Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter One: From Terror to Aggression Segment 2/27
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Recall that "subversion," like "concealed aggression," is a technical concept covering any form of unwelcome internal political development. Thus the Joint Chiefs, in 1955, outline "three basic forms of aggression": armed attack across a border (aggression in the literal sense); "Overt armed attack from within the area of each of the sovereign states"; "Aggression other than armed, i.e., political warfare, or subversion." An internal uprising against a US-imposed police state, or elections that come out the wrong way, are forms of "aggression," which the US has the right to combat by arbitrary violence. The assumptions are so ingrained as to pass without notice, as when liberal hero Adlai Stevenson, UN Ambassador under Kennedy and Johnson, declared that in Vietnam the US is defending a free people from "internal aggression." Stevenson compared this noble cause to the first major postwar counterinsurgency campaign, in Greece in 1947, where US-run operations successfully demolished the anti-Nazi resistance and the political system and restored the old order, including leading Nazi collaborators, at the cost of some 160,000 lives and tens of thousands of victims of torture chambers, and a legacy of destruction yet to be overcome (along with great benefits to US corporations). Similar premises are adopted routinely by apologists for state violence; thus Sidney Hook condemned the "incursions" of the indigenous South Vietnamese resistance, praising the US for using armed might to counter these crimes despite the "unfortunate accidental loss of life" in such exercises as saturation bombing by B-52s in the densely-populated Delta.5

The character of the intellectual culture is indicated by the reaction to such thoughts.

In accordance with the plans laid out in NSC 5429/2, Washington moved at once to subvert the Geneva settlement, installing a client regime in the South: the GVN (RVN), which regarded itself throughout as the legitimate government of all Vietnam. With US backing and guidance, the GVN launched a massive terrorist attack against the domestic population and barred the planned 1956 elections on unification, which were the condition under which the resistance had accepted the Geneva accords. The subversion was recognized to be successful: as Kennedy's chief war manager Robert McNamara observed while once again rejecting diplomatic options in March 1964, "Only the U.S. presence after 1954 held the South together under far more favorable circumstances, and enabled Diem to refuse to go through with the 1954 provision calling for nationwide `free' elections in 1956."6

The facts are described with fair accuracy by US military intelligence. A 1964 study observes that after the Geneva Agreements of 1954 that "partitioned" Vietnam, the DRV (North Vietnam) relocated 100,000 people to the North, including 40,000 military personnel, leaving behind "Several thousand political agitators and activists" and some military forces "with orders to remain dormant." "In 1956, the US-backed president of the RVN -- Ngo Dinh Diem -- blocked the referendum called for by the Geneva Agreements which was to decide the form of government that would rule over a reunited Vietnam. The Communists, who saw their hopes for a legal takeover of the whole country vanish by this maneuver, ordered their dormant `stay behinds' to commence propaganda activities to put pressure on the new and inexperienced government of the RVN," perhaps hoping "to overthrow the government without having to resort to military activity." By 1957, they "instituted a program of proselytizing RVN armed forces officers and men to the VC cause," also following "the standard Communist tactic of infiltrating and subverting legal political parties." In 1958-1959, "having achieved a degree of popular support in the rural areas through pressure, argument, terror and subversion," the VC began to organize guerrilla groups among the local populace, later supported by southerners returning from the North (all military infiltrators being "veterans of the French Indo-China War who had served in the area now governed by the RVN" through 1963, this MACV [Military Assistance Command, Vietnam] Intelligence Infiltration Study reports).7

It is only necessary to add a few minor corrections. The Geneva agreements did not "partition" Vietnam but separated two military zones by a temporary demarcation line that "should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary," pending the unification elections of 1956 that were the heart of the accords. Intelligence is adopting "the standard US tactic" of denouncing political action that is out of control as subversion. The US client regime was carrying out wholesale terror to block such "subversion" and destroy the anti-French resistance, finally compelling the latter to resort to violence in self-defense. JFK raised the level of the US attack from international terrorism to outright aggression in 1961-1962. Apart from Americans, the only non-South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam were US mercenaries, primarily South Korean and Chinese. That aside, US intelligence has the story more or less straight.

Well after regular US bombing of North Vietnam began in February 1965, North Vietnamese units were detected in border areas or across the border, though Korean mercenaries alone far outnumbered North Vietnamese as of March 1966 and matched their numbers until the Tet offensive (also, incidentally, providing 20 percent of South Korea's foreign currency revenue and thus helping to spark the later economic miracle). There were also Chinese forces, namely mercenaries from Chiang Kai-Shek's army introduced by Kennedy and Johnson, six companies of combat infantry by April 1965. North Vietnamese regular units, estimated by the Pentagon at about 50,000 by 1968, were largely in peripheral areas; US mercenary forces, in contrast, were rampaging in the heartland, as was the US military itself. Korean mercenaries, who were particularly brutal, reached 50,000 by 1969, along with another 20,000 "Free World" and over a half-million US troops.8

Washington's principled opposition to political settlement continued without change. From the early 1960s, there was intense concern over French President Charles de Gaulle's proposals for neutralization, as well as initiatives towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict by Vietnamese on all sides, including the Diem regime and the Generals who replaced it. A political settlement might have extended as far as neutralization of Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam, as advocated by the National Liberation Front (the "Viet Cong" of US propaganda). As discussed above, the US was adamantly opposed to any such possibility. Fear of neutralization was one factor in the Kennedy-inspired coup that overthrew Diem, and considerable pressures were exerted to bring De Gaulle to retract his initiatives, which appeared still more threatening in the context of Kennedy's concerns about his role in promoting the "suicide of neutralism" in Europe.

France's position on Vietnam was explained by Foreign Minister Couve de Murville, in response to a request (April 1964) to clarify what France meant by the term "neutrality." Couve's reply was: "Quite simply, the Geneva Agreements of 1954," which he interpreted as meaning "the division of Viet-Nam with a commitment by both sides not to accept military aid from outside (sic) and not to enter into military alliances -- which is really neutrality." "The South Vietnamese people are out of the game," Couve added. "All you have is a professional army supported from outside."9

The Kennedy and Johnson Administrations knew very well that the generals are "all we have got" and that "We are at present overwhelmingly outclassed politically" (Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, January 1964). That is precisely why Washington always regarded diplomacy as anathema: lacking political support, the US could put forth no credible negotiating position. So the story continues right through to the end.10

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5 FRS, ch. 1.6; 72-3; reprinted in Peck, Chomsky Reader. Also APNM, 59, for more on "internal aggression."

6 FRUSV-64, 158.

7 Oct. 31, 1964; ibid., 864ff.

8 Among others, see Kahin, Intervention; Kinnard, War Managers, 37. Koreans, PEHR, I, 5.1.4. Roger Hilsman, Director of State Department intelligence and later Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs under the Kennedy Administration and for some months after the assassination, alleged in 1967 that "later evidence" shows the presence of at least one battalion of North Vietnamese regulars by the time of the February 1965 bombing of the South (which might bring them up to the level of the US Korean mercenaries), but "that the United States did not know of this fact at that time" (his emphasis); Hilsman, To Move a Nation, 531n.

9 FRUSV-64, 234-5; report of conversation; "sic" is in the source text. On de Gaulle and Europe, see 501, ch. 2.3.

10 Lodge, PP, II 304; FRUSV-64, 18. See MC, ch. 5, for review.