INOCULATING SOUTHEAST ASIA
The US wars in Indochina fall into ... [a] general pattern. By
1948, the State Department recognized quite clearly that the Viet
Minh, the anti-French resistance led by Ho Chi Minh, was the national
movement of Vietnam. But the Viet Minh did not cede control to
the local oligarchy. It favored independent development and ignored
the interests of foreign investors.
There was fear the Viet Minh might succeed, in which case "the
rot would spread" and the "virus" would "infect"
the region, to adopt the language the planners used year after
year after year. (Except for a few madmen and nitwits, none feared
conquest-they were afraid of a positive example of successful
What do you do when you have a virus? First you destroy it, then
you inoculate potential victims, so that the disease does not
spread. That's basically the US strategy in the Third World.
If possible, it's advisable to have the local military destroy
the virus for you. If they can't, you have to move your own forces
in. That's more costly, and it's ugly, but sometimes you have
to do it. Vietnam was one of those places where we had to do it.
Right into the late 1960s, the US blocked all attempts at political
settlement of the conflict, even those advanced by the Saigon
generals. If there were a political settlement, there might be
progress toward successful development outside of our influence-an
Instead, we installed a typical Latin American style terror state
in South Vietnam, subverted the only free elections in the history
of Laos because the wrong side won, and blocked elections in Vietnam
because it was obvious the wrong side was going to win there too.
The Kennedy administration escalated the attack against South
Vietnam from massive state terror to outright aggression. Johnson
sent a huge expeditionary force to attack South Vietnam and expanded
the war to all of Indochina. That destroyed the virus, all right-
Indochina will be lucky if it recovers in a hundred years.
While the United States was extirpating the disease of independent
development at its source in Vietnam, it also prevented its spread
by supporting the Suharto takeover in Indonesia in 1965, backing
the overthrow of Philippine democracy by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972,
supporting martial law in South Korea and Thailand and so on.
Suharto's 1965 coup in Indonesia was particularly welcome to the
West, because it destroyed the only mass-based political party
there. That involved the slaughter, in a few months, of about
700,000 people, mostly landless peasants-"a gleam of light
in Asia," as the leading thinker of the New York Times, James
Reston, exulted, assuring his readers that the US had a hand in
The West was very pleased to do business with Indonesia's new
"moderate" leader, as the Christian Science Monitor
described General Suharto, after he had washed some of the blood
off his hands-meanwhile adding hundreds of thousands of corpses
in East Timor and else where. This spectacular mass murderer is
"at heart benign," the respected London Economist assures
us-doubtless referring to his attitude towards Western corporations.
After the Vietnam war was ended in 1975, the major policy goal
of the US has been to maximize repression and suffering in the
countries that were devastated by our violence. The degree of
the cruelty is quite astonishing.
When the Mennonites tried to send pencils to Cambodia, the State
Department tried to stop
them. When Oxfam tried to send ten solar pumps, the reaction was
the same. The same was true when religious groups tried to send
shovels to Laos to dig up some of the unexploded shells left by
When India tried to send 100 water buffalo to Vietnam to replace
the huge herds that were destroyed by the American attacks-and
remember, in this primitive country, water buffalo mean fertilizer,
tractors, survival-the United States threatened to cancel Food
for Peace aid. (That's one Orwell would have appreciated.) No
degree of cruelty is too great for Washington sadists. The educated
classes know enough to look the other way.
In order to bleed Vietnam, we've supported the Khmer Rouge indirectly
through our allies, China and Thailand. The Cambodians have to
pay with their blood so we can make sure there isn't any recovery
in Vietnam. The Vietnamese have to be punished for having resisted
Contrary to what virtually everyone-left or right-says, the United
States achieved its major objectives in Indochina. Vietnam was
demolished. There's no danger that successful development there
will provide a model for other nations in the region.
Of course, it wasn't a total victory for the US. Our larger goal
was to reincorporate Indochina into the US-dominated global system,
and that has not yet been achieved.
But our basic goal-the crucial one, the one that really counted-was
to destroy the virus, and we did achieve that. Vietnam is a basket
case, and the US is doing what it can to keep it that way. In
October 1991, the US once again overrode the strenuous objections
of its allies in Europe and Japan, and renewed the embargo and
sanctions against Vietnam. The Third World must learn that no
one dare raise their head. The global enforcer will persecute
them relentlessly if they commit this unspeakable crime.
from the book What Uncle Sam Really Wants, published in 1993
Tucson, AZ 85751
tel 602-296-4056 or 800-REALSTORY
other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press
Secrets, Lies, and Democracy
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
Uncle Sam Really Wants