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October 13, 1965 - Image 6

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1965-10-13

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Today in Viet Nam, there is so much of everything available that almost any
kind of military error, no matter how stupid, can be retrieved on the rebound. In the
case of the recent battle near Ankhe the misdropped unit was reinforced by another
helicopter outfit and progressively surrounded by a protective wall of American fire-
power until the enemy, unable to maintain his position, broke off contact. At Bong-
son, on Sept. 24, the VC overran a government outpost, but in the "reaction" oper-
ation they allegedly lost 600 men-500 of whom were killed by American aircraft.
Against that kind of slaughter, the teachings of Mao Tse-Tung, superior tactics,
popular support for the VC or, conversely, poor motivation among the Arvins (Army
of the Republic of.Viet Nam) and patent ineptness among many of their officers, and
even.the "mess in Saigon" are totally irrelevant. If tomorrow morning Mickey Mouse
became prime minister of South Viet Nam it would have precious little influence on
the men of U.S. Army Task Force Alfa (in fact, a full U.S. Army Corps in everything
but name) or on the fighting ability of the 3rd U.S. Marine Division.
-Bernard Fall in The New Republic
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The Tragedy of A merican Unreason

Anthropology Department
Anthropology Department
'WE ARE concerned in these
paragraphs not so much with
the war in Viet Nam and its pos-
sible outcome, but with what the
actions of our government in
Viet Nam tell us about the pres-
ent condition of the United
States. As one of our students
put it so concisely: "The teach-
ins have all been about Viet
Nam; they should have been
about the United States!"
The case of Viet Nam has as-
sumed the proportions of a para-
ble for 20th Century America,
just as the case of the American
Indians was a parable for us of
our past dealings with non-
industrial societies.
We solved the American Indian
"problem" with repeating rifle
and colt revolver. These great
equalizers established the per-
manent inequality between the
quick and the dead, between us
-the living-and the only good
Indians, whom we fed to the
IN THE meantime, the United
States has come to be the most
powerful nation on earth; but in
Viet Nam we are enacting a pas-
sion play that shows that while
our armament has changed, our
response has not. The only good
Vietnamese are dead, not red. '
What is involved is the relation
of the United States , to Viet
Nam, and through Viet Nam to
the other noifindustrialized and
poor countries of the Third
World. We seem to have a
brown thumb in dealing with
these people.
WE SUCCEEDED in shoring up
Western Europe through the
Marshall Plan, but there we are
dealing with nations with whom
we share a common history and
common understandings. Else-
where in the world, we seem to
be laboring under some kind of
Our gardens, so carefully ma-
nured with capital and goodwill,
and so neatly graded and bank-
ed to maximize their spread,
keep breaking out in crops of re-
bellious red flowers. We are on
the defensive: we fought a cost-
ly, undeclared war to maintain
a partitioned Korea, just as we
are now fighting to maintain a
partitioned Viet Nam.
Former allies are turning away
from us, against us. Defeat and
attrition breed fear, and fear is
a poor teacher. We reflect on our
defeats: they can't possibly be
our faults.
We worked hard and wished
people well. There must be hid-
den enemies who undo by !night
what we do in the day time. The
answer is at hand: our hidden
enemies are the agents of the in-
ternational Communist conspir-
there must be a gimmick, a magic
wand. But if we do not have it,
someone else does. In "Why Not
Victory?" Senator Goldwater
"I would suggest that we ana-
lyze and copy the strategy of the
enemy; theirs has worked and
ours has not."
It is the Communist conspira-
tors who have the magic wand;
its owner turns out to be none
other than Mao Tse-Tung.
Hence a new scnool of battle-
field literati who peruse the
Maoist texts for sources of mili-
tary enlightenment. These new
Maoists speak knowingly of fish
and water-the guerrilla are the
fish, the people the water in
which they swim - and of rais-
ing or lowering the, temperature
of the water, or of draining it en-

BUT THEY do not-any of
them-come to grips with Mao's
key pronouncement that, above
all, we do not understand revo-
We are apt pupils and we eas-
ily assimilate technical advice:
we turn the problem of revolu-
tion into Military exercises; we
give lip-service to the idea that
one must be cognizant of eco-
nomic, social and political fac-
tors, but apparently we cannot
assimilate the idea that counter-
insurgency or psychological war-
f a r e or counter-revolutionary
warfare are not enough.
A military gimmick is just
that, no more, no less; what is
required of us is a much greater
exercise of the imagination.

the money for the apple busi-
We do not see them as men en-
gaged in the task of mobilizing
political and communication pro-
cesses. We do not look at these
processes: therefore we never
ask what is the matter, only who
is the matter?
IF YOU ASK what is the mat-
ter, then you take upon yourself
the understanding of a revolu-
tionary situation in terms of his-
tory and social science. If you
ask who is the matter, then you
look kfor bad buys and good guys.
The bad guys are obviously the
Communist conspirators who go
about the world sowing dissen-
sion and disseminating Commu-
nism. "Communism," says W.W.
Rostow, Chairman of the State
Department P o 1 i c y Planning
Council, "is best understood as a
disease of the transition to mod-
The Communists are germ car-
riers, Typhoid Marys who pollute
the wellsprings of stable national
life. To fight them you must ally
yourself with the good guys: Bao
Dai? Diem? Khan? Quat? Ky?
But for the Communists, the un-
derdeveloped Third World would
presumably be a Garden of Eden,
with all the nations burgeoning
healthily towards fnodernity.
THEREFORE we enact upon
the foreign scene the ridiculous
dramatics of a Grade-B Western.
Foreign policy consists of police
actions, in which the good guys
clear the world of bad guys and
make Tombstone, South Viet
Nam, a, happier place to live in
for the home folks like you and
In this simplistic drama, the
complexities of the Third World
vanish among the hail of cliches
and bullets. Never a word about
the fact that "underdevelopment"
does not consist merely in the ab-
sence of steel mills, refrigerators
and shampoo to bring out the
natural luster in your hair, but
in a specific relationship between
the rich and the poor countries,
a relationship which distorts the
economies of the poor countries in
favor of the rich.
You do not have to be a revolu-
tionary to point out, with Robert
L. Teilbronner, that '
in the eyes of the imperialist
nations, t h e underdeveloped
regions were essentially seen as
immense supply depots for the
cheap production of raw ma-
terials from which their in-
dustrial economies could pro-
fit. Accordingly, the economies
of the underdeveloped areas
were often deformed into mere
subsidiaries of their W e s t e r n
Malaya became a rubber
plantation, Rhodesia a copper
mine, Ceylon a huge tea plan-
tation, Arabia an oil field.
Without doubt, the existing re-
sources of the regions and the
natural advantages of an inter-
national division of labor en-
couraged this tendency.
But the direction of econom-
ic development was determined
by their Western overlords,
rather than by the peoples of
the colonial lands, and the po-
tential benefits of specialized
industrial production failed to
materialize for the underlying
BUT THE relation between the
poor world and the world of the
rich is not merely one of econo-
mics; it is also one of political
inequality. Major decisions af-
fecting t h e people in Latin
America, in Southeast Asia, in
Africa, are not made by Latin
Americans, Asians or Africans,
but by outsiders, by foreigners, by
Why is it so hard for the Unit-
ed States to understand the re-
sentment of people who want to

be masters of their own destiny?
Did not the colonists of the in-
fant 13 colonies rise against a for-
eign master under the slogan'of
"no taxation without represent-
But the demise of colonialism
and semi-colonialism is n o t
merely a matter of transferring
economic options into the hands
of the locals. It is also a mora-
torium on the persistent inequal-
ity between rulers and natives.
WHY DO WE forget so easily
that the Third World was found-
ed on colonial rule, and that
colonial rule implies a basic act
of violence? The relation between
native and foreign settler rests,
as French - Algerian a u t h o r
Frantz Fanon saw so clearly, on
"a great array of bayonets and

guage he understands is that of
force, decides to give utterance by
force. In fact, the settler has
shown him the way he should take
if he is to become free.
"The argument that the native
chooses has been furnished by
the settler, and by an ironic turn-
ing of the tables it is the native
who now affirms that the colon-
ialist understands nothing but
HERE FANON spoke of the
French, but in Viet Nam it is now
we who are the colonialists. Tech-
nically, we are just advisors, but
this is r~more than a "psych-war"
label for international and home
At one level, it is a concession
to Vietnamese national feeling;
at the same time, Americans en-
tertain a complementary need to
believe that they are merely ad-
vising. As a denial of any colon-
ial status of intentions, it pro-
vides for Americans an accept-
able meaning of their presence in
Viet Nam.
Beyond that, it serves as a con-
venient institutional means for
personal dissociation from the
sufferings of Viet Nam, suffer-
ings largely inflicted by the Amer-
ican presence-which is one's
own presence. To be an advisor is
to be involved yet free of the
place, to indulge a sense of duty
yet disdain responsibility.
It becomes a prefabricated bar-
rier to be put up readily to hide
whatever ugliness intrudes into
consciousness, a ready-made de-
nial that one is implicated in
what goes on. It is a moral anes-
the function of the "advisory"
role must be judged from its ef-
fects. The effect at every level
of organization-from hamlet to
nation-is to interpose obstacles
to American direction of Vietna-
mese affairs, and so give play to
indigenous forces and interests,
especially self interests. The par-
adox is novel: even as America
generates powerful economic and
political power in Viet Nam, it
turns around to deny itself the
leverage of that power.
The free-flowing resources re-
leased by the American presence
are appropriated instead by local
collaborators who hope to con-
struct their own version of Viet-
namese society. We give them the
advice to do good and the power
to do as they please. We say we
are "helping the Vietnamese to
help themselves," and that's
exactly what they are doing, help-
ing themselves.
The Screaming American Ea-
gle appears on only one side of
the coin: on the other side we
meet the Fat Cat of the Vietna-
mese comprador.
Thus our "advisory capacity" in
Viet Nam opens a new chapter
in the relations between the West
and the underdeveloped Third
World. For all our anti-colonial
protestations, we are hard at work
perpetuating the ,colonial condi-
tion in Viet Nam.
IS IT SO HARD for us to un-
derstand that modernization is
not merely a matter of export-
import statistics, of a rising Gross
National Product, or even a mat-
ter of diffusing purchasing power
to enable people to buy transis-
tor radios, rice or life insurance
-that it is also a matter of hu-
man rights?
Fanon has said it appropriate-
ly: in the course of revolution,
"the 'thing' which has been colon-
ized becomes human as it frees
itself." For the first time in his
life the native faces the foreign-
er as an equal. Why is it so dif-
ficult for Americans, at this point
in history, to accept this asser-
tion of equality?
We are evidently quite com-
fortable with natives as long as

they are Chinks or Gooks, funny
men who wash our laundry and
bake wise sayings into fortune
cookies. But when these laundry-
men and fortune cookie bakers
take ,up arms to assert their right
to self-determination and esquiv-
alent power, we see the devil at
work and strive to drive him out
with fire and brimstone.
IT NEEDS hardly be said, once
more, that revolutions-like all
violent upheavals of the human
condition-are costly in human
life and happiness.
They are like great mudslides
which carry away the established
order, including the mansions of
the well-meaning and even sound
experiments-because they are not
merely movements towards eco-
nomic modernization, but mora-

or to bribe them into collusion,
but as men who have come into
full possession of equality with
APPARENTLY we are unwilling'
to do so, because-as Mao says
-we do not understand revolu-
tions. We do not understand rev-
olutions, as we do not understand
our responsibilities for them. The
crippled and violated world in
which they arise is of our own
Responsibility means under-
standing this basic fact and act-
ing upon it to change it. In-
stead, however, we invoke' word
magic and practice exorcism.
In our magical view of the
world Viet Nam does not really
exist at all. What exists is the
worldwide Communist conspiracy,
specifically its Chinese wing. The
Vietnamese we are killing in Viet
Nam possess no reality for us:
they-are but bodily envelopes pos-
sessed by the Chinese demons.,
By shooting Vietnamese we are
really killing Chinese and halt-
ing Chinese expansion.
One encounters this belief
among, fighting men in Viet Nam
and their officers, among mem-
bers of the U.S. civilian establish-
ment and its officials. The spe-
cifics of Viet Nam hardly con-
cern these visionaries. The possi-
bility that not all revolutionaries
are Communists, that some rev-
olutionaries may be nationalists,
that some Communists may be na-
tionalists means nothing to them.
The devil takes many forms,
but we shall not be deceived by
any manifestation in which he
chooses to show himself. We are
hard-headed-we take the devil
at his word. He has said that he
aims at world domination; there-
fore it must be true.
OF ALL the world's peoples, we
Americans ought to be able to
distinguish between ideology and
reality, between advertising and

ple's beliefs is no longer some-
thing that only "they" do.
Confessions forcibly exacted
and conversions engineered by
torture are no longer the things
v e fight against. These are now
instruments in our own tool kit:
the new body mechanics, the new
engineers of pain, walk among
WE MAY WIN the war in Viet
Nam by such means, but in the
process we shall lose the hearts
and minds of Americans. As we
draw out the evil spirits by let-
ting the blood of the victim, we
emerge covered with that blood.
We shall have attempted to rid
the land of demons only to be-
come demons ourselves.
Medicine-man and demon are
kin to each other. They share a
set of assumptions about the
means of inflicting and relieving
ills. As they struggle for suprem-
acy over a living body, only they
seem real to each other; the vic-
tim's body becomes humanly ir-
relevant, merely a thing that each
possesses and manipulates to de-
feat the other.
The most horrifying circum-
-stance is that the evil spirit is
an obsession of the medicine-man
-and the patient may die from
the treatment.
HOW WILL the world judge us
when this episode is over? What
will it say of the failure of the
imagination and compassion
which has led America to prefer
the inhuman peace of the grave-
yard to its human obligation to
aid in the reconstruction of a
world that requires revolutionary
changes to redress imbalance and
the inequities of imbalance?
The American failure to per-
ceive the realities behind Commu-
nism and to act upon these reali-
ties abroad may have serious con-
sequences also for us living in
these United States of America.


WHEN UNITED STATES PLANES ATTACKED Viet Cong guerrillas at Phung Hiep in July,
local peasant women and children had to take shelter in mud holes to protect themselves.
After the attack--as after all such attacks-they emerged from their hiding places; often
cold and often meeting drenching rain. Phung Hiep, 100 miles south of Saigon, was hit by
Navy and Air Force planes.


cember, gave local children an ideal place to play. Two Americans
were killed in the Christmas eve bombing, and Americans as well
as Saigon area residents have'been subject to many more such at-
tempts to make the U.S. presence in Viet Nam uncomfortable.

the product advertised, but we
have suspended our critical fac-
ulties in this struggle.
Communists are no longer men
for us; they are supernaturals.
Therefore we need pay no atten-
tion to the real-life conditions
which turn men into Communists,
or to the way Communists act
in real life. That Communists
wrestle with mundane problems
that often defeat them no longer
concerns us.
We are demon-figlters who
have discovered the sources of
the demon's strength. These sourc-
es are the demon's powerful ideol-
ogy and his means for taking pos-
session of the victim: his tactics
of warfare and terror.
But we shall not be defeated.
We shall learn from the devil, in
order to exorcise him. The latest
form of this exorcism is "popula-
tion control," combined with pur-
ification by napalm and Lazy Dog
sliver bombs.
THUS, in fighting the enemy
with his own weapons, we become
like the enemy. This transforma-

It Ais not a very long step that
leads from reliance on the gim-
micks of population control and
coercion abroad to the temptation
to deal with people at home as
things to be controlled and coer-
We already have human engi-
neers aplenty, hard-headed sur-
realists ever eager to peddle a
whole tool kit of t"practical" do-
it-yourself ways of exorcising do-
mestic and international demons.
We shall increasingly hear the
chorus of the tin-horn totalitar-
ians who would have us develop
a Know-Nothing Americanism,
capable of fighting with fire the
fires of Communist ideology,
Increasingly we shall be under
pressure to substitute for those
forms of human and scientific
inquiry which alone could uncov-
er our responsibilities for the state
of the world, the writing and
reading of Anti-Communist Man-
ifestos and Special Forces man-
YET, sad to say, none of this
will make the demons go away;


:, _
....a. : :.

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