Magazine article Monthly Review

Vietnam and Nicaragua

Magazine article Monthly Review

Vietnam and Nicaragua

Article excerpt


In this space in May 1974, under the title "Notes on Watergate One Year Later," we wrote:

When and how the Watergate affair will end is still anyone's guess. Congressional investigations and court trials have generated a momentum of their own, producing a seemingly unending flow of scandal and sensation. On top of this, new rumors of additional revelations crop up almost daily, and various scenarios about impeachment or resignation of the President are afloat. Despite all this confusion and uncertainty, however, the longer Watergate occupies the center of the stage the clearer it becomes that the seemingly ruthless investigations by Congress, prosecuting attorneys, and the press are further and further removed from what really matters--the foreign and domestic programs and practices of the Nixon administration. Instead, the focus is on the evil doings of Nixon and his gang: the abuse of the office of the President for personal and political advantage, and the elaborate, if incompetent, attempts to cover up the skullduggery.

What is too easily overlooked is that this increasing concentration on the narrow and personal issues is serving to obscure and deflect attention from the really critical problems facing American society and the capitalist world as a whole. In fact, it is not too farfetched to argue that the prevailing obsessive preoccupation with the whole gamut of events associated with the term Watergate is in large measure a reflection of frustrations of the U.S. ruling class and its representatives in Congress brought on by unsuccessful efforts to cope with growing dangers to the future of capitalism....

While it is of course too soon to be sure, present indications are that history is in the process of repeating itself in the Iran-Contra affair. The flow of sensation and scandal has begun in earnest, and much more seems certain to emerge as new legislative and judicial investigations move into high gear. Once again, the focus is on the evil doings of a President and his gang, the abuse of the office of the President for personal and political advantage, and the elaborate, if incompetent, attempts to cover up the skullduggery. And once again the narrow focus is serving to divert attention from what really matters--the basic policies that underlie the whole sorry affair.

These policies, as we have emphasized many times in this space over the years, are clustered around one central purpose, i.e., to block any attempt anywhere in the capitalist world to overthrow the existing system of power relations and substitute for it one that favors the interests of the great majority of the population consisting of workers, peasants, and the marginalized poor. Furthering this purpose may involve little more than giving assistance of various kinds to existing regimes; but where revolutions are in process or revolutionary regimes are trying to consolidate their power, much more may be needed, ranging from low-level support for counterrevolutionary forces all the way up to active U.S. military intervention. And whenever measures applied at one point on this spectrum fail, the temptation is always present to escalate to the next level, with the final step being an expanding commitment of U.S. armed forces to the counter-revolutionary enterprise.

This is of course what happened in Vietnam, a drama that played itself out over a period of some two decades, culminating in the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from Southeast Asia in 1975. The experience left a deep imprint on the country's collective consciousness (the "Vietnam syndrome"). The idea of U.S. invincibility, dating back to the early days of the Republic, was shattered; the terrible cost and ultimate futility of military adventurism in the complex world of the late twentieth century was driven home not only to the ordinary citizen but--in some ways even more significantly--to many of the nation's military leaders. …

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