A timeless victory

Print edition : November 18, 2005

Vietnam's delegation back at the conference hall for the 38th plenary session of the peace talks in Paris on October 16, 1969, after attending the funeral of Ho Chi Minh. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, looking back at how a `fourth-rate power' defeated and drove away the world's military giant.

THE year 2005 is the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the rout of the United States and its `allies' and factotums in Indo-China. We in India are especially proud of Vietnam as the Indian people took its cause as their own, gave rousing ovations to Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, the then Foreign Minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, and rousing denunciations to its enemies, as when the people of Kolkata turned out en masse to protest against U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara's presence in that city.

When "Code 2" (code name of U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin) scrambled into "Lady 09" (the helicopter that flew him out of Vietnam) at 5-00 a.m. on April 30, 1975, for the waters of the East China Sea, the mightiest of the West shattered on the hard glass of reality in Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam. The U.S. used 60 per cent of its total infantry, 58 per cent of its marines, 32 per cent of its tactical and 50 per cent of its strategic air force, 15 of its 18 aircraft carriers; dropped over 10 million tonnes of bombs (20 times the total tonnage dropped in the entire Pacific theatre in the Second World War, amounting to 70 tonnes for every square mile, and 500 pounds for each Vietnamese man, woman and child).

Singing the hackneyed hymn of U.S. colonialists from Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson, Richard Milhaus Nixon, the 37th President of the U.S., sneered at Vietnam, calling it a "fourth-rate power", which lacked "the ability to conduct a war or govern themselves". Yet this "fourth-rate power" defeated the might of France, built an impregnable air defence system, launched an offensive on a 600-mile-long front, simultaneously attacking 140 cities, which Australian war journalist Wilfred Burchett hailed as "a feat, absolutely unparalleled in military history". This "fourth-rate power" at the end dragged Nixon to Paris to receive the Democratic Republic of Vietnam's (DRV)'s peace terms, virtually the same terms that Nixon and his predecessor John F. Kennedy previously rejected arrogantly. This "fourth-rate power" so weakened the U.S. that it was unable to challenge North Korea's seizure of the U.S. electronics-laden intelligence ship Pueblo. The 12 days' savagery of Linebacker II, which dropped 40,000 tonnes of bombs on Hanoi and 15,000 tonnes on Haiphong and targeted schools and failed to achieve anything but giving "Nixon even more compelling reasons to return to the negotiating table. North Vietnamese air defences exacted a heavy toll," as George Herring, Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, usually an uncritical commentator, admits (America's Longest War). The entire U.S. economy was "twisted out of shape" (the U.S. had to go off the Gold Standard near the end of the war) and its social fabric disintegrated. The U.S.' defeat was total - militarily, politically, morally and psychologically. The utter rout of the U.S. was a result of the "superior intelligence and morale" of the people of Vietnam.

How could the Communist Vietnamese out-numbered seven to one in military forces, lacking advanced weapons and bombers, using almost primitive means of communication and transportation, and receiving comparatively little aid from the Soviet Union and China - have turned back the world's military giant?

The reasons are as follows: First, their programme was formulated in the Great October Revolution and was adapted by them to their particular Vietnamese conditions with an unsurpassed virtuosity. Lenin's guidance on the "national-colonial question" was put into action and no amount of intense anti-communist propaganda could deviate the people from the aim of socialism. Second, in battlefield strategy, tactics, precision and speed of operations, the National Liberation Front (NLF) and Vietminh military and their planners were at a different level of superiority than their American-Saigon counterparts. The precision and coordination with which battlefield operations were implemented were nowhere better manifested than in the 1968 Tet Offensives.

The invaders' detection systems were so potent that a Viet Cong (V.C.) could not even boil a pot of rice without being detected. Yet the V.C. transported its armaments and heavy war equipment to 140 cities south of the 17th Parallel down to the doorsteps of the immensely fortified and guarded U.S. Embassy in Saigon, all without any detection, and carried out simultaneously coordinated attacks along a 600-mile-long (965.6 km) front. In spite of the invaders' nuclear-age detection capability, not a single NLF and Vietminh leader was ever captured, nor a single of their jungle hideouts ever disrupted. It is hard to imagine that this could happen without the involvement of the population.

The spectacular downing of B-52s over Hanoi and Haiphong owed to the precision of coordination between the Vietnamese night fighters and the ground anti-aircraft artillery. The accuracy of the missiles was made independent of ground radio control in order to neutralise the enemy's jamming systems. The Vietnamese were also able to improve both the range and the explosive power of their warheads of the SAM-2s. Moreover, by making the missiles mobile by mounting them on tracks, much of the effectiveness of the B-52s was neutralised.

Next is the moral and ethical dimension of the war. Waged with the broadest possible united front involving all sections of the Vietnamese society, it was a People's War fought by a People's Army, a war in which distinctions between leader and the led disappeared. Beside, most of the leaders were peasants themselves. Even their highest leader carried his own and the war's provisions on a bamboo pole slung over his shoulder. The lives of both leaders and the led, their politics and ideology placed them on such a height that the world marvelled. Finally, the corrosive effects of an immoral and unethical war disintegrated the fabric of the U.S. Drug-abused, "dispirited" Americans were everywhere, in Indo-China and on America's streets. After "bombing the daylight out of Hanoi" (Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), the U.S. hastened towards the negotiating table in Paris and accepted almost word for word all peace terms.

The war's first impact was to jolt the dissenting consciousness of the U.S., which was eviscerated by decades of Cold War shibboleths. The war created a Vietnam Scholarship from numerous gifted writers, singers and critics. The war's most telling effect was, however, the so-called `Vietnam Syndrome', that loss of the U.S.' confidence in the invincibility of its imperialists. Ever since the defeat, the government, the entertainment industry, media and academia launched a massive political and psychological campaign, based upon utter lies and fabrications and maligning opponents of the war, to induce the Americans to `kick' their `Syndrome', and to reassure the people that the mistakes of Vietnam will not be repeated and the U.S. will not hesitate to use tactical nuclear weapons. By bombing Iraq "back to the Stone Age," George Bush Sr. proved: "By God, we have finally kicked the Vietnam Syndrome."

A cross bow and an eight-foot-long arrow with a sharpened edge to destroy low-flying helicopters. Communist Vietnamese, who were outnumbered seven to one in military forces, lacking advanced weapons and bombers, used primitive means of communication and transportation against the invaders.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The world has changed dramatically since Saigon fell 30 years ago. The U.S. trumpets it as "God's work", to interfere in countries, if the social and political policies of these are incompatible with the primacy of the market. As if echoing Rabindranath Tagore, Bertrand Russell warned us that peace cannot be achieved by appeasing this monster, but a "world free of exploitation and foreign domination, a world of well being for the masses of people of all continents, a world of peace and fraternity, has to be fought for", and exhorted us to "join together to resist U.S. imperialism".

After the invasion of Iraq, the moral, ethical, political and even military weakness of the U.S. are exposed. We also believe that the U.S. will not be able to mount an aggression on the scale of Vietnam anytime soon. It has been three decades since Vietnam demonstrated to the world that a determined, revolutionary people, however small, can exhaust Goliath's war machine. It holds equally today, if people stand firm.

The U.S. delegation at the Paris peace conference.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

ANY discussion of Vietnam is incomplete without a few words about the legendary leader of the Great Patriotic War of the Vietnamese people. This man was himself a peasant in poverty and struggle all his life. He had been a hand aboard a ship, a chef, a toucher of photography; lived in caves and leach-infested jungles, wrote poems and spoke French, English, Russian and Chinese; worked with the Commintern and had been a founding member of more than one country's Communist Party; walked hundreds of kilometres on foot; was sentenced to death more than once and spent months in dungeons with a convict's wooden collar around his neck and iron shackles on his feet. Epitomising Bhababhuti's ideal - "Harder than a thunderbolt and softer than a flower" - was Nguyen Tat Thanh (Nguyen the Triumphant) alias Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot) alias Li Chui alias P.K. Lin alias Thu alias Linov alias... , better known to the East and West as Ho Chi Minh - He Who Enlightens. It was his leadership that produced such legendary fighters as Madame Nguyen Thanh or the military engineer-mathematician Ta Quang Bu and many others.

Joseph Davis, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1936-1938), remarked that the Soviet Union was trying to do so much good at such a quick pace that it ran the risk of being overtaken by the Right some day. Speaking about Vietnam in 1969, Noam Chomsky expressed a similar sentiment: "[Vietnam's] resistance to American aggression... [is] a colossal triumph of the human spirit. But there is a limit to human endurance, and it may some day be reached even in Vietnam.... "

In view of the current doi muoi in Vietnam, his remark is not to be taken lightly. We have here dealt with only the history that has actually unfolded before all eyes. Its lessons may prove to be relevant for combating doi muois worldwide. But our thoughts on that must wait for the future.

D. Rao is a peace activist from New York.
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