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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 49, November 26, 2011

Quit Asia!

Sunday 27 November 2011, by Nikhil Chakravartty


The mere fact that President Johnson ordered the halting of bombing of most of North Vietnam and simultaneously announced his decision not to seek re-election to the office wherefrom he has wrought unprecedented havoc, is no doubt seen the world over as a victory not only for the valiant people of Vietnam but for peace-loving peoples in all countries including Johnson’s own.

But the so-called de-escalation ordered by the US President is not such as to convince the discerning that either the “tough Texan” or the government he heads has finally realised the futility of deploying the world’s biggest military machine against a people determined to be free. While the feeling has been gaining ground among different sections of the American people that the war started by the Administration in distant Vietnam and intensified by Johnson and the warlords is neither in the interests of the US nor in the interests of world peace, it cannot be said that there has been any evidence that whoever becomes the occupant of the White House next January it will automatically lead to a decision to pull out American troops and equipment completely from the soil of Vietnam.

The debate between the intending candidates has only brought out a varying emphasis on America’s role in South-East Asia; none of them has so far recognised the truth that the US is a total outsider in that region of the world, that it has no business whatever to assume the role of arbiter of the destinies of populations aspiring to be independent. So-called containment of Comunism continues to be the blinding slogan to which all power-seekers in America subscribe enthusiastically. Thus, whoever becomes the next US President, it is the warlords of America who will decide that country’s policy in the long run; the most peaceful of doves will be powerless against them, and in any case there is little to show that the doves will wield authority in the future.

In these circumstances, it is obviously meaning-less to expect that the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam will be greatly enthused by the “de-escalation”. Nothing has happened which can be expected to make Hanoi believe that the US Administration has turned honest and sincerely seeks peace. If Johnson had indeed desired peace he would undoubtedly have stopped totally the bombing of North Vietnam instead of keeping a margin of aggression intact and asking for “matching restraint” on the part of Hanoi. The North Vietnam Government has repeatedly made it clear that once the bombing ends completely and unconditionally, talks could begin straightway. What Johnson has done now does not meet this demand: the halt to bombing is by no means complete, nor is it unconditional.

On the other hand, in addition to laying down his own terms, Johnson has made it quite clear that his intention is to arm the so-called South Vietnamese armed forces more intensively than hitherto, the purpose evidently being to draw a veil over American occupation of the territory and give the whole thing the colour of a civil war. Hanoi can hardly be blamed if it looks upon these moves with the utmost suspicion and is reluctant to accept the proposition that the Americans do desire to leave the Vietnamese people to live in peace acccording to their own lights.

Johnson is clearly a defeated man; but it would be wrong to conclude from his dramatic anouncements that he has indeed admitted this fact. On the other hand, it looks as if his aim in making these moves is firstly to create considerably more conflusion in the presidential campaign, and secondly to de-escalate the intensity of world criticism of US policies and actions in relation to Vietnam. Even Americans do not seem quite sure that the last word has yet been said on the question of Johnson’s candidacy; at the same time, by a seeming initiative, he has successfully made his rivals look somewhat perplexed. Perhaps this is all he intended to achieve. A genuine initiative for peace would surely have been more wholehearted.

Thus it is difficult to believe seriously that either the appointment of Averell Harriman as the “negotiator” or the call to the co-chairmen of the Geneva Conference to do everything to start negotiations is meant solely for the achievement of peace in Vietnam. Johnson is merely trying to use the rest of the world to settle his scores with his rivals and critics at home. He is trying to isolate them and cement the “divided house”. This is not Johnson’s first “peace” offensive; their number runs into dozens, and every time one was launched in the past it was accompanied by intensification of barbarities by American forces in Vietnam. The continuance of bombing of some areas of North Vietnam and the dark hints about complete bombing halt in the future having to be “determined by events” show the way Johnson’s notoriously crooked mind is working. World opinion will undoubtedly reserve judgement till American intentions become clearer.

In case attempts to bring about negotiations are made, India will surely have an important role to play, provided its leaders are willing to give up equivocation on the fundamental question of the right of the Vietnamese to live in complete freedom and the immorality of American armed presence in that country. If India does not take the clear position that Hanoi’s reasonable conditions must first be fulfilled and that the US should firmly commit itself to with-draw of all its troops and military equipment, it will make itself look like a pathetic hanger-on and cannot contribute anything useful to the restoration of peace and freedom in South-East Asia. New Dlehi thus has a new opportunity to give up vacillation and re-emerge as one of the powerful advocates of peace and freedom of all peoples; here is its opportunity to be in the forefront of the Asian people’s crusade forcing imperialist powers to quit thier scared soil.

Whether this great opportunity will be grasped and utilised remains to be seen.

(Mainstream, April 6, 1968)

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