Monday, November 30, 2015

Whose War Was It, Anyway?

Someone left a travel guide to Southeast Asia lying on a table in the public library today, and I idly paged through it.  It's in the Footprint series, produced in England and written by a couple of Brits.  I noticed that, in addition to all the predictable entries (where to eat, where to stay, what sights to see) it had a fairly extensive section on the history of the region.  I was curious to see what sort of stance these writers would take, so I started reading.

The account of Vietnam's push for independence after World War II was good, acknowledging that the French negotiated with the Viet Minh forces led by Ho Chi Minh but never really intended to give up their possession.  The writers do mention that in the wake of the Chinese Revolution and "the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) in 1948, the US began to offer support to the French in an attempt to stem the 'Red Tide' that seemed to be sweeping across Asia."  That's a bit of an understatement, since the offered aid was accepted, and by the time the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 it was considerable, underwriting most of the French war effort.

But the account becomes overtly misleading in the following paragraph:
In July 1954, in Geneva, the French and Vietnamese agreed to divide the country along the 17th parallel, so creating two states -- the Communists occupying the north and the non-Communists occupying the south [203].
This is false.  The Geneva accords established the 17th parallel as a truce line, a "provisional military demarcation line" with a demilitarized zone on either side.  The truce was to prepare the way for "general elections which will bring about the unification of Viet-Nam," under the supervision of an international commission.  These elections were to take place, according to Article 7 of the Final Declaration, by secret ballot in July 1956.  They never did, because of the refusal of the US' client Ngo Dinh Diem to permit them.  The writers do mention Diem's "two rigged elections (in October 1955, 450,000 registered voters cast 605,025 votes) that gave some legitimacy to his administration in American eyes" (204), but not the plebiscite he blocked, nor that the Eisenhower administration supported him because they recognized that unification under Ho Chi Minh would win any fair election.

Later the writers acknowledge that John F. Kennedy increased US military involvement "in flagrant violation of the Geneva Agreements", but then complain about the "bungling and incompetence of the forces of the south, the interference that US advisors and troops had to face" (205), as though the "interference" didn't come from the US advisors and troops, whose presence and activity in Vietnam violated the Geneva Accords.  This is a familiar tack, of course: naive and well-meaning Americans who were just trying to help but were constantly blocked by devious, corrupt brown people.  This isn't really revisionist history, of course, it's the standard US propaganda line, despite the occasional concession.