Letter: True war aims in Vietnam

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The Independent Online
From Mr Mark Walmsley

Sir: Brian Appleyard ("Defeated in war, victorious in therapy", 12 April) speaks of the intellectual errors of the Vietnam War rationale and how Robert McNamara falls short in his explanations. But he still accepts the fundamental assumption that the war can be described in terms of a "miscalculation", and was "lost", in a conventional sense. This approach still enables one to see the war as an error "not of values and intentions but of judgement and capabilities" (Mr McNamara's terms, from his book).

But Mr McNamara also says that the war was more to do with nationalism than hegemonic Communism, a perception that was somehow only apparent in hindsight. This is an intellectual leap in understanding the history of the war far greater than Mr McNamara would be willing to acknowledge, and one that opens the mind to a theoretical framework which more sceptical critics have espoused for many years.

This scenario explains the destruction unleashed by the Americans in terms of preventing Vietnam's independent social and economic development, which it sought by resisting subordination to the needs of Western investors. The "domino theory" would take the form of other small countries finding inspiration to attend to the needs of their own populations.

This war aim was achieved, to the extent that Vietnam's development was put back decades by simple destruction - saturation bombing, chemical warfare on crops and vegetation, bombing of dykes, and mass population removal. The infliction of suffering continues by means of trade embargoes, the vetoing of aid programs, and refusals to assist with unexploded ordinance or to provide minefield maps.

This analysis may still be regarded as heresy by the mainstream, which McNamara is addressing, but note that it can be sustained without resort to what Mr Appleyard calls the "stupidity of the lumpen left" - a sympathy for the viler elements of dogmatic Communists.

Yours faithfully,




12 April