Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Introduction: Contours and Context Segment 6/17
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3. Keeping on Course

Our "excess of righteousness and disinterested benevolence" in Vietnam is commonly attributed to the Cold War, the felt need "to resist every hint of Soviet expansion wherever it occurred, even in areas that were not vital to our interests," in the phrase that has grown stale through overuse.15 The doctrine is not wholly false, but must be translated from Newspeak to English. The term "Soviet expansion" served throughout the Cold War as a cover for policy initiatives that could not be justified, whatever their actual grounds.

The Indochina wars provide a revealing illustration of the general practice. On deciding in 1950 to support France's effort to quell the threat of independent nationalism in Vietnam, Washington assigned to the intelligence services the task of demonstrating that Ho Chi Minh was a puppet of Moscow or Peiping (either would do). Despite diligent efforts, the task proved hopeless. Evidence of "Kremlin-directed conspiracy" could be found "in virtually all countries except Vietnam," which appeared to be "an anomaly." Nor could links with China be detected. But all was not lost. Analysts concluded that Moscow considers the Viet Minh "sufficiently loyal to be trusted to determine their day-to-day policy without supervision." Soviet expansion is thereby established, and the formula is available to every sober commentator -- though in retrospect, it is permissible to say that the fears were exaggerated. One of the few really surprising disclosures in the Pentagon Papers was that in an intelligence record of 25 years, the analysts could find only one paper -- a staff paper not submitted -- that even raised the question whether Hanoi was pursuing its national interests, not following the orders of its foreign masters. One can scarcely exaggerate the effectiveness of doctrinal need in enforcing a kind of institutional stupidity.16

The actual reasons for terror and subversion, and finally aggression, derive from the basic logic of North-South relations, developed with unusual explicitness in the early postwar period. Recognizing that they held unprecedented power, US planners undertook to organize the world in the interests of the masters, "assum[ing], out of self-interest, responsibility for the welfare of the world capitalist system," as the chief historian of the CIA, Gerald Haines, puts the matter in a highly-regarded study of US policy in Latin America. Each region of the South was assigned its proper place. Latin America was to be taken over by the United States, its rivals Britain and France excluded. Policy there, Haines explains, was designed "to develop larger and more efficient sources of supply for the American economy, as well as create expanded markets for U.S. exports and expanded opportunities for the investment of American capital," a "neocolonial, neomercantilist policy" that permitted local development only "as long as it did not interfere with American profits and dominance." The Monroe Doctrine was also effectively extended to the Middle East, where the huge oil resources, and crucially the enormous profits they generated, were to be controlled by the US and its British client, operating behind an "Arab Façade" of pliant family dictatorships. As explained by George Kennan and his State Department Policy Planning Staff, Africa was to be "exploited" for the reconstruction of Europe, while Southeast Asia would "fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials for Japan and Western Europe," helping them to overcome the "dollar gap" so that they would be able to purchase US manufacturing exports and provide lucrative opportunities for US investors.

In short, the Third World was to be kept in its traditional service role, providing cheap labor and resources, markets, investment opportunities, and other amenities for the masters, with local elites permitted to share in the plunder as long as they cooperate. By the same logic, the major threat to US interests was always recognized to be "radical and nationalistic regimes" that are responsive to popular pressures for "immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses" and development for domestic needs. Such "ultranationalism" is unacceptable, irrespective of its political coloration, because it conflicts with the demand for "a political and economic climate conducive to private investment," with adequate repatriation of profits and "protection of our raw materials."

An "ultranationalist" regime becomes an even greater threat if it appears to be succeeding in ways that might be meaningful to other poor and oppressed people. In that case it is a "virus" that might "infect" others, a "rotten apple" that might "spoil the barrel." It is a threat to "stability," that is, to unhampered pursuit of the vile maxim. A virus must be destroyed, and surrounding regions inoculated to ensure that the disease does not spread. That may require measures of extreme savagery, which are, accordingly, acceptable or even admirable. The joyous reaction to the "boiling bloodbath" as General Suharto took power in Indonesia in 1965 is a dramatic illustration; the self-acclaim for the bloodbath that the US orchestrated in Central America in the 1980s is another. Examples are all too easy to find. North-South relations, and their ideological cover, quite regularly fall into this pattern.

The Indochina wars are no exception. From the outset, it was understood that "Communist Ho Chi Minh is the strongest and perhaps the ablest figure in Indochina and that any suggested solution which excludes him is an expedient of uncertain outcome" (State Department, 1948). At no point did US planners delude themselves that they had been able to concoct an alternative to Communist-led Vietnamese nationalism; the possibility of a "third force" in the South dismayed them no less, since it too would be independent. Nationalist appeal aside, intelligence warned in 1959 that the US client state in the South could not compete economically with the Hanoi regime, where economic growth was faster and would continue to be, because "the national effort is concentrated on building for the future," not enriching the inheritors of the colonialist legacy. The more general problem was the "ideological threat" of Communism: "the possibility that the Chinese Communists can prove to Asians by progress in China that Communist methods are better and faster than democratic methods," as Kennedy adviser Walt Rostow put it. Adopting this conventional viewpoint, the State Department recommended that the US try to retard the economic development of the Communist Asian states.17

In Indochina, the only way to create deprivation and suffering in the North and protect the US client in the South from "the assault from the inside," as Kennedy termed the resistance to his aggression, was to increase violence. Our "blundering efforts to do good" could take no other course, given the circumstances. And as always, the same logic dictated the support for murderous terror states elsewhere in the region, to protect them from the virus. These are standard features of North-South relations, exhibited with unusual clarity in the case of Indochina, but rated X, unacceptable for a general audience.

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15 LarsErik Nelson, "Bush's wise counsel on the use of force," Boston Globe, Jan. 9, 1993.

16 For details, see FRS, ch. 1. V (Peck, op. cit.).

17 Ibid.