Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

We Make War, Then Leave a Mess There Are Echoes of Vietnam in the Rise of Murderous Groups like the Islamic State

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

We Make War, Then Leave a Mess There Are Echoes of Vietnam in the Rise of Murderous Groups like the Islamic State

Article excerpt

The approach of April 29, the 40th anniversary of the ignominious departure of the United States from Vietnam at the end of an unsuccessful, more-than-a-decade-long war, set me to thinking about the impact of the United States on regions where we have waged war in recent years.

My reflections on this subject were stimulated in part by reading a book by H. David S. Greenway, a correspondent for Time, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe, called "Foreign Correspondent." The bulk of the book is about Southeast Asia in the Vietnam War years.

My contact with the Vietnam War occurred largely in Washington, where, at the State Department's Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, we wrestled with the problems presented by U.S. prisoners of war in North Vietnam, South Vietnam and Laos, and the counterpart issues presented by South Vietnamese treatment of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese prisoners of war.

Our thesis was that we might obtain better treatment of Americans by their captors if their prisoners were treated better by our side. That didn't work out well, since the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong didn't particularly care how their prisoners were treated and saw ours only as bargaining chips or instruments of propaganda. This was just one aspect of their approach that we Americans found difficult to grasp.

I found Australian journalist Bernard B. Fall's 1961 book on Asian Communists, "Street Without Joy," a useful aid to understanding in this regard.

And I have concluded that the U.S. role in former French Indochina - Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia - from roughly 1963 to 1975, was fairly destructive at that time and for the future. Our bombing and, in effect, occupation of parts of that area destroyed physical and societal infrastructure and left the region a wreck. Without taking the big leap off the end of the board, it seems to me that we are doing the same thing in the Middle East and Afghanistan now.

Some analysts argue that this is U.S. policy, that the United States deliberately busts up countries and regions to keep them susceptible to our influence and incapable of presenting problems for us - though I don't know that I would agree. The proclaimed cause can change. It might be anti-communism, anti-terrorism or the promotion of democracy, but our armed aggression and the resulting broken, weakened countries is the same, for the most part.

I see our intervention in Vietnam as having a genesis somewhat different from the one usually cited, which was fighting communism and heading off Soviet or Chinese influence - in effect, a transplant of our rationale for defending South Korea from North Korea, China and the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

I see it as the United States fighting to maintain the control of a French-speaking Catholic minority over part of a nation that was largely Buddhist or communist. …

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