Retrospective on Vietnam War

VC woman

Re-posting this from two years ago because it explains the power of the anti-Vietnam War movement in conjunction with Vietnamese resistance to US military aggression. It was a transformative political era that broke the chokehold of the McCarthy Era in US politics.

It isn’t a matter of reliving old glories in politics but of drawing on the immensely important things activists learned about international solidarity, movement building, the role of veterans & soldiers.

Despite disagreement on when the Vietnam War began, 50 year retrospectives have begun–certainly several years too late since US “military advisers” (including CIA, air force, & naval assistance) were already present in 1950 in what was then called French Indochina, as a long-established colony of France. It goes without saying, the US was on the side of French colonialism. Though it is ancient history to many activists today, the Vietnam War was a political event of the greatest importance. Though touted by the US government as a war to contain the expansion of communism, the new activism broke the choke-hold of anti-communist hysteria & ended the McCarthy witch-hunt in the US. It was a continuation of the struggle against colonialism set back by both World Wars & by the Korean War. Millions of people around the world were propelled into political activism despite Cold War repression from the 1950s.

It was the only war in modern times (including WWII, the Korean War, & every war & occupation since) that was not censored. In an experiment that clearly went sour, the US “embedded” reporters–not as they do now to sanitize the wars–but to assist reporters in getting around the country. (The Pentagon official who devised that innovation probably died in ignominy, a lean & hungry fellow.) This short-lived innovation gave the media a way to claim their coverage of the war was instrumental in ending the war while they ignored (& sometimes red-baited) the millions around the world protesting the war. In fact, what many of us remember about media coverage is racist descriptions of the Vietnamese as “the enemy,” as communists trying to take over the world, & for the steadfast refusal to honestly report antiwar protests–if they bothered to report them at all.

The official narratives of the war are filled with uncertainties, more accurately called lies. Some accounts claim that between 1963 & 1964 up to 23,000 “military advisers” began pouring into the country & that US combat troops (eventually numbering up to 550,000) were not deployed until early 1965. In fact, the first of my three brothers to serve in that war was deployed as a US Marine in 1963. He was a working class grunt, not a “military adviser.”

The partition of Vietnam into two zones in 1954 was considered provisional & was an agreement reached in negotiations between the Viet Minh, representing the independence movement in Vietnam, & the French colonizers. The agreement came after several years of war; it is when French forces faced opposition to colonialism & the war at home & defeats on the battlefield by the Vietnamese that the US intervened with its so-called military advisers (though some would rightly call 23,000 military advisers a small army).

North Vietnam had a regular army experienced from 40 years of fighting the French. The Viet Cong were guerilla & regular forces in South Vietnam, both under the command structure of the North Vietnamese army. While the US used advanced weaponry, aerial bombardment including chemical warfare like Napalm & Agent Orange, search & destroy missions wiping out entire villages, & unspeakable violence against prisoners of war, the Viet Cong fought with crossbows, spears, booby traps, bamboo spikes, & mortars & automatic weapons captured from the French & US armies. Most importantly, they fought with the popular support of the Vietnamese.

One of the most remarkable features of the Vietnam War was the antiwar character of many US soldiers. Many US soldiers deployed in Vietnam openly opposed the war; hundreds of active duty GIs & veterans in the US actively organized against the war. Thus began the antiwar tradition still prevailing where veterans lead off antiwar protests–because of their unrivaled moral authority in exposing the atrocities of war. They do not seek to defend the indefensible but to expose it & build opposition to other wars.

Antiwar activists should join the retrospectives on the Vietnam War in the spirit of antiwar veterans & to rebuild the antiwar movement. And we should first of all make tribute to the Vietnamese who fought so valiantly against the mightiest military machine in world history, defeated the US militarily & kicked its ass out of Vietnam in 1975. We should tip our hats to the millions of activists around the world who marched & chanted against the war; some are still marching against other wars.

This woman is a Viet Cong suspect being questioned (in the spirit of Abu Ghraib) in 1967 with an M-16 rifle held to her head by a US soldier. Such interrogations were standard operating procedure in Vietnam.

(AP photo from book entitled “Vietnam: The Real War)

Christmas Day Gaza 2015

Gaza Christmas Day (Mohammed Asad) Dec 27 2015

Do you think the news services actually have reporters on the ground covering the military occupation of Palestinian territory? If they do, it’s sure a colossal waste of money since their reports are usually verbatim quotes from Israeli military officials. The reports all have a scripted, press release quality & if editors had an ounce of journalistic integrity or investigative rigor, those handing in these kind of reports would be canned. Or maybe the Associated Press (AP) just calls up the public relations department at the IDF to get a statement. The AP actually copyrights their crap but they need never fear an intelligent reader would want to ‘publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute’ it except for purposes of ridicule.

Let us brave the copyright laws & cite the Israeli press release/AP report about the military murder of Hani Wahdan, a 22-year-old man in the Gaza Strip on Christmas Day: “Israeli troops shot at Palestinians attempting to breach the Gaza Strip’s border fence with Israel….Since mid-September, a wave of Palestinian shooting, stabbing & vehicular attacks have killed 20 Israelis. At least 126 Palestinians have died by Israeli fire in the same period, of whom 86 Israel says were attacking or attempting to attack Israelis.”

That’s quite an indictment of Palestinians & any reputable news service would want to verify every accusation in that litany of crimes instead of repeating them ad nauseam & risking mockery as parrots for Israeli propaganda.

This is a photo from an album of that incident in Gaza where young Wahdan was killed. It was published with a story in the Middle East Monitor (MEMO). Raises some questions about the veracity of the AP report, doesn’t it? These are clearly unarmed young men running from a tear gas assault. Some photos show them with slingshots against one of the most sophisticated military arsenals in the world. None were close enough for Israeli soldiers to plant a knife on. So why exactly did Israeli troops open fire on them, especially since there was an apartheid fence between them?

According to the MEMO report–& since they had a photojournalist on the ground they are more credible than Israeli military officials sitting on their asses in Jerusalem–two Palestinians were killed on Christmas Day by Israeli troops & more than 30 others were injured in both the Gaza Strip & West Bank. Nine other Palestinians were wounded in the incident where Wahdan was killed; four more, including a child, were wounded in another incident near the refugee camp of Al-Burij in Gaza; six others were wounded near the town of Khan Younis, also in Gaza. Many suffered respiratory problems from tear gas assaults.

So now let’s ask the questions the AP didn’t ask the IDF. Why did the Israeli military shoot live ammo at unarmed protesters? Did they shoot them for chanting anti-occupation slogans? Did they shoot them as they ran away like here or because they got too close to the apartheid fence? How exactly did they ‘attempt to breach the border fence’? Were the soldiers afraid the guy on the motorbike would challenge their tanks & bulldozers in a vehicular attack? Just how much stupid are we being asked to swallow?

May young Wahdan Rest in Peace; our condolences to his grieving family & friends.

Honoring & building the boycott of Israel (barcode beginning 729) is the strongest expression of solidarity with Palestinian justice.

(Photo by MEMO Photographer Mohammed Asad)

Still no accounting for thousands of Rohingya deaths at sea last May

Rohingya boy in camp Dec 27 2015

This little guy is a Rohingya Muslim, one of the estimated 150,000 forced into concentration camps in Myanmar. Prior to the elections this year the military-backed regime forcibly entered the camps & took back the temporary identity cards issued Rohingya when they were stripped of citizenship in the 1980s. They are persecuted as pariah & treated as undocumented immigrants though they have lived in the country for generations.

There still has been no accounting of the thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution last May. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimated 25,000 fled persecution in rickety boats across the Andaman Sea. Boat crews abandoned the ships after a crackdown by the Thai military regime. Although there were dozens of large boatloads of Rohingya without food & water, only five boats were allowed to land in Indonesia & Malaysia.

There was some big talk from countries like Turkey & Ecuador about sending naval ships to rescue the refugees, but no reports they actually deployed anything more than grandstanding rhetoric. Big talking Obama of the toothy grin never even raised the possibility of US ships in the area deploying on a rescue mission. The US navy is for war, not mercy. To anyone paying attention, it was absolutely certain many boatloads of Rohingya had been abandoned at sea to die–except for the five & a few intercepted by the Myanmar regime & brought back for incarceration in concentration camps.

That was in May. So why did it take the UNHCR & Amnesty International (AI) so damn long to report the loss of perhaps thousands of refugees at sea? AI issued its report in October. They needed time to interview Rohingya survivors but shouldn’t they have been screaming bloody murder back in May when the entire world knew of the treachery Rohingya were facing at the hands of the Myanmar & Thai regimes? When the entire world stood witness to the callous indifference toward Rohingya lives?

Indonesia & Malaysia are allowing the refugees to stay only until May 2016. Then what? Then they deport them back to concentration camps in Myanmar?

Enough with the unspeakable crimes against Rohingya Muslims. Sanctions should be imposed on the Myanmar regime until they end the barbaric persecution. But as the US, China, India, & other Myanmar business partners see it, genocide should not be allowed to interfere with making profits. Neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism has no time for mercy.

AI’s October report called for “coordinated action against human trafficking in a way that does not put people’s lives or human rights at risk.” Shouldn’t they be calling for an end to genocide & demanding refugee rights instead of putting all the blame on traffickers? What about blasting those regimes who couldn’t send even one navy ship to pick up the refugees or that wouldn’t allow them to land?

Solidarity begins with educating ourselves & others about the role our own governments play in the persecution of Rohingya. It proceeds from education to action demanding justice.

This little boy is at the Gong Dokka concentration camp near Sittwe in Rakhine state, Myanmar.

(Photo by NYUNT/EPA)

{Thank you to Jannatun Nayeem Nayeema for this photo}