Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Vietnamese War: a Different Take

Fifty years ago the southern Vietnamese revolutionary forces together with regular army units of the northern Vietnamese military launched a military offensive against the forces of the southern Vietnamese and US militaries.  This offensive, known as the TET offensive because it took place during the TET holiday, involved hundreds of thousands of fighters on both sides and resulted in thousands of casualties.  Residents of the United States, many of whom had relatives in their nation’s military, watched as the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) came under attack.  Meanwhile, closer to the imaginary line on the 17th parallel that divided northern Vietnam from southern Vietnam, a battle raged in the town of Khe Sanh.  US and southern Vietnamese forces (ARVN) would finally declare victory, blow up their base and leave in early July of 1968.

The intention of the anti-imperialist forces in this offensive was to spark a popular uprising amongst the civilian population of southern Vietnam.  Communist political cadre had been educating and organizing among the Vietnamese south of the seventeenth parallel since well before the independence forces defeated the French colonial military at Dien Bien Phu.  Although there was no popular uprising in 1968, the effect of the revolutionary forces offensive in the United States was one that ultimately turned the population against the war.  In other words, it was the beginning of the end to the popular belief among Americans that a US/ARVN military victory was possible.  Indeed, within three months, President Lyndon Johnson had declared he would not run for re-election and instituted a halt to the bombing by US warplanes.  Unfortunately, US involvement would continue at a murderous pace for five more years.  After the departure of most US forces by 1973, US aid to its client regime in Saigon continued until that regime’s surrender in May 1975.

The paragraphs above summarize a common understanding of the US war against the Vietnamese. This understanding tends to diminish the primary actors in the war: the Vietnamese people.  This in turn, has rendered the history of the war incomplete. Although various individuals who fought against the US military and its Vietnamese accomplices have written personal histories—General Giap probably foremost among them—to my knowledge here has been no history written in English that attempts objectivity and a Vietnamese perspective.  In addition, there has been no such history written where the author had access to previously classified archives of the Hanoi government.  The 2017 publication of Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam should change this.

Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, the author of this new work, is a professor of history.  She was born in Vietnam in 1974.  Her parents left the country in 1975.  Her interest seems to be inspired both by her personal history and the desire to present the Vietnamese “war for peace” in terms that re-defines the role of the Vietnamese; transforming them into a people intent on determining their own fate, not merely as a people fighting an aggressor whose presence in the country is perceived by so many as a foreign policy “mistake.”  Like any history, this one is not complete. It is however a detailed look at the complexities in the Vietnamese revolutionary effort and its utilization of military, public relations and diplomacy in the long struggle to achieve its goal of independence.

Crucial to Nguyen’s telling is what might be considered a sort of revisionism.  This is most obvious in her conclusion that it was two men whose roles were the most important in the Vietnamese war
against Washington and Saigon.  Despite what could be considered the common understanding, the reader discovers their names were not Giap or Ho Chi Minh, but Le Duan and Le Duc Tho.  For those who remember (and those who have studied this period of history) the name Le Duc Tho is probably familiar.  After all, he was awarded (along with Henry Kissinger) the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the Paris negotiations for peace in Vietnam.  He also refused the prize because the war continued, in large part because the US refused to uphold parts of the agreement.  Le Duan, however, is less known to the western reader.  He was born in southern Vietnam and rose to the top of the Vietnamese Communist Party, becoming General Secretary in 1960.

According to author Nguyen, it was Le Duan and Le Duc Tho who insisted that the primary goal of the party and the Vietnamese after the Geneva Accords of 1954 should be the liberation of the South.  This conflicted with those who considered the primary objective should be the industrialization of the northern part of the country while waging a protracted guerrilla war in the south.  It was this debate that underlined many of the twists and turns in the Vietnamese conduct of the war, especially before the US began its escalation in 1965. After that turn of events, Nguyen argues that the debates became less about industrialization in the north and more about various military strategies.

This is not an overtly anti-imperialist history.  Nor is it the opposite of one.  It is a comprehensive look at the methods used by the Hanoi government to keep forging ahead in its goal of reunifying Vietnam.  In relating her history, the author provides a detailed look at how Hanoi used its military, its diplomatic corps and international public opinion to win the Vietnamese struggle for independence.  Although she occasionally diminishes certain aspects of the bloodthirsty and genocidal campaign Washington carried on against Vietnam and the rest of Indochina, her focus on the Hanoi government and individuals within it give the reader a much needed perspective that puts the Vietnamese role front and center.  It is a text that avoids the US hubris common in most English language histories of the war.  There is a familiar truism that history is written by the victors.  This has not been the case in most English language histories of what Nguyen calls the Vietnamese war for peace.  Hanoi’s War could well be the first.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail