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July 14, 1971 - Image 4

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1971-07-14

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And now, the imperiallst road out

Last of two parts of an
analysis of the Pentagon papers.
Ball's memo
But . . . the best-laid plans of mice
and imperialists often go astray.
The theory of teaching-the-rebels-a-
lesson was fine only so long as a U.S
victory seemed possible. But almost im-
mediately this prospect began to dim.
Desertions from the Saigon government
forces shot up while (as McNamara ad-
mitted to LBJ), "the Viet Cong are re-
cruiting energetically and effectively."
This deterioration was advanced al-
ready, in 1963 but, as Neil Sheehan re-
cords, the Kennedy administration was
"ultimately spared from major escala-
tion decisions by the death of its lead-
er." By late 1964-early 1965, the Pen-
tagon study adds, the need to make a
choice was unavoidable:
"All evidence pointed to a situa-
tion in which a final collapse of the
[Saigon government] appeared probable
and a victorious consolidation of VC
power a distinct possibility."
What now to do? Most of Johnson's
advisers counseled even further escala-
tion. But one man in government plump-
ed for a different strategy, because of
which he later became something of a
hero among liberals. That was George
Ball of the State Department, and he
was for getting out.
Make no mistake. It was not that
Ball was weak-kneed or was disloyal to
-the empire. On the contrary, his im-
perialistic credentials were impeccable.
In fact, Ball proved to be one of the
really top-notch imperial strategists
of the entire Johnson administration.
Ball was too good to allow the pre-
sure of one "hot spot" to imperil the se-
curity of the larger empire itself. And
that, as he set out to show, was exact-
ly what the Vietnam war threatened to
In July, 1965, Ball wrote Johnson a
lengthy memo entitled "A Compromise
Solution in Vietnam" This memo, for-
tunately, is included among the Penta-
gon papers,
Fortunately, we say, because this one
piece of paper gives us probably o u r
best view to date of the astute imper-
ialist mind at work.
The first point Ball hammered home
was the hopelessness of Saigon's posi-
tion. "The South Vietnamese are los-
ing the war to the Vietcong," he de-
clared flatly. And there was nothing -
with either bombs or GI's - that Wash-
ington could do to change this fact.
".o one [reads Ball's memo] can as-
sure you that we can beat the Viet
Cong or even force them to the con-
ference table on our terms, no mat-
ter how many hundreds of w hi t e
foreign (U.S.) troops we deploy. No one
has demonstrated that a white ground
force of whatever size can win a guerrilla
war - which is at the same time a
civil war between Asians - in jungle
terrain in the midst of a population that
refuses cooperation to the white forces
(and to the South Vietnamese) and thus
provides a great intelligence advantage
to the other side ... ).,
Faced with this hopeless situation,
Ball posed the alternatives. If, on the
one hand, we refused to accept real-
ity, but instead continued to pour men
and material down the Vietnam rat-
hole, we would not succeed in prevent-
ing defeat but only postponing it. Ul-
timately, that defeat would come -
but, if postponed, only after the em-
pire had "paid terrible costs."
And the costs were indeed terrible, as
Ball outlined them. First, there were the
obvious ones: the measurable loss of
manpower, material, and treasure. Be-
yond these, however, there were less cal-
culable but even more threatening costs.
For one thing, U.S. allies elsewhere
in the world - especially in Europe -
were already worried that a prolonged
and escalated war would weaken U.S.
commitment to them. For another, the

war was already beginning to have a
bad effect on the world-wide propaganda
It was true, after all, as Johnson and
his advisers had so. often said, that in
the end the struggle in the third world
was a war "for the hearts and minds of
the people." It was because in Vietnam
the NLF has won that war that they

were winning the war on the battlefield and Vietnam. Furthermore, a continua-
as well. tion of the spread of Communism in the
Well, said Ball, the longer the Viet- area would not be inexorable, and any
nam war is stretched out, the worse will spread which did occur would take time
fare the U.S. fortunes in the propaganda - time in which the total situation
contest worldwide. The sad fact, he ex- might change in any number of ways
plained, was that "the war is vastly unfavorable to the Communist cause."
unpopular and that our role in it is Besides, the memo concluded, there
perceptibly eroding the respect and con- was always - besides Thailand - the
fidence with which other nations regard "island bases, such as those on Okinawa,
us," Guam, the Philippines, and Japan."

The imperial road out
Ball summarized: we wouldn't win
in any case ,and we simply stand to
lose more the longer we stay on.
Adding it all up, Ball presented the
obvious conclusion. It was time to
simply write Vietnam off as an un-
fortunate but unavoidable loss. Time
to "limit our liabilities in S o u t h
Vietnam and try to find a way out
with minimal costs."
"On balance, I believe we would more
seriously undermine the effectiveness of
our world leadership [ahem!] by con-
tinuing the war and deepening our in-
volvement than by pursuing a carefully
plotted course toward a compromise
The kind of compromise which Ball
had in mind, however, was of a rather
specific variety. It had little in common
with the underlying motivation, for ex-
ample, of today's anti-war movement.
For withdrawal from Vietnam meant
anything for Ball but withdrawal from
Asia in general or even Southeast Asia
in particular. On the contrary: it meant
beefing up remaining U.S. outposts
throughout that region. As he assured
the President:
"Providing we are willing to make
the effort, Thailand can be a foundation
of rock and not a bed of sand in which
to base our political/military commit-
ment to Southeast Asia."
In short, Ball was for getting out, but
only via a particular route: the Imperial
Road Out,
Interestingly enough, by the way, the

Imperialist doves
Looking back, it is clear that Ball
(and the CIA) had evolved the most
farsighted plan of action from the
point of view of the empire's interests.
But Johnson was not interested. The
fact is, he was simply not as good an
imperialist as Mr. Ball himself. And
so, for the good of the empire, those
who shared Ball's viewpoint had to
begin carrying their campaign into
the open - that is, to the public.
This is the origin of the "anti-war
noises made by imperialist politicians
like Fulbright, McCarthy, Robert Ken-
nedy, and their later successors. They
were for ending this war, all right. But,
like Mr. Ball, only because victory this
time seemed too costly (financially, stra-
tegically, politically). What was it, after
all, but imperial cost-accounting, when
Eugene McCarthy declared in December,
"We reached the point, I think about
the middle of 1966 . . . that the propor-
tion between what it was going to cost
to win a victory and what would come
of victory became at that point out of
Robert Kennedy had declared in 1966,
"If we can defeat [the NLF1 without
paying a great price, an overwhelming
price, then that's what I'd like to do.,"
Two years later, he was a dove - be-
cause he realized it just couldn't be
done. "Unable to defeat our enemy or
break his will - at least without a huge,
long, and ever more costly effort, we
must actively seek a peaceful settle-

if we did withdraw from Vietnam .
We are now in Thailand. I think we
could remain there for some time even
though we did withdraw from South
Vietnam. We are in Korea. Our Navy is
free in the China Sea ..."
"The right. to know"
The liberal politicians, however, are
not the sole public supporters of the
Imperial Road Out. No indeed; they
have a tremendously powerful ally. An
entire wing of the news media - in-
cluding business journals and prestig-
ious newspapers and TV stations (for
example CBS) are for withdrawal for
imperialist reasons. Not the least im-
portant and powerful of these forces is
The New Yrk Times.
Times editorials call for a pull-out,
but only because of the "basically unten-
able military and political situation in
which the United States is still enmesh-
ed in South Vietnam." The Times
would very much liek to "extricate the
United States from an unsound position
on the Asian mainland."
Does this point of view have any
bearing on the decision to print the Pen-
tagon study? Not according to the Times.
It was published, the editors grandly de-
...Because the American public has
a right to have it and because when it
came into the hands of the Times, it was
its function as a free and uncensored
medium of information to make it pub-
lic . . . To have acted otherwise would
have been to default on a newspaper's
basic obligation to the American people
under the First Amendment . . .
Very impressive . . . bunk. Ten years
ago; under very similar circumstances,
the Times came into possession of the
complete story of the CIA's impending
invasion of Cuba. Why didn't they print
it? Because a President which the Times
supported - in pursuit of an expedi-
tion which the Times supported - asked
the editors to kill the story. They did
so. Somehow, the "basic obligation to the
American people" got lost in the shuffle
of papers.
The same is true of the liberal-
Democratic politicians. Today they are
having a field day parading as champ-
ions of "the people's right to know."
Poor Richard Nikon is left alone to
man the battlements for governmental
secrecy. But don't count on those lib-
eral politicians to stand by their prin-
ciples should a Democratic President
be elected next year.
It was in 1961, we recall again, that
a liberal-Democratic President was call-
ing for forms of press censorship. And it
was out-of-office Nixon who c o u ld
courageously declare that such proposals
...Inevitably encourage government
officials to further withhold information
to which the public is entitled . . . The
plea of security could well become a
cloak for errors, misjudgements, and
other failings of government."
Given the opportunity, the two imper-
ialist parties will continue playing this
game, periodically switching roles and
The record of the last decade - ably
reinforced by the Pentagon papers - is
clear. The primary consideration which
governs the foreign policy plans of both
Republicans and Democrats, conserva-
tives and liberals, is, "What is best for
the empire?"
On occasion, there will be differ-
ences among the imperialists over
strategies and tactics. But just be-
cause they share this common basic
loyalty, none of them can be counted
upon to lead or even support move-
ments directed against the empire it-


The ir+ -n*Bai
420 Maynard Street, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Edited and managed by students at the
University of Michigan
Editorials printed in The Michigan Daily express the individual
opinions of the author. This must be noted in all reprints
Wednesday, July 14, 1971 NIGHT EDITOR: ANITA CRONE

CIA bolstered Ball's positions in a memo
of its own to the President. Johnson
had asked the Agency about the effect
on the rest of the empire should both
Vietnam and Laos fall to the Commun-
ist-led insurgents. The CIA replied:
"With the possible exception of Cam-
bodia, it is likely that no nation in
the area would quickly succumb to Com-
munism as a result of the fall of Laos

And- more: while they are for ending
this war and leaving t h i s particular
country, the liberal "doves" remain firm
defenders - like Ball before them -
of the overall empire itself. In 1967, for
example, a reporter asked McCarthy if
he "would insist on a continued American
presence in Asia." McCarthy replied:
"I think you have to insist on a signi-
ficant presence of some kind there even

Any movement which allows itself to
come under the direction of imperialists
- decked out in militant rhetoric though
they may be - will inevitably find itself
led by the nose back into the imperial-
ist camp.
(Editor's note: Writer Bruce Levine Is a
University graduate and a former Dail y
editorial page editor. He will attend grad-
uate school in history in the fall. This
article is reprinted from the July, 1971
edition of workers' Power.)

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