Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
Why do I think about the American war in Indochina so often? For one thing, I have a strong sense of the illustrative nature of that war. The wrong choices a colonial power makes when it chooses to kill on a mass scale in order to control the destiny of other peoples are exemplified in the policy reasoning leading to our involvement there. Also, the character of those we chose as enemies highlights the wrongness of our military and diplomatic decisions.
We could not have chosen worse when it came to the decision to first ignore, then oppose, and then demonize Ho Chi Minh and those who came to follow him. He came, hat in hand, with a letter to the President of the United States immediately after WWII, asking for freedom for his country from the colonial oppression of the French. The letter was ignored. It either got to President Truman, who was either advised or decided on his own recognizance to ignore it, or someone decided on their own to stop the buck before it got to the buckstopper in chief.
The letter reportedly appealed to the self-proclaimed ideals of the USA: freedom, independence from tyranny, and the sovereignty of a people within their own borders. In imploring the US to take a position based on those ideals, perhaps Ho was being too literal in interpreting the rhetoric of our founding documents, probably because they'd been parroted by so many subsequent US leaders, albeit generally for self-serving reasons. It was an easy mistake to make, especially after the US military emerged from WWII looking like the savior of the oppressed, at least in Europe and most of Asia.
So here's a guy, leader of his country's nationalist movement, coming to ask the US to help him secure independence from a colonial power. And we, I'm going to call the US government "we," for a variety of reasons which you're free to extrapolate yourselves, we make exactly the wrong decision. The British Empire is already losing body parts like a cartoon leper, and is making noises about cutting India loose. The idea of Pakistan is already in the works. Other nations have won their independence from their colonial overlords. The writing's on the wall for colonial powers: "Let my people go!"
Hey, it's Passover, incidentally. Speaking of let my people go. Who would've thought the topic of the US invasion of Indochina would dovetail so neatly with the current high holy day?
Let's put aside the Domino Theory, because at the time of Ho's letter his movement wasn't socialist or communist. Yes, they may have been opposed to high rents the landowners the French were propping up were imposing on the rice farmers, but who's not opposed to getting ripped off? This makes you a socialist?
Hmm, maybe it does.
Maybe we, the US government, believed the French could hang on to this possession, popular nationalist movement or no. But, it was colonialism! Remember the Declaration of Independence? When in the course of human etc.? We could've reasoned that the French could hold their unjustly conquered land, but there's that word, "unjust." It wouldn't be right. There's nothing right about it, from the standpoint of us, the world- famous liberators.
Maybe we said to ourselves, "Hey, it's the French's problem. We have no business butting into it." But we'd already given up the Monroe Doctrine. We were all over the world, judging right from wrong.
And anyway, we didn't butt out of it. We had intelligence people in there at least by the early 1950s. What was so important to us there? Not oil. Rice? Really? Or maybe it was a principle, the principle that the way things were was the way it was going to stay. The people in power were going to stay in power, and the people of no consequence, whose opinions and desires were, at the time, of no consequence, were going to remain of no consequence. And their letters, being of no consequence, were to be ignored.
That's a very conservative principle. Don't change the way things are. Don't pay attention to the people who ask if the way things are is just. Don't admit that the question was asked. The question Ho Chi Minh was asking in that letter was not one that was to be asked.
"Keep them in their place." It sounds like the words of a Mississippi sheriff, or a Queens bigot, or a stereotypical "male chauvinist." But really, it's the principle that started the Vietnam War, and it's the principle we've clung to with every bad decision we make.
A good test case of this idea is the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What was really abominable to our strategic sensibilities wasn't the number of casualties. We lost more than three times the number of Americans in the Vietnam War as in the Twin Towers massacre. What was shocking about the latter was that the casualties were civilians, and that the massacre was on our own soil. Talk about an enemy who didn't know his place!
Why won't black people remain acquiescent about police killing them anymore? Don't they know their place? Why won't women shut up about how they're treated in the workplace and in public, and in the beds of their own husbands, don't they know their place? Why won't children remain silent mourners when their schoolmates are massacred, don't they know their place? Don't they know that the place for massacring school children is in Nigeria or Syria, not here in the USA! Why are they acting like the massacre of schoolchildren here is something that is worth speaking up about? Don't they know there's a place for everything, and everything in its place?
Pharaoh wanted the Hebrews to stay in their place. The Confederacy wanted black people to stay in their slavery. We wanted those rice-eating slopes to stay in their place.
Women don't want to stay in their place, because their place is a place of less opportunity, and fewer resources and rights and safety. That's why we, and here I mean "we the wretched of the Earth," all were shocked when women like Hillary and her supporters didn't understand that the underclasses didn't want to stay in their places, and wanted some commitments from her on that. And we didn't understand why Obama, who surely wouldn't have tolerated remaining in what racists called, "his place," didn't do more to remove the medical insurance profiteers from their places so we the oppressed could get out of our places, our places of lower quality care, less availability, less access, greater exposure to the possibility of death.
Oh, boy, the people at the top, and those comfortable with their positions, are really not amenable to the put-upon demanding to be freed from their place. The conservative people are already using violence to try to keep women, children, black people, First Nations people, Muslims, and heterodoxically sexual people in their places. It won't work. All it does is destroy the places. You can't destroy all the people who are demanding a change of place. They are the antithesis of your conservatism, which is nothing more than an oppressive past. By destroying the place, yours and ours, you create the synthesis, the new place. You either accept people's change of place, or create a war for new places. You keep making the wrong decision. It's never going to work.
In the end, we had to flee Vietnam with the skin of our asses chewed off. The Confederacy had to release their slaves. And the Pharaoh had to let my people go.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!