Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Introduction: Contours and Context Segment 13/17
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Meanwhile, respectable opinion is quite untroubled by the study of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), unreported in the Free Press, which reveals that "there are indeed foreign forces within the meaning of the Paris Agreements operating in Cambodia, but they are from Thailand," not Vietnam. Army units of this long-time US dependency "move freely in the DKZ [Democratic Kampuchea Zone, or Khmer Rouge-controlled territory] and have been accused of aiding the [Khmer Rouge] militarily," UNTAC reports, while aiding Thai businessmen active in gem and timber export in areas of Cambodia controlled by the Khmer Rouge, helping to finance Khmer Rouge operations while enriching themselves in good capitalist fashion.27

We might also add a third fact: the illegal and often brutal (even murderous) treatment by the US and Britain of Italian and German POWs during and after World War II, kept secret during the war for fear of German retaliation. This sorry record was exposed in the late 1970s, evoking much admiration in US commentary right at the time when fury about the perfidious Vietnamese was being whipped to a fever pitch. But we may drop these matters; though plainly relevant, they could not possibly enter mainstream discussion, or even be understood.28

The embargo imposed in 1975 "had the effect intended by Washington," New York Times correspondent Philip Shenon reports: "Malnutrition remains severe in northern and central Vietnam, and whatever the sudden wealth of many residents of Ho Chi Minh City, visitors to the city are often swarmed by families of homeless beggars," a vivid refutation of the claim that the US lost the war. "Vietnam's war-shattered economy has now only begun to recover" after 17 years in which the US "cut off not only the legal supply of American goods but also aid from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other international lending agencies." "Most Vietnamese are dirt-poor now," the Far Eastern Economic Review reports, "but the economy is expected to boom once the embargo is dropped" and Vietnam can "become a low-wage platform for exporters of manufactured goods" -- foreign investors, who can enefit from the US policy of first destroying and then bleeding Vietnam. The Review reports the concern of US firms that rivals from other countries may beat them out. "US companies have suffered irretrievable market-share losses in Vietnam," the director of a trade and investment company complains, as competitors have begun to break the US-imposed embargo. US firms want Washington to continue to "shut the door of international financial institutions to Vietnam" to prevent any recovery until the embargo is lifted, so that they can gain their proper share, recognizing, as the Financial Times reports, that "Funds from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank, currently blocked by Washington, are urgently needed" if there is to be any substantial recovery -- or profits.29

Blood-lust has its merits, but money talks even louder. The embargo has plainly outlived its usefulness.

"The Japanese do not hide their enthusiasm for the skills and dedication -- and low wages -- of Vietnamese workers," Victor Mallet reports in the Financial Times. They are preparing to invest to benefit from these useful consequences of the American war and postwar strangulation. But the Godfather has not lost his clout entirely: "the Japanese government and Japanese companies are still anxious not to offend the US by undertaking high-profile projects in Vietnam," Mallet reports, and are still "very, very cautious," a Mitsui representative adds. But they are moving forward slowly, frightening American firms.

"Through the 1980s, U.S. officials emphasized that Vietnam should end its occupation of Cambodia before the U.S. embargo could be lifted," Robert Greenberger reports in the Wall Street Journal: "After Vietnam withdrew its troops, the U.S. then stressed the need to resolve the MIA and POW issues before relations could be restored," and now Washington "is under pressure from American companies to resolve the [MIA] issue so that they... [will not] left behind in the race for access to Vietnam's markets and resources, including potentially rich offshore oil deposits." No conclusion is drawn from this transparent charade.

Like a good and loyal trooper, Steven Holmes reports in the New York Times that the Bush Administration is moving to ease the trade embargo in "response to what the Administration sees as greater Vietnamese cooperation in the search for American servicemen still missing from the Vietnam war." The headline reads: "Hanoi's Help With M.I.A's Leads to Easing of Embargo." True, "business and trade organizations have also been lobbying the Administration to loosen the embargo," fearing that "they will lose out to Japanese companies in the Vietnam market"; and they "believe that there is more money to be made in Vietnam in the next 10 years" than in China. But the doctrinal truths are unshaken: it is Vietnam's greater willingness to face up to its crimes against us that led Mr. Bush to ease the trade embargo, an act that "signals a clear warming toward Vietnam after decades of bitterness and distrust spawned by Hanoi's invasion of Cambodia, its unwillingness to be forthcoming about the fate of missing Americans and lingering resentment toward Vietnam for having defeated the United States" -- the last, an interesting departure from ritual.

Though Administration officials "have praised Hanoi for meeting a number of the conditions set by the president last year," Pamela Constable reports, "to many Americans...none of these arguments carry enough weight to overcome the deep bitterness, mistrust and hostility that linger" towards "an adversary that has delayed, deceived, and resisted legitimate US demands on the missing servicemen for years." Eager to resume ties with the US, the Vietnamese Government "is careful not to offend American visitors by suggesting directly that the sacrifice of Vietnamese families was greater than that of families in the United States," Philip Shenon adds.30

The drama continued through 1992. A year after he celebrated JFK's aggression by extending the US embargo, President Bush announced, in properly statesmanlike terms, that "It was a bitter conflict, but Hanoi knows today that we seek only answers without the threat of retribution for the past." We can never forgive them for what they have done to us, but "we can begin writing the last chapter of the Vietnam war" if they turn from other pursuits to locating the remains of missing Americans. The adjacent front-page story reports the visit of the Japanese Emperor to China, where he failed to "unambiguously" accept the blame "for [Japan's] wartime aggression," revealing again the deep flaw in the Japanese character that so sorely puzzles American commentators.31

Go to the next segment.

27 Nayan Chanda, Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec. 17, 1992. A Thai intelligence report estimates that the projected cash flow "dwarfs the combined revenues of the three other factions, and could become a decisive factor in the power struggle" that may restore the Thaibacked Khmer Rouge to power. Ken Stier, FEER, Jan. 21, 1993.

28 See PEHR, vol. II, 35ff.

29 Shenon, NYT, Dec. 26, 1992; FEER, Jan. 7, 1993; Victor Mallet, FT, Dec. 16, 1992.

30 Holmes, NYT, Dec. 15; Constable, BG, Nov 22; Shenon, Nov. 30, 1992.

31 NYT, Oct. 24, 1992.