in both cases America did everything it could to prevent this from taking place. Today the US is still the major obstacle to Korean unification. Instead, they imposed corrupt dictatorships who outlawed the communist opposition and slaughtered them mercilessly. This is why the real reasons for either war are seldom discussed.
korean war
I.F. Stone also points out that the North Koreans had not even fully mobilized when the war began. The Chinese seemed intent on keeping the North Koreans restrained. Likewise, the Soviet Union seemed intent on keeping both the Chinese and the North Koreans restrained. In contrast, there were the motives of the US and its allies. Actually, the US position on the eve of war was divided. This is the part that reminded me of the origins of the war on terror. There was at the time a war party with an ambitious series of goals linked to a corrupt foreign lobby. Their power centered around General MacArthur, ultimately they wanted to reconquer China, which had recently had a successful revolution placing the communists in power, who had won great popularity battling the Japanese and then the corrupt nationalist forces. These forces had only been left in charge of some Islands off the coast of mainland China, the largest being Taiwan, then more commonly known as Formosa.

Stone doesn't mention it and probably didn't know, but the nationalist Chinese in cooperation with the CIA were setting up a massive global drug smuggling empire. They supplied heroin to famous American gangsters like Meyer Lansky (ironically, closely connected to the Israel Lobby linked to our current wars.) Through their drug profits they funded a massive "China" Lobby (it should have been called the Taiwan lobby, but they refused to admit defeat). This China Lobby was to play a major role in stoking Cold War tensions. Ironically, Richard Nixon owed his rise to the China Lobby - ironic since he would eventually ally the U.S. with mainland China, the opposite of what the China Lobby had long sought. Conveniently, Peter Dale Scott covers the topic of the China Lobby in The War Conspiracy if you're interested. Stone instead focuses on three closely allied figures all allied to the China Lobby. General McCarthur, then de facto ruler of Japan, wanted to insure the continued U.S. occupation of Japan as a base from which to attack Russia and China. (In the interests of time I'll omit talking about some of the fascinating, shady things going on in Japan at the time involving gangsters, stolen treasure, and massive political corruption.)

Allied to him were Syngman Rhee in South Korea and Chiang Kai-Shek in Taiwan - both wanted more U.S. support for their brutal, corrupt and unpopular dictatorships. It was necessary for their possible survival that the U.S. expand their commitment. This was because on the eve of war, the other faction linked to Truman and Acheson (and in a fun coincidence the then-Senator Connally, who would later be wounded in the Kennedy Assassination) - they had announced that the U.S. was not committed to defending Taiwan or South Korea in the event of a war. Although they were committed cold warriors, they did not want an open war with either Russia or China. Of course they were secretly waging covert wars on both the Soviets and the Chinese at the time, just like they are today, but they didn't want to escalate things too much. They wanted containment while the hawks wanted what was called rollback, reimposing U.S. control over communist countries. The hawks consistently tried to get the U.S. involved in a direct war with China. Then they hoped that American military might would reinstall Chiang and overthrow Mao. Interestingly, shortly before the war began the China Lobby engaged in a massive insider-trading scam involving soybean futures based on their foreknowledge of the war. Amusingly, the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy was implicated in this scandal, which was hushed up just like the insider trading of our own times, before 9/11. Thus there is pretty strong proof that this faction knew the war was coming despite claiming surprise at the time.

They knew war was coming because the war party intentionally provoked it. This is another major similarity between the two wars: both involved a covert provocation plan. Unfortunately I.F. Stone was writing before anything had been declassified, so unlike Vietnam I don't yet know at what level the provocations were authorized. However, Stone does make clear that the U.S.-controlled South Korean Army had launched a number of provocative attacks on the north in the months leading up to the war. Specifically the war itself probably started after such an attack from the south. Stone leaves it up to the reader to decide on this point, but he does give the North Korean account in which the South Koreans attacked and the North Koreans launched a counter attack. Interestingly, the South Koreans had been given orders to retreat to their pre-prepared defensive positions and this initial retreat gave the false impression that they were retreating under heavy onslaught. Later in the war Stone does a quite interesting job of deconstructing what really happened after the Chinese supposedly entered the war. Again MacArthur ordered a massive unnecessary retreat to give the false impression of what the press dubbed in typical racist fashion as "hordes of Chinese." Stone points out that while the press was claiming massive irresistible "hordes" the air force was reporting a constant difficulty finding anyone to bomb.

macarthur

General MacArthur - professional liar and manipulator.
MacArthur emerges in I.F. Stone's account as a master manipulator. One subordinate, when asked what he had learned from the general, replied simply "dramatics." He was a brilliant liar, turning battlefield situation reports which had once been dry statements of fact into dramatic propaganda pieces filled with lies and distortions. Reading Stone's book meant that I began to question things that I had long taken for granted about the Korean War, like the massive Chinese offensive still talked about today. Clearly there is a need for a major reappraisal of the Korean War.

Thus the world was left with the impression that the Korean War was started by a massive unprovoked invasion from the north when in reality it began as a counter attack by the north after a long series of provocations, including a large attack from the south the very very same day. Once the war began, MacArthur constantly attempted to stage-manage the whole thing so as to provoke a war with China. He ensured Chinese intervention by threatening their main economic interest in North Korea, a series of hydroelectric damns providing desperately needed power and electricity - extremely valuable as China began its long road to industrialization that today has made it an economic powerhouse. Once the Chinese entered the war MacArthur again staged a massive retreat because he hoped to get permission to invade and even launch a nuclear attack on China. Thankfully he went too far when he meddled in American politics and Truman had him fired. The world managed to avoid a possible nuclear war.

However, for the Korean People it may as well have been a nuclear war for all the damage the Americans wrought. Both the Korean and Vietnam wars (along with the massive U.S.-sponsored blood bath in Indonesia and then East Timor) well justify the renaming of the Cold War as World War 3. Millions perished - 3.5 million in Korea alone. Fresh from leveling German and Japanese cities during World War 2, the U.S. air force was eager to practice what it called "strategic bombing." That meant bombing so heavily that it would supposedly break the enemy's will to fight. The U.S. attempted to carpet bomb every square inch of North Korea and much of South Korea as well for good measure. In a deliberate and systematic fashion they targeted every city and every village - nothing was left standing. Thus instead of mocking the North Koreans for their paranoia and siege mentality, we should understand its origins in the apocalypse they had to endure during the war. They often survived only through hiding in caves or underground. Over 30% of the population was killed. One striking feature of the war was the behavior of the "allies" after retreating from Korean cities. They attempted to destroy absolutely everything, even Seoul the South Korean capital was callously leveled to the ground by the retreating UN forces.

Vietnam and its neighbors Laos and Cambodia would also experience this apocalyptic style of war. I recommend Nick Turse's excellent Kill Anything That Moves if you want to get a sense of what Vietnamese civilians suffered. Bombed, shelled with artillery, and periodically invaded by brutal and unpredictable U.S. troops who might hand out candy one day and stage a massacre the next. U.S. troops had reason to be paranoid - they were actually just bait sent to march around until they got ambushed so that they could then call in the overwhelming firepower of U.S. artillery and airpower. Nor did Vietnamese civilians' problems end there; their crops were sprayed with the herbicide agent Orange Orange, a toxic poison that caused cancer and birth defects (courtesy of Monsanto). They were forced out of their villages into "model villages" where they could be closely spied on by the tyrannical U.S.-installed government. Or else they became part of massive tide of refugees flooding the city slums, many forced to become beggars or prostitutes to survive. Even seemingly harmless things like the trucks needed to move around supplies became deadly because the American drivers had zero regard for the life of the Vietnamese and ran them over at an alarming rate. Millions died from these various causes.

ho chi minh

Ho Chi Minh.
American involvement was only the most recent stage of the war from the Vietnamese perspective. The Vietnamese under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh had in 1954 finally beaten the French, who had engaged in a brutal war on the Vietnamese dating back to the 1860s. Then, the U.S. had taken over promoting Diem as the new dictator. After the French were forced out, the Geneva agreements ending the war called for elections to install the new Vietnamese government. However, since the immensely popular Ho Chi Minh would have won them, the U.S. instead held sham elections in South Vietnam, installing Diem, who proceeded to violently crush all opposition wether nationalist or communist. The war really began in the '50s, with the CIA sent in to try to build a viable South Vietnam puppet government. However, the war truly became an overt conventional war after the two Tonkin Gulf incidents. This led to the bombing of North Vietnam and then sending of a massive conventional force to occupy the country.

It is the origins of this overt phase of the war that I will address. In 1963 Kennedy was considering beginning troop withdrawals from Vietnam. Although hardly the saint he is portrayed as by some, he correctly sensed that disaster loomed, and Peter Dale Scott speculates that he may even have had plans to trade U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam for Russian withdrawal from Cuba. What is definite is that he had ordered the troop withdrawals in his NSAM 263; he had ordered 1000 advisers to be withdrawn to start with and hoped to withdraw them all after the '64 elections, in 1965. Regardless, these plans to withdraw were quickly reversed when he was assassinated. Vietnam, Cuba and Israel were probably the three biggest foreign policy reasons why he was assassinated. Shortly afterwards, the new President Lyndon Banes Johnson Aauthorized National Security Memorandum 273, and buried in its clauses were plans to stage a series of provocations. These were known as Oplan 34A. North Vietnam would be bombed from private and hence deniable planes. Covert land raids would be launched across the border using CIA-trained death squads made up of Vietnamese criminals recruited from prisons as well as Hmong tribes. In nearby Laos, incidentally, the CIA had built a massive private army during this period. They were flying in weapons to them and flying out heroin going to the same American gangsters as during the '50s. The airline Civil Air Transport (later Air America) was officially majority-owned by the Taiwanese, but did the bidding of the CIA. I mention it to point out that what Scott would call the the same "deep political forces" were operating in both Korea and Vietnam. In fact, an amusing series of historical parallels emerge. Chiang Kai-Shek's brother was a major drug dealer; so was Diem's brother; and more recently the former president of Afghanistan Karzai's brother was a major drug dealer. The more things change the more they stay the same.

To return to the series of provocations, it was the naval provocations that would prove decisive. First the U.S. sent a failed commando raid on the strategically important island of Hon Me, then quickly they sent a destroyer steaming into the waters. Fearing the ship was part of an effort to take the island of Hon Me where they had an important radar station, the North Vietnamese retaliated. However, in this the first Gulf of Tonkin incident the U.S. sank two North Vietnamese ships and received a single harmless bullet hole in return. Instead of ordering it to withdraw, the U.S. sent it back into North Vietnamese waters. The crew were so on edge that they misinterpreted a radar anomaly as an attack. This is what officially started the Vietnam War - a completely imaginary attack. In retaliation for a single bullet hole and a radar anomaly, millions of Vietnamese would be killed. It was only the latest in a long string of provocations that had resulted from OPLAN 34A. Peter Dale Scott goes into painstaking detail, analyzing the incident and discovering that intelligence was manipulated to keep the truth from becoming known before war was declared. Sound familiar?

In reality the U.S. intervened because the South Vietnamese Viet Cong, with help and prior training from the north, were quite successfully launching a revolution against the South Vietnamese puppet government and was capturing control of the countryside. This fact had led only shortly before the Kennedy assassination to the coup against their own puppet, Diem. Diem was not a viable ruler, thought one faction, while the other China Lobby-linked position was total support for Diem. The anti-Diem faction staged a coup and Diem was killed. In one of Scott's favorite historical episodes Diem's widow appeared in America warning of bloody retribution for this treachery shortly before Kennedy's death. Wanted posters of Kennedy appeared in Dallas and the recent Diem coup was listed prominently among his supposed crimes. Whether JFK actually even supported the coup is unclear and I've read a number of conflicting accounts. I mention it chiefly because the Kennedy assassination was probably one of the major causes of the Vietnam War. Thus it would be interesting if Diem's death had helped lead to Kennedy's death. Diem was replaced by a string of scheming generals who were overthrown in a series of power struggles. Men like Big Minh, Khanh, Thieu, and Ky. They remained in power solely due to the massive occupation force the U.S. sent to reinforce them. As mentioned, this force engaged in a brutal total war on the Vietnamese populace. Like all its counter-insurgency campaigns, the U.S. engaged in a massive campaign of torture and murder in cooperation with the South Vietnamese forces called the Phoenix Program; however, I'll discuss this aspect in detail at a later date.

An interesting and extremely frightening parallel between the Korean and Vietnam wars was the threat of nuclear war in the background. Kennedy had been elected in part on the issue of a supposed missile gap. Americans were led to believe that the Soviets had more missiles then the Americans. The truth was the opposite and Pentagon planners back in 1961 saw the ideal time to launch a nuclear first strike, as in December of 1963. This was revealed by former ambassador James Galbraith back in 1993. I strongly recommend you read his article on the topic yourself. We can only hope that today's anti-Russian hawks are only bluffing, unlike their Cold War predecessors who were quite determined to start a nuclear war. This, incidentally, is why the U.S. built all those fallout shelters. They would have been useless if the U.S. was struck with a massive nuclear attack; however, they may have protected Americans from the fallout resulting from a successful first strike on Russia.

Thankfully, nuclear war was avoided throughout the Cold War. However, for the people of Korea and Vietnam the apocalypse came anyway. Millions would die, millions more would become homeless refugees. Both wars had their real origins in secret aggressive provocations by the U.S. Both wars were plotted by a faction of hawks. However, in Korea MacArthur was fired by Truman while Kennedy's efforts to restrain the hawks led to his death and by next year a massive expansion of the war. On the other hand, in Vietnam the Viet Cong were able to force a withdrawal of the American occupation forces and Vietnam was united. In Korea, in contrast, the U.S. occupation force remains and the country is still divided. North Korea's government is completely mocked and vilified. The U.S. constantly threatens to launch a war on North Korea every spring as the yearly tensions help the U.S. sign up allies for its renewed attempt to encircle China. Vietnam is ironically an ally in this attempt to encircle China. As in Angola, although U.S. hard power lost the war, U.S. soft power has brought Vietnam back under U.S. domination.
korean war
© Keystone Hulton Archive / Getty Images
The Korean War.
On the other hand, the brave sacrifice of the Vietnamese people doubtless saved many other countries from a similar fate. It inspired a generation to oppose their governments' criminal policies and it would not be until the launch of the war on terror that the U.S. would again have the hubris to undertake long-term wars of occupation and counter-insurgency. By then a new foreign lobby was king: the Israel Lobby. Too savvy to directly engage in the massive drug-dealing the China Lobby once engaged in, AIPAC instead helped set up a Turkish lobby which, as FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds has revealed, currently plays the same role funneling drug money to American politicians to help buy support for perpetual war. (On the other hand, there is quite a lot of dirt out there on Israel's special relationship with organized crime - American, Ukrainian and Russian - as well as cliques of corporate crooks.)

Unfortunately today, outrage over the war in Iraq has seemingly turned to apathy. Millions of Iraqis have been killed as a result of the 1991 Gulf War, the sanctions, and the 2003 invasion and occupation. Last year the U.S. launched its third Iraq War with little public opposition. The war in Afghanistan meanwhile continues endlessly and the U.S. has just cancelled plans to cut troop levels. The war in Syria continues with U.S.-backed death squads engaged in endless atrocities as part of a giant psyop to paralyze the will of the Syrian people to resist this tide of barbarism. Studying the wars in Korea and Vietnam can teach us a great deal about our current wars. It is time we began to properly remember the millions who have perished in America's apocalyptic wars, always sold as a triumph of democracy when in reality they aimed at denying the populace the right to determine their own destiny. Yet despite overwhelming odds, the people of Vietnam managed to eject the Americans and then topple the corrupt puppet government it left behind. And North Korea is still defiantly resisting American bullying. Instead of mocking their eccentric leaders, I urge you instead to remember the genocidal war the U.S. waged on the Korean people. Nearly 1 in 3 North Koreans died in only 4 years of war. Worse some still seemingly seek to use North Korea as a means of starting a nuclear war. Of course these days even North Korea has a lot of competition as a spot for a potential nuclear flashpoint. Syria, Ukraine, the South China Sea - there is no telling where and when some new American provocation might lead to nuclear war.

That is the terrifying lesson; studying the Cold War teaches us the U.S. ruling classes are full of crazy people and even the saner ones always seem to get caught up in periodic manufactured mass hysterias that periodically grip the country. We must work tirelessly to return the world to sanity, a hard task in our age of competing hysterias. For the average westerner still caught in the grip of mass media propaganda it must be difficult to decide who they are most terrified of: Muslims, Russians, or Chinese. For the rest of the world it is the obvious that the real danger is the out-of-control American Empire and its corrupt and subservient allies.

Sources

For my younger readers who might not have seen them yet, you can get Hollywood's version of Vietnam in films like Full Metal Jacket, Platoon and Apocalypse Now, and Oliver Stone's sequels to platoon: Born on the Forth of July and Heaven and Earth, and the related JFK. Obviously one could write whole articles examining the portrayals of the war in each of these films. The first three were supposedly anti-war films that simultaneously glamorized the war.

On a more serious note, I recommend you read some actual books on the subject. First there is The Hidden History of the Korean War 1950-1951. It has recently been re-released as part of the Forbidden Bookshelf project. Fans of my work should look into them, as they also re-released Christopher Simpson's Blowback on the CIA and the Nazis, one of the best books I read last year. (See my June 2014, Nazis and the CIA). They've also re-released Douglas Valentine's The Phoenix Program about the CIA's torture and assassination program in Vietnam, which I'm currently reading and is the best book on the CIA I have ever read. I also recommend Kill Anything That Moves by Nick Turse for its shocking portrayal of the war in Vietnam. Finally of course, I recommend The War Conspiracy by Peter Dale Scott, which deals not only with the origins of the war in Vietnam, but also the covert wars in Laos and Cambodia. It was re-released in a new edition with an afterword examining the surprising similarities between the JFK assassination and the 9/11 attacks. Also on the topic of JFK is Peter Dale Scott's classic Deep Politics and the Death of JFK. For a wealth of free Peter Dale Scott Articles, audio and video interviews go to his website. I also recommend you search for some Doug Valentine interviews and articles for more information on both the Phoenix Program, the war on drugs (i.e. CIA drug-dealing) and the CIA role in the provoking the war in Ukraine. Sorry, I'm too exhausted to hunt them down for you right now but you can be certain that I will soon be discussing his work in greater detail.

While you're searching the internet, see if you can find some of the Martin Luther King speeches where he brilliantly lays out the real reasons for the Vietnam War and his opposition to it. It is long past time that the radical Martin Luther King be rediscovered, since his beliefs have been censored in order to turn him into a mainstream icon. Recently the war mongers Bush and Obama attempted to co-opt his legacy, marching in Selma. Trust me, if he was alive today they'd have to order his death. He may have been a pacifist, but unlike the liberals who hide behind his legacy today he was no coward. America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, he announced then. It is equally true nearly 50 years later.

Hugo Turner's work is available on his blog, Anti-Imperialist U.