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International Socialism, Summer 1965


Editorial 3

Pax Americana


From International Socialism, No.21, No.21, Summer 1965, pp.3-4.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The events of the last quarter have stripped away the thin veil of decorum that normally hides the struggle for power in the world – to reveal the hegemony of the United States. Cosy commentators of the centre do not seem to recognise the disaster done to the mythology of the international rule of law, the primacy of negotiated peaceful settlements over the use of force, the rights of self-determination, the rights of non-interference in the affairs of another State, the Organisation of American States, the United Nations, and on and on. Since mid-February, the largest power in the world has, in full-sight of the world press and politicians, been bombarding with high explosive one of the smallest and least defended states, as a concealment of its occupation of a third state. This open aggression has not been brought either to the Security Council or the General Assembly by Russia or any other power. Even SEATO and NATO have been left high and dry, peeping melancholically now that the mythology does not disguise them. The American emperor has stepped out, naked but for his bayonets.

High on the list of reasons for this uninhibited display of power in Viet Nam and the Dominican Republic is the extinction of the Soviet Union, the only current nuclear rival of the US, as a challenge. The Russians have shown an unseemly indifference to the fate of the North Vietnamese when it might injure their pursuit of an entente with America. We are back to square one in the Cold War, but this time the opponent to be impressed by ‘massive retaliation’ is China, still not yet any nuclear threat. Not that China has shown much more than bluster over Viet Nam – if the Russians are to be believed, it was the Chinese that held up in transit the pitiful supply of obsolete weapons sent from Moscow to help Hanoi. Pekin has been consistently critical of the Viet Cong’s ‘adventurism’, the risk of which is the bombing of Chinese industrial centres. As for Hanoi, it can have no interest in the destruction of its infant industry: it is clear that Hanoi is not and cannot be the secret of Viet Cong success. Not that American power has bothered to lie with any consistency. Late last year, Americans agreed the US must evacuate before a popular liberation movement, armed with captured French and American weapons. Goldwater, quite correctly in terms of American interests, spelled out the logic of the situation – either the US must use its technological superiority and blast the Viet Cong and North Viet Nam from the air, or get out. The liberals took it that Johnson must favour the second since Goldwater was for the first – and Johnson won, only to carry out Goldwater’s policy. Now the State Department, issuing statements publicly ridiculed as lies by the New York Times (21 April), claims that the Viet Cong is a put up job by Hanoi, armed with ‘90 per cent’ Chinese weapons; its estimates of Viet Cong strength inflate to justify the American military build-up in the South, so that it begins to seem as if the more difficult the US makes it for the Viet Cong, the more rapidly it succeeds. A conspiracy of economically weak North Viet Nam, armed with the primitive and scarce products of China’s infant industry (each piece smuggled through the tightest air and sea blockade by the US), is the only obstacle to the mighty monolith of the United States? Even the most innocent and credulous would find it difficult to swallow: it seems clear that the world juggernaut could be stopped only by a movement with its roots dug deep and tenaciously into the soil of South Viet Nam.

The longer the war continues, the higher the level of smouldering hostility in the South becomes, the more visible the Saigon regime is seen to be held up only by US power, the more the Viet Cong becomes what the Americans deny it is: the sole expression of Vietnamese opposition to the invasion of the Americans. To try and win, or at least strengthen their bargaining hand, the Americans must increase their control and mobilisation of Southerners for the Forces, and to do so is directly to increase the power of the Viet Cong. At nearly 5 million dollars a day (compared to 1.5 million a few months ago), this is an expensive way to slide into a bottomless marsh.

Nor is it possible to think the US might win one of its main targets: Moscow, Pekin, Hanoi. Almost certainly all three have tried to discipline the exuberance of the Viet Cong already, but they cannot since this really is a popular liberation movement, not a foreign fifth column, and the arms given by the three are not big enough to buy the Viet Cong. The US is adamant that it will not negotiate with the Viet Cong, yet this is the only route out of the impasse. Johnson’s now slightly desperate offers of peace to Hanoi remain ignored – it is noted that the 1,000 million dollars bribe he offered south-east Asia is little more than the increase in military aid to South Viet Nam he recently extracted from Congress for the next few months (700 million). Goldwater’s logic remains – but now it means, H-bomb China or get out.

The lesson remains. No new world order has appeared since 1945, only the reformulation of the classic international politics of fierce competition, the 1890s and ‘spheres of influence’ broken by the no-man’s land of savagery between. The US has selected the people of South Viet Nam to overawe the world with gunboat diplomacy – their death and destruction, maiming and oppression, is only an incidental cost in the pursuit of prestige, the power of terror. The response of ‘world public opinion’ corresponds. True, 15,000 American students have done something to restore the corroded self-respect of all Americans, and there have been scattered protests and demonstrations – but the broad smug centre remains tactful. The British press has been critical largely because British capitalism has been calculating, alongside the last payments crisis, the costs of imperial war-games East of Suez, not because a people is being destroyed as an exercise in Great Power politics. What shell-shattering of children for ten years could not do, it took a whiff of gas to temporarily sicken Labour’s Left consciences – but so temporarily, for the guilt was quickly assuaged by the despatch of Gordon Walker’s mediocre and superfluous talents to gadfly round East Asia looking for ‘facts’ everybody else already knows. The press stopped reporting the bombing (US censorship also came into play), and Viet Namese news sank into the side columns as if the murder was not continuing. Dominica replaced it – almost a God-send – a situation as outrageous in principle if not as brutal in fact.

The purpose of socialists must be to prevent people forgetting what the press so quickly dismisses, to prove yet again that what is between the claws of the American eagle is not Law and the Bible, but bayonets and corpses.

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