UNSC Draft Resolution on Palestine: Aotearoa Dances the Whisky Tango Foxtrot

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2013-Limbo

This is an unscripted commentary about the abysmal and cowardly draft resolution circulated by Aotearoa/New Zealand at the UNSC. The resolution purports to encourage and to bring closer a “two-state solution” to the occupation of Palestine.
This resolution is founded on delusions and lies that can no longer be excused.
Apologies for the uneven audio quality in the first 10 minutes

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Viet Nam Lost the American War (as did Laos and Cambodia)

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photographer-philip-jones-griffiths-in-vietnam-21-638

Photograph by Philip Jones Griffiths © Philip Jones Griffiths / Magnum Photos

[G]enocide is a new technique of occupation aimed at winning the peace even though the war itself is lost” – Raphaël Lemkin, 1944.

In 2008 I wrote a post-graduate research paper about the “Vietnam War”. I believe I showed quite clearly that Viet Nam lost its war with the United States by any reasonable criteria apart from the most obvious surface events. We are now at the 40th anniversary of the time when North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon. Christian Appy has just published a piece criticising a popular revisionism that misrepresents the events of 40 years ago as an uncontextualised brutal Communist takeover. But what if our misapprehensions go deeper than Appy implies? What if we insist the Viet Nam won the war for ideological reasons and ignore the very compelling evidence that they lost the war, despite their military victory in the field? Drawing heavily on that past work, but giving it a new angle, I will show that the US actually won the “war” because all along their true energies were devoted to visiting destruction on Vietnamese, Cambodians. And Laotians. The word for this behaviour is “genocide”.

Genocide is a concept with an explanatory power that has been ignored and surpressed. It has been misrepresented and it is now generally used simply to indicate extreme condemnation – even more so than the word “terrorism”. Yet it does have a specific meaning, one which provides great insight into the nature of historic events. The problem, if anything, is that it explains things too well, whilst the US is heavily reliant on confusion and obfuscation to escape the moral censure and determined anger it should face for the mass-killings and mass-destruction it has carried out.

US citizens in particular, but Westerners in general, seem to have a gut fear of any suggestion that US actions in Indochina had a coherent rationale. Key beliefs about the fundamental nature of the civilised West and the US in particular are destroyed when we are forced to face the fact that the savage violence that we all must admit was undertaken was in fact part of the project, not an unintended by-blow. Moreover, those who oppose US military violence have been indelibly imprinted with notions of military and political incompetence. As if instinctually, they seem to fear that any suggestion that the US achieved a strategic success would empower the triumphalism of the ‘Murican meatheads they seem to feel surrounded by.

40 years ago the Khmer Rouge occupied Phnom Penh and the Pathet Lao were beginning the last phase of taking control of Laos. On April 30, 1975 tanks from the People’s Army of Viet Nam (PAVN) entered Saigon. It was the end of the Second Indochina War – known in Indochina as the “American War” and known in the US as the “Vietnam War”. The Communists, and some other anti-imperialists who worked under their leadership, had won.

But what sort of victory was this? Throughout the course of fighting the US grew constantly in wealth and strength, while Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos were weakened in ways they have never recovered from. In relations after the war the US clearly took on the role of victor imposing terms on the defeated. Despite an overblown, if not hysterical, public discourse of defeat and anguish in the US there was never any real question of substantive material damage to the US, nor any possibility that the US Government (USG) would have its actions dictated by Indochinese governments.

The Communist led movements and governments defeated the US militarily, but the shrieks of dismay uttered by US “patriots” and “liberals” alike about their defeat have little to do with reality. In every possible substantive material way the post-War history of Indochina is that of weakened defeated countries that would eventually submit to the hegemony of the US under the neoliberal “Washington Consensus”. What happened?

In this article I will show how much the war waged by the US hurt the countries of Indochina and how this in itself became the basis of a US victory. To understand how this happened we need to put aside some preconceptions and re-appropriate the term “genocide”. When Raphaël Lemkin first coined the term genocide he described it as a war not merely against states and their armies but against peoples.”[1]

Once I have clarified the distinction between military war and genocide, the nature of US actions will become clear. This is not about a secret conspiracy to commit genocide, US officials overtly rejected military contestation and opted for attacking the peoples of Indochina without feeling the need to conceal a genocidal intent. They openly embraced tactics which caused mass civilian deaths without any embarrassment.

Many contemporary observers commented on the genocidal nature of US mass violence in Indochina. Some used the term “genocide”, some didn’t, but they have all been effaced from the historiography of the Second Indochina War. Apart from a few easily dismissed Leninistic anti-imperial analyses, the orthodox criticism of US policy was created by Washington elites and amounts to little more than a skein of propaganda stitched together by insider gossip and coloured by a sickening lurid coat of racially informed chauvinism and mirror-blindness.

Pyrrhic Victory or Defeat?

On April 30, 1975 PAVN tanks rolled through the streets of Saigon. When Republic of Viet Nam (RVN) leader Duong Van Minh offered to officially relinquish power, tank commander Col. Bui Tin famously responded: “There is no question of your transferring power. Your power has crumbled. You cannot give up what you do not have.” In that respect this was a classic total military victory – the annihilation of the political power of the opponent.

The military theorist Carl von Clausewitz defined tactical victory as possession of the field of battle.[2] Possessing the entire contested territory at the end of hostilities would seem to signal victory in war. But Clausewitz didn’t believe that there was such a thing as strategic victory. He is best known for contending that war was “a continuation of policy by other means” and his wisdom is proven by the case of Indochina. His vision of war was of a limited and circumscribed aspect of violent contestation within a strategic dynamic relationship. Clausewitz knew the military action he theorised about could only ever be part of a greater picture.

It must also be noted that the RVN regime wasn’t the real enemy of the PAVN. It was an entity created, shaped, controlled and sustained by the US – as was Lon Nol’s regime in Cambodia and, to a large extent, the Lao regime under Souvanna Phouma. The Second Indochina War really was the “American War”. The US was the real enemy but the PAVN tanks never rolled into Washington DC; they never broke down the gates of the White House; and however much we might regret it, Bui Tin was never in a position to sneeringly depose Richard Nixon.

Moreover, the progress towards the victory in the field had been horrendously destructive. Each of the Indochinese states, and the people therein, have suffered immensely, whereas the US has no loss that is even remotely comparable. In deaths, for example, the US losses relative to population are less than 0.4 per cent of Cambodian losses (that is excluding the losses after 1975);[3] less than 0.5 per cent of Vietnamese losses;[4] and less than 0.3 per cent of Laotian losses.[5] If we estimate total Indochinese deaths as 4.5 million, of an estimated population of 42 million we get a figure of well over 10 per cent of the population killed, equivalent to 20 million US deaths.

Then there is the economic situation. The US GDP more than doubled in constant dollar terms between 1954 and 1975 and continued strongly afterwards, doubling again by 1997.[6] By contrast, Cambodia didn’t really have an economy by 1975. In fact it had been largely destroyed by the end of 1970, primarily this was caused by a massive influx of US “aid”.[7] By 1973, of less than 7 million Cambodians, an estimated 3,389,000 had been made refugees.[8] The bombing and civil war had reduced the capacity for growing food to such a level that the “sources close to the U.S. government” calculated that if the US government cut all food aid (which they did) 1 million deaths would result.[9] Whatever chances Laos had for development, they were surely crushed by a destructive and divisive war, and Laos remains one of the poorest places on the planet.[10] As for the Vietnamese, the war and subsequent US economic sanctions were devastating. By 1990 the per capita GDP was only $114.[11]

In 1990 Viet Nam began extending economic reforms known as doi moi (renovation). Under doi moi, Viet Nam has achieved much greater formal economic activity (GDP), but only by submitting to the “Washington Consensus”.[12] Among other things this means no price supports for staples such as rice, which in turn means that the real income of the poorest has dropped.

Former US military commander in Viet Nam, Gen. William Westmoreland, characterised doi moi as proof of US victory.[13] He also once said: “We’ll just go on bleeding them until Hanoi wakes up to the fact that they have bled their country to the point of national disaster for generations. They will have to reassess their position.”[14] The one major asset the Vietnamese gained from the war, massive scrap metal resources, was privatised causing government steel mills to stand idle (banned by law from importing scrap) while Viet Nam’s scrap steel was exported at “substantially below world-market values”.[15]

Some perspective on these decades of poverty is given by economists Adam Fforde and Suzanne Paine. Their analysis is that the DRVs “neo-Stalinist” economic approach was highly suitable for a united Viet Nam in the 1950s, but not so for North Viet Nam alone and not, after the destruction of the war and two decades of separate development, suitable for a reunified Viet Nam.[16] In other words the “American War” and the sanctions that followed meant the difference between a relatively prosperous populous nation with a degree of industrialisation, and a dysfunctional underdeveloped economic backwater that was forced to join the international economic order as a provider of cheap labour for the light manufacturing requirements of tax-averse and wage-averse multinationals. The implications are sickening.

In the meantime, the US claimed that it was trying to prevent the rise of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (DRV) as a regional military hegemon. But its actions belied those words. I do not have the space and time to detail this but the key points are: 1) The US drove the very reluctant DRV to war; 2) The US was antagonistic to negotiated settlements throughout; 3) Equally the US was extremely antagonistic to neutralism in Laos, RVN and Cambodia; 4) The US was antagonistic to political pluralism in RVN. These factors all far outweigh any efforts by the US to attrit PAVN military strength. The famous bombing campaign “Rolling Thunder”, for example, had the effect of strengthening civilian support for war against the US while increasing DRV dependence on Soviet aid.[17]

In essence the US manufactured the military victory of the North under a monolithic Communist regime – like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am not saying that Hanoi’s Communist leaders did not themselves work to consolidate power, nor that they would not have eventually seized power after the war. But that is speculation.

Effectively, the US role was to transform the political hegemony enjoyed by the Communists during the First Indochina War, into a military hegemony. This makes perfect sense as a deliberate strategic move. Indeed, throughout the Cold War the US was clearly quite comfortable with poor repressive Communist dictatorships which were dependent on the Soviet Union. In contrast, it hated and crushed regimes that had pluralistic governance that were Communist or Socialist led, or were independently nationalistic and inclusive of left-wing political factions. Of course the US claimed that it was acting against an impending totalitarian takeover, but its actions declare otherwise.

You might still think that this all mean that the Communists won, but that it was a Pyrrhic victory. On paper, Viet Nam won the right to $3.3 billion in reparations payments (diplomatically referred to as reconstruction “aid”) from the US. But the post-War years revealed who was really the victor.

Viet Nam wanted to normalise relations, but they also wanted to get that money. They tried using the issue of cooperation over POW, MIA, and KIA remains repatriation as a negotiating lever, but of course this was just a propaganda gift to the US. They tried to tie normalisation to the payment of the promised “aid”, but the US trade embargo on Viet Nam was hurting them far more than it was hurting the US. Far from paying them money, the US forced Viet Nam to spend huge amounts of its meagre finances on finding remains of US servicemen – an estimated $US1.7 million in per body in 1994 currency. The US lifted its trade sanctions in 1994, once Viet Nam was firmly part of a US dominated system of globalised economic and trade governance.

Impoverished Laos was never placed under sanctions, but Cambodia’s nightmare is also that of a defeated power, not a victor. In April 1975 years ago, with food production devastated and roughly half of the population crowded into Phnom Penh, units of Khmer Rouge began a brutal cleansing, emptying the overcrowded city completely. The forces that occupied the capital were predominantly very young, impressionable, and traumatised. Many were teens who had lived through five years of brutal warfare and who were commanded by an extremist political leadership who were already halfway to the crescendo of paranoid lunacy they would reach by 1978. The country was an unbelievable mess, and the “victors” were deranged ideologues dealing with circumstances which were themselves completely insane.[18]

Even without knowing what atrocities the Khmer Rouge would later commit, does it really seem that they were victorious over the US in 1975? And what about the people of Cambodia? It is important to distinguish between the people and their rulers because the US began secretly supporting the Khmer Rouge at the height of their violence[19] and continued to support them when they fought a guerrilla war against the Viet Nam backed government that had replaced them. Cambodia, like Viet Nam, was thence subject to US sanctions. I think that it is fair to say that although the Khmer Rouge defeated the US on the battlefield, the US soon began supporting them because they were demonstrable enemies of the Cambodian people.

It was the US that destroyed Cambodian neutralism. They claimed to be fighting communism, but their action were to spread communism whilst destroying Cambodia and killing its people to no discernible military end. A Finnish Inquiry Commission designated the years 1969 to 1975 in Cambodia as Phase 1 of the ‘Decade of Genocide’.[20]

Destroying Cambodia

In some respects US actions in Cambodia were the clearest and most successful expression of the model of genocide used in Laos and the RVN. US officials never made any cogent case for their actions in military terms. In a normal politico-military sense, US actions were very predictably counterproductive.

Before US intervention there seemed to be little threat of a communist takeover of Cambodia. The Cambodian Khmer Issarak (insurgents who had strong ties with, but formal independence from the Vietminh) had been unrepresented at the 1954 Geneva Conference and hence, unlike the Pathet Lao and the Vietminh, went unrecognised in the settlement.[21] Most of the Khmer Issarak (over 2000) left Cambodia with Vietnamese anti-colonial forces (Vietminh) who had been operating in Cambodia and based themselves in North Vietnam until their return after 1970.[22]

Although not immediately threatened by armed and trained leftists, Prince Norodom Sihanouk (the head of State from 1955 until 1970) adopted a neutralist position. He could not afford to be enemies with the Vietnamese. Nevertheless, under Sihanouk there was one serious leftist rebellion after his refusal to endorse candidates in the 1966 election closed the doors of electoral struggle to the left wing. The 1967-68 “Samlaut Rebellion” resulted in perhaps 10,000 deaths; greater than those incurred by Cambodians in the First Indochina War against French rule.[23] Although Sihanouk often viciously repressed the left of his own country, any concrete moves against the forces of the DRV or the NLF would have brought about his downfall. The US was, however, less than understanding of the delicate position – at least in its deeds. Although publicly supportive of neutralism, Washington worked hard to destabilise and cripple Cambodia, its actions driving Sihanouk into an ever closer relationship with Hanoi, Beijing and the NLF.[24]

The US “Studies and Operations Group” conducted attacks with US Special Forces personnel in Cambodia throughout the 1960s. In 1967 these were institutionalised as “Salem House” (later known as “Daniel Boone”). This programme was kept secret from the US congress and conducted a total of 1,835 missions. Their primary activity appears to have been the laying of “sanitized self-destruct antipersonnel” mines anywhere up to 30 kilometres beyond the border. Their supposed mission was intelligence gathering, but throughout the whole programme they only captured 24 prisoners.[25] The Special Forces troops usually disguised themselves as PLAF fighters and sometimes attacked civilians in “false-flag” operations.[26]

In 1970 Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak with tacit support from Washington and probable assistance by the CIA. The US had developed ties with Lon Nol in the 1950s and by 1970, according to CIA officer Frank Snepp, he was one of two candidates being groomed by the CIA to take Sihanouk’s place.[27] Washington recognised the new regime within hours.[28] So fast was recognition of Lon Nol’s government that it must have precluded any possibility that the changes on the ground were being assessed, which strongly suggests that the US must have had detailed foreknowledge in order to have any confidence in its judgement.

Sihanouk’s overthrow made civil war unavoidable. Many, including US personnel, thought that part of the reason for overthrowing Sihanouk was the fact that he allowed arms to flow to the PLAF,[29] yet the supply of arms coming from Cambodia to the PLAF was often conducted by pro-US officers,[30] including Lon Nol, and it continued unabated once Sihanouk was overthrown.[31] As I detail below, the US had created a system in Indochina where its own clients were suppliers of arms to its enemies.

In 1969, before the above events, the US began bombing Cambodia in what was known as “Operation Menu”. From Saigon, US General Creighton Abrams insisted that he had “hard evidence” that the Central Office for South Vietnam headquarters (COSVN HQ) had been located in the “Fish Hook” salient of Cambodia.[32] The problem was that no such place ever existed, though for years the US had mounted operations to crush it when they claimed it was located in South Vietnam.[33]

Once under way, Operation Menu spread to other areas. Despite the carpet bombing of area supposed to contain COVSN HQ, in April 1970 Abrams claimed that the headquarters still existed as a fortified underground bunker with 5000 personnel.[34] In May US and RVN forces invaded Cambodia, the action justified in part as an attempt, yet again, to wipe out the COVSN HQ “which had become the Holy Grail of the American war”.[35] The US/RVN invasion simply, and predictably, drove communist forces deeper into Cambodia.[36]

The results of the bombing were those of generating an enemy by killing civilians, a recurrent practice of the US. Ben Kiernan repeatedly cites evidence in numerous consecutive instances that US/RVN aerial bombardment strengthened the Khmer Rouge insurgency, and, more specifically the anti-Vietnamese faction of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.[37] In 1969, the Khmer Rouge consisted of perhaps 4000 – an ultimately unthreatening insurgency. By the end of 1972, they were able, with DRV logistical support, to “hold their own” against Lon Nol’s armed forces, which, at US instigation, had been enlarged to between 132,000 and 176,000 (not counting “ghost” soldiers, who existed only on the books of the corrupt officers who collected their pay) and had massive US/RVN air support.[38] In William Shawcross’s words, “the new war was creating enemies where none previously existed”[39] and by this stage, Lon Nol’s regime was already reduced to the control of shrinking and fragmenting enclaves.[40]

Within a year of Lon Nol’s coup the economy of Cambodia was virtually destroyed, not only by bombing, but also by US aid. Aid was channelled to the import of commodities and surplus US agricultural goods. It also underwrote the Cambodian government and armed forces: “By the end of 1970, the government was spending five times its revenue and earning nothing abroad.”[41] Most of the population became reliant on US aid to eat, and rice supplies were kept at the minimum level needed to prevent food riots. By 1975, malnutrition was widespread and many children starved to death before the Khmer Rouge victory.[42]

Less than two months after the coup that brought Lon Nol to power, the US invaded Cambodia, along with ARVN forces. They did not bother to forewarn Lon Nol who found out after Richard Nixon had announced the invasion publicly.[43] This invasion along US and RVN bombing and the civil war made refugees of nearly half of the Cambodian population.[44] Lon Nol was outraged by the invasion and when later briefed by Alexander Haig (then military assistant to Kissinger) about US intentions he wept with frustration. According to Shawcross, “He wished that the Americans had blocked the communists’ escape route before attacking, instead of spreading them across Cambodia. … The Cambodian leader told Haig that there was no way his small force could stop them. … [Haig] informed Lon Nol that President Nixon intended to limit the involvement of American forces…. They would be withdrawn at the end of June. The the President hoped to introduce a program of restricted military and economic aid. As the implications of Haig’s words for the future of Cambodia became clear to Lon Nol, he began to weep. Cambodia, he said, could never defend itself.”[45]

US actions, particularly in bombing, were directly responsible for creating the communist enemy which overthrew Lon Nol. The bombing between 1969 and 1973 took up to 150,000 lives.[46] If averaged out, over 33 tons of ordnance were used to kill each Khmer Rouge insurgent.[47] Despite the fact that Vietnamese pilots bombed any Cambodian they could, which aided only the Khmer Rouge, Lon Nol acceded to a US demand that he request an increase in VNAF bombing in 1971.[48] By May 1972, the Lon Nol regime had control of perhaps 10 per cent of the country and continued to lose territory which was thereafter fragmented into ever smaller enclaves.[49] The result was by that stage foregone, and yet the war dragged on for three years with the greater part of the 1 million casualties occurring after that point.

In 1970, when Henry Kissinger briefed Jonathan “Fred” Ladd, who was slated to conduct the war in Cambodia, he told him, “Don’t even think of victory; just keep it alive.”[50]

When the US Congress finally blocked aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam, it was with the belated realisation that such aid would not give any hope of victory or improve a bargaining position. Senator Mike Mansfield spoke out, “Ultimately Cambodia cannot survive…. Additional aid means more killing, more fighting. This has got to stop sometime.”[51]

Ooops, we destroyed your country. Our bad :-(

Because the violence in Cambodia was a “sideshow” with little official acknowledgement, US officials did not have complex explanations for their actions. Historians have largely concluded that the US was in the grips of irrationality, but their evidence of irrationality is, in a nutshell, that the US acted in a militarily counter-productive and genocidal manner. They automatically rule out the possibility that US actions were cogent acts of genocide. They build a framework of knowledge by applying that presumption to various historical events and thus generating the historical “evidence” of systemic irrationality and dysfunction among US decision-makers.

Moreover, people like Lyndon Johnson ensured that history recorded how reluctant they were to fight. The reluctance was more apparent than real. Johnson made a very vocal show of having his hand forced. He famously referred to the conflict as that “bitch of a war”.[52] In addition, he called it a “god-awful mess”, and himself as “hooked like a catfish”[53] and “trapped”.[54] He had a habit of thinking out loud with regard to the war, wondering “how he could maintain ‘his posture as a man of peace’” and making it clear that all the options available to him were unpalatable.[55] He would have frequent theatrical outbursts of indignation against hawkish advisers and, on one occasion, the constant changes of regime in the RVN which his own administration engineered.

According to Schulzinger, “The succession of military regimes drove Johnson nearly apoplectic. ‘I don’t want to hear any more of this coup shit,’ he exploded to aides”. Johnson was not the only one to have the audacity to condemn the US brokered coups; Maxwell Taylor, who as US Ambassador to Saigon had first forced a change of Government on the US installed Nguyen Khanh, then had partaken in the destabilisation of Khanh’s second government. When the utterly predictable coup resulted, Taylor is reported to have railed at the coup leaders ‘we Americans [are] tired of coups,’.[56].

The most bizarre Johnson outburst I have come across is an instance where a Major was, for no apparent reason, made to hold a map during a meeting between Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Satff (JCS), becoming “an easel with ears”. Later he described the event to Christian Appy. First the JCS made some recommendations. “At that moment, Johnson exploded. I almost dropped the map. He just started screaming these obscenities. They were just filthy. It was something like: ‘You goddamn fucking assholes. You’re trying to get me to start World War III with your idiotic bullshit – your ‘military wisdom.’ He insulted each of them individually. ‘You dumb shit. Do you expect me to believe that kind of crap? I’ve got the weight of the Free World on my shoulders and you want me to start World War III?’ He called them shitheads and pompous assholes and used the f-word more freely than a marine in boot camp. He really degraded them and cursed at them. The he went back to a calm voice, as if he’d finished playing his little role….”[57]

Frederik Logevall describes Johnson’s behaviour as a “charade” undertaken because “Johnson wanted history to record that he agonised.”[58] But Johnson was not the only one. Not only was John Kennedy also in the habit of thinking out loud with regard to Indochina, but so was Eisenhower.[59] Kennedy would frequently profess peace whilst in the midst of making arrangements for escalation.[60] This conscious and consecutive manipulation of public and historical perception makes any expression of reluctance at any level of US government or military of extremely dubious evidential value.

Moreover, other US officials – notably Westmoreland, Nixon and Kissinger – were far more forthcoming about their genocidal intents. Noam Chomsky has said this: “On May 27, the New York Times published one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever seen. They ran an article about the Nixon-Kissinger interchanges. Kissinger fought very hard through the courts to try to prevent it, but the courts permitted it. You read through it, and you see the following statement embedded in it. Nixon at one point informs Kissinger, his right-hand Eichmann, that he wanted bombing of Cambodia. “I want them to hit everything,” he said. And Kissinger loyally transmits the order to the Pentagon to carry out “a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” That is the most explicit call for what we call genocide when other people do it that I’ve ever seen in the historical record.”

These sorts of statements, revealing an intent to target civilians or civilian infrastructure, are commonplace among officials at all sorts of levels. Westmoreland personally encouraged personnel to kill civilians.[61] He also approved the Phoenix programme which, by its inescapable nature, involved the murder of civilians (namely “non-combatants” as defined in international law).[62]

Historians might ignore or minimise statements of genocidal intent that they would never ignore had they come from, say, a Rwandan Hutu leader in 1994. In fact, a great deal of effort has gone into trying to find such statements, but the ICTR has found no clear expressions of genocidal intent until after the genocide was in progress. The way people discuss the 1994 genocide in Rwanda you would think that the inverse was true. But rhetorical pronouncements are actually less significant than orthodox historiography would have you think. What is clear from Indochina, and is also absent in the case of Rwanda, is that there was clearly articulated genocidal policy that was acted upon – as opposed to “stated policy” which is mere rhetoric. There were policies that either overtly evidenced genocidal intent or tacitly evidenced genocidal intent in a manner that was impossible to mistake.

In the next section I will show policies that either seemed designed to deliberately cause mass civilian deaths or made mass civilian deaths inevitable whilst promising little or no military benefit and ultimately being inherently counterproductive. Before I do, however, I want to showcase an overtly genocidal policy known as “graduated response”.

Graduated response” was not important as a military strategy so much as it was as a public relations strategy. Graduated response was an Orwellian construction – the rationale given was that by bombing North Vietnam the US would force the DRV to negotiate. This was based on three completely specious assertions – the first being that the insurgency in the South was a result of “communist aggression” and therefore controlled by Hanoi; the second is that the US would itself have negotiated in good faith; the third, and most breathtakingly baldfaced, is that the US began small and got bigger, initially only bombing the DRV to show the DRV that they would bomb the DRV.

In 1965 McGeorge Bundy explained graduated response in a memorandum, although “explained” might be too strong a word. Bundy states: “We cannot assert that a policy of sustained reprisal [graduated response] will succeed in changing the course of the contest in Vietnam…. At a minimum it will damp down the charge that we did not do all we could have done….” Bundy also talks of showing “U.S. willingness to employ this new norm in counter-insurgency….” It is worth remembering that this “new norm” in “counter-insurgency” is not interdiction bombing of supply routes, it is strategic bombing of the DRV, guaranteed to bring massive suffering to the civilian population.[63]

The military objected strenuously to graduated response, under the misapprehension or pretense that the given rationale was all true.[64] The military objections existed within a discourse of callous but pragmatic militarists and of concerned but naïve civilians who underestimate Hanoi’s legendary willingness to sacrifice its own people.[65] No doubt, many officials debated earnestly in these racially informed terms, but they were debating the merits of one fiction over the merits of another.

The air war in Indochina bore no resemblance in practice, to that which was espoused in theory. For a start, it could only be applied to the bombing of North Vietnam which was the recipient of less than one sixth of the bombs dropped by the US during the war.[66] Secondly, what actually occurred bore no resemblance to the increasing “slow squeeze” that is central to the story. Admittedly the tempo did increase between the initiation of the bombing campaign “Rolling Thunder” in April 1965 and the end of that year, but this was due to the US committing more and more resources to the air war. Bombing in Laos and South Vietnam increased at a far greater rate than in North Vietnam.[67]

Nor could the bombing campaign against North Vietnam be considered “limited” by any standards other than those of the bombing of Laos and South Vietnam. The campaign ran for 3 years and dropped an average of one 500 pound bomb every 30 seconds. By the end 860,000 tons had been dropped, three times as much as was dropped on Europe, Asia and Africa in World War II.[68] Whatever industrial capabilities that were not destroyed outright had to be decentralised at very high costs to efficiency. Agriculture was also affected and it is estimated that the campaign destroyed 10 to 15 years of economic growth. Three major cities and twelve of twenty-nine provincial capitals had been flattened. According to Robert McNamara’s estimate, at one point in 1967 1000 civilians were being killed each week.[69]

Nor can it truly be claimed that the US sought a negotiated settlement. Lyndon Johnson twice expressed a wish to negotiate, once offering “unconditional talks”, but these offers were not addressed to the DRV regime, but rather to US domestic audiences in speeches.[70] Not surprisingly, Hanoi took these offers with a grain of salt, when they heard of them, and released a list of its aims, presumably hoping that the US would respond by saying that none of the DRV’s desires were negotiable.[71] Instead the US government held up the list of points as proof that Hanoi did not want to negotiate, and when Hanoi tried to clarify that it was in fact willing to negotiate, it was ignored by the US government and media. In fact Hanoi had made several moves to try an institute negotiations which the State Department and even the hawkish Ray Cline (at the time, acting Director of Central Intelligence) agreed were probably real.[72]

Because the US was not actually willing to negotiate, “graduated response” is not really a strategy, and provides no actual rationale for US behaviour. By claiming to seek negotiations which the US would not itself allow, the US could continue bombing without any military strategic rationale, without having to give a reason. To maintain the illusion the Johnson administration would periodically cease bombing before any planned escalation. James William Gibson writes that the, “sense in which the [bombing] pause was for political appearances only can be discerned in most memoranda.”[73]

The really striking thing about “graduated response”, though, is that there was no real pretense that the bombing was designed to degrade military capabilities to improve military outcomes in the field. If the point was to drive the DRV to negotiate by “reprisal” then it is obvious that this is not a military exercise at all. The inevitable non-combatant casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure and property is no longer “collateral damage” in an attack on military targets, it is part of the intentional target. So even if the US had been trying to force the DRV to negotiate, there were using genocidal means to do so and they showed genocidal intent. It is a very clear breach of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG) which prohibits the intentional destruction “in whole or in part” of a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

Mass Murder in Viet Nam

There is no denying that the US visited systematic destruction on Laos, Viet Nam, and Cambodia. Those who deny the genocides usually do so on the grounds that the US did not have a genocidal intent. As I showed, the policy of graduated response shows that genocidal intent existed. But even genocide scholars often seem to think that “genocidal intent” only exists when that genocidal intent is itself a motive. This is the equivalent of saying that if I kill you in order to steal your watch I am not guilty of murder because I am was just using deadly means incidentally, as a means of acquiring your watch.

Genocide scholars are by no means above splitting hairs over intentionality in order to keep Western atrocities free of the stain of being labelled genocide. They largely reject even-handed simplicity. A straight-forward approach would inevitably force them to take intellectual stances that are politically uncomfortable with regard to settler-colonial history, US foreign policy, globalisation and neoliberalism, and, last but not least, Israel. Instead of maintaining clarity, these scholars tie themselves in knots of obfuscation, and in doing so they add more and more elements of unnecessary subjectivity to increasingly unreal and ornate theoretical constructs. They do so whilst complaining that the subject itself is too taxing and slippery for even the greatest of minds.

Mark Levene, to pick one example, described Spanish acts towards indigenous people at Potosí as the wholesale destruction of their political structures and autonomous power so that, suitably subjugated, their populations could be put to enforced work, in effect enslaved, in order to enrich their new Castilian masters.”[74] According to Levene, this is merely “hyper-exploitation” because it lacks exterminatory intent. He writes, “this was not a policy or strategy geared towards killing the natives or their replacements outright but extracting as much labor out of them as possible….”[75] This statement is quite simply wrong. These people were intentionally worked to death just like millions Jews, Slavs and Roma were worked to death by the Germans. There is no recognition given by Levene that up to 8 million people in Hispaniola were completely exterminated by the same empire using the same institutions,[76] even though he acknowledges their extinction as a result of contact with Europeans. Instead he merely writes, “There are conditions in which extermination may also emerge out of hyper-exploitation, most obviously when native peoples revolt against their oppressors, leading to the latter’s retributive over-kill.”[77]

Levene is formulating a typical expression of Western exceptionalist doublethink. He acknowledges acts of near inconceivable savagery, but then creates an interpretation which suggests that this savagery is only the accidental by-product of a far more essential Western rationality. This is nothing but conventional self-replicating racism. Levene automatically seeks evidence of rational self-interest on the part of Western actors, which then over-rides any evidence of racial animus and appetitive savagery. Conversely, when dealing with non-Western actors he seeks evidence of animus which then effaces issues of rational self-interest.

The irony is that Levene does an excellent job elsewhere of analysing the Revolutionary French genocide against the people of the Vendée when there was a counter-revolutionary insurgency. Therein he balances the passionate brutality and the cold calculations of a bureaucratic machinery of mass-murder. I assume that for someone like Levene it is somewhat easier to see savagery as a symptomatic part of Western culture if it is a revolutionary savagery. The funny thing is that historians of the period who are not familiar with the concept of genocide accuse him of imputing a genocidal motive because they can’t distinguish between intent and motive. I would laugh, if I wasn’t so busy raging ineffectually from the margins.

I have shown that in one policy, the US demonstrated genocidal intent towards Viet Nam, or at least the northern part of it. But one of the things that made the concept of genocide so brilliant from the first was that Lemkin always understood that genocide would, by nature, be expressed in many different ways. John Docker describes Lemkin’s conception as being “composite and manifold… a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of life of a group.”[78]

The genocide in South Viet Nam was more intense than anywhere else in Indochina, but also more complex and confusing. Much was similar to the situation in Cambodia. People were driven from the countryside to be concentrated in urban slums, a process Samuel Huntington described as “refugee generation”.[79] The RVN was also made economically dysfunctional by US “aid”. The result was a partly surreal country of militarism, consumerism, grief, poverty and degraded anomie. This was the society documented by Philip Jones Griffiths in his book-length photo-essay Vietnam Inc. which showed maimed civilians, beggars, drugs, and child soldiers. It showed that the war permeated everything. It was a world populated by a lost people ripped out of normality and placed in a new landscape strewn with alien protrusions of war machinery, billboards, craters, corpses and girly bars. Griffiths explicitly contextualised it all as a twisted form of business enterprise.[80] He later told Christian Appy, “The closer you got to the war… the more you objected to what you saw. Eventually I believed that what America was doing in Vietnam was genocide.”[81]

photographer-philip-jones-griffiths-in-vietnam-Little TigerCalled “Little Tiger,” rumored to have killed two “Vietcong women cadre”—his mother and teacher. Vietnam, 1968. Photograph by Philip Jones Griffiths © Philip Jones Griffiths / Magnum Photos

Here are some quotes from Lemkin that are apposite:

  • The destruction of the foundations of the economic existence of a national group necessarily brings about a crippling of its development, even a retrogression. The lowering of the standards of living creates difficulties in fulfilling cultural-spiritual requirements. Furthermore, a daily fight literally for bread and for physical survival may handicap thinking in both general and national terms.”[82]
  • In order to weaken the spiritual resistance of the national group, the occupant attempts to create an atmosphere of moral debasement within this group. According to this plan, the mental energy of the group should be concentrated upon base instincts and should be diverted from moral and national thinking. It is important for the realization of such a plan that the desire for cheap individual pleasure be substituted for the desire for collective feelings and ideals based upon a higher morality. Therefore, the occupant made an effort in Poland to impose upon the Poles pornographic publications and movies. The consumption of alcohol was encouraged, for while food prices have soared, the Germans have kept down the price of alcohol, and the peasants are compelled by the authorities to take spirits in pay agricultural produce. The curfew law, enforced very strictly against Poles is relaxed if they can show the authorities a ticket to one of the gambling houses which the Germans have allowed to come into existence.”[83]
  • Their general plan was to win the peace though the war be lost, and that goal could have been achieved through successfully changing the political and demographic interrelationships in Europe in favor of Germany. The population not destroyed was to be integrated in the German cultural, political and economic pattern.”[84]

It might surprise people that Lemkin put so much emphasis on cultural, economic, political, social and moral destruction. He didn’t actually devote any more time to the physical destruction of group members than he did to the seven other “techniques of genocide”. When he first described genocide even his account physical destruction was not particularly focussed on killing. He was more detailed about the way in which differential access to food was being used to increase mortality rates. Nevertheless, our common understanding quite naturally leads us to link genocide with mass killings of civilians. Even today there is a degree of interest and attention paid to the intimate acts of murder and massacre that US personnel undertook. In 2003 Michael Sallah started reporting based on atrocities uncovered but kept quiet by the US Army Criminal Investigation Command (CIC). In 2006, with Mitch Weiss, he published Tiger Force, in which the eponymous elite military unit were revealed to have prolifically tortured, raped, murdered and mutilated.[85] In 2007 a German book was published by Bernd Greiner which drew heavily on the files of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group (VWCWG) to document how US actions became “a war against civilians”. An English translation was published in 2010.[86] The VWCWG was formed in response to the My Lai massacre. It was intended to ensure that the US military was never again caught unprepared by revelations of atrocities. Like the CIC it uncovered many atrocities, documented them and buried them again. Since 2004 most of their files have effectively been blocked from public access.[87] In 2005 Nick Turse published a doctoral dissertation based on VWCWG documents.[88] This led to a series of articles in the LA Times with Deborah Nelson, which formed the basis of The War Behind Me in 2008.[89] Last, but by no means least, came Turse’s book Kill Anything that Moves in 2013.[90]

Collectively these works reveal a horrifying pattern of war crimes – brutal intimate crimes of personal savagery. They add immeasurably to the often derided testimonies of dissident GIs and veterans who tried to tell people what was happening. But this emphasis on massacre at close quarters threatens to overshadow the greater picture of civilian deaths. Most US personnel did not personally kill civilians and most civilians who were killed by US personnel died without their killers ever being close enough to see the terror and pain on their faces. These acts were part of a larger picture of killing.

Bernd Greiner deliberately chooses to isolate acts of violence in “close proximity” from violence at an “anonymous distance”.[91] Instead of placing the situationally generated personal violence within the context of other systematic acts of mass murder, he contextualises the violence by regurgitating the orthodox scholarship that contends that everything the US did was the result of miscalculating, maladaptation and dysfunction. He even repeats the irrational, but common, contention that “assymetrical warfare” makes material superiority “more of a curse” than a blessing.[92] Like Levene he is artificially separating the intimate brutal mass-murder from the calculated dispassioned policies of mass-murder in order to explain each and abberations in terms which, without the artificial cognitive distance, would readily be revealed to be contradictory.

The real story is only understood by seeing how the distant mass murder and the intimate mass murder both fit within the context of “composite and manifold” acts of destruction of which they are only a part.

At one point Turse and Nelson travelled to part of Quang Nam province to find the site of a massacre detailed in US investigation files. They had an uncertain location. In three days of looking for the site they were shown a total of 5 massacre sites where a total of 8 different massacres had occurred, 5 committed by US personnel. They were unable to find the site of the massacre:we thought we’d be looking for a needle in a haystack of hamlets, not a haystack of massacres.”[93] The factors which lead to such widespread mass murder were not cultural but rather systemic results of deliberate choices. US personnel were primed through indoctrination and then situated in such a manner as to generate a predisposition towards atrocities. US personnel were placed in what Robert Jay Lifton has referred to as “atrocity-producing-situations”. The problem is that even after 40 years of consistently creating these “atrocity producing situations” even Lifton himself will not entertain the notion that the atrocities are an intended result.

I will begin, then, by printing the testimony of S. Brian Willson. He was one of very few people who was forced to confront intimately the results of an airstrike on a village. The Vietnamese farmers had extraodinarily strong ties to their land and practiced a Confucian reverence for the shrines of ancestors. So, predictably, when a free-fire zone was declared many would remain behind, sleeping in bunkers and often living with the nightmare of nightly shelling. Those people faced the further risk of aerial bombardment. S. Brian Willson was assigned to guard Bin Tui, an airbase in South Vietnam, in which position he was given the duty of helping assess bombing missions, in April 1969, to ensure that pilots were not deliberately missing their targets. His description of the first such mission includes, “…a sea of bodies. Probably 100 to 120 corpses. A few of them were moving, most were still. This was 15 minutes after the bombing.” The village had been bombed in the middle of the day, when the healthy adults were at work in the fields, so the victims were all the children, the elderly, the infirm and childminders. The military situation was such that just two officers were able to arrive 15 minutes after the bombing without any endangerment to themselves. Willson’s companion, an VNAF Lieutenant replied to Willson’s protestations: “They’re communists, this is a victory,” and they left the wounded to die. Willson believed there was some mistake, but soon discovered that, because the entire province had been declared a free-fire zone, the villages were systematically being destroyed without reference to whether or not there was intelligence of enemy activity. Willson described this as “a deliberate systematic plan to wipe out the civilian population.”[94] In a written account of the same event, Willson adds, “At one dramatic moment I encountered at close range a young wounded woman lying on the ground clutching three young disfigured children. I stared, aghast, at the woman’s open eyes. Upon closer examination, I discovered that she, and what I presumed were her children, all were dead, but napalm had melted much of the woman’s facial skin, including her eyelids.”[95]

Free-fire zones unavoidably make a mockery of Greiner’s attempt to keep intimate and distant violent separate. In South Vietnam the number and extent of free-fire zones kept expanding. By the beginning of 1967, according to Neil Sheehan: “Free-fire zones proliferated so rapidly with new red lines on maps for laying waste that it was no longer possible to keep track of their number and the total area they encompassed.”[96]

The spread of free-fire zones was only made possible by the fact that US armed forces did not actually occupy or “pacify” rural South Vietnam, a circumstance which will be examined below. By 1969 they encompassed 75% of South Vietnam.[97] Though the Rules of Engagement (ROE) officially specified otherwise, examples abound of the military authorities encouraging troops to consider all persons in a free-fire zone to be a legitimate target. Weiss and Sallah detail multiple instances where it is clear that Tiger Force had been led to believe that “free-fire” meant that they had complete discretion and could legitimately kill whoever they wanted.[98] Eventually the Orwellian logic predominated to such an extent that Westmoreland, in 1969, was able to baldly claim that absolutely no civilians had ever been killed by the US in designated free-fire zones, because no-one in a free-fire zone was a civilian, by definition.[99]

This had been building for a long time. For many years the US had used militarily counterproductive tactics which systematically killed civilians and were a major impetus in fuelling the armed insurrection against the US-installed regime in Saigon. As early as 1962, with the war continually gaining momentum, US Colonel John Paul Vann observed an ARVN tactic of randomly shelling and bombing civilian structures which “kills many, many more civilians than it ever does VC and as a result makes new VC.”[100] When he and Colonel Daniel Boone Porter confronted Westmoreland’s predecessor, General Paul Harkins, with an appeal “to stop this self-defeating slaughter”, in Neil Sheehan’s words, “he turned out to be as dense in his own way as the Saigon commanders. Instead of using his influence to put a halt to the bombardments he was furthering them.”[101]

It should be noted here that with respect to major military policies, doctrines and significant recurrent tactics, the ARVN followed the dictates of the US military. The US exercised veto power over their allies actions because they were so essential a point of supply. As Roger Warner observed this gives the US complete power over the strategy of dependents like the Hmong forces in Laos.[102] In 1969 ARVN General Cao Van Vien said: “We Vietnamese have no military doctrine because the command of all operations in Vietnam is in the hands, is the responsibility, of the American side. We followed the American military doctrine.”[103] The fact is that the US simply dictated to the various RVN regimes what numbers and what kinds of forces it desired,[104] and when a regime was insufficiently compliant it was overthrown.

As it happened, despite further years of experience which confirmed Vann’s prognosis that randomly killing civilians would increase the numbers of the NLF, the US armed forces and those of their allies employed a virtually identical method of employing artillery, which they termed Harassment and Interdiction (H&I) fire. This was unobserved artillery fire, usually employed every night on places such as cross-roads in designated free-fire zones. It was not until the US had been doing this for 3 more years that General Creighton Abrams (who replaced William Westmoreland) urged his commanders to reduce the amount of H&I fire.[105]

In fact, the H&I tactic was only one way in which the US either directly or indirectly assured that civilians would be injured or killed by US ordnance. The most obvious being the free-fire zones. These were essentially identical, in terms of logic, to the way the Saigon commanders had justified their “butchery and sadism” to John Paul Vann in 1962, by the assertion that geographical location was proof of sympathies, and sympathy with the “Viet Cong” made for a legitimate target.[106] Before the term free-fire zone was invented, the phrase used was “solid VC areas” and by 1963 some US personnel had adopted the logic behind the characterisation: the USAF 362nd Squadron began shooting civilians for sport in these “de facto free-fire zones”.[107]

The way free-fire zones worked was through the way actions were allowed under the US armed forces ROE. US troops on the ground were still bound, in theory at least, to respect civilian life, but any person who ran, regardless of age, was a “VC”, and hence was to be killed. Philip Caputo, a USMC Lieutenant who was later to become a reporter and antiwar activist, asked the obvious question at the time: “Why should the act of running identify someone as a communist?”[108] Note that he is not questioning the rightness of killing someone unarmed because they had a particular political orientation. Turse finds the “purest expression” of the ROE logic on a death certificate which lists external cause of death as “Running from U.S. forces.”[109]

For those operating machine-guns in helicopters or boats, and for those able to strafe with aeroplanes, this rule became a license for mass-murder among those who wished to commit such an act. Gibson gives the example of testimony by a helicopter gunner:

“We had another rule, the use of evasive action. Anyone taking evasive action could be fired upon. Evasive action was never explained to me. It normally entailed someone running or trying to evade a helicopter or any fire.

“My unit, the gunships in my unit had installed MP sirens. Police sirens on the helicopter and we used these for psychological effect, to intimidate people.

“There is one incident I recall where we new over a large rice paddy, and there were some people working in the rice paddy, maybe a dozen or fifteen individuals, and we passed over their heads and they didn’t take any action, they were obviously nervous, but they didn’t try to hide or anything. So we then hovered a few feet off the ground among them with the two helicopters, turned on the police sirens and when they heard the Police sirens, they started to disperse and we opened up on them and just shot them all down.”

Gibson gives another such example before concluding: “United States forces thus consciously created conditions specified by rules of engagement to open fire and produce a body count.”[110] It would not take a lot of such behaviour before, predictably, the Vietnamese would run as soon as they saw a US helicopter or boat. Herman and Chomskly quote the “pro-Western” Japanese journalist Katsuichi Honda who described machine-gunners “firing away at random at farmhouses” and “using farmers for targets as if in a hunting mood”.[111]

In terms of the scale of suffering and death the actions of machine-gunners are nearly insignificant when compared with the consequences of aerial bombardment. For both air and ground artillery purposes anyone within a free-fire zone was a legitimate target. When a new free-fire zone was declared, leaflets were dropped on the villagers instructing them to assemble at certain points to be taken away by helicopter to a new life, generally in a camp or as a refugee. What followed the leaflet drop was known as the “mad minutes” because after as little as an hour had elapsed since the leaflets were dropped, the US would begin artillery bombardment.[112]

Another institution which promoted the killing of civilians was the body count. As Joanna Bourke said: “The ‘body count’ of the Vietnam War formalized psychological processes of dehumanisation….”[113] It should be said at the outset that “body counts” and “kill ratios” are not some logical outcome of an attrition policy. Attrition is about destroying an enemy’s forces and given the situation in South Vietnam[114] it would have made far more sense to emphasise achieving this by the capture or destruction of weapons and supplies. The body count in Vietnam was not just about facilitating violence against enemy combatants, it also created an incentive and inclination to kill civilians. Marilyn Young concluded thatlogic seemed to have no end short of the progressive elimination of the population of the South.”[115]

The practice of counting civilian dead as the enemy was known as the “mere gook rule”, and was the direct result of “pressure from on high for ever larger body counts”.[116] Jonathan Neale summarises the logic: “In effect, the American plan was to kill the Vietnamese until they gave up. The pressure for this was relentless. The Pentagon demanded statistics. In some rear unit’s the officers chalked the cumulative kills on a board. Officers knew their careers would depend on their numbers. And although the officers seldom said, ‘Kill all the civilians you can,’ they seldom criticized anybody for doing that, and often praised them.”[117] According to Gibson: “Producing a high body count was crucial for promotion in the officer corps. Many high-level officers established ‘production quotas’ for their units, and systems of ‘debit’ and ‘credit’ to calculate exactly how efficiently subordinate units and middle-management personnel performed.”[118] There were often rewards for kills as a former GI recalls: “There was a real incentivizing of death and it just fucked with our value system. In our unit guys who got confirmed kills would get a three-day in-country R and R.”[119] Perhaps more significantly, a failure to meet a “production quota” could sometimes mean being returned immediately to dangerous duty.[120]

A further institution which promoted the killing of civilians was the “search and destroy” mission. The search and destroy mission is mainly notable as an inherent part of of the ‘Fire-power/Attrition’ strategy, but such things are all inter-connected. The significance of search and destroy missions in terms of killing civilians is very well summed up by Michael Bernhardt, who was present at the My Lai massacre: “I think something like My Lai probably had happened many times before. It was just a matter of scale. Here’s the thing. The whole war effort was built on three pillars-the free-fire zone, the search-and-destroy mission, and the body count. The free-fire zone means shoot anybody that moves. The search-and-destroy mission is just another way to shoot anything that moves. I call it the portable free-fire zone – you tote it around anywhere you go. And the body count is the tool for measuring the success or failure of whatever you’re doing. When you’ve got those three things it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how it’s going to end up.”[121]

These circumstances, along with the abovementioned institutions, created a situational predisposition to kill civilians which might be strongly at odds with the actual values of the individual serviceman. Gibson insists that “atrocities against Vietnamese routinely resulted from the production logic in which the war was conceptualized and fought.”[122]

A very significant circumstance was the endemic racial animus amongst US troops, usually against East Asians as a whole. In training US military personnel were taught to hate their enemy in explicitly racial terms such as “gook”, “slope”, “dink”, “gooner” and “zipperhead”. These terms did not, of course, distinguish combatant status, nor political affiliation, nor even nationality and ethnicity. The result was that even Asian American’s were in danger of being shot because in the belief that they were Vietnamese (one was advised to dye his hair blond and whistle dixie when it got dark).[123] Many, if not most, combat troops came to see all Vietnamese as the enemy, but ironically there was considerable respect for their actual armed opponents, the PLAF and PAVN.[124] Contempt and hatred was particularly extended to their allies: “Many [US Troops] now regarded the ARVN, indeed all Vietnamese, with open contempt. At the same time they came to think of the VC/PAVN as a resourceful and able foe.”[125]

Adding to this was the sense of fear that derived from sense of being universally hated and the hysteria generated therefrom. eale, before detailing the common ways in which US troops would commit serious acts of violence against children for sport, writes: “The old soldiers told the new soldiers the truth [sic]: those children hate us. They know where the mines are. They want us to die.” Having established this “truth” Neale goes on to detail the common practice of throwing full cans of c-rations at childrens heads to split them open.[126] Other such “truths” about the local population would spread amonst the troops, including the belief that Vietnamese children sold poisoned Coke,[127] that the Vietnamese would rig their own babies with explosives to kill GIs, and that prostitutes would boobytrap their vaginas with broken glass.[128]

These rumours are symptomatic of a larger sense of panic and insecurity, and their infantile nature should not distract from the deadly seriousness of the mental condition of the US troops. Former medic George Evans describes the circumstances under which two young boys had died: “I found out they’d been hit by an American military truck and that there was this kind of game going on in which, supposedly, guys were driving through town gambling over who could hit a kid. They had some disgusting name for it, something like ‘gook hockey’.”[129]

Such behaviours are both a result and a cause of an alienation, a massive gulf between Vietnamese and US servicemen, but one of the greatest reasons for that separation lay in the US policy of 1 year tours of duty. As a former ARVN interpreter explains: “The GIs didn’t understand anything at all about Vietnam. They always talked about being here for just one year. Look at their calendars- XXX every day. Everywhere GIs lived they had their calendars, marking off every day, counting the days. By the time they had some understanding, it was time to leave.”[130] The whole culture of the US personnel was one in which Vietnam was not even real, while the US was the “World”.

Just as soldiers of other nations have been, US military personnel were desensitised to violence, fear, pain, and death as part of their formal training. A sample of boot camp experiences is given by Gibson:

“We were told that “the only good gook is a dead gook, and the more gooks you kill, the more slant-eyes you can kill in Vietnam, that is the less you will have to worry about them killing you at night.”

“Now in this training they referred to the Vietnamese as dinks or gooks. The impression was that they were something less than human. I had a drill sergeant in AIT [Advanced Infantry Training] reply to a question, ‘What is it like over there?’; and he told us, he said, ‘It is like hunting rabbits and squirrels.’

“…the main word was, ‘Kill. Kill. Kill.’ all the time, they then pushed it into your head twenty-four hours a day. Even before you sat down to eat your meals, you had to stand up and scream ‘Kill’ before you could sit down and eat.”[131]

Gibson also prints some of the chants used in drill, such as: “VC, VC, kill, kill, kill. Gotta kill, gotta kill, ’cause it’s fun, ’cause it’s fun.”[132] Obviously desensitisation not only facilitates the killing of the enemy, but it is a blunt instrument which also promotes killing per se. One of the most famous of all boot camp cadences from the Vietnam era had the refrain: “Napalm sticks to kids!” Perhaps this particular desensitising phrase was relevant to the conditions that the personnel were about to face, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with combat and the ability to perform the role of a soldier.

It is also a departure from normal military practice to induce unreasonable fear in the soldiers being trained. One former air hostess described the men en route to Vietnam: “These were boys destined for combat and they had been told in training what their expected mortality rate was. I remember an air force Blue Beret actually told me they were trained to die. He didn’t expect ever to go home.”[133] Actually, US casualties were extremely light in the Second Indochina War with less than 2% of those who served in or over Indochina being killed. Naturally the burden was not even and some faced a much higher risk. Nevertheless, in comparison with the odds faced, even by their own countrymen and women, in World War II, these were not in themselves figures which should have induced despondency.

Nevertheless, the sense of peril permeated everything. William Calley, who massacred civilians at My Lai, had this to say about his training: It was drummed into us, ‘Be sharp! On guard! As soon as you think these people won’t kill you, ZAP! In combat you haven’t friends! You have enemies!’ Over and over at OCS we heard this, and I told myself, I’ll act as if I’m never secure. As if everyone in Vietnam would do me in. As if everyone’s bad.”[134]

The fear felt by US troops was increased by the failure or outright refusal of their commanders to create securely policed occupied territory. Instead massive base camps were constructed which were like small cities, such as one Long Binh which “boasted movie theaters, slot machines, steam baths, restaurant complexes, lawns and flower beds….”[135] This was another factor which kept the US personnel segregated from the local population (except in I Corps where the Marines referred to their compatriots as ‘ice-cream soldiers’),[136] and created a situation where there were highly Americanised islands of safety in a sea of Vietanmese hostility and danger.

Another effect of US tactics at this time was that when on patrol or Search and Destroy missions, ground forces were essentially being used as bait. They would walk until making “contact” (which the US’s own figures indicate was almost always a case of coming under fire from the enemy) and then radio in air and ground artillery strikes.[137] Actually, this manner of emphasising fire-power may have been an effective way of minimising US casualties,[138] but it led to a strong sense of spatial insecurity. Spencer Tucker wrote: “The dominant idea was to locate its enemy using infantry as a reconnaissance force and then destroy him with artillery and air power. Notoriously wasteful of matériel resources, this indiscriminate method meant that innocent civilians often got caught in the crossfire. It also lead to ‘firebase psychosis’ whereby US commanders grew reluctant to commit troops beyond the range of firebase support.”[139] All of this, for the actual ground troops, must have created a complete sense of demoralising powerlessness.

There was also a sense of futility generated. The author Tim O’Brien told Christian Appy: “It was just a blur of going from village to village through paddies with no sense of destination, or mission, or purpose. You’d just wake up and go to a village, search it, and leave. Somebody might die or not, and you’d come back a month later to the same damn village and do it again. It was like going in circles and not really achieving anything. You weren’t winning hearts and minds and you weren’t winning ground. You didn’t know who to shoot unless they were shooting at you. The enemy seemed to be everywhere and nowhere.”[140] The result was that, in one former infantryman’s words, “…slowly as fear mounted frustration and rode down a crippled confidence, as callousness started taking over from condescension in our attitude to the Vietnamese, our vision blurred, clouded over, and refocused. Where before we had found it difficult to see the enemy anywhere, now we saw him everywhere. It was simple now; the Vietnamese were the Viet Cong, the Viet Cong were the Vietnamese. The killing became so much easier now.”[141]

Of course, atrocities committed by troops on the ground contibuted only a tiny part of the overall suffering in south Vietnam, let alone Indochina as a whole. But they must have played a very significant role in encouraging people to take up arms against the US. They also give insight into the US military effort as a whole. What is striking about accounts of atrocities is that frequently there is no trigger as such, merely a momentary failure of will against ongoing pressures which effectively made murder the path of least resistance. Tiger Force (an elite unit) were pressured into being “productive”, through the usual means, but as their habitual killing of civilians became known to superiors they were actually consciously used as a death squad (I can think of no other term) by battalion commanders. Sallah and Weiss give considerable detail about this process which is too complicated to summarise here, but on at least 8 occasions they highlight the centrality of orders coming from officers not in the field.[142]

Genocidal logic or Military Illogic?

I think it is safe to reduce my thesis here to the following: The US committed genocide in Indochina and because of that Viet Nam lost the “war” in far more substantive ways than it won by achieveing a military victory. In some ways you could say that both sides won in the terms on which they chose to fight. But the US, a global hegemon, had the luxury of playing the longer game and was also able to force the each of the Indochinese regimes (ally, enemy or neutral) into a internationalised high-tech industrial conflict that none of them would have chosen.

I should note here that though much of this article is copied from a post-graduate research paper I wrote in 2008, there is much of relevance in that dissertation that I have not relayed here. The most important is that the US forced its opponents to fight, despite considerable reluctance. It shouldn’t surprise anyone really, but no one wanted to go to war with them most powerful military on the planet.[143]

Another thing which is detailed throughout the paper is the way the militarily counterproductive actions of US forces helped maintain and sustain their enemies. I have alluded to the fact that killing civilians helps recruit enemies, and as it happens Ben Kiernan has just this week published, with co-author Taylor Owen, an article reitierating: “During the four years of United States B-52 bombardment of Cambodia from 1969 to 1973, the Khmer Rouge forces grew from possibly one thousand guerrillas to over 200,000 troops and militia.”

The US also acted in ways which ensured that their enemies were well armed. An indication of how crucial the US was in arming the PLAF can be gotten from the figure given by investigative reporter I. F. Stone, who revealed estimates that in 1965 97.5 per cent of PLAF weapons were of non-communist origin.[144] Some of these may have been captured weapons from the Korean War, transshipped via China, but this is nevertheless an eye-opening figure.

Insurgencies do tend to arm themselves by raiding, but the US military facilitated this inestimably. They maintained a series of easily over-run watchtowers which advisers such as John Paul Vann, believing them to be a result of ARVN stupidity, actually referred to as “VC supply points.”[145] These watchtowers were remnants of the First Indochina War and had been a disastrous burden on the French war effort, tying up 70% of French forces. By 1953 even the French knew that the towers were worse than useless. Bernard Fall described them as “downright ridiculous”.[146] And yet they remained in place right through to the Americanisation of the war. Philip Caputo was astounded to see them in 1965: “If this was a real war zone what were those anachronisms doing here? Their only conceivable us would be as registration points for VC mortar batteries.”[147]

Trading with the enemy also played a very large role in supplying insurgents. US aid was often known to go directly to the enemy. Gibson asks the question, “Why would the war-managers willingly acquiesce in the theft of so much American aid, especially when it sometimes ended in the grasp of the enemy?” The possible answers he provides are that it was either the price the US had to pay for GVN officials to co-operate or that the US could not intervene because to do so would belie the pretence of RVN sovereignty.[148] Neither of these explanations comes close to sufficing because, as Gibson’s own exposition reveals, the system was one created by the US from scratch. The US was also unconstrained by the pretence of sovereignty, and RVN sovereignty was only ever an excuse for not taking actions that were considered undesirable but which it behoved the US to evince support for. Finally it should be noted that GVN officials could have been bought off quite sufficiently without fostering an arms supply for the NLF. ARVN corruption was largely a result of pathetic pay rates – pay rates set by the US.[149]

US profligacy with fire-power also helped the PLAF – a Captain from the tunnel complex at Cu Chi said: “We hardly received any… weapons from the North. … We needed explosives and fortunately soon found them lying all around us on the ground.”[150] Tucker, writing of the earlier parts of the war, summarises the situation with these words, “new weapons that the US provided the ARVN merely meant that the VC would now capture newer, better American weapons….”[151]

Not content with arming and supplying their enemies, it can be argued that the US even contrived to provide them, rest, recreation and medical facilities which also provided sanctuary from the US military’s own offensive operations. I refer here to the Chieu Hoi (“Open Arms”) programme, putatively set up to facilitate defections from the PLAF. This programme was administered by the GVN, but designed, overseen and funded by the US. It consisted of centres spread around South Vietnam where defectors could safely go. It is generally considered to have been a great success because of the large numbers of defectors reported and because of its “cost-effectiveness”, reportedly only $125.12 per “returnee”.[152] But a social psychologist sent in 1966 to study US “psywar” efforts later wrote, “there was no way to know if the so-called ‘defectors’ were what they claimed to be. Anyone who showed up at one of these centers and claimed to be a ‘defector’ was given a bed. We do know that some genuine VC moved into these centers whenever U.S. Army divisions began military operations in their area. Thus the centers became ‘safe havens’ when the heat was on and even provided medical treatment to those wounded in action….”[153]

It is often said that the Vietnamese used their cunning oriental Sun Tzu-inspired military ways to turn US strength against itself. The US is generally represented as being almost stupidly and obtusely plain and open. Gabriel Kolko, for example, said that US officials didn’t really have a concept of historical trends.[154] The truth is almost the complete opposite. The US applied a great deal of abstruse and convoluted ideas which often employed deception. In fact the US had highly sophisticated intelligence and strategy formulation systems. They applied psychosocial and anthropological disciplines rigorously. The US produced large “Psychological Operations” reports on each of the three Indochinese nations in the late 1950s (note well that they produced one report for Vietnam) which the material, social, cultural and psychological milieu of each nation and how to exploit it. However parochial the viewpoint may have been, the US was therefore working with complex and highly informed rather than ignorant and simple-minded premises.[155] Incidentally, the US was also able to bring considerable anthropological acumen to bear when it came to working with the Hmong of Laos[156] and the Montagnards of Vietnam.[157]

In contrast, the PLAF and PAVN were almost completely confined to strictly military actions attacking the physical and moral military strength of their enemies. Their most important military leader, Vo Nguyen Giap, was a keen student of Clausewitz, of T. E. Lawrence, and of Mao Tse Tung who was also heavily influenced by Clausewitz.[158]

The most bitter irony is not the racism of those who assume that Vietnamese leaders would never employ strategic and tactical thinking from Western theorists, but rather that the relative weakness of the DRV regime meant that they could not afford anything but a fully committed outright military struggle. The French, whose war was paid for by the US, would make no concessions to the Viet Minh until they were clearly defeated. But what they won on the battlefield was stripped from them at the negotiating table. The DRV was in dire economic straits due to the ravages of war and colonialism, which, ultimately, was the reason that they even allowed Vietnam to be divided at the Geneva Conference despite having shown they were capable, if the war continued, of winning a complete politico-military victory.[159] The Viet Minh occupied most of Vietnam and Laos and had won a major victory at An Tuc near the 14th parallel. They wanted a temporary division at the 13th or 14th parallel and knew that by accepting a division at the 17th parallel they were facilitating a partition.[160] Douglas Pike, a US official as well as a scholar, puts it forthrightly: “Ironically the agreement in Geneva benefited all parties except the winners.”[161]

So ultimately, despite racial stereotyping, the enemies of the US could do nothing but fight a relatively straightforward military struggle, using the best tactics available to them, until the self-fulfilling prophecy of Communist tanks entering Saigon came to pass. It was the US that exploited Hanoi’s own strengths against it, making the 1973 peace agreement akin to the 1954 peace agreement. This time, however, when the US did not live up to the deal it was inevitable that the DRV would finish the military conquest, creating “visuals” that appeared as the conquest of an aggressor, not an act of liberation or reunification.

The US left to the military victor a deeply divided country which they had partitioned for 21 years. The economy was stretched thin in the North and fragmented, poisoned and half-immolated in the South. Kiernan and Owen write that the latest research suggests that “from 1961 to 1972, American aircraft dropped approximately one million tons of bombs on North Vietnam, and much more on rural areas of South Vietnam – approximately 4 million tons of bombs, 400,000 tons of napalm, and 19 million gallons of herbicides.”

The evidence that the US committed genocide in Indochina is overwhelming. There were statements of clear genocidal intent; there were policies that embodied genocidal intent; every other major policy, practice, or common tactic seemed to belong to a system which maximised the death and destruction visited on the peoples of Indochina. This system seemed equally to be hostile to military efforts, and US actions also blocked all avenues to peace apart from total conquest by Communist-led anti-US forces. This left 3 countries bearing enormous physical, psychological, cultural, social, political, ecological and biological wounds.

To clarify, I think it is safe to reduce the possibilities to two interpretations. A) The US was trying to fight a war, but was for various reasons unable to act in a logical politico-military manner and despite its material superiority was defeated by a weaker but more coherent enemy. B) The US was always engaged in the business of genocide. Recurrent decisions were made on the basis of the desirability of inflicting varying forms destruction on the peoples of Indochina as such. This destruction included, but was not limited to, mass physical violence on a scale which cannot be explained in military terms. The genocide gave the US an effective victory over Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam despite the military defeat suffered by the US.

We can think of these as hypotheses A and B. Obviously these are not experimentally falsifiable in the way that the ideal scientific hypothesis is. We can’t re-run the entire war and see if it looks different if we ensure there is no genocide, but it is still illuminating to put these in the context of what is considered meritous for hypotheses in science. Most important among those meritous qualities are explanatory power, parsimony and predictive ability.

So how do they stack up?

Hypothesis A doesn’t actually explain events very well. It does explain why Khmer Rouge soldiers took over Phnom Penh 40 years ago, and why Bui Tin told Minh he had no power to surrender. However, it doesn’t really explain the events leading up to that conclusion. US militarists are fond of saying that the US was never defeated in the field in Vietnam. That is utter nonsense, of course, but they never lost anything to force of arms that they couldn’t get back (except morale). There is a very clear disjuncture between all of the years of military success and the finalé of defeat that doesn’t comport with hypothesis A.

Hypothesis B explains a surprising amount. It isn’t a complete explanation for everything, but almost everything the US did in Indochina fits within the framework of genocide. To name a few such things: cluster munitions; strategic hamlets; Operation Speedy Express; Operation Menu; one-year tours of duty; the Phoenix Programme; Agent Orange; child soldiers and ghost soldiers.[162]

Hypothesis A is very far from parsimonious. In fact in important respects, hypothesis A is not a hypothesis at all, but a presumption which has spawned innumerable ornate theories or theorycules about US politics, culture, decisionmaking, psychology, dysfunction, and so forth. For example, I have documented four different variants of quagmire thesis, all of which are distinct from concepts of stalemate, inadvertence, groupthink, and imperial presidency.[163]

According to common perception Hypothesis B might seem to lack parsimony. In the common imagination a project of genocide is something hatched by maniacal plotters behind closed doors and enacted by brutal fanatics. One could argue that this is a perfect description of what occurred in Indochina, but it is subjective. It presupposes that the observer will see the plotters and those who execute the plots as the “other”. It makes people think that they have to reconceptualise the way that US society works because they believe, by definition, that the ordinary functioning of US political power precludes a series of officials all systematically choosing to commit genocide over a period of time. They believe that it would involve special secrecy and Byzantine conspiracy. The reality is far more banal. The maniacal plotters are rational and ordinary men and women, just as the Nazi leaders were. The brutal fanatics are also just ordinary people – frighteningly so. There was a lot of secret conspiracy, that has been well established particularly with regard to the Nixon administrations, but much that was genocidal was simply done in the open.

In fact, hypothesis B requires only a partial corollary. The corollary is that even if the main thrust of US activity was defined by a project of genocide, many personnel, if not entire institutions, engaged earnestly in counter-insurgency, winning hearts and minds and trying to establish democarcy and prosperity. The reason that this is only a partial corollary is that any such substantive effort was systematically undermined or subverted. Every bright idea that was fed into the US came out twisted into another interation of genocide. Efforts at “pacification” for example, spawned genocidal operations like Speedy Express. “Inkblot” counterinsurgency became “strategic hamlets”, “enclave strategy” and “refugee generation”. For any scholars of the 2nd Indochina War who still harbour doubts over the genocide, ask yourself whether it is really possible that all of those well-meaning and often very clever sounding military, political and civil actions somehow all came to inflict damage on the people they were supposed to help or co-opt.

Finally, I will turn to the predictive power of the hypotheses. Obviously this is not 1975, and it is not scientifically valid to make “predictions” in retrospect. But I am not doing science here, I am using concepts that are applied to science in order to show that the commonly accepted orthodox view of the 2nd Indochina War is hopelessly pathetic. That said, let us imagine what hypothesis A would predict. It would predict the “Vietnam Syndrome” and the massive reorganisation of the US military that followed the war. It would be highly consonant with the advent of the Powell Doctrine. In other words, the US military itself behaved very much like it had been defeated in a war. But in other respects the US did not seem like it had lost a war. As mentioned, it was not in any way subject to the power of the victors. In terms of international hegemony the US continued to grow in strength with its financial hegemony actually improving after it dropped the gold standard. The “Third World” – meaning the non-aligned countries – became the “Third World” – meaning impoverished debt-vassals to Western capital. The US won the Cold War and the Laos, Viet Nam and Cambodia embraced the “Washington Consensus”.

More strikingly, though, is the fact that with some reluctance on the part of the US military, the US has started making exactly the same “mistakes” repeatedly and for very protracted periods. Since 2001, the US has been on a spree of war-fighting “mistakes”. In fact, even whilst the war was still happening in Indochina, they were making the same “mistakes” in Latin America and continued to make those “mistakes” for as long as they could.

To put this in perspective there is no country on Earth that comes close to the US in its experience of fighting against insurgencies and irregular warfare once you account for Indian Wars, Cuba, Philippines, every Marine campaign from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, The Pacific War, Korea, Indochina, the entire Western hemisphere, “advisors”, “trainers”, schools, AFRICOM, CENTCOM and more besides. In fact, I dare say that all other countries in the history of humanity put together have not equalled the US in the sheer number of person hours devoted to counter-insurgency. So how then do we accept the constant diagnosis given by respected analysts who explain US “failures” in terms of their inability to fight insurgencies? Are we that stupid?

Now the counter-insurgency and conventional military “failures” are proliferating, and they all happen to experience the social, cultural, economic, ecological and political destruction, along with mass deaths, that signify genocide. Places like Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Somalia resemble Lemkin’s description of the effects of German genocide very closely.

Hypothesis B might lead one to predict all of this. It could predict that genocidal events would occur in the Western hemisphere admixed with genuine counter-insurgency and politicidal violence by established comprador oligarchs. It would predict that client minorities in Apartheid South Africa and Israel would use the same tactics. It would predict that, as much as possible, the US would avoid the public and military morale problems that meant that it could not indefinitely continue violence against Indochina. In that vein, hypothesis B strongly resonates with actions such as declaring no-fly zones such as that imposed on Iraq during the sanctions period. It would predict that the US would often avoid “boots on the ground” of they were likely to cause exponentially mounting opposition. But where it had found them worthwile once, it would want to keep sending them back even after they had been withdrawn.

Hypothesis B would predict that once the hegemony of the US was threatened on a global scale its genocidal practices would spread. It would militarily intervene in ever more countries in order to weaken the nations and the peoples that threatened to break free of its control. It would exploit the weakness and instability it created in each intervention to perpetuate further destruction creating further weakness and instability which would allow further destruction. This would continue and proliferate until stopped by a fundamental change – either the complete collapse of US power altogether or a change in public perception which causes the genocidal acts to be clearly seen as genocidal and morally unacceptable. US military and economic power is immense and will not simply vanish overnight, so the first option is a guarantee of years of continued destuction, immiseration and death.

A or B?

[1] Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation – Analysis of Government – Proposals for Redress, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944, pp 80-1.

[2] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, 2.2.29. Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1997, p 93.

[3] Estimates of Cambodian deaths resulting from the 1970-75 war range from Vickery’s 500,000 killed (Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 263) to a credible 1 million excess deaths Sorpong Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy? Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000, p 54. Given that the Cambodian population was an estimated 6 or 7 million in the period of the Second Indochina War, this gives us a figure of between 1 in 6 and 1 in 14 of all Cambodians killed. The US lost around 59,000 (Gibson, A Perfect War, p 9) out of a population around 200,000,000; or 1 in 3390. This gives a range of between 0.18 and 0.41 per cent.

[4] Between 1.8 and 3.2 million Vietnamese died (Neale, A People’s History, pp 75-6; S. Brian Willson, ‘Bob Kerrey’s Atrocity, the Crime of Vietnam and the Historic Pattern of US Imperialism’, in Adam Jones (ed.), Genocide, War Crimes and the West, p 169; Robert K. Brigham, ‘Why the South Won the American War in Vietnam’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 98) giving a range of between 1 in 9 and 1 in 16. This gives US percentages as being between 0.27 and 0.47 percent.

[5] Laos is extremely problematic in terms of counting the lives lost. The New York Times gives an estimated figure of 350,000 (Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 260). That is around 1 in 9, but the figure may be too low when one considers that, in addition to civil war, the Laotians in this period were subjected to 500,000 bombing missions which dropped over 2 million tons of bombs (Willson, ‘Bob Kerrey’s Atrocity…,’ p 168).

[6] Bureau of Economic Assessment, “Current-Dollar and “Real” Gross Domestic Product” [Computer spreadsheet file]. Retrieved 25 January 2008 from http://www.bea.gov/national/xls/gdplev.xls.

[7] William, Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. London: Fontana, 1980 (1979), pp 220-1.

[8] Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, p 19.

[9] Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 264.

[10] It ranks 139th on the Human Development Index, which is two places below Cambodia (United Nations Development Programme, ‘Country Fact Sheet – Lao People’s Democratic Republic’. Retrieved 21 April 2015 from http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/cdp/ldc/profile/country_103.shtml Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Human_Development_Index#Low_human_development).

[11] Hy V. Luong, ‘Postwar Vietnamese Society: An Overview of Transformational Dynamic’ in Hy V. Luong (ed.), Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, pp 12, 14.

[12] Nicholas Minot; Francesco Goletti, ‘Export Liberalization and Household Welfare: The Case of Rice in Vietnam’ in American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 80, No. 4. (Nov., 1998), p 743. Minot and Goletti actually (to their own evident surprise) projected a slight overall drop in poverty, but they do so on the basis of changes in real income which do not take into account that rural persons are better able to acquire food without income expenditure. They also slightly underestimate the level of urbanisation – they use the 1990 figure of 20 per cent, when by the time of their writing the figure was over 23 per cent (Michael DiGregorio, A. Terry Rambo, Masayuki Yanagisawa, ‘Clean, Green, and Beautiful: Environment and Development under the Renovation Economy’ in Hy V. Luong (ed.), Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, p 189.) and do not account for future urbanisation. Michel Chossudovsky suggests that the Vietnamese did, in the actual event, become considerably poorer (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty and the New World Order. Shanty Bay, Ontario: Global Outlook, 2003, p 168).

[13] Gilbert, ‘Introduction’, p 26.

[14] Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, pp 77-8.

[15] Some of the metal was actually sold back to Viet Nam by a Japanese conglomerate at market rates (Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty…, pp 172-3).

[16] Adam Fforde and Suzanne H. Paine, The Limits of National Liberation. Beckenham, Kent: Croom Helm, 1987, pp 127-8.

[17] Robert D. Schulzinger, A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp 172-3.

[18] John Pilger, “Year Zero” in John Pilger (ed.), Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs, London: Vintage, 2005, pp 120-157. See also Alexander Laban Hinton, Why Did They Kill? : Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005;

[19] Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, p 143; Spencer C. Tucker, Vietnam. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1999, p 196.

[20] Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 260.

[21] Wilfred Burchett, The China, Cambodia, Vietnam Triangle. Chicago and London: Vanguard Books and Zed Press, 1981, pp 41-2.

[22] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 238.

[23] Ben Kiernan ‘The Samlaut Rebellion, 1967-68’ in Kiernan, Ben, and Boua, Chanthou (eds). Peasants and Politics in Kampuchea, 1942-1981. London: Zed Press, 1982, pp 166-172.

[24] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 52-3, 55-7

[25] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 64-5.

[26] Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 18.

[27] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 114-5.

[28] William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (2nd ed.), Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2004, pp 137-8; Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, pp 125-6; Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 114-23;

[29] Partly because the MACV produced figures 5 times as high as the more likely CIA figure. The Central Intelligence Agency agreed there was a flow through Cambodia, but its National Intelligence Estimate in 1968 put the level at only two thousand tons. Pacific Command intelligence essentially accepted the CIA estimate. The State Department argued that “what reliable evidence is available does not suggest that the operation is of the magnitude MACV describes.”’ Even the Pentagon questioned MACV methodology. CIA analyst Paul Walsh conducted ‘quite a sophisticated’ study, arriving ‘at a figure of something like six thousand tons from 1967 to early 1970. By then MACV’s claims were up to about eighteen thousand.’ (Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, p 236.

[30] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 64.

[31] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 202, 221, 251.

[32] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 19.

[33] Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991 pp 72, 186; William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War. Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1986, pp 79-80; Tucker, Vietnam, p 129.

[34] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 140.

[35] Young, The Vietnam Wars, p 245.

[36] Shawcross, 1979, p 151.

[37] Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, pp 19-23. Also see Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, p 128.

[38] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 73, 180, 194-5, 261.

[39] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 249.

[40] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 254

[41] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 220.

[42] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 317-9.

[43] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 149.

[44] Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia , p 127.

[45] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 163.

[46] Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 24.

[47] Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 19.

[48] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 186.

[49] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 254-5.

[50] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 169.

[51] Nigel Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won. London: Arcturus Publishing, 2003, p 213; William C. Westmoreland “A Look Back” (1988). Retrieved 25 April 2015 from https://ongenocide.com/material/.

[52] Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, p 64.

[53] Edward Cuddy, “Vietnam: Mr. Johnson’s War. Or Mr. Eisenhower’s?” The Review of Politics, 65:4, Autumn 2003, pp 360-1.

[54] Frederik Logevall, “Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam”, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 34:1, March 2004, p 100.

[55] Schulzinger, A Time for War, pp 146, 166.

[56] Schulzinger, A Time for War, pp 169-70.

[57] Christian Appy, Vietnam: The Definitive Oral History Told from all Sides. London: Ebury Press/Random House, 2006 (2003), pp 120-3.

[58] Logevall, ‘Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam’ p 101.

[59] Schulzinger, A Time for War, pp 99, 111; Fred I. Greenstein and Richard H. Immerman, ‘What Did Eisenhower Tell Kennedy about Indochina? The Politics of Misperception.’ The Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 2. (Sep., 1992), p 584. These authors, I should point out, take the vocalisations and equivocating as a symptom of reluctance: “The events that culminated in United States military intervention in Vietnam were marked by continuing disagreement and ambivalence on the part of American policy makers, who sought to arrive at outcomes falling between what Eisenhower at one point described as the ‘unattainable’ and the ‘unacceptable.’”

[60] Schulzinger, A Time for War, p 111.

[61] Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss, Tiger Force. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2006, pp 29-30

[62] Tucker, Vietnam, p 151; John Prados, ‘Impatience, Illusion and Assymetry’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 141.

[63] McGeorge Bundy, ‘Memorandum for the President, February 7, 1965,’ in Gareth Porter and Gloria Emerson (eds), Vietnam: A History in Documents (abridged). New York: New American Library, 1981 (1979), pp 295-9.

[64] Harry Summers, On Strategy: A critical analysis of the Vietnam War. New York: Presidio Press, 1995 (1982) pp 117-8.

[65] Many authors are happy to suggest that the US was mistaken because it thought that Hanoi would not be so complacent about the deaths of its own people. By this means the whole public relations paradigm of graduated response reverses victim and perpetrator in the same manner as a large bully using a smaller child’s hands to hit his face while saying, ‘stop hitting yourself.’ Jeffrey Record writes that the air campaign against the DRV failed because: ‘As a fiercely nationalistic totalitarian state prepared to sacrifice entire generations of its sons to achieve Vietnam’s reunification, North Vietnam was a very poor candidate for coercion through bombing,’ (Record, ‘How America’s Military Performance…’, in Gilbert (ed.), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, p 128). Cawthorne, referring to US use of fire-power more broadly reads into a Defense Department report that Hanoi calculatedly maintains a level of casualties just below its birth rate (Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, p 114). This sort of ‘analysis’ relies on unexamined racial notions and also the unexamined presumption that the DRV leaders were presented with any choices in regard to either war on the ground or the air campaigns.

[66] Turley, The Second Indochina War, p 87.

[67] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 330.

[68] Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, pp 96-7.

[69] Turley, The Second Indochina War, pp 92-5.

[70] Qiang Zhai, ‘Opposing Negotiations: China and the Vietnam Peace Talks, 1965-1968,’ The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 68, No. 1. (Feb., 1999), p 25.

[71] ‘The four points were: recognition of the fundamental rights of the Vietnamese people to peace, independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity, accompanied by unilateral American withdrawal and the unconditional cessation of military operations in South and North Vietnam; American respect for the Geneva Agreement of 1954 settlement of South Vietnamese problems by the South Vietnamese people in accordance with the program of southern revolutionaries without outside interference; and no foreign interference in the peace process leading to the reunification of Vietnam,’ (Pierre Asselin, ‘Hanoi and Americanization of the War in Vietnam: New Evidence from Vietnam,Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 74, No. 3, p 433, n 21.

[72] Logevall, ‘Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam’ pp 106-7.

[73] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 333-4.

[74] Mark Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State, Volume II: The Rise of the West and the Coming of Genocide, London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2005, p 13.

[75] Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State: Volume II, p 13.

[76] Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, London: Routledge, 2006, p 71.

[77] Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State: Volume II, pp 10, 13.

[78] John Docker, Raphael Lemkin’s History of Genocide and Colonialism, Paper for United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Washington DC, 26 February 2004, p 5.

[79] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Bases of Accomodation” in Foreign Affairs, 46:4, July 1968, pp 648-9.

[80] Philip Jones Griffiths, Vietnam Inc., Sydney: Phaidon, 2001.

[81] Appy, Vietnam, p 242.

[82] Raphaël Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation – Analysis of Government – Proposals for Redress, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944, p 89.

[83] Lemkin, Axis Rule, pp 89-90.

[84] Raphaël Lemkin, “Genocide”, American Scholar, 15:2 , April 1946, p 227.

[85] Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss, Tiger Force. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2006.

[86] Bernd Greiner, War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam, London: Vintage, 2010.

[87] Greiner, War Without Fronts, p 11.

[88] Nicholas Turse. Kill Anything That Moves: United States War Crimes and Atrocities in Vietnam, 1965–1973. Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, 2005.

[89] Deborah Nelson, The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth about U.S. War Crimes, New York: Basic Books, 2008.

[90] Nicholas Turse. Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013.

[91] Greiner, War Without Fronts, pp 12-3.

[92] Greiner, War Without Fronts, p 31.

[93] Nelson, The War Behind Me, p 127.

[94] This description is from a speech given in Los Angeles at the United Methodist Church in North Hills on July 20, 2003 which was recorded by the L.A. Sound Posse. S. Brian Willson, ‘US Intervention in Korea’. Los Angeles: 20 July 2003. Retrieved 28 April 2015 from http://www.radio4all.net/index.php?op=program-info&program_id=7485.

[95] S. Brian Willson, “Biography”. Retrieved 28 April 2015 from http://www.brianwillson.com/bio.html

[96] Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, New York: Vintage 1989 (1988), p pp 617-8.

[97] Turley, The Second Indochina War, p 66.

[98] Sallah and Weiss, Tiger Force, pp 77, 164, 290-2.

[99] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 135.

[100] Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, pp 106-111.

[101] Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, p 111.

[102] Roger Warner, Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America’s Clandestine War in Laos, South Royalton, Vermont: Steerforth Press, 1996, p 82.

[103] Summers, On Strategy, p 168.

[104] Tucker, Vietnam, p 96; Shawcross, Sideshow, p 178.

[105] Tucker, Vietnam, p 150.

[106] Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, pp 109-110.

[107] Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State, New YorK; New Press, 2003, p 21.

[108] Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War. London: Arrow, 1985 (1977), p 74.

[109] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 138.

[110] Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 195.

[111] John Pilger, Heroes, London: Vintage, 2001, (1986) p 191.

[112] Helen Emmerich quoted in Gibson, A Perfect War, p 141.

[113] Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face to Face Killing in 20th Century Warfare. London: Granta, 1999, p 220.

[114] Briefly put, the US was running a very expensive interdiction campaign in the air and supplies were very difficult to move South from the DRV. The southern forces needed very little in the way of supplies to continue an insurgency whose pace they determined themselves, but it was nevertheless true that supplies and weapons were of inestimable value.

[115] Young, The Vietnam Wars, p 187.

[116] Jeffrey Record, ‘How America’s Own Military Performance in Vietnam Abetted the “North’s” Victory’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 125.

[117] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 85.

[118] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 112.

[119] Appy, Vietnam, p 365.

[120] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 120.

[121] Appy, Vietnam, p 350.

[122] Gibson, A Perfect War, p viii.

[123] Appy, Vietnam, p 358.

[124] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 94.

[125] Tucker,Vietnam, p 152.

[126] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 96.

[127] Caputo, A Rumor of War, p 107.

[128] Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, p 60.

[129] Appy, Vietnam, p 452.

[130] Appy, Vietnam, p 375.

[131] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 181-2.

[132] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 182.

[133] Appy, Vietnam, p 107.

[134] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 182.

[135] Record, ‘How America’s Military Performance…’, in Gilbert (ed.), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, p 127.

[136] Caputo, A Rumor of War, p 65.

[137] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, pp 87-8.

[138] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 110-2.

[139] Tucker, Vietnam, p 131.

[140] Appy, Vietnam, p 543.

[141] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, pp 90-1.

[142] Sallah and Weiss, Tiger Force, pp 29-30, 240, 250, 261, 278, 279, 285, 292.

[143] See: Beyond Stalemate, pp 61-80.

[144] Chomsky, For Reasons of State, p 44.

[145] Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, p 101.

[146] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 61-2.

[147] Caputo, A Rumor of War, p 54.

[148] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 258-60.

[149] Schulzinger, A Time for War, p 191.

[150] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 100.

[151] Tucker, Vietnam, pp 92-3.

[152] Larry Cable, Unholy Grail: The US and the wars in Vietnam, 1965-8. London: Routledge, 1991, p 155.

[153] James O. Whittaker, ‘Psychological Warfare in Vietnam’ in Political Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 1. (Mar., 1997), p 168.

[154] Gabriel Kolko, Vietnam: Anatomy of War 1940-1975. London: Allen and Unwin 1986, p 48.

[155] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 56-8.

[156] Warner, Shooting at the Moon, p 108

[157] John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995, p 74.

[158] Phillip Davidson, Vietnam At War: The History 1946-1975, Oxford: OUP, 1991, p 20.

[159] Kolko, Anatomy of War, p 64.

[160] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 67.

[161] Douglas Pike, Viet Cong: The Organisation and techniques of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1968 (1966), p 51.

[162] All of which can be found in Beyond Stalemate.

[163] All of which can also be found in Beyond Stalemate.

Saudi Arabia is an Obedient Puppet of the US, Not a Rogue

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A reader of On Genocide‘s facebook page shared a link to this article. The premise of the article is that Saudi Arabia supports Islamist terrorists, but the US can’t do anything about it because Saudi Arabia has the US bent over an oil barrel. They are described as being in a “Mexican stand-off”. This is an incredibly naïve analysis. There is no parity between SA and the US. The Saudi régime is an extremely obedient and vulnerable client of the US and if they are supporting terrorists it is with blessings from Washington.

The US has a long established practice of blaming its puppet leaders for doing things or forcing the US to do things that the US wants to do, but has to pretend that it does not want to do. For most of the Korean War the US actively sabotaged peace negotiations, but they blamed Syngman Rhee for it using racially informed notions of Oriental despotism.

In Viet Nam they had to cycle through a number of a lot of leaders looking for people with the right stuff. Though they had initially supported the monarchy, Edward Lansdale famously used PR expertise, including deadly false-flag bombings to install Ngo Dinh Diem. Later, the US government played a crucial role in the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem. It remains to be noted, however, that although Diem was supposedly out of favour for a number of reasons, the last straw for the US government is generally held to be when, on September the 19th, it was learned that Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was negotiating with Hanoi. Both brothers were dead by November the 2nd.1 Diem had also threatened to prevent any increase in the number of US “advisors” in South Vietnam.2

Diem’s replacement, General Duong Van Minh, had strong ties with the Buddhist community and good communication with the French. He began working with the French towards neutralisation. The Pentagon organised his overthrow.3 His replacement, General Nguyen Khanh, soon decided that the only reasonable solution for South Vietnam was a neutral coalition government and set up communications with the National Liberation Front. The US got hold of a letter written by him to a NLF central committee member in which Khanh declared opposition to US intervention. They overthrew him a month later. The replacements were General Nguyen Van Thieu and Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky. In Jonathan Neale’s words: “Both were corrupt in the usual bribery and export import ways. But both were also heavily involved in the heroin trade. Finally the American embassy had found someone at the bottom of the barrel who would do as they were told.”4

Once the US had installed these completely dependent underlings the propaganda machine quickly swung into action, blaming them for the profligate corruption, destruction and obstruction of peace that the US itself created. You will be very surprised to read that this propaganda drew on racially informed notions of Oriental despotism.

Similar tropes have been deployed regarding US client dictators throughout the world. The US loves ostentatiously corrupt dictators because they are more dependant and pliable. Such creatures are at odds with the interests of their own people, which is why they are dependant on the US and easy to control. This is old school imperialism.

The British created the Saudi monarchy in just such an act of traditional imperial practice. This tailor-made client regime was then poached by the US in 1945. If you want to understand just how compliant SA is, you just need to calculate how much of its wealth ends up in the pockets of US arms manufacturers and how much is put into the US treasury. This is a payment of tribute which Michael Hudson described as being “super-imperialism”.5

Often the US deliberately casts Saudi Arabia as the villain in its actions. A case in point is the oil embargo with which the nasty Arabs attacked the US, but as even the article linked above admits, this was a crucial step in establishing the hegemony of the US dollar from then until now – nearly half a century of imperial domination. What is more, this was all according to a plan that had already been prepared

The dollar was established as the international reserve currency via the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944, when the US had the bulk of world gold reserves and, as mentioned, half of its manufacturing capacity.6 What followed was an era of global developmentalism referred to as a ‘golden age’ where global economic growth far outstripped population growth. Exports, outside of the Communist bloc, grew an average of 6% per annum from 1948 to 1960, rising to an average of 9% from 1960 to 1973.7 Western countries practised ’embedded liberalism’, wherein trade barriers were reduced under a stable system of exchange, but many non-aligned states practised economic nationalism. While it is obligatory to denounce the shoddy inefficiencies of import substitution industrialisation (ISI)8 and the nepotist corruption of Third World populist corporatism9 of the time, it should nevertheless be observed (but oddly isn’t) that these were part-and-parcel of a developmentalist approach which performed almost immeasurably better than the imposed neoliberalism which followed.

The problem with the US dollar being the reserve currency was that in order to provide liquidity to other states the US had to run a balance of payments deficit leading to indebtedness.10 The US dollar was backed by gold at a rate of $35 per ounce set in 1934.11 The Second Indochina War, however, depleted gold reserves: “In 1958, US dollar liabilities accounted for only 80 per cent of the country’s gold reserves. But by 1967, US gold reserves could cover only 30 per cent of liabilities. …[T]he deficit had spiralled out of control, dollar liabilities massively outweighed US gold reserves, and confidence in the system began to subside.”12 A similar problem had as much as spelled the end of the British empire after World War I, but this was not to be true of the US empire and its financial hegemony:

[J]ust as World Wars I and II had bankrupted Europe, so the Vietnam War threatened to bankrupt the United States.

….

[B]y March 1968, after a six-month run, America’s gold stock fell to the $10 billion floor beyond which the Treasury had let it be known that it would suspend further gold sales. The London Gold Pool was disbanded and informal agreement (i.e., diplomatic arm-twisting) was reached among the world’s central banks to stop converting their dollar inflows into gold.

This broke the link between the dollar and the market price of gold. Two prices for gold emerged, a rising open-market price and the lower “official” price of $35 an ounce at which the world’s central banks continued to value their monetary reserves.

Three years later, in August 1971, President Nixon made the gold embargo official. The key-currency standard based on the dollar’s convertibility into gold was dead. The U.S. Treasury-bill standard – that is, the dollar-debt standard based on dollar inconvertibility – was inaugurated. Instead of being able to use their dollars to buy American gold, foreign governments found themselves able only to purchase U.S. Treasury obligations (and, to a much lesser extent, U.S. corporate stocks and bonds).

As foreign central banks received dollars from their exporters and commercial banks that preferred domestic currency, they had little choice but to lend these dollars to the U.S. Government. Running a dollar surplus in their balance of payments became synonymous with lending this surplus to the U.S. Treasury. The world’s richest nation was enabled to borrow automatically from foreign central banks simply by running a payments deficit. The larger the U.S. payments deficit grew, the more dollars ended up in foreign central banks, which then lent them back to the U.S. Government by investing them in Treasury obligations of varying degrees of liquidity and marketability.13

One of the consequences of repudiating dollar convertibility was that US imperial strength became ever closer linked to US control of oil resources. As Engdahl explains it, after 1971 the US dollar fell precipitately, as might be expected, but while US financial hegemony seemed doomed policy insiders prepared a bold new monetarist design, a ‘paradigm shift’, as some preferred to term it.”14 In May 1973 a meeting of the Bilderberg Group15 was presented a “scenario” by oil economist Walter Levy wherein there would be a 400% rise in oil prices, and planned how to take advantage of such a circumstance by what Henry Kissinger was later to refer to as “recycling the petro-dollar flows”.16

Engdahl continues: “In 1973, the powerful men grouped around Bilderberg decided to launch a colossal assault against industrial growth in the world, in order to tilt the balance of power back to the advantage of Anglo-American financial interests. In order to do this, they determined to use their most prized weapon – control of the world’s oil flows. Bilderberg policy was to trigger a global oil embargo in order to force a dramatic increase in world oil prices. Since 1945, world oil trade had, by international custom, been priced in dollars. American oil companies dominated the postwar market. A sharp sudden increase in the world price of oil, therefore, meant an equally dramatic increase in world demand for U.S. dollars to pay for that necessary oil.”17

Engdahl’s phraseology, for example “Bilderberg policy”, is unfortunate in sometimes giving the impression that this was a plot hatched at the Bilderberg conference. This has caused a predictably enthusiastic response from conspiracy theorists interested in the Bilderberg Group. Engdahl’s source is the official proceedings for the discussion led by Levy and it would be most accurate to characterise it as a means of giving attendees timely information about future events which could be managed to the advantage of Western oligarchic interests. That is, after all, the nature of the plan, to take the otherwise unwelcome force of events driven by the oil producing countries and to turn that force, in Judo fashion, to one’s own advantage while greatly strengthening its impact. Levy had already publicly written on this theme in a 1971 Foreign Affairs article. The article makes interesting reading, with one of the key points being that he treats oil first and foremost as a strategic concern. Also of interest is his glowing praise of oil companies acting as a global cartel. In his rendition of events these companies are guarantors of security, while poor oil producing countries are treated with barely veiled hostility due to their ‘lingering heritage of emotional resentments against former colonial administrations and concessionary circumstances.’18

According to Engdahl, “the Yom Kippur war was not the result of simple miscalculation, a blunder, or an Arab decision to launch a military strike against the state of Israel. The entire constellation of events surrounding outbreak of the October war was secretly orchestrated from Washington and London….” This was achieved by feeding false intelligence to both sides, particularly by withholding evidence of a military buildup from Israel. The architect of the war and the resultant oil embargo, Henry Kissinger, was then able to adopt the pretence of being a peacemaker, through “shuttle diplomacy,” while the blame for the suffering caused by his scheme fell firmly on the Arab world.19 This may seem unlikely, and it some might think that Engdahl is stretching the evidence. Indeed, a journal review of the book he cites as his source mentions no such revelation.20 However, a writer may, intentionally or otherwise, reveal more than they claim, and this particular work was heavily censored (causing some controversy at the time).21 It should also be noted that the US used almost identical tactics in ensuring that war ensued between Iran and Iraq and, similarly, to guarantee their own war against Iraq in 1990. Both of these cases are well documented, but mention should also be made of the equally, if not more, duplicitous deceptions that were deployed to facilitate the major US commitment of troops to Indochina (namely the ‘Tonkin Gulf Incidents’) and the deceptions used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Then there is the question of cui bono – who benefits? The US was entering a phase of seemingly perpetual debt rollover (a phenomenon explored below) but it had, and still has, the unique privilege of paying its debt in its own currency.22 To reduce its liabilities all it had to do was induce a global surge in commodity prices, which it could achieve by creating a glut of dollars.23 At the same time, however, US financial and economic hegemony was widely considered to be on its last legs,24 a situation which should have been worsened by increased commodity prices and the damage thus done to the US and global economies. But the US Treasury and the New York and London banks were geared up for the massive increases in oil prices, and when the Nixon administration sent a senior official to the Treasury to explore ways of inducing OPEC to lower prices, he was ‘bluntly turned away’ and recorded, in a memo, that “It was the banking leaders who swept aside this advice and pressed for a ‘recycling’ program to accommodate to higher oil prices. This was the fatal decision…”25

By January 1974 oil prices had increased 400%, just as envisioned in the “scenario” outlined only 8 months earlier to the Bilderberg Group. Suddenly everyone needed US dollar reserves which had a very beneficial effect for New York banks and for London banks who traded the largest pool of “offshore” US dollars.26 Large oil companies made record profits, just as they would in later oil shocks including that created by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the previously risky North Sea venture became an instantly guaranteed moneymaker.27 Real economies suffered throughout the developed world and the degradation of US infrastructure accelerated.28 The impact on the “developing” world (as it might accurately have been called up until this point) was far more devastating. In India, for example, the balance of payments switched at from surplus to deficit at a stroke. “As a whole, over 1974 developing countries incurred a total trade deficit of $35 billion according to the IMF, a colossal sum in that day, and, not surprisingly, a deficit precisely 4 times as large as in 1973, or just in proportion to the oil price increase.”29 In the decade until 1974 developing counties saw economic growth of 5% per annum, about 2.5% above that of population growth.30 For the poorest quintile (20%) of countries, in per capita income, the period of 1980 to 200 saw an average 0.5% decline in economic activity, while the next two quintiles had lower economic growth than population growth.31

The poor states of the world plunged into ever more astronomical debt, growing from $60 billion in 1970 to $2 trillion in 1997,32 to $2.5 trillion in 2004.33 That is a 42 fold increase in 34 years. The trap is hideous. Private banks lend for high returns and when states default Western taxpayer money is given directly to these banks34 which is characterised as ‘aid’ to the stricken state, as mentioned. This is just an interventionist form of rollover, which must otherwise be arranged with the private banks, often at increased interest rates,35 because the debt is simply unpayable. In terms of ratio of external debt to exports, the figures are: 340% for sub-Saharan Africa; 202% for Latin America; and 121% for Asia.36 The situation mirrors that of many former belligerents after the First World War, debtors are forced to sell assets and commodities simply to service debt which, regardless, continues to grow. It is perpetually rolled over and ever increasing. The debtor countries are forced into antidevelopmental policies which further entrap them.37

While poor countries labour under this burden, the richest country in the world is also the largest debtor, but circumstances are very different for the US. As Hudson explains: ‘If the United States had followed the creditor-oriented rules to which European governments had adhered after World Wars I and II, it would have sacrificed its world position. Its gold would have flowed out and Americans would have been obliged to sell off their international investments to pay for military activities abroad. This was what U.S. officials had demanded of their allies in World Wars I and II, but the United States was unwilling to abide by such rules itself. Unlike earlier nations in a similar position, it continued to spend abroad, and at home as well, without regard for the balance-of-payments consequences.’38 Creditor nations were forced to buy low-yielding Treasury obligations.39 Oil producing countries, in particular, were forced to return their profits to the US and when Saudi Arabia and Iran considered by US companies they were told that this would be considered and act of war.40 OPEC was told that it could raise oil prices all it wanted, as long as it used the proceeds to buy U.S. Government bonds. That way, Americans could pay for oil in their own currency, not in gold or other “money of the world.” Oil exports to the United States, as well as German and Japanese autos and sales by other countries, were bought with paper dollars that could be created ad infinitum.’41

The US dollar predominance is reinforced by the proclivity of all US client states to spend large amounts of money on arms purchases from the US. As mentioned with regards to Iran, the figures for oil producing countries are very high, as Abbas Bakhtiar reveals: “From 1990 to 2004, Saudi Arabia, with a population of 21.4 million has spent a whopping $ 268.6 billion dollars on arms. …. One would have thought that with this kind of expenditure the Saudis would have felt safe by now. But apparently they don’t, or at least this is the view of U.S. and U.K., two major arms suppliers to these countries. But Saudi Arabia is not alone in this. Take the tiny country of United Arab Emirates. This country with a population of 2.6 million souls has spent $38.6 billion dollars for defence in 1990-2004 period.”42 /

The Saudi regime has obediently funnelled its wealth away from its own people, many of whom are desperately poor. Of course some Saudis are obscenely rich, just as client Maharajas and Nawabs were obscenely rich in the British Raj. The wealth distances them from their own people and makes them better puppets. Not only that, Saudi Arabia was completely essential in developing a global financial and economic hegemony which was used to dominate the entire globe. With help from Saudi Arabia the US was able to destroy the economic sovereignty of the entire Third World and to reverse the gains of independent nationalist post-colonial development which had occurred after WWII.

Now the Saudis are funding and arming Islamist terrorists like ISIS. But so is the US itself. In fact, both the US and the UK have very long histories of promoting Islamic extremism, not the least of which has been the incubation of the brutal Wahhabi régime in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a conduit for US destabilisation and genocide in the Middle East.

The real threat, from a US imperialist’s perspective, is that the Saudi royals would probably like to get off this death ride that is tearing apart the entire region. That is way the vilification has been stepped up several notches. The Saudis must know that the US public will back a war against them if any new terrorist attack in the US is linked to them once the US government, pretending to be forced against their own will, releases its report blaming Saudi Arabia for 9/11.

1John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995, pp 27-8.

2Jonathan Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War. New York: The New Press, 2003, p 63.

3Ibid, p 64; Frederick Logevall, “De Gaulle, Neutralization, and American Involvement in Vietnam, 1963-1964”, The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 61, No. 1. (Feb., 1992), pp 84-7.

4Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 65.

5Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003

6F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 102.

7Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p 92.

8ISI is a set of policies adopted by many developing countries in the 1950s, including most Latin American states. ISI failed to lift the Latin American countries out of dependency and it was felt that a more radical change was needed (Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, pp 109-10). On the other hand, states which have successfully industrialised have all initially followed an ISI strategy which clearly plays an important role in creating capacities which can only be oriented towards exporting once they are able to compete. For example see Stephan Haggard, Byung-kook Kim, Chung-in Moon, “The Transition to Export-led Growth in South Korea: 1954-1966,” The Journal of Asian Studies, 50:4 (Nov., 1991), pp. 850-873 (the authors do not draw this conclusion themselves, having a different focus, but in my judgement it is implicit).

9For example that in Egypt, the ill-fated United Arab Republic (UAR), Iraq and Syria . As Nazih Ayubi reveals these Arab states are less notable for their cronyism than for their statist authoritarianism with government domination of economic activity and nepotism found in appointments rather than in ownership and profits (Nazih N. Ayubi, “Withered socialism or whether socialism? the radical Arab states as populist-corporatist regimes,” Third World Quarterly, 13:1, 1992, pp 89-105).

10Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, p 25.

11F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 128.

12Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p 78.

13Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, pp 26-7.

14F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 148.

15Present at Saltsjoebaden [where the meeting took place] were Robert O. Anderson of Atlantic Richfield Oil Co.; Lord Greenhill, chairman of British Petroleum; Sir Eric Roll of S.G. Warburg, creator of the Eurobonds; George Ball of Lehman Brothers investment bank the man who some ten years earlier, as Assistant Secretary of State, told his banker friend Siegmund Warburg to develop London’s Eurodollar market; David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank; Zbigniew Brzezinski; the man soon to be President Carter’s National Security Adviser; Italy’s Gianni Agnelli, and Germany’s Otto Wolff von Amerongen, among others. Henry Kissinger was a regular participant at the Bilderberg gatherings.’ Ibid, p 149.

16Ibid.

17Ibid, pp 149-50.

18Walter J. Levy, “Oil Power,” Foreign Affairs, 49:4, July 1971, pp 652-668.

19Ibid, p 150.

20C. A. Joiner, “MATTI GOLAN. The Secret Conversations of Henry Kissinger: Step-by-Step Diplomacy in the Middle East,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.1976, 428, pp 137-138.

21Ibid, p 137.

22Philippe Martin, “The Privilege of American Debt,’ Liberation, 6 February 2006. Retrieved 11 February 2006 from http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=357019.

23Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, p 299.

24Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p 79.

25F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 152.

26Ibid, p 138.

27Ibid, p 151.

28Ibid, p 154.

29Ibid, p 155.

30Henry Kissinger, National Security Strategy Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth For U.S. Security and Overseas Interests, p 54.

31Ray Kiely, The Clash of Globalisations : Neo-liberalism, the Third Way, and Antiglobalisation, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005, pp 147-8

32Carl Sagan, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium, New York, Ballantine, 1997, p 5.

33John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004, p xviii.

34Robert M. Dunn and John H. Mutti, International Economics (6th ed.), London and New York: Routledge, 2004, p 481.

35Ibid, p 465.

36Fantu Cheru, “Debt, adjustment and the politics of effective response to HIV/AIDS in Africa,” Third World Quarterly, 23:2, 2002, p 302.

37See above.

38Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, p 26.

39Ibid, p 28.

40Ibid, p 8.

41Ibid.

42Abbas Bakhtiar, “When will the House of Saud feel safe?: Saudi Arabia and Military Expenditure,” Information Clearing House, 6 May 2006. Retrieved 14 May 2006 from http://informationclearinghouse.info/article13509.htm.

Iraq: Stop The Massacre of Anbar’s Civilians

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genocide-paper

The website The International Initiative to Prosecute US Genocide in Iraq is calling for endorsements for the following statement here: http://usgenocide.org/2014/iraq-stop-the-massacre-of-anbars-civilians/

Iraq: Stop the massacre of Anbar’s civilians!

Please endorse, share and distribute (See below)
Date: 18 February 2014

IRAQ: STOP THE MASSACRE OF ANBAR’S CIVILIANS!

Maliki’s use of the army against the civilian population of Anbar constitutes the defeat of the policies Iraq has been following since 2003 and cements the divorce between the people of Iraq and the current sectarian government.

This new round of bombing has already produced 300,000 displaced, adding to the tragedy of the millions of Iraqi citizens already displaced by the failed and brutal US occupation.

While states are legally obliged to refrain from assisting other states to undertake internationally criminal acts, the United States is upping its supply of arms and military advisors to Iraq, along with intelligence cooperation. A new US “Surge” is in the making and will only bring more death and destruction.

Maliki’s government cannot wantonly kill civilians and claim a “State of Law”:
— Collective punishment is illegal under international law.
— Shelling water and electricity facilities, religious buildings, and hospitals are war crimes and crimes against humanity.
— The scale and target of the Maliki military strikes and shelling is utterly disproportionate and illegal and criminal in the face of the legitimate demands of the Anbar tribes.
— The lack of proportionality itself constitutes a war crime and crime against humanity.
— It is paramount for people everywhere to mobilise now to save Fallujah’s and Anbar’s civilians, understanding that their suffering mirrors the impact of the fascist sectarian regime that the US occupation created.

We appeal to all individuals of conscience, to all those who support human rights, to all progressives who believe in democracy and the right to self-determination, to the UN Security Council, to the president of the UN General Assembly, to members of the UN General Assembly, to the European Commission and member states, to the European Parliament and peoples, to Islamic and Arab states and people and their organisations, and to all human rights, anti-war and civil society organisations to:

1. Order the Iraqi government to stop its use of wanton shelling, air force attacks, and heavy artillery against the civilian population in keeping with the responsibility of states to protect civilians under the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and its additional protocols.
2. Constitute an independent investigative committee to document the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Anbar and submit its findings to the International Criminal Court.

Abdul Ilah Albayaty
Hana Al Bayaty
Ian Douglas
Eman Ahmed Khamas

We call on all to join us, sign and spread this appeal. To endorse, email to: hanaalbayaty@usgenocide.org

Abdul Ilah Albayaty is an Iraqi political analyst. Hana Al Bayaty is an author and political activist. Ian Douglas is an independent political writer who has taught politics at universities in the US, UK, Egypt and Palestine.

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I endorsed the statement with the following text:

I am writing to endorse your statement condemning state violence against civilians in Anbar. My name is Kieran Kelly. I have a Master’s degree in history from Massey University in Aotearoa/New Zealand. My Master’s thesis placed the Iraq Genocide in the context of prior genocides committed by the US under the guise of military actions. I consider the current violence in Iraq to be the direct result of deliberate and systematic policies of destruction aimed at the people of Iraq as such. Both the intentionality of these acts and their links to current divisions within Iraq are amply demonstrated by frequent references by US officials to the desirability of fostering division or even partition along sectarian and ethnic lines in Iraq. In line with these stated policies the actions of US forces in Iraq – though seemingly “mishandled” in the normal politico-military sense – efficiently implemented policies which inflicted economic, social, cultural, religious, and physical destruction. This included inflicting massive direct and indirect mortality; fostering eliticidal violence against academics; disruption and degradation of health services; ecocidal pollution with toxic and radioactive materials; and generating communal strife, division and violence.
The current violence does not merely threaten a subsidiary genocide against Iraq’s Sunni population (as suggested by Struan Stevenson) but also is an expression of the ongoing US genocide embodied through their material and political support for the Maliki regime’s divisive, oppressive and violent policies. The fact that the US is also inevitably channeling arms and money to Islamist opponents of the Baghdad regime (through its destabilisation programme in Syria) only serves to illustrate that it is the Iraqi people who are the target, not particular segments or formations. A strong Iraqi people (whether unified democratically or under brutal force) is inherently antithetical to US imperial interests. The objections they raise to putatively objectionable political or religious ideologies (and also their denunciations of leaders as being equivalent to Hitler) are simply rationalisations for morally unacceptable imperial policies including genocidal policies which inflict mass deaths.

The Korean Genocide Part 3: June 1950 – Who Started It?

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(In Part 2 of this post I detailed the US propensity for installing and maintaining
corrupt and brutal clients as leaders, and their preference for those with a limited
popular base of support amongst their own countrymen. I showed that south of the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula, whilst under US military occupation, this immediately unfolded as a combination economic, political and military repression. The inevitable resistance prompted massacres at the hands of US or US-led proxy forces. I now continue with the subject of the outbreak of “major hostilities” on the 23rd or 25th of June 1950. I think the thing that will interest readers most in this is the significant circumstantial evidence which indicates the real possibility of a tacit or explicit agreement to foment war by US and USSR leaders.)

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~park25h/classweb/worldpolitics/images/KoreanWar4.jpg
We now come to the vexed issue of the events of 25 June 1950, or as the North Koreans would have it the 23rd of June when, according to them, the ROK initiated major hostilities.1 This is when “major hostilities” broke out – the start of “The Korean War”.
However, one defensible stance is that it is a nonsense to state that the war broke out on that day. Not only had guerrilla conflict and mass-murder already claimed over 100,000 lives south of the 38th parallel, but there was ongoing extensive border fighting which was particularly intense in 1949. It was mostly, but not solely by any means, the ROK which was the initiator of hostilities.2 As Stueck writes: “Who started the firing in the predawn hours of this dreary morning remains in doubt. The Ongjin region had long been the setting for border skirmishes between North and South Korean troops, and often the South had initiated the combat. The evidence for this day in June is ambiguous, even contradictory.”3 Peter Lowe concludes that it is “impossible to determine” who attacked first.4
The conundrum of the outbreak of major hostilities tends to suggest that simple
solutions of either a “South attacks North” or “North attacks South” scenario do not fit the unusual circumstances. To begin with, as Cumings points out with regard to the question of aggression this amounts to “Korea invades Korea”.5 Yes, there were two different armies with two different associated territories, but his was not anything like the German invasion of Poland. It wasn’t even like a normal civil war. The only reason that there were two armies in the first place was the US decision to unilaterally divide the country and the subsequent US and USSR actions which destroyed the normal intercourse between the two parts. There is no historical precedent to this, but as unusual a background as this provides to June 1950, it is only the tip of the iceberg. There are what Stueck terms “ambiguous, even contradictory” factors. As will be described, both sides had plans for military unification and were building forces towards that end, but neither was actually prepared for the sudden outbreak of a major war when it did happen. I would go so far as to suggest that the unusual circumstances themselves tend to necessitate a more complex answer than simply one side attacked the other.
In this work, of course, the point of interest is the US role in the outbreak major
hostilities. Those who concern themselves with this question often characterise US
actions as a “failure of deterrence” or “failing to deter” or virtually invariant phrases.6
One writer in The Journal of Conflict Resolution, (not where one would normally expect
the advocacy of more robust militarism) wrote: “By strongly implying that it would not defend Korea… the United States had invited attack”’7 It is also in the canon of failed deterrence as standing alongside the “failure to deter” Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.8 The problem with this is that it relies on an assumption which seems to be contradicted by the evidence, the assumption that an entity called the US actually did not want a war. One can compare this thesis with a counter-thesis thus: 1) the “failed deterrence” thesis in which a monolithic US undertook insufficient actions to prevent war; 2) the “successful provocation” thesis in which individuals from the US (including those in the Rhee regime) successfully caused the outbreak of major hostilities at a time which was entirely propitious for the US in strategic terms. An intriguing potential corollary to the latter is that, whether through coordinated collusion or merely coincident interests, this seems to have occurred with crucial support from the USSR.
It is interesting to note here that if the US failed to deter the DPRK, then the logical
implication is that it must have been the DPRK which attacked first on 25 June 1950.
Thus Stueck, who is unable to directly confirm DPRK initiation of hostilities, is able to write at great length about a “failure of deterrence” which constantly reinforces this nonfact as being factual in the reader’s mind. When dealing with only the “failure of deterrence” DPRK initiation is assumed9 and never is the possibility of deterring the ROK discussed, except to suggest that success in deterring the ROK was partly behind the failure to deter the DPRK.10 If evidence comes to light that the ROK did launch an offensive on 23 June then all of this “failed deterrence” discourse will be revealed as rather silly propaganda akin to the Germans suggesting that they had failed to deter Polish aggression in 1939, and since we can’t actually discount that possibility – it is silly propaganda. There are those who claim that we can in fact conclude that it was the DPRK which initiated major hostilities, and I will weigh such claims shortly. But before I do, I should emphasise that the only evidence we have is circumstantial, and
furthermore is violently contradictory.

Former secretary of state Dean Acheson in 1965. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum)
In 1981 and 1990 Bruce Cumings released the two seminal volumes of his work The
Origins of the Korean War. I have been unable to acquire this work, however some have
interpreted it as pointing to a US/ROK initiation or deliberate provocation of the Korean War.11 Another viewpoint is that: “In contrast to many historians… who maintained that by his remarks, Acheson unintentionally gave North Korea the green light to invade South Korea, Cumings argues that Acheson knew precisely what he was doing and that the speech had little to do with why North Korea invaded South Korea. ‘The Press Club Speech,’ he remarks, ‘was … consistent with his conception of Korean containment in 1947, and with his world view: and so was the intervention in June 1950’ (p. 423).”12
Marilyn Young writes that Cumings largely rejects the relevance of “who started it” but outlines three hypotheses in what seem to be roughly ordered as least to most likely: an unprovoked ROK attack; an unprovoked DPRK attack; or a successfully provoked
DPRK attack which young describes as “the preferred Achesonian stance: the offence demonstrably defensive.”13
I mention this work of Cumings at this point because the traction that this work might have gained was interrupted to some extent in 1993 (not long in academic terms after the publication of the more relevant second volume of The Origins of the Korean War) by the publication of a book seized on by many as the definitive proof of an unprovoked DPRK attack. Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao and the Korean War14 is a diplomatic history of Sino-Soviet relations and, despite its name, only the final two chapters (about 35% of the main body) deal with the Korean war directly. One deals with the DPRK build-up to military reunification, the last with China’s entry into the war.
It is difficult to decide how much space to devote to a critique of Uncertain Partners,
but I think I must confine myself to a symptomatic exemplar. For reasons which are not at all apparent to me, several pages are devoted to describing two meetings that never occurred. The reason given?

We do so partly to suggest the kinds of information that appear to have been exchanged between Moscow and Pyongyang in these months (on which the archives do have significant documents) and partly to indicate how pseudohistory can become widely implicated in efforts to explain the origins of one of history’s tragedies.15

Their actual interest in the role of “pseudohistory” ends right there never to be
mentioned again. Instead the narrative of these meetings is simply incorporated (with a couple of reminders that these were fictional meetings) into the general flow of the chapter. One might wonder why they did not instead utilise the “significant documents” as their sources, but these are neither cited here, nor are they to be found among the 82 documents appended. In fact none of these documents deals with the subject of Korea before one dated 28 June 1950.16 Indeed throughout the chapter there was only one point made which seemed at first to support the conclusion that the DPRK attacked on 25 June, mention made of the “fact” that Mao was “in no doubt” that Kim Il Sung had launched the war.17 The supporting citation, however, merely quotes a Chinese official noting the Korean Workers Party’s determination to “wage a revolutionary war of liberation”.18 Intent, however, is not the issue, as will be shown.
The gist of this chapter of Uncertain Partners (either with or without the inclusion of
clearly unreliable sources) is that Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung had developed a coordinated plan of attack. This proves little, however, because Rhee also planned a
military reunification, and made no secret of the fact. He seems to have originally
envisioned invading at some time early in 1950, saying on 7 October 1949 that it would be only “3 days to Pyonyang”, while defence minister Shin Sung-Mo, after 25 October meeting with MacArthur, stated that the ROKA was “ready to drive into North Korea, If we had had our own way we would have started already….”19 Dean Acheson’s Press Club speech on 12 January 1950 explicitly rejected an US force being used to protect the ROK, putting Rhee’s plans on hold, but invasion plans were revived after Rhee met with MacArthur in February.20


Truman and Acheson had both effectively stated early in 1950 that the US would not
defend Korea militarily (even MacArthur had said as much in March 1949),21 and, on 2 May 1950, Senator Tom Connally, chairman of Committee on Foreign Relations, said that a communist take-over of Korea and Taiwan was inevitable: “the US would not go to fight for Korea”.22 However, Rhee must have either been given contrary assurances in private or have correctly read between the lines of these statements which were shown by subsequent events to be complete falsehoods. On 11 January the ROK ambassador to the US sent the following to Rhee:

I give you some encouraging news which I have received confidentially from a top level, reliable source in the Pentagon. I am informed that the State Department and the Pentagon are planning a firm stand with respect to the U.S. Oriental policy. In this anti-Communist plan, Korea will occupy an important position…President Truman will sign, very soon, authorization which will grant permission for armament for Korean ships and planes.23

Around March 1950 the DPRK achieved military superiority over the ROK24 and thus
US involvement became essential. Aware that the US could not support an attack north, the focus in the ROK became an effort to “provoke an ‘unprovoked assault’”.25
In the DPRK, meanwhile, preparations for military unification had begun in earnest in late April with major arms shipments from the USSR.26 This followed Stalin’s assent to conduct an offensive.27 Here’s where things get a little contradictory, because the Soviets sent a group of advisers to Pyongyang, supposedly as a response to Kim Il Sung’s determination to conquer the whole peninsula, but it seems that it was the Soviet advisers who took the initiative in making this happen. In Uncertain Partners a lengthy testimony from KPA Operations Director Yu Sung Chul states that the Soviet advisers took an operations plan (“[e]very army, of course, has an operations plan”) and unilaterally rewrote it entirely. The Soviets considered it too “defensive”. The original
operations plan was for a counteroffensive, but the new Soviet plan was entitled the
“Preemptive Strike Operations Plan”, though the DPRK leadership insisted immediately that it only be referred to as the “counterattack” plan.28 Goncharov et al. maintain that Kim Il Sung was the driving force behind the offensive, suggesting effectively that Kim was the tail wagging the Soviet dog29 despite also claiming that the DPRK was a “wholly dependent… Soviet satellite”.30 The story of the operations plan, however, suggests instead that this was Stalin’s war, not Kim’s, just as was claimed by the US government at the time.31
Kathryn Weathersby deals with this issue and this is how she concludes:

From 1945 to early 1950, Moscow’s aim was not to gain control over the Korean peninsula. Instead, the Soviet Union sought to protect its strategic and economic interests through the traditional Tsarist approach of maintaining a balance of power in Korea. However, in the context of the postwar Soviet-American involvement on the peninsula, such a balance could only be maintained by prolonging the division of the country, retaining effective control over the northern half.
The North Korean attempt to reunify the country through a military campaign clearly represented a sharp departure from the basic Soviet policy toward Korea. The initiative for this departure came from Pyongyang, not Moscow. In the spring of 1950 Stalin approved Kim’s reunification plan and provided the necessary military support, but only after repeated appeals from Kim and only after having been persuaded that the United States would not intervene in the conflict. Conclusive evidence of Stalin’s reasons for finally supporting the North Korean reunification plan has not yet been released, but it appears that Stalin’s motive may well have been to tie the Chinese communists more firmly to the USSR, to prevent a rapprochement between the PRC and the United States. If this interpretation is correct, it means that it was Soviet weakness that drove Stalin to support the attack on South Korea, not the unrestrained expansionism imagined by the authors of NSC-68.32

Indeed, Weathersby reveals that from the latter stages of World War II the Soviet Union was utterly consistent in recognising that it was best served by a divided Korea and that unification would risk that advent of a hostile entity in a threatening position: “Given the impossibility of establishing a ‘friendly’ government for the entire country, Moscow sought to protect Soviet security by maintaining a compliant government in power in the northern half of the country and shoring up the military strength of that client state.”33
The situation was mirrored on the US side, as has been suggested.
The obvious question here is why, if the USSR considered its interests best served by a divided Korea, did it force an aggressive “preemptive strike” plan on the DPRK and
begin immediately making substantial arms shipments beyond those required for
defence? In the situation there was ample scope for temporising and prevarication. But Soviet concerns also seem to have revolved around the situation of China and Taiwan, and here too the interests coincided to a great degree with those of the US. Here, I am sad to say, the picture gets even more confused.

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I return again to the narrative of Uncertain Partners wherein the contradictions of the
circumstances are unwittingly laid bare by the authors. Their understanding is that Kim Il Sung was single-mindedly driven to unify Korea by force, and that the plan was assented to by Stalin and Mao. The Chinese were focussed on finishing their civil war by eliminating the final GMD stronghold in Taiwan, but at the same time faced an urgent need to improve the desperate domestic economic situation which they believed necessitated massive demobilisations of troops. The Chinese were convinced that a DPRK offensive would bring about the direct involvement of the US and allow the US to prevent their final offensive against the GMD, while many feared that it would allow the US to attack the PRC itself.34 According to the authors “a race had begun between Kim and Mao. Each rushed to fire the first volley, an act that could doom the other’s plans.”35 The problem here is that it is difficult to see how a PRC conquest of Taiwan would have negatively affected DPRK plans. There was no claim on any side that there was such a state as Taiwan, this was a civil conflict between two formations which each claimed to be the legitimate government of China. On 5 January 1950, Truman had acknowledged Taiwan as being part of China and pledged not to intervene in the civil war, while Acheson’s 12 January Press Club speech omitted not just Korea but Taiwan from the perimeter which the US claimed as its right to defend.36 The US people, by and large, viewed the Taiwan issue as part of a civil war, not any business of the US.37
Moreover, the PRC did not act very much like it was in a “race”. To be certain it wished to take Taiwan as soon as possible, but it had every reason to do so without any consideration of possible events in Korea. The other major offshore island, Hainan, had been taken in April 195038 and in that month PLA forces began to amass for the invasion of Taiwan, but demobilisations were also an ongoing priority. Early in June the invasion of Taiwan was postponed until the summer of 1951. On June 15 Mao ordered a previously planned demobilisation of 1,500,000 troops to commence.39 On June 23, less than 48 hours from the putative outbreak of the Korean War, orders were made out to transfer 3-4 corps out of the northeast sector.40 It is true that the Chinese had transferred 40,000 Koreans from the PLA to the KPA beginning at the end of 1949, and these battlehardened troops probably gave the KPA more of an advantage over the ROKA by June 25 than the increased arms supply from the USSR, which had commenced only two months prior.41 But, the Chinese may have expected these personnel to be used defensively or to create a deterrent, after all it makes little sense for them to have knowingly provided crucial support for an offensive which they quite correctly predicted would be a disastrous setback for themselves.
From the US and USSR perspective, however, the defeat of the GMD in Taiwan was not a pleasing prospect. Stalin appears to have firstly hoped that the US would prevent the PRC conquest of Taiwan42 and secondly he hoped that China and the US would be drawn further into enmity. Weathersby recounts: “A Russian scholar who has seen the relevant documents has recounted to me that Stalin calculated that even though the United States might not defend the ROK, once it lost South Korea it would not then allow itself to suffer the additional loss of Taiwan. The United States would move in to protect Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), thereby preventing a rapprochement between the US and the PRC. Mao would thus be forced to continue to turn to the Soviet Union for economic and military aid.”43
So the US and USSR interests regarding the dispositions of Korea and Taiwan were identical. Additionally one might argue that it was in the US interest that China remain for the time being a comparatively weak state tied to the USSR, rather than an independent left-wing non-aligned state. What then would be the optimal outcome for both imperial powers? That somehow, against all odds, Korea would be overcome by a major war but not unified, leaving two weakened dependencies divided much as they were in 1945; that the US be given a serviceable pretext/distraction allowing it to intercede in the final stages of China’s civil war; and, perhaps more than anything else, that China, so ripe with potential, be prevented from demobilisation and an end to nearly a century of destruction and instead be drawn into even greater enfeebling conflict. No outside observer would have picked this as the likely outcome, but this is exactly what happened.

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All accounts agree that 3 a.m. 25 June 1950 Kim Il Sung announced to his cabinet that the ROKA had launched an offensive and that in 1 hour the KPA would launch its planned counterattack. Whether there was or was not an ROKA provocation, the one thing that can be said with certainty is that either Kim was fooled, or he fooled himself.
The planned campaign to unify Korea is widely understood to have been intended to have been enacted at a later date, possibly in early August when it was expected that Rhee would refuse to comply with a DPRK proposal of nationwide elections.44 Gye-Dong Kim points to the following indications of unpreparedness: 1) the mobilisation plan was not put in place, only 6 full divisions were ready when plans called for 13 to 15; 2) “the North Koreans were not sufficiently well equipped at the time” having mostly Japanese weapons of pre-1945 manufacture.45 I would add that given that the DPRK’s military build-up was proceeding faster than that of the ROK, premature action, whether offensive or counter-offensive, must have been powerfully motivated.
The explanation given by Gye-Dong Kim is that the offensive/counter-offensive was launched at this unpropitious time because Kim sought to take advantage of the unpopularity and instability of the Rhee regime.46 The Soviet, Chinese and defector sources used by the likes of Goncharov et al., are consistent in claiming that when touting his plans for a military unification Kim would evince a conviction that 200,000 guerrillas would rise up to defeat the Rhee regime.47 In the most widely known account, given by Khrushchev, Kim claimed that he wished to “touch the south with the tip of a bayonet” which would spark internal explosion.48 One way of looking at things, therefore, is that Kim, an autocrat with unquestioned authority, was possessed of a longstanding idée fixe, an obsessive and (in the circumstances) irrational belief that demonstrative military action on the part of the KPA would spark a southern revolution.
But, another way of looking at things, one which throws very serious doubts on the “tip of the bayonet” hypothesis, is that Kim was an experienced and successful guerrilla leader who was surrounded by and incredible wealth of knowledge gained by fighting the Japanese and the GMD for decades. Along with those of Moscow faction, the Yenan faction and Kim Il Sung’s faction, these included indigenous fighters such as the the southerner Pak Hon-yong,49 who was the foreign minister.50 The leaders of Cumings’s “guerrilla state” also had some experience, in China, of conventional and mixed warfare and were advised by Soviets from an army which had fought its way from Stalingrad to Berlin. These were hard-nosed experienced leaders who had won very hard fought desperate wars, and they had not done so by being prone to wishful thinking.
Guerrilla activity in the south was at this time hugely diminished. According to US intelligence “small bands of fifteen to thirty still operated in various areas but were generally quiet.”51 The political situation in the south may have provided the opportunity for reconstituting a more formidable guerrilla movement, but such things take time.52 It seems very unlikely that the DPRK leadership really believed that 200,000 guerrillas would arise spontaneously which is what a defector claimed to have been stated by Pak Hon-yong to a secret conference on 11 May 1950.53 In fact, Goncharov et al. claim that it was the failure of the guerrilla movement which prompted the DPRK to begin planning a major military effort,54 as do Stueck,55 and Kim.56 If the DPRK really was pinning its hopes on a southern uprising, it also seems rather odd that those guerrillas that remained were not informed or prepared in any way.57
A salient matter which I have not yet mentioned is an aspect of the “counterattack” plan.
This plan, which, as will be recalled, was written by Soviet advisers without consultation, stopped at Seoul. That is to say that the planning did not extend any further than the capture of Seoul which lies only about 50 kilometres from the 38th parallel.58 The war was supposed to “only last a few days” according to Yu Sung Chul and others. Continuing after the capture of Seoul required a completely new offensive plan (again authored by the Soviets) and a complete reorganisation of the KPA into two distinct corps which were lacking in communications leaving, according to one defector, “divisions, corps and armies… disconnected” to the extent that “[e]ach unit moved on its own and each had its own plan.”59 Gye-Dong Kim’s explanation is that the actual plan was to seize Seoul as a prelude to opening negotiations. He cites a 20 June 1950 decree by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly in the DPRK which contained demands which could be read as a basis for negotiations.60 Given that the “counterattack” plan was drafted in early April, and that it replaced another that was too “defensive”, this must in fact have been the basis of planning from the beginning. This contradicts a great deal of the tenor and detail of the narrative of the planning phase constructed from various sources by Kim himself (along with Stueck, Weathersby, Goncharov et al.). The fact is that whether attack or counter-attack, there are many questions arising about the KPA’s actions on 25 June, but to even attempt answers I must first turn to the events occurring on the other side of the 38th parallel, and in Taiwan, Japan and the US.
Direct evidence is slim that the ROKA launched an attack somewhere between 10 pm on 23 June (the time claimed by the DPRK and PRC to this day)61 and 4 am on 25 June (when all parties agree the KPA guns opened fire, though not in any account along the whole front). The ROKA 17th regiment claimed to have captured Haeju by 11 am of 26 June.62 As William Blum points out, this feat would have been impossible if the KPA really were launching a co-ordinated all-out attack.63 This unit was commanded by a committed right-wing ideologue,64 and its actions may have fitted a scenario of a unilateral attack without a broader mobilisation designed to “provoke an unprovoked” response from the DPRK. This may or may not have been accompanied by over 24 hours of preliminary artillery barrage as claimed by the DPRK. There is also the possibility, however, that the capture of Haeju was simply a lie. The ROK government later retracted its claim to have captured Haeju and claimed that it was all an exaggeration by a military officer.65

Rhee, Hodge and Kim Koo
One town south of the 38th parallel was prepared for fighting to break out on the 25th.66
However, in more general terms, the ROKA was even less prepared than was the KPA for the outbreak of major hostilities. A UN inspection on 23 June found the ROKA unprepared for war and they began writing a report detailing as much on the 24th which, by the 26th, had become a report claiming an unprovoked attack by the DPRK. Of course, this is rather astonishingly suspicious timing and, as Halliday and Cumings point out, their sources were purely ROK and US officials,67 but subsequent events show that the ROKA really was unprepared for the KPA onslaught even though we can quite confidently say that the KPA itself was not bringing its full potential force to bear.
What does this all mean? Well, if the thesis tested with regard to DPRK, USSR and PRC actions was that of a co-ordinated unprovoked attack at a time of USSR and/or DPRK choosing, then the thesis I will test with regard to ROK, US and GMD actions is one of a successful provocation taking place at a time of ROK and/or US choosing. Of necessity this would mean that the Rhee regime and/or the US deliberately left their own forces unprepared for an offensive which was both expected and desired. In fact, there would have to be posited a cultivated unpreparedness, both as an alibi and as a means of luring the DPRK into attacking.
I will set the tone here with a lengthy quote, with lengthier subquotes, from Peter Dale Scott. This is what he culls from Cumings’s Origins of the Korean War:

The historian Bruce Cumings, in a volume of 957 pages, has recalled the curious behavior in previous weeks of high levels in Washington:
The CIA predicts, on June 14, a capability for invasion [of South Korea] at any time. No one disputes that. Five days later, it predicts an impending invasion. . . . Now, Corson … says that the June 14 report leaked out to “informed circles,” and thus “it was feared that administration critics in Congress might publicly raise the issue. In consequence, a White House decision of sorts was made to brief Congress that all was well in Korea.” . . . Would it not be the expectation that Congress would be told that all was not well in Korea? That is, unless a surprised and outraged Congress is one’s goal.
In his exhaustive analysis of the war’s origins, Cumings sees this U.S. deception by high level officials as a response to manipulated events, which in turn were the response to the threat of an imminent expulsion of the Chinese Nationalist KMT68 from Taiwan, together with a peaceful reunification of Korea. ….
By late June, [U.S. Secretary of State Dean] Acheson and Truman were the only high officials still balking at a defense of the ROC [the “Republic of China,” the KMT Chinese Nationalist remnant on Taiwan]….Sir John Pratt, an Englishman with four decades of experience in the China consular service and the Far Eastern Office, wrote the following in 1951: “The Peking Government planned to liberate Formosa on July 15 and, in the middle of June, news reached the State Department that the Syngman Rhee government in South Korea was disintegrating. The politicians on both sides of the thirty-eighth parallel were preparing a plan to throw Syngman Rhee out of office and set up a unified government for all Korea.”….Thus the only way out, for Chiang [Kai-shek, the KMT leader], was for Rhee to attack the North, which ultimately made Acheson yield and defend Nationalist China [on Taiwan].
Meanwhile, in South Korea,
an Australian embassy representative sent in daily reports in late June, saying that “patrols were going in from the South to the North, endeavouring to attract the North back in pursuit. Plimsoll warned that this could lead to war and it was clear that there was some degree of American involvement as well.” [According to former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam,] “The evidence was sufficiently strong for the Australian Prime Minister to authorize a cable to Washington urging that no encouragement be given to the South Korean government.”
Cumings also notes the warning in late April from an American diplomat, Robert Strong, that “desperate measures may be attempted by [the Chinese] Nationalist Government to involve [U.S.] in [a] shooting war as [a] means of saving its own skin.” In chapters too complex to summarize here, he chronicles the intrigues of a number of Chiang’s backers, including the China Lobby in Washington, General Claire Chennault and his then nearly defunct airline CAT (later Air America), former OSS chief General William Donovan, and in Japan General MacArthur and his intelligence chief Charles Willoughby. He notes the visit of two of Chiang’s generals to Seoul, one of them on a U.S. military plane from MacArthur’s headquarters. And he concludes that “Chiang may have found …on the Korean peninsula, the provocation of a war that saved his regime [on Taiwan] for two more decades:”
Anyone who has read this text closely to this point, and does not believe that Willoughby, Chiang, [Chiang’s emissary to Seoul, General] Wu Tieh Cheng, Yi Pōm-sōk, [Syngman] Rhee, Kim Sōkwon, Tiger Kim, and their ilk were capable of a conspiracy to provoke a war, cannot be convinced by any evidence.
He adds that anti-conspiratorialist Americans “are prey to what might be called the fallacy of insufficient cynicism”69

(Yi Pom-sok, Kim Sok-won and Tiger Kim were all involved in the 17th regiment which may, or may not, have captured Haeju on or before 26 June.)70

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Police Chief Chang Taek-sang with a man who may be Tiger Kim (left)
Indeed, there was a flurry of diplomatic activity centred around the ROK which seems very suspiciously timed in retrospect. I can add one more prominent diplomatic event to those mentioned above. The event that looms (and loomed) large in DPRK propaganda was the visit of John Foster Dulles in mid-June 1950. In particular, a photograph of Dulles with the ROK defence minister and military officers peering across the 38th parallel has been used as the iconic visual signifier of aggressive intent.71 Lowe writes that the “murky” talks leave room for “legitimate speculation”,72 adding later that:
“Mystery surrounds the precise motives for Dulles’s visit to Seoul”73 On 6 April 1950, John Foster Dulles was reappointed as an adviser to the State Department. The Republican hard-liner had been chosen reluctantly by Democrat Truman administration as a salve to “the explosion of McCarthyism”. In a broadcast dated 14 May 1950 he suggested that the US needed to “develop better techniques’ because the Soviets ‘could win everything by the Cold War they could win in a hot war.’”74https://i1.wp.com/www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/03_The-World-since-1900/09_The-Cold-War/pictures/EVN-420-1_Dulles-at-the-38th-parallel_1950.jpgJohn Foster Dulles peers across the 38th parallel.

I. F. Stone in his 1952 classic The Hidden History of the Korean War wrote:

Chiang Kai-shek and Rhee…feared that peace would be the end of them. Dulles feared that peace would fatally interfere with the plan to rebuild the old Axis powers for a new anti-Soviet crusade…the dominant trend in American political, economic and military thinking was fear of peace. General Van Fleet summed it all up in speaking to a visiting Filipino delegation in January, 1952: ‘Korea has been a blessing. There had to be a Korea either here or someplace in the world.’ In this simple-minded confession lies the key to the hidden history of the Korean War.75

https://i1.wp.com/www.chinasmack.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/chiang-kai-shek-time-magazine-cover-1955-april-18.JPG

Generalissimo Jiang Jieshi (Chang Kai-Shek)

On the 18th Dulles addressed the ROK national assembly, pledging US support “both moral and material”.76 The next morning Rhee requested an unscheduled interview with Dulles. According to the official US State Department history:

Mr Dulles went to considerable lengths to explain that formal pacts, allegiences or treaties were not necessary prerequisites to common action against a common foe and that the important thing was for a government to prove by its actions that it was in fact a loyal [my emph.] member of the free world in which case it could count on the support of other members of the free world against the forces of communism.77

This is, of course, quite a testament in itself to the power that the not-as-yet fully realised Cold War paradigm, Dulles, a mere adviser to the Secretary of State, felt he could openly demand loyalty (and one may pause here to think what it could mean to be “a loyal member of the free world”) in exchange for protection.
Dulles was in Tokyo on 25 June, able to communicate directly with MacArthur as events unfolded. He was thus able to advocate an immediate aggressive response.78
What evidence, then, exists that the US actively sought to bring about war? If one hypothesises that the desirable way to bring about war would be to make the ROK an attractive target for a DPRK offensive, there are certainly considerable factors which accord with such a course of action.
To begin with, there are the “failures of deterrence” embodied in US officials’ declarations that they would not intervene militarily if either the ROK or Taiwan were attacked. On 5 January 1950, at a press conference, Truman stated: “The United States has no predatory designs on Formosa, or on any other Chinese territory. The United States has no desire to obtain special rights or privileges, or to establish military bases on Formosa at this time. Nor does it have any intention of utilizing its Armed Forces to interfere in the present situation. The United States Government will not pursue a course which will lead to involvement in the civil conflict in China.”79
On 12 January Dean Acheson gave his speech to the Press Club: “Beyond Japan, the Ryukyus, and the Philippines, the United States could not guarantee areas in the Western Pacific ‘against military attack.’ The people in such areas must rely initially on their own efforts to defend themselves, but then on ‘the United Nations which so far has not proved a weak read to lean on by . . . [those] who are determined to protect their independence against outside aggression.’”80 Mention of the United Nations is interesting because the USSR had a veto over UNSC resolutions and yet, as will be seen, failed to use it under rather strange circumstances, thus allowing the US to intervene directly but under a UN mandate.
As has already been mentioned, in May Senator Tom Connally was even more explicit that “the US would not go to fight for Korea”. Yet the US committed forces to fight in Korea and to intervene to save Taiwan with extreme alacrity. In fact, in Japan the response seems to have started some days before 25 June when “many vehicles were taken out of store facilities and… American military activities increased.”81 After less than 48 hours the US had decided on committing troops. Halliday and Cumings state that the “United Nations was used to ratify American decisions,” quoting an official JCS study: “Having resolved upon armed intervention for itself, the US government the next day sought the approval and the assistance of the United Nations.”82 On 27 June, Truman announced that the US 7th Fleet was in the Taiwan strait.83 On that same day the US began aerial and naval bombardments which included targets above the 38th parallel. On 28 June the 24th US Infantry Division had landed and took command of all ground forces in Korea.84
A threat is when party a informs party b that if b undertakes action set x then a will undertake action set y which will cause a negative impact on b. If a does not actually intend to undertake action set y then this is commonly referred to as a bluff. It is intended to deter b from doing x. If a leads b to believe that it will not undertake y and then does so this, is the opposite of a bluff. In practical terms it is a form of inducement.
Most commentators suggest that probably neither Stalin nor Kim Il Sung took US implications of non-intervention seriously, but it is absolutely clear that if the DPRK had anticipated the actual US reaction that eventuated they would not have ventured in force below the 38th parallel.
There is another manner by which the ROK was made a more tempting target than might have otherwise been the case, and that is the restrictions placed on its military build-up. The ROKA was even more poorly equipped than the KPA on 25 June 1950. The following table is taken from a Russian history of the war:85

TypeofUnit KPAForces

ROKforces

ForceRatio

Battalions

51

39

1.3:1

GunsandMortars

787

699

1.1:1

TanksandSPGuns

185

31

5.9:1

Aircraft

32

25

1.2:1

Ships

19

43

1 : 2.2

(The KPA had 172 combat aircraft, but only 32 trained pilots,86 another factor suggesting a mysteriously premature action on 25 June.)
The failure to provide tanks, aircraft and self-propelled artillery is entirely consistent with deterring any ROK offensives, but the ROKA lacked more defensive armaments also. The most noted factor is the lack of usable anti-tank weapons, something which must assuredly be of more use in deterring KPA offensive action than it would be in facilitating ROKA offensive action.87
There are hints then that the DPRK may have been deceived into thinking that the time was ripe for a push south when in fact this was most advantageous to their enemies.
I have already mentioned the ways in which the USSR, US, GMD (Guomindang) and Rhee regime benefited from an outbreak of war at this time, but it is worth elaborating further on the benefits to the US. To begin with, there is the matter of NSC-68 and the rearmament of the US. The outbreak of the Korean War is held to have been crucial in bringing about the implementation of NSC-68. The importance of this document is amply demonstrated by the fact that its fundamental structuring of the US political economy has lasted now for over 60 years, more than 2 decades longer than the
“Communist threat” it was putatively created to address. Chris Floyd describes it as “the document that more than any other engineered the militarisation of America”.88 David
Fautua writes: “Truman finally approved NSC 68 as a national security policy on 30 September 1950. By 31 May 1951, the military budget swelled to $48,000,000,000,
nearly quadrupling the prewar authorization [of $13.5 billion].”89 Winston Churchill considered that the entire importance of the Korean War was that it led to US
rearmament.90 Not only that, but the outbreak of the Korean War prompted the rearmament of NATO turning it into “an effective alliance”,91 and prompting an increase
of 3 million personnel.92 By 1953 the US had achieved and enormous “strategic asymmetry” in its favour over the Soviet Union to an extent “approaching absolute
strategic dominance”.93

https://i2.wp.com/www.history.com/images/media/slideshow/korean-war/kim-il-sung-speaks-at-mass-rally.jpg
Nor was it only the Rhee regime that was looking unsustainable on 25 June. Jiang Jieshi’s grip on power had become so tenuous that the US covert officers were themselves planning a coup against him. This, however, was a move of desperation, the GMD were widely considered to be a lost cause.94 The US had led the effort to prevent the PRC from being recognised the legitimate Chinese state in the UN,95 but the sheer ridiculousness of leaving the GMD in place as “China” while the PRC constituted the entire mainland had brought about a tide of international opinion which was getting hard to resist.96 If the PRC gained UN membership there would be absolutely no way that the US could intervene in its civil war without attracting condemnation as an aggressor. It should be noted too that, unlike Korea, Taiwan was considered to have considerable military strategic significance: “’An unsinkable aircraft carrier’ positioned 100 miles off the China coast, as General MacArthur characterized it, Taiwan was regarded by military leaders as more important than South Korea.”97 Of course, it would be inconsistent of me not to point out that such strictly military strategic matters are less significant than broader economic, geographical and demographic strategic concerns of imperial hegemony, but nevertheless this sort of “power projection” asset has a key role such considerations as well as in its own right .
UNSC Resolutions 82 to 85 are all titled “Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea”. UNSCR 82, which was passed on the 25 June no less, “notes with grave concern the armed attack on the Republic of Korea by forces from North Korea” and “determines that this action constitutes a breach of the peace.”98 Two days later UNSCR 83 recommended that “members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack….”99 UNSCR 84 (7 July) arrogated unified command of UN forces to the US.100 There was no hurry, of course, because no other troops would arrive for a month or so, and at all stages of the war US troop numbers far outnumbered the combined numbers of other UN forces.101 In all practical senses this was a unilateral US intervention, but one occurring under a UN banner, an interesting eventuality when one reflects on Acheson’s words of January the 12th.
In fact the US was only able to obtain such timely UN facilitation due to a couple of rather felicitously timed events. The aforementioned UN report revealing, largely on the say-so of US and ROK personnel, that the ROK was not engaging in offensive actions, had actually been commenced on the 24th and a draft was available by the 26th. Halliday and Cumings summarise the circumstances of the writing process:

UNCOK members woke up in Seoul on Sunday morning to a war, wrote a report based on the limited observations of two people and whatever the Koreans and Americans chose to tell them, and then were in the care of the American military for the next three days. They left all their archives behind in Seoul, making it impossible to verify the information that UNCOK had at its disposal.102

The other fortuitous circumstance is the absence of the USSR from the UNSC. “In mid-January the Soviets walked out of the UN Security Council, allegedly to protest its failure to seat Communist China but probably actually to freeze the Mao regime out of the international organization….”103 Had the USSR been sitting it would have seemed very odd had it not vetoed UNSCRs 82 to 85. As it is, the Soviet ambassador was perfectly capable of attending just the sessions in question to exercise a veto but did not do so on direct instructions from Stalin himself, against objections from Andrei Gromyko.104 Goncharov et al. speculate that allowing UN cover obviated the risk that a subsequent formal declaration of war between the US and China would draw the USSR into World War III due to its treaty obligations.105 The US did not need to start such a war, but whether Stalin feared that they wished to or not, he was once again going above-and-beyond the call of prudent enmity and providing crucial support for the US in its attacks on those who were the Soviet Union’s supposed allies by dint of ideology, and (in this case) formal ties.
The question still remains then, why did the KPA advance south of the 38th in force at a time so propitious to the US, so seemingly crucial to the survival of Rhee and Jiang, so disadvantageous to the PRC, and so premature with regard to its own preparations? The anomaly does not disappear if one assumes that there was in fact an ROKA offensive against Haeju, or anywhere else. It would seem that some unknown factor caused the DPRK to send its forces south. A logical suspicion would be that the DPRK leadership were victims of a ruse, and exploring this option may clarify matters. Imagine, for example, that the USSR had fed false intelligence to the DPRK suggesting that the ROKA was on the verge of mutiny or ready to disintegrate with only the slightest push.
This is almost exactly what the US did with its unruly quasi-client Saddam Hussein when it supplied false intelligence to his regime in 1980, as Barry Lando explains:

To encourage Saddam to attack, the United States passed on intelligence reports exaggerating the political turmoil in Iran. All Saddam had to do was to dispatch his troops across the border and the regime would collapse. According to Howard Teicher, who served on the White House National Security Council, ‘the reports passed on to Baghdad depicted Iran’s military in chaos, riven by purges and lack of replacement parts for its American-made weapons. The inference was that Iran could be speedily overcome.’
‘We were clearly stuffing his head with nonsense, to make conditions look better than they were,’ commented Richard Sale, who covered the intelligence community for United Press International at the time. ‘The information was deliberately fabricated to encourage him to go in.’106

Such a deception would resolve the enigma of the DPRK attack, and an equivalent ruse would not be beyond the capabilities of the US. Another matter that is both suggestive and offers a shard of illumination is the sudden change of plan by the KPA on reaching Seoul. Whatever they had originally planned to do on reaching Seoul, by its fall on the 28th it was apparently obsolete and, as outlined above, a new plan to take the entire peninsula had to be hastily created. This would suggest that whatever misapprehension the DPRK laboured under was belied very rapidly after the 25th. Given what we understand of the DPRK plan it seems to me most likely that it was the sudden intervention of the US which was the unwelcome surprise. The weight of evidence suggests that the DPRK sought to seize the pretext of some ROKA action to launch a quick offensive with the optimal aim of seizing Seoul. This is how Bruce Cumings describes what some documents related to such planning reveal:

Kim Il Sung’s basic conception of a Korean War, originated at least by August 1949: namely, attack the cul de sac of Ongjin (which no sane blitzkreig commander would do precisely because it is a cul de sac), move eastward and grab Kaesong, and then see what happens. At a minimum this would establish a much more secure defense of P’yôngyang, which was quite vulnerable from Ongjin and Kaesong. At maximum, it might open Seoul to his forces. That is, if the southern army collapses, move on to Seoul and occupy it in a few days.107

In other words the plan to attack Ongjin reinforces that fact that this was intended to be a short offensive leading to negotiations from a position of superiority or, at worst, consolidated territorial gains. This would explain why full preparation and mobilisation was considered less important than seizing a pretext. The DPRK, in this case, must have been very confident that the US would not intervene. The ROK, abandoned by the US and riven by internal discontent and political instability, could be forced to negotiate terms which would lead to eventual political union. If negotiations fail to bring this about, or even while they are ongoing, the DPRK would retain its territorial gains and facilitate the relaunch of a revolutionary guerrilla war in the south which would assure eventual victory. Instead, once it was clear that the US was going to bring as much force to bear as it could as quickly as it could, the DPRK had no choice but to commit the KPA to a blitzkrieg assault, a race to the tip of the peninsula before the US could commit enough forces to prevent such a conquest. This would also explain why, following the sudden change of plan, the KPA was forced, despite being well aware of the dangers posed, to stretch its improvised communications and its supply lines in an attempt to decide the issue before it was too late.
This is all somewhat speculative, but bear in mind that it is the only way of resolving the contradictions and anomalies that appear in our current understanding of these events.
The reader may wonder why I have devoted so much effort to exploring the events culminating on 25 June 1950 when I cannot provide absolute answers as to what happened. What the reader is required to understand is that the balance of probability is firmly on the side of US foreknowledge of these events and, indeed, that it acted in some manner to bring them about. There are far too many putatively coincidental circumstances which favoured the US, and they are far too closely timed to avoid serious suspicion. The means, motive and opportunity are there. The surprise evinced by the US is belied by that haste of its commitment of forces and such postures end by looking more like conscious efforts at establishing alibis. Consider this passage from Cumings:

With all this bubbling activity, the last weekend in June 1950 nonetheless dawned on a torpid, somnolent, and very empty Washington. Harry Truman was back home in Independence. Acheson was at his Sandy Spring country farm, Rusk was in New York, Kennan had disappeared to a remote summer cottage without so much as a telephone, Paul Nitze was salmon fishing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were occupied elsewhere, and even the United Nations representative, Warren Austin, was not at his post.108

Knowing that there is a strong likelihood of a US role in instigating the “Korean War” is
important in what follows.
1 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 71.
2 Ibid, p 54.
3 Stueck, The Korean War, p 10.
4 Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 178.
5 Cumings, The Korean War, p 22.
6 William Stueck, for example, is the leading proponent of this view. See: Stueck and Yi, ‘An Alliance Forged in
Blood….’, p 204; Stueck; The Korean War, p 29; Stueck, Rethinking The Korean War, p 78; Stueck, “The United
States and the Origins of the Korean War: The Failure of Deterrence”, in International Journal of Korean Studies,
24:2, Fall 2010, pp 1-18; for others who echo this see Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 42, and below.
7 Robert Jervis, “The Impact of the Korean War on the Cold War”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 24:4,
December 1980, p 581.
8 Austin Long, Deterrence: From Cold War to Long War: Lessons from Six decades of Rand Deterrence Research,
Santa Monica, Arlington, Pittsburg: RAND, 2008, p 9.
9 Stueck, “The United States and the Origins of the Korean War…”, pp 1-2 et passim.
10 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, pp 42-3.
11 Peter Dale Scott, “9/11, Deep State Violence and the Hope of Internet Politics”, Global Research, 22 June 2008.
Retrieved 25 June 2008 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9289.
12 Burton I. Kaufman, “Review: Decision-Making and the Korean War”, in Reviews in American History, 20:4,
December 1992, p 564.
13 Young, “Sights of and Unseen War”, p 500.
14 Sergei Goncharov, Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War, Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1993.
15 Ibid, p 137.
16 Ibid, p 270.
17 Ibid, p 159.
18 Ibid, p 334, n 140.
19 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 39.
20 Ibid, p 40.
21 Stueck, The Korean War, p 30.
22 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 42.
23 Quoted in Appendix to S. Brian Willson, “Korea, Like Viet Nam: A War Originated and Maintained by Deceit”, 1
December 1999. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from http://www.brianwillson.com/korea-like-Viet Nam-a-waroriginated-
and-maintained-by-deceit/.
24 Ibid, p 41.
25 Cumings, The Korean War, p 144.
26 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 147.
27 Ibid, p 144.
28 Ibid, p 150.
29 Ibid, pp 132-3 et passim.
30 Ibid, p 131.
31 Kathryn Weathersby, “Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War, 1945-50: New Evidence
From Russian Archives”, Cold War International History Project, Working Paper No. 8, p 7.
32 Ibid, p 36.
33 Ibid, p 27.
34 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 154.
35 Ibid, p 147.
36 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 35.
37 Stueck, The Korean War, p 75.
38 Anthony Farrar-Hockley, “The China Factor in the Korean War”, in James Cotton and Ian Neary (eds), The Korean
War in History, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, p 5.
39 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 152.
40 Ibid, p 153.
41 Farrar-Hockley, “The China Factor”, p 5.
42 Stueck, The Korean War, p 36.
43Weathersby, “Soviet Aims in Korea….”, p 35.
44 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 35.
45 Ibid, pp 37-8.
46 Ibid, p 38.
47 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 144.
48 Ibid, p 138.
49 Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 12.
50 Ibid, p 58.
51 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 50.
52 Mao can be used as an authority on the ‘gradual’ nature of the process in which critical developments are said to
occur ‘eventually’ (Mao Tse-tung, Guerrilla Warfare, (Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith, trans) Fleet Marine
Force Reference Publication (FMFRP) 12-18, Washington D.C.: United States Marine Corps, Department of the
Navy, 1989, passim).
53 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 37.
54 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 136.
55 Stueck, The Korean War, p 31.
56 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 36.
57 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 155.
58 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 38.
59Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 155.
60 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 38.
61 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 71.
62 Ibid.
63 Blum, Killing Hope, p 46.
64 Korea, p 71.
65 Blum, Killing Hope, p 46.
66 Korea, p 73.
67 Ibid, p 76.
68 KMT, deriving from Kuomintang, is an alternative acronym to GMD, which derives from the differing
transliteration Guomindang.
69 Scott, “9/11 and Deep State Politics….”
70 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, pp 76-7.
71 Ibid, p 66.
72 Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 174.
73 Ibid, p 183.
74 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 49, n 57.
75 Quoted in S. Brian Willson, “Korea, Like Viet Nam: A War Originated and Maintained by Deceit”.
76 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 43.
77 FRUS (1950) Vol. 7, pp 107-8.
78 Ibid, p 186.
79 Harry S. Truman, The President’s News Conference, 5 January 1950. Retrieved 6 November 2011 from
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=13678#ixzz1csnKlJI8.
80 Stueck, The Korean War, p 30.
81 Drifte, “Japan’s Involvement in the Korean War”, p 121.
82 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, pp 74-5.
83 Farrar-Hockley, “The China Factor…”, p 6.
84 I. V. Petrova, The War in Korea 1950-1953, Saint Petersburg: Izdatel’stvo Poligon, 2000, p 65.
85 Ibid, p 59.
86 Ibid.
87 See for example Bong Lee, The Unfinished War: Korea, New York: Algora, 2003, p 67; Norman Friedman, The
Fifty-Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000, p 152; Gordon
Tullock, Open Secrets of American Foreign Policy, Singapore: World Scientific, 2007, p 30.
88 Floyd, “The Slander that Launched….”
89 David T. Fautua, “The ‘Long Pull’ Army: NSC-68, the Korean War, and the Creation of the Cold War U.S. Army,”
Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, no. 1 (January 1997).
90 M. L. Dockrill, “The Foreign Office, Anglo-American Relations and the Korean Truce Negotiations July 1951 –
July 1953”, in James Cotton and Ian Neary (eds), The Korean War in History, Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 1989, p 114.
91 Jeremy Black, War Since 1945, London: Reaktion Books, 2004, p 32.
92 Stueck, The Korean War, p 5.
93 Porter, Perils of Dominance, p 5.
94 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 67.
95 Stueck, The Korean War, p 45.
96 Kim, “Who Initiated…’, p 34.
97 Stueck, “The United States and the Origins…”, p 9.
98 UNSCR 82: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea, 25 June 1950. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/064/95/IMG/NR006495.pdf?OpenElement.
99 UNSCR 83: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea, 27 June 1950. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/064/95/IMG/NR006495.pdf?OpenElement.
100UNSCR 84: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea, 7 July 1950. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/064/97/IMG/NR006497.pdf?OpenElement.
101Malkasian, The Korean War, p 17.
102Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 76.
103Stueck, The Korean War, pp 34-5.
104Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 161.
105Ibid, pp 161-2.
106Lando, Web of Deceit, pp 52-3.
107Bruce Cumings, “Cumings and Weatherby – An Exchange”, Cold War International History Bulletin, 6/7, 7 July
2011, p 121.
108Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 260.