What Did We Do in Indochina? Robert Buzzanco InterviewedHistorians in the News
tags: war crimes, Vietnam War
Philip Jones Griffiths’s 1967 photograph serves to remind me that the statistics about the crimes that Washington committed in Indochina should always be humanized and should always be tied to real human suffering.
Robert Buzzanco is a US historian. I was honored and thrilled to interview Buzzanco—see below my interview with him that I edited for flow and added hyperlinks to.
3) What did we do in Indochina, and what are the most important things to know about what we did in Indochina? By “we” I mean the US and its allies.
That’s a huge question.
The US was involved in various ways in Vietnam for about a quarter-century and unleashed immense destruction over that period.
The war was reported quite well while it was being fought. I agree with Kolko’s comment that—with respect to overall strategy and overall decision-making—one could write a very good book on Vietnam using only the New York Times.
But there’s widespread politically useful misinformation about the war. And there’s also widespread liberal apologetics for the war.
The below—relatively brief—description of the war includes what I believe is the most important information.
1. The US had no great interest in Vietnam after World War II—the US acquiesced to the French return there in order to placate Paris and keep the French fully on board with the US’s overwhelmingly dominant priority of fighting the Cold War in Europe.
2. The Japanese occupying forces left Vietnam in 1945. Then Ho Chi Minh—the leader of the nationalist and Communist Viet Minh—declared independence, citing the US Declaration of Independence. But the Vietnamese didn’t get to be sovereign—the French return led to the First Indochina War.
The French position started to deteriorate after they reimposed control in 1946, so the US started to send significant aid to the French Union forces in Indochina in order to prevent a Viet Minh victory.
The first reason for the US opposition to the Viet Minh was that the US—in accordance with the “containment” doctrine—opposed any and all “left-wing” forces.
And the second reason for the opposition to the Viet Minh was that the US’s long-term goal was to establish US-centric capitalism in Asia—the literature usually ignores this critical motive, but material like Andrew Rotter’s The Path to Vietnam examines this motive. The idea was to rebuild Japan along “free market” lines—which the US did, as you can read about in material like John Dower’s Embracing Defeat. And the idea was also to rely on China to be a US ally—the Chinese Communist Party’s 1949 victory killed that dream and meant that it was crucial to keep Asian countries like Vietnam and Malaysia as Western allies so that these countries could be economic partners for Japan.