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July 28, 1971 - Image 4

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1971-07-28

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(Editors note: The foloing t the econ-
luding part of an analysis of the Pentagon
papers by Bruce and Shelley Levine, mem-
hers of International Socialists. Part oner
appeared in The Dally on July 13 - 14 and
was reprinted from Workers' Power, where
this section will appear. It covers the
documents released after the unsuccessful
court action against the New York Times
and Washington Post was completed.)
IN JUNE AND JULY, the New York
Times (and others) published a series
of articles based on the Pentagon's secret,
47-volume study of the Vietnam war.
The first of these articles covered the
years of the Johnson administration. They
showed in detail how Lyndon Johnson de-
liberately escalated the war, specifically
spurned negotiation attempts, firmly set
his sights on all-out military victory-and
lied through his teeth about it all. These
articles brought on a storm of popular rage
directed at Johnson, already a deeply un-
popular figure.
But in the midst of this uproar, the sec-
ond group of Times Pentagon papers ar-
ticles have been pretty much ignored.
These deal with the origins of the war and
the presidency of John F. Kennedy-and
in many ways are much more eye-opening
than the first.
UNLIKE JOHNSON, after all, John Ken-
nedy is still widely remembered as a kind
of saint. He is thought of as a "true lib-
eral" - warm - hearted, cool - headed,
pledged to an international campaign of
welfare and social reform. The calamities
of the Johnson Administration, especially
in Vietnam, are chalked up to LBJ's re-
fusal to continue Kennedy's enlightened
programs and methods.
An entire army of publicists today labor
diligently to maintain that public image
for JFK, and liberal politicians feverishly
promote the line of thinking which the
Kennedy Legend produces: "Let's get back
to the good old days of Kennedy-style lib-
The Pentagon papers must be giving
these people ulcers. In brutal contrast
to the rosy legend they have created, the
papers reveal the true John F. Kennedy
.. the man who:
-decided that a victory over the NLF
was crucial for the security of the U.S's
international position;
-"ordered the start," in the Times'
words, "of a campaign of clandestine
warfare against North Vietnam, to be
conducted by South Vietnamese agents
directed and trained by the Central In-
telligence Agency and some American
Special Forces troops."
-"transformed," in the words of the
Times, "the 'limited-risk gamble' of the
Eisenhower Administration into a 'broad
commitment' to prevent Communist
domination of South Vietnam."
-increased the number of U.S. troops
in South Vietnam from a bare 700 to
-boosted the U.S. role in the planning,
direction, and control of South Vietna-
mese civilian and military operations
from that of "adviser" to senior part-
-finally decided that Ngo Dinh Diem
was unable to win the war against the
NLF, and so gave the signal for the coup
d'etat which removed and killed him.
-failed, even after stepping up U.S.
interventionin Vietnam, failed complete-
ly to achieve what he set out to do. Re-
ports the Times, "President Kennedy left
President Johnson a Vietnamese legacy
of crisis, of political instability, and of
military deterioration at least as alarm-
ing as the situation he had inherited
from the Eisenhower Administration."
Naturally, this was not the kind of sit-

pa ers, part JFK's war

er and fabric of the security structure
of the region, where so many countries
had based their policy on continued
American involvement.
The task at hand, Kennedy realized, was
to work out a strategy to defeat the Viet-
namese revolution and to head off others
like it elsewhere in the third world. And
in attempting to do so, Kennedy put "en-
lightened liberalism" to the test.
KENNEDY'S VIETNAM strategy was
not to be based on the simple force of
arms. As he had declared as early as
1954, "I am frankly of the opinion that no
amount of military assistance in Indo-
china can conquer . . . an 'enemy of the
people' which has the sympathy and co-
vert support of the people."
What was needed, he decided, was a stra-
tegy which could win for the U.S. and its
puppet regimes - rather than for the
guerrillas - the "sympathy and support
of the people."
To accomplish this, Kennedy and his
advisers mapped out a three-pronged pro-
gram of "counter-insurgency":
FORMS. The first task was to give the
South Vietnamese people a stake in the
present order of things. Most importantly,
in this connection, land reform would be
instituted. South Vietnam's fertile land
was monopolized by a tiny class of land-
lords who soaked the peasant majority
thoroughly through sky high rents and
taxes. The peasants' land-hunger was a
prime source of revolutionary unrest in
the countryside. To calm that unrest,
therefore, "counter-insurgency" planned
to redistribute the land to the peasant
(2) POLITICAL REFORMS. H a v i n g
gained the loyalty of the people with eco-
nomic-social reforms, the need for a po-
lice state would disappear. Kennedy be-
gan to exert pressure on Ngo Dinh Diem
to liberalize his regime. "Allow free elec-
tions, a freer press, freedom of speech,
opposition political parties. Draw the peo-
ple into establishment politics and they
will turn away from the guerrilla army."
was necessary to use the force of arms-
for example, to combat an already-exist-
ing NLF - we would do so only in the
cleverest fashion. For one thing, the job
would be done by local troops, rather
than GI's, who would be familiar to the
Vietnamese people. For another thing,
those troops would be carefully trained in
the techniques of guerrilla warfare and in
the need to respect the rights, lives, and
property of the peasant population. To
teach Saigon's army this lesson, Kennedy
dispatched his "elite corps," the Special
Forces, to Vietnam.
By carrying out this three - pronged
"counter-insurgency" program, Kennedy
expected he would make American con-
trol over Vietnam more secure than ever.
The result? On all three fronts, the
counter-insurgency campaign proved a
complete and utter flop.
THE HEART of this over-all failure lay
in the failure of the planned "social re-
forms." And the key failure in that de-
partment was the collapse of land reform.
Only the smallest fraction of the country's
land had changed hands under the Diem
regime-and even that small fraction rep-
resented largely useless acreage.
What lay behind so total a collapse of
plans? Very simply, as Kennedy "insider"
Arthur Schlesinger recalls, "the resist-
ance of the large landholders and leading
elements in the Saigon government".
Now the landlords' attitude was under-
standable. They were fighting the NLF,
after all, precisely to protect their land
monopoly, the source of their social pow-
er. Small likelihood, therefore, that they
would cheerfully hand it all over to the
first regime to ask for it.
But what about those "leading elements
in the Saigon government"? What was the
excuse for their obstructionism? That's
what JFK and his advisors wanted to
know. "If only Diem had supported land

reform, if only he had enforced it, if
only . . ." Such thinking was widespread
in Washington. It led to portraying Diem
an an individual as the prime reason for
"counter-insurgency's" failure - and ul-
timately to his removal.
Tomorrow: Implications
of the Vietnam failure


EISENHOWER, KENNEDY, JOHNSON (with CIA Director McCone and Defense
Secretary McNamara) - they passed on power, and the war to prove it.

uation which Kennedy, a liberal, hoped to
create. What went wrong?
The first thing to understand is just
what John Kennedy did hope to do, spe-
cifically. What did he see as his role? How
did he plan to carry it out? Only after
answering these questions will we be pre-
pared to understand what went wrong
with those plans.
THE PRESIDENT of the United States
is a tremendously powerful figure. But he
also bears equally tremendous obligations.
The most compelling of these is the re-
sponsibility to defend the interests of
American capitalism, the system over
which he presides. And because that sys-
tem extends its power over much of the
rest of the world, the President's watch-
dog duties are similarly international.
Carrying out this watchdog role pre-

sented John Kennedy with some very par-
ticular problems. In the early 1960s, when
he entered the White House, the peoples
of the third world were embarking on the
first in a series of struggles aimed at the
worldwide power of American capitalism
and at the local puppet governments which
are on its payroll.
The most visible of these struggles was
the war in Vietnam. That, as the Pentagon
papers make clear, is why Kennedy at-
tached so much significance to the strug-
gle in that country. Not because there was
a great deal of U.S. money tied up in
Vietnam. There wasn't. Not even because
Vietnam occupies a particularly strategic
position geographically It doesn't.
JOHN KENNEDY jumped into Vietnam
with both feet because he knew Vietnam
was a test case. All over the third world,
people were watching the Vietnam strug-
gle, trying to gauge -how easy it would be
to topple other puppet regimes and how
far the U.S. would go to bail such a pup-
pet regime out of trouble.
In the same way, the puppet govern-
ments themselves all over Asia (and Latin
America and Africa, too) eyed the Vietnam
case as a reflection of their own possible
futures. So - as Kennedy's "guerrilla war-
fare expert", Roger Hilsman, recalls while
President Kennedy grumbled occasion-
ally about the United States being "over-
committed" in Vietnam and Southeast
Asia, . . . he could not refuse to give
more of the same kind of assistance with-
out disrupting the whole balance of pow-

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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 28, 1971


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