16th March 1968 – My Lai Massacre

My Lai Monument

My Lai Monument

Just after dawn on the morning of 16th March 1968, when the peasants were starting off to tend their paddies and the children were starting to have their breakfast, the quiet of the spring morning was broken by the arrival of US helicopters firing into people’s homes. This was soon followed by the arrival of troop carrying helicopters who also started to fire indiscriminately at anything that moved. Four hours later, by the end of this ‘military action’ 504 Vietnamese civilians were killed and soon after a village structure that had existed for hundreds of years was wiped out. The Vietnamese knew this group of villages as Song My, the rest of the world, when the news finally broke 18 months later, were to know the site of this massacre as My Lai.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

Earlier that year the US invading forces and their South Vietnamese lackeys had been taken by surprise by the Tet Offensive. This began on the night of the 29/30th January when units of the Vietnamese People’s Army (from the North Vietnam) and guerrilla units of the National Liberation Front (the NLF from the South) simultaneously attacked numerous military bases and cities in the south of the country, even coming out of the ground in the middle of Da Nang, the principal close to the border with the People’s Republic of the North.

The action didn’t achieve any lasting military objectives but the very fact that it could have been organised on such a scale in the first place started to create the realisation amongst the American imperialists that they wouldn’t be able to win the war. It would be another seven years before the panic-stricken Yankees and their hangers-on (literally as the last helicopters took off) fought tooth and nail against each other to get on the last helicopters from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon as North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the compound gates.

But like a wounded animal, knowing it is about to die, the Americans lashed out with the aim of causing as much damage and suffering as possible. The cost of defeating the most powerful military nation on the earth would have to be paid for at a high price.

The area which encompassed Song My was considered to be more than just sympathetic to the NLF and was known by the Americans as ‘Pinkville’. The guerrilla units in the south followed the military principals of People’s War, developed by Mao Tse-tung in China in the war, first, against the Japanese Fascist invaders and then the reactionary, Western Imperialist supported, Nationalist Kuomintang.

Mao coined the phrase of the guerrilla army ‘swimming like fish amongst the people’ and the Vietnamese followed this lesson well. However, not only do revolutionaries learn from the experience of those who have gone before them. Reactionaries also learnt and decided that if the revolutionaries were swimming amongst the people then they would deny them the water. The fact that many innocent people would bear the cost of this approach wasn’t (and still isn’t – witness what has happened in the last 14 years with the imperialist wars of intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East) of concern to the American commanders in Vietnam nor their political masters in Washington. As far as they were concerned ALL the ‘gooks’ (their racist term for the Vietnamese) were guilty, if not for crimes of commission then for crimes of omission, even babies only a matter of a few weeks old or those yet to be born.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

It’s difficult to imagine what went through the minds of those soldiers who carried out the massacre that covered three separate hamlets in Song My. There were no reports whatsoever that these brave troops came under any sort of enemy fire. In fact there was only one casualty amongst the G.I.s – and his wound was self-inflicted in an effort not to indulge in the blood lust.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

Most of the troops involved were relatively new to the country and therefore couldn’t really argue that they were battle weary and bitter from what they had seen happen to their fellow conscripts – although I have heard one soldier argue that case. Neither could they use the excuse given in Northern Ireland by the British Paratroopers after the murder of Irish Republican demonstrators on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1972 when one reason given for them opening fire was that these ‘elite’ troops were frightened by being shot at.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

The majority of US troops in Vietnam by this time of the war were conscripts. The majority of them were in their late teens or early twenties. The majority of them were from poor, working class backgrounds. A disproportionate number of them were poor working class black Americans (in a tableau in the My Lai museum they are given equal status to the whites in killing women and children), living in a society that was even more racist and segregationist than it is now. Yet these working class boys, under the orders of officers with little more stake in US society than the soldiers under their command, just went wild.

My Lai Massacre Museum

My Lai Massacre Museum

Shooting at everything that moved, regardless of age or gender; burning of buildings, sometimes with people inside alive; destroying all foodstuffs including domesticated animals; trapping people in confined spaces and then throwing in fragmentation grenades; gang raping of the women regardless of age and even those in late stages of pregnancy; killing babies only a few weeks old; mutilating the bodies of their victims including cutting out tongues, cutting off hands, disembowelment and taking scalps; pulling out unborn foetuses from pregnant women; shooting the wounded if they made the mistake of lettering their murderers know they were still alive; this orgy of death and destruction went on for hours until they had killed all that they thought was alive.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

There was little evidence of any of the soldiers making any effort to put a stop to all this or to try to bring some element of civilisation back into their mission – although a few are said to have ‘not participated’ (but that begs questions about crimes of commission or omission). Apart from one exception. The three-man crew of one of the support helicopters put their machine between a group of G.I.’s and their intended victims. Whilst the gunner held his heavy machine gun on soldiers from his own side a handful of villagers were able to be escape the mayhem. One of the helicopter crew was killed soon after (in combat) but the two that survived were invited to the thirtieth anniversary commemoration at the Quang Ngai General Museum in 1998.

Even though the trials at Nuremberg (after World War Two) had, supposedly, rejected the argument of ‘just obeying orders’ as being no excuse or vindication for committing such atrocities this was the case put by many of those who attended (many didn’t) the Peers Commission that was set up more than 18 months after the event. Whatever orders might have been given that doesn’t excuse what these teenagers did, many of them going way above and beyond the ‘call of duty’, their obvious enjoyment of the opportunity to kill and maim with impunity being proof of that.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

(This wasn’t the first time American soldiers had been given orders by their officers and then executing them with a gusto that bordered on fanaticism. On November 29th 1864 the American army carried out a similar massacre against, mainly, unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek in Colorado. The film ‘Soldier Blue’, released in 1970, making a clear parallel between the two events separated by just under a hundred years.)

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

So those who actually did the killing have no excuse (and shouldn’t be excused) but what were their orders? The same that had been given to other units before them, that is to go out and ‘search and destroy’ in what was designated as a ‘free fire zone’. This gave a virtual carte blanche for the soldiers to do whatever they wished and they would not be held responsible. This had been happening throughout the country for a number of years causing widespread devastation, through acts of the military on the ground, artillery bombardments, the widespread use of napalm and defoliation with chemicals such as Agent Orange. Therefore the idea of a ‘free fire zone’ was basically part of the philosophy of the American military and this would have been known by even such rookie troops as those that were sent into the Song My area.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

At the same time the military did not act totally under their own volition and were under the control of the politicians in Washington. Even if the rest of the world wasn’t aware of what was happening in Vietnam those in the White House and the Pentagon certainly did. And the fact that the very villages were bulldozed soon after the massacre indicates that the commanders in the field knew that things had gone slightly to far.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

So what made the My Lai Massacre different? It seems that news of what had happened was circulating very soon after the event. Although the murder of civilians and the destruction of their homes wasn’t new at Song My the Americans had taken their task of murder into a new league and it would have been impossible to have completely suppressed the news. At the same time the military would have wanted this news to have spread throughout the south of Vietnam as a warning, threat and promise to those Vietnamese who supported the NLF and the North Vietnamese.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

The reports and letters that went around, both the military structure in Vietnam and the offices of politicians and newspapers in the United States were only words. By 1968 it was images that were to make the difference. Anyone who was of an age to watch and understand the TV images being shown everyday throughout the world in the late 60s and early 70’s will understand the importance of images. TV news programmes showed, daily, American wounded and dead being collected from the battlefield as well as the scenes played out on the streets of Saigon (such the summary execution by a bullet to the head of a Vietnamese guerrilla or the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk). The power of those images is the reason why, ever since, photographers and journalists are ’embedded’ – read controlled – by the US, UK or NATO armies.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

Ron Haeberle, an army photographer, had only just started his tour of duty when he was sent to Song My. Although not believing what he saw he continued to take photos during the morning. After the massacre he handed in 40 black and white pictures to the military but kept 18 in colour. It was those pictures which were to make the written reports even more potent.

Wisely, for self-preservation reasons, Haeberle didn’t release those pictures until he had returned from Vietnam – war zones are very easy places to get yourself killed. Even though the extent of the furore after the release of his photographs was worldwide, to the best of my knowledge none of the other pictures he took that spring morning have ever been made public. However, it’s difficult to believe that any other pictures would tell us much more about what happened. The suppression, or destruction of his other pictures only goes to demonstrate the lack of openness of governments when caught out doing the direct opposite to what they say. (Most of the pictures on this page are from among those Haeberle kept to himself for the best part of 18 months.)

The Report of the Peers investigation set up when the news of the massacre was too widespread to be ignored seemed to give the impression that this was a ‘one off’, an aberration and not a matter of policy. However, the widespread deployment of ‘search and destroy’ missions, the ‘Strategic Hamlet Programme’ – whereby villagers were gathered together in virtual concentration camps in order to make contact between the ordinary peasants and the guerrillas that much more difficult – and the designation of huge swathes of the country as being ‘free fire zones’ meant that the lives of the Vietnamese people held no value in the minds of the occupation forces.

Atrocities carried out by the Americans and the South Vietnamese Army were not new, only the scale was different. Eighteen months before My Lai the Democratic Republic of Vietnam had produced a pamphlet, with photographs, of examples of war crimes committed by US troops and at about the time of the My Lai Massacre they produced evidence (presented to Bertrand Russell International Tribunal) claiming genocide on the part of the Americans. There’s no significant difference between the pictures in these pamphlets from those of Haeberle taken in March 1968.

After all the fuss, all the publicity, all the demonstrations on the streets throughout the world, all the words spoken, all the investigations carried out, all the crocodile tears of politicians, no one was held accountable for what happened at Song My/My Lai. A junior officer (Calley) was chosen as a scapegoat (which doesn’t mean him any less culpable) and found guilty but later given a Presidential pardon by Richard Nixon. The Peers investigation report was even told not to refer to it as a massacre and described it as an ‘incident’. Ultimately no one was held responsible.

And nothing has really changed in the policies of the American nor any other country that considers it has the right to enter in the internal affairs of another country. My Lai wasn’t the first of such massacres, neither was it the last.

For a period after defeat in Vietnam the US ‘sub-contracted’ the killing of innocent villagers, although really the concept of ‘innocence’ seems now to have been lost. In Latin America the fascist, right-wing murder squads ran amok throughout the 70s and 80s from Mexico down to the Tierra del Fuego. If these killers needed training they received that at the ‘anti-communist insurgency’ School of the Americas at Fort Benning. To keep their eye in the US invaded Granada and Panama, on both occasions civilians got in the way.

In the Middle East surrogates kept their populations quiet with the use of terror. Some of these lost the support of the US and have fallen. Others still carry out the will of the US although they would maintain they are independent nations. Sometimes things don’t need to be said for them to happen. Israel continues to murder Palestinians and destroy their homes. Indeed Israel was in the game of massacres before it was even established as a state, killing indiscriminately Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin on 9th April 1948. The Zionists then sub-contracted the killing to the Christian militia in Lebanon and over two days in September 1982 they murdered thousands in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

Since the beginning of the 21st century the US has again got more directly involved and thousands have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East following western government attempts at ‘regime change’. The Americans, and their allies, got around the embarrassment of large numbers of civilians being killed by not actually counting them, as they did in Fallujah.

And presently in India, the present and previous governments, since 2009, have been pursuing what they call ‘Operation Green Hunt’ against the dalits and adivasis (the ethnic and tribal groups) who in some of the most mineral rich areas of the country. However, in India the people are not just accepting this and are fighting back under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

If people thought that the massacre at My Lai was an aberration they should think again.

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1st October – Declaration of the People’s Republic of China

Mao Tse-tung October 1949

Mao Tse-tung October 1949

In the autumn of 1949, in front of thousands of people in Tienanmen Square, Mao Tse-Tung, Chairman of the Communist Party of China stood on the podium over the Gate of Heavenly Peace (which gives its name to the square) and made a short speech which was to see the country follow a road for which millions had fought and died during the majority of the first half of the 20th century. The date was 1st October, the speech, the Declaration of the People’s Republic of China.

After a bloody war against the Japanese invaders and then an equally bloody civil conflict against the United States supported Nationalist forces of the Kuomintang, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese people had, as Mao declared a number of times during that period, ‘stood up’.

No longer would the Chinese people be treated as slaves for the invading powers; no longer would imperialist powers (both minor and major) treat China as a country they could do with as they liked; no longer would the people kowtow to the Emperors who ensconced themselves in the palace at his back; no longer would the workers and peasants live in abject poverty whilst the wealth of their country was being enjoyed elsewhere; no longer would peasants be abused by avaricious and cruel landlords; no longer would the fate of poor Chinese women be that of concubines or prostitutes; no longer would it be necessary for Chinese families to migrate and face racism and humiliation in far off countries in efforts to achieve a better standard of living.

Although there were still pockets of Nationalist opposition at the time of the declaration the new government set about challenging and changing what had become the lot of the majority of the Chinese people.

As had happened immediately after the Russian Revolution, another country with a peasant majority, one of the first tasks was to take the land from the landlords and distribute it amongst the peasants who worked the land.

Laws were passed to free women from the shackles of feudalism and patriarchy, where they were often treated as no more than chattel; education that had been denied to all but a privileged few was to be made universal; health care was to be made free for all and care of the elderly was to be an obligation of the State. This was the start of the era of the ‘iron rice bowl’, when State employees (which encompassed most workers in the cities as industry as well as ‘white collar’ jobs were all part of the nationalised structure) were guaranteed a job for life and access to the other welfare benefits.

But the construction of socialism is not easy. Within a year of the declaration of the People’s Republic thousands of Chinese volunteers went off, yet again, to war, this time to prevent the United Nations troops from intervening in North Korea.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s different movements sought to learn from some of the mistakes made in the Soviet Union culminating in the Great Socialist Cultural Revolution that started in 1966. Although these mass political movements sought to prevent the restoration of capitalism in China a very short time after the death of Chairman Mao in September 1976 those who had been denounced during the Cultural Revolution had engineered a successful coup against the revolutionaries and started to dismantle all those advances in the construction of socialism that so many had fought for after Mao’s declaration on October 1st 1949.

(Why they were able to do so, and in such a short space of time is an issue that Marxist-Leninists-Maoists need – at some time in the future – to analyse and try to understand.)

The 38 years since the death of the Chairman have not been good for China. In agriculture the communes and collective farms have been broken up and privatised – although not without resistance as news leaks out of countless battles between farmers and the security forces.

Because there is no work in the countryside the whole demographic of the country is changing. Young people leave the villages to find work in the Special Economic Zones where they work in the factories to produce all the consumer goods that working people in the west buy with money they don’t have. Any family life is more or less destroyed as children remain in the villages with their grandparents and only see their parents twice a year – at Chinese New Year and during the National Holiday which is celebrated at this moment, the beginning of October. (There used to be a third occasion, the May Day holiday, but that was reduced to a couple of days in 2007, too short a time for people to make the long journeys necessary to travel to their home towns.)

Industries have been privatised and State enterprises broken up and organised in a way no different from what exists under capitalism. The once proud People’s Liberation Army, set up under the principal of ‘serving the people’ has transformed itself into an oppressor of the people and generals and other high officials have gorged themselves at the trough of the people’s wealth.

Millionaires and billionaires abound and now the biggest market for luxury goods in the world is now the ‘People’s’ Republic of China, but a republic that is in the hands of the people in name only and led by renegades who besmirch the achievements of the once glorious Communist Party of China.

The Chinese people, in the main, have accepted these changes. They now have ‘things’, consumer goods which were in short supply in the early years of the Republic. But these ‘things’ have been ‘gained’ at a price. The ‘iron rice bowl’ has been smashed to smithereens; education is being privatised, as is health; the once independent country that ‘stood up’ in 1949 is now allowing itself to be controlled and influenced by the very same countries that spent the first part of the 20th century trying to destroy and humiliate the Chinese people in general; and – in some ways even more disgraceful – China is turning into an imperialist power and exploiting and using its military strength to oppress people in other countries, especially a number of countries in Africa.

Why the Chinese people have allowed this happen I don’t know. But then I don’t understand why this situation has been allowed to develop in a number of other countries where, at one time, the people had ‘stood up’, proud, independent and with a perspective on the future that wasn’t based on exploitation and oppression.

So if 65 years ago there was a sense of optimism at the time of Chairman Mao’s declaration what are the main subjects presented in the current edition of Beijing Review, the long-established foreign language publication of the People’s Republic?

A boasting of the level of Outbound Direct Investment; a celebration of the floatation of the e-commerce company Alibaba on the New York Stock Exchange in September, the largest amount of trading in one company in one day ever; a call for more private (read foreign) capital investment in China’s oil, natural gas, banking and railway enterprises; boasts about the unsustainable rates of growth in China outstripping those of the United States by factors of 5 or 6; and boasts of how the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of China will soon overtake that of the US and become the biggest in the world.

But this all comes at a price. And that price is always paid by the poorest in society. They can either accept it or pick up the baton that was carried by the Maoist Communist Party of China for many years but which has been dropped and trampled in the dust.

The people of China are yet again on their knees. How long will it be before a future leader stands over the Gate of Heavenly Peace and pronounce such inspiring words as the Chairman did on Saturday 1st October 1949?

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7th May 1954 – Vietnamese Liberation of Dien Bien Phu

Vietnamese Liberation of Dien Bien Phu - 7th May 1954

Vietnamese Liberation of Dien Bien Phu – 7th May 1954

At 17.30 on the 7th May 1954 the flag of the Viet Minh, a yellow star on a red background, replaced that of the French imperialists over the command bunker of the Dien Bien Phu military base in the far north-western corner of the country. With that act, and the sacrifice of many thousands of patriots leading up to that event, the Vietnamese Communists had put an end to French colonialism in the part of the world then known as Indochina.

Although the Vietnamese, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communist Party had effectively defeated the Japanese invaders during the Second World War the French colonialists were allowed to crawl back with the aid of some of the ‘victorious allies’ in the war against fascism and militarism. Notable here is the involvement of the British (and the Labour Government in power at the time) who, amongst other things, re-armed the defeated Japanese army so they could hold the ground until significant French forces could arrive to re-claim their stolen legacy that had, in turn, been stolen from them by the Japanese.

The Vichy French forces and politicians, who for the majority of the 1939-45 war had been collaborators with Nazism, crawled out of their rat holes and tried to re-establish what remained of their ’empire’. In the same way that German fascists were allowed back into positions of power in Germany the French imperialists were encouraged and supported in the immediate post-war period to take up position against what was seen, especially by the British and the Americans, as the greatest threat of the time – communism and the assumption of state power by the workers and peasants.

Situation of the Fronts in winter 1953 and spring 1954

Situation of the Fronts in winter 1953 and spring 1954

Whatever their aspirations the French were neither militarily or economically capable of independently maintaining their control of Vietnam and by the early 1950s the US was picking up almost 80% of the tab. By that time the French were effectively loosing, having control of only some of the major towns and cities whilst vast swathes of the countryside were no-go areas. It was during this period that the then US Vice-President, Richard Nixon, was forever visiting the country in an attempt to boost the morale of the failing European imperialists so that they would continued to pursue the interests of the new ‘superpower’.

The French arrived at the end of 1953 with the arrogance and stupidity characteristic of European (and later North American) colonialists and imperialists. They recognised that the very remote region close to the Laos border was important as a conduit for war materials arriving from the Soviet Union and attracting more material as it passed through the young People’s Republic of China. For some reason, that seems to lack any logic, the French commanders thought that by establishing a base, with huge resources in terms of manpower and war material, they would encourage the Vietnamese to take on an enemy it was ill-equipped to defeat.

There’s an adage in military analysis suggesting that ‘generals always fight the last war, especially if they have won it’. For this reason France had built the Maginot Line of fortifications in the 1930s which was considered a work of genius at the time but all the German Fascists needed to do to mitigate the effectiveness of such a ‘defensive line’ was to go around it. This arrogance of the French in 1940 led to the defeat of their armies and the occupation of the country and their capital within six weeks.

Dien Bien Phu Map

Dien Bien Phu Map

The French generals at Dien Bien Phu seemed to have assumed that to defeat the mobile peasant army of the Viet Mihn, an army led by ideology and steeped in guerilla tactics honed in the war against the Japanese and the experience of the Chinese in their war of liberation, could be defeated by establishing a heavily manned and armed enclave in a wide valley in the middle of the jungle.

We have the advantage of hindsight and know what eventually happened but didn’t anyone with influence (including their allies in Washington and London) express any doubts about this tactic at the time? The area is not that accessible by road today, it was much less so in 1953. Virtually everything had to be brought in by air but that created a weak point. Dien Bien Phu is about 500m above sea level, a long way from the sea and fresh sea breezes and is surrounded by higher mountains. Added to that apart from the cultivated areas and towns the area has a tropical climate. This, in the humid environment of a jungle, means episodes of low cloud are very high and in the 1950s that would have meant a possibility of days on end when no flights could take off or land.

VPA High Command working out plan of operations

VPA High Command working out plan of operations

Not only that the dependence upon air freight limited the amount of heavy artillery that could be brought in to defend the base. There are still a few derelict tanks that litter the site of the battle but they are relatively light and wouldn’t have been able to go too far into the jungle before sinking out of sight. And going into the jungle was what the French colonel, Christian de Castries (a descendent of the aristocratic family that, among other things, gave their name to the town of Castries in Saint Lucia) did, with disastrous consequences.

Putting a European aristocrat in charge of an army in a tropical country with an undeveloped infrastructure against an enemy of ideologically determined peasants was unlikely to lead to success for the European side. To give an indication of the dilettante, out of touch and arrogant approach of de Castries he named the hills and strong points established in the valley bottom after his past mistresses. All his actions showed a complete lack of understanding of guerrilla warfare, what it entailed, how that gave flexibility to his opponents, how by being in a static position he would be constantly reacting to events and how he would have little chance of taking the initiative.

The whole Dien Bien Phu operation took little more than six months from beginning to end and things moved very quickly. Getting intelligence of the build up of Viet Minh forces to the west of his position de Castries was reinforced by something like 800 ‘crack’ paratroops. It wasn’t long before the French realised that going any distance into the jungle just wasn’t a viable tactic given the nature of the terrain. The Americans, who were later to receive their bloody nose from the Vietnamese peasants in the next couple of decades, were only able to get troops into combat because they had access to thousands of Bell Huey helicopters, something the French didn’t have in 1954.

But what really defeated the French invaders was the determination and sheer hard work of the Vietnamese people. The logistical achievements of the Vietnamese in transporting: hundreds of artillery pieces and anti-aircraft guns; the necessary ammunition to make them effective; the munitions for the fighting soldiers; the supplies to feed all the thousands of people involved in the construction of the bunkers for the artillery as well as the fighting soldiers is considered to be one of, if not the most, amazing feat of organisation and determination in the history of warfare.

Within a couple of months of the start of the operation the French realised they had drastically under-estimated the number of troops facing them. By March 1954 they were caught in the trap they thought they had set for the Viet Minh. Destruction of the airstrip and the increasing danger faced by any aircraft attempting to land meant that supplies could only arrive by parachute. That was bad enough but what was probably worse for morale was the fact that none of the injured could be evacuated.

One effect this had on the now beleaguered French was that they fought with even more desperation. They could depend upon no one but themselves. The situation was made worse when one of the last communication from the French High Command, in the safety of their luxury hotels in Hanoi, was basically an order for ‘no surrender’.

Thirty minutes after that conversation the red flag of the Viet Minh flew above de Castries’s command bunker.

Situation of the belligerent forces following the Dien Bien Phu Battle

Situation of the belligerent forces following the Dien Bien Phu Battle

 

General view of camp after surrender

General view of camp after surrender

In the years that followed it came out that there was even a plan, called Operation Vulture, to drop up 4 tactical nuclear bombs on the Vietnamese. Due to the close quarters in which all this fighting took place it is inconceivable that such weapons would not only have had a dramatic impact upon the guerrilla fighters but also the French soldiers in the valley bottom. The official reason why these bombs were not dropped is said to be the insistence of Eisenhower on support from his western allies, which was not forthcoming.

What’s interesting here, though, is the very fact that there was a proposal to use the most destructive weapon devised up to that time against a peasant army fighting for the independence of their country. There seems to have been no consideration on the impact the dropping of the bombs would have had on the thousands of people who would have died in a most unpleasant manner. The argument to support the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was that it would shorten the war (a fallacious argument but I won’t go into that here) in Dien Bien Phu it would have been dropped just to pull the French colonialists out of the disaster they had created for themselves.

What’s also interesting is that in less than 20 years another General from another country was again proposing to drop (by that time even more powerful nuclear weapons) on the same country, whose population was still fighting for the liberation of their country, and for the same reason – this time it was the Americans who were losing their undeclared war.

Today, 7th May 2014, is the 60th anniversary of the Vietnamese victory but it will be forgotten or ignored in most of the world and will be celebrated in a muted and apolitical manner in Vietnam itself. To celebrate a battle of liberation when the country has been throwing itself at the feet of imperialism for more than 20 years means that what will be officially remembered will be the military victory and not the political. If you celebrate independence people might start to ask where that independence is today.

The Vietnamese Workers Party policy of Doi Moi preceded Perestroika of the Soviet Revisionists but had the same goals – the complete restoration of capitalism – and aims – the plundering of the wealth of the people by a few for the benefit of foreign interests. The sacrifice of those who lost their lives in the north-western mountains and those who died in the brutal undeclared war of the US in the years up to final liberation in 1975 has been squandered. Due to the lack of vigilance of the Vietnamese people those who had inherited a free country were not up to the difficult task of building socialism.

This notwithstanding it has to be remembered, and celebrated, for eternity that the victory over the French 60 years ago was only one of the crushing blows that Vietnamese peasant army and population dealt imperialism. Ten years before they defeated Japanese militarism; 20 years in the future they were to shame the most powerful imperialist state to have existed to date. Three empires humbled in the space of less than 40 years! The tragedy of the acquiescence of their children and grandchildren will never be able to wipe away that honour, which belongs to the Vietnamese people alone. It’s unlikely that any other nation will ever be able to claim such an accolade.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, the military commander of the Viet Minh at that time, and also at the time of the defeat of the Yankee imperialists and their lackeys 21 years later, wrote about his thoughts in the planning of the battle if you are interested in more of the military and political background.

Dien Bien Phu, General Vo Nguyen Giap

Dien Bien Phu, General Vo Nguyen Giap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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