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Containment and Imperialism: The Paradox of American Empire and Vietnam


"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" [1] So begins the Vietnamese declaration of independence written personally by Ho Chi Minh after fighting a long war of resistance as an American ally against both Imperial Japan and Vichy France. Against a tiny nation striving for liberty the United States fought a long and brutal war of terror and genocide all in the name of the policy of containment. What exactly was the policy of containment? "Containment" was nothing more than a policy of supporting the elites in all nations against their own people. History was to reveal that it was American aggression that the world's people needed to contain. Containment had its roots in the French support for quarantine around the Soviet Union in the 1920s resulting in military dictatorships in nearly all of Eastern Europe. But modern containment began in 1947 when President Truman decided to aid the imperialist British Empire in restoring a tyrannical monarchy against the heroic resistance that had liberated their nation from the Nazis. From the start the Truman Doctrine was based on aiding military dictators, fascists, kings and emperors against the common people of the land. While there was some truth to the communist movement in Eastern Europe being dominated by Moscow especially as the Soviet Union degenerated into social imperialism. There was no truth at all to the idea that communism in Vietnam was part of a sinister plot by either Beijing or Moscow. Containments application from even its earliest stages in South East Asia was based on imperialism, racism and the upholding of white supremacy. Containment in Vietnam was simply a modern application of the imperial ideal of “the white man’s burden”.

With the conclusion of the Second World War the United States set out to take the role of the defeated Axis powers both in Europe and the Pacific-Asia region. While in continental Europe the United States took up Hitler’s crusade against the “Mongoloid Tartars” to the east, in the Pacific region the United States began to fill the vacuum left by the fall of Japan and build its own “Co-prosperity Sphere”. In order to legitimize its position as the new Axis Power the United States developed the policy known as the “Truman Doctrine”. The Truman Doctrine became a tool for the United States to back exploitive, imperialist and racist regimes around the world all under the cover of fighting communism. The United States movement into Vietnam was eerily similar to its conquest of the Philippines in 1902 only this time anticommunism replaced blatant imperialism. The Vietnam War openly revealed the fallacy of the lie that containment was a “defensive strategy”. The United States government was aware from the start that the Vietminh were simply Vietnamese nationalists struggling for freedom against European tyranny. [2] However in order to manipulate the French elections the Truman administration supported French imperialism in Indochina despite its blatant contradictions with the spirit of the Atlantic Charter. [3] Ho Chi Minh was a strictly nationalist leader and in 1946 he had appealed to President Truman to honor anti-colonial principles. In 1945 Ho went as far as to offer the United States a naval base in Vietnam. [4]From 1946 onward the French war in Vietnam was essentially an American war fought with French blood. The United States funded 1.1 billion dollars or 74% of the French war effort. [5] The pre1965 history of imperialism in Vietnam completely shatters the myth that containment’s goal was the defense of existing government. In both 1945 and 1954 the Vietnamese nationalist movement was in virtual control of the entire nation. Both times the Vietnamese people were subject to a foreign government militarily forced upon them. First the genocidal government of the Emperor Bảo Ðại and then the autocratic despot Ngô Ðình Diệm. The United States obtained exceedingly generous terms at the 1954 Geneva Conference considering the fact that Vietnam was already a free nation when the conference was held. Despite being in nearly complete control of all of Indochina the Vietminh agreed to allow neutralist regimes in Laos and Cambodia, and a fascist dictatorship in South Vietnam. Despite the immense concessions made in the interest of peace by North Vietnam the United States was to violate every single one of the provisions it had agreed to at the Geneva Convention revealing to the world that all that stood behind the legality of “containment” was naked aggression. President Eisenhower cold-bloodedly explained in 1963 why democracy could not be allowed to prevail in Vietnam despite the Geneva Convention agreements: “It was generally conceded that had an election been held, Ho Chi Minh would have been elected Premier.” [6] Not only did the United States fail to honor its agreements towards elections in South Vietnam it also threatened the very neutralist regimes it had created in Laos and Cambodia. Thus from the start containment was about expanding the frontier provinces of the American Empire not protecting legitimate legal governments.

The United States’ involvement in Vietnam was fueled by a desire to contain not the rise of Communism but the rise of colored nationalism both at home and abroad. The United States, South Africa and Nazi Germany are unique in world history in their single minded focus on the idea of racial purity. The Anglo-Saxon idea of the white man’s burden was the dominant factor in containment policy. The so called idea of being the world’s policeman was in fact simply a misleading deception to America’s intentions of replacing the British Empire as the upholder of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. The rise of New China terrified the United States because of the idea of a colored nation becoming a major power was a major obstacle to white supremacy. Japan had already shattered the image of white supremacy with her victories in the Russo-Japanese War and Battle of Singapore; however Japan did not consider herself a colored nation and did everything in her power to be accepted into the western community of nations. New China on the other hand had no qualms about being a colored nation on the contrary she embraced the idea of New China being first among equals in the community of colored nations. Zhou Enlai attended the 1955 Bandung conference, where ideas of colored unity posed a major threat to the rule of the white man. The American leaders did everything in their power to quell the Bandung spirit. Recognizing New China as the bastion of colored people everywhere the United States pursued an aggressive policy of “containment” towards New China out of fear that her strength would inspire colored people around the world to revolution. In a NSC 1952 document, state documents official suggest condemning New China for the violence in Indochina and creating a coalition of the Great Britain, France and the Kuomintang to invade New China. [7] The key to containing new China and the brown man was Vietnam. The Vietnam War was to make clear before the entire world to see that only pathological hatred of colored people inspired American foreign policy. While America supposedly pursued a more modern form of imperialism in Vietnam many of its policies reeked of the European 19th Century Imperialism. For one thing in a nation overwhelmingly Buddhist, the United States installed a Catholic autocrat who pursued his fanatical dreams of exterminating Buddhism and allowing the western religion of Roman Catholicism to prevail in Vietnam. Supposedly attempting to contain the “Godless communists” the United States openly encouraged attacks on any religion other than Christianity in Vietnam. Most of the members of the so called “South East Asia” Treaty Organization were European or white powers. The only major Pacific power to support American genocide in Vietnam was Australia-another white ruled nation. The United States’ primary aim in Vietnam was to preserve the myth that the white man’s armies were some how invincible.

Intervention in Vietnam was heavily influenced by the United States’ need to protect its capability to exploit the people and economic resources of South East Asia and create an Anglo-Saxon Co-prosperity sphere. In its desire to turn occupied Japan into a bastion of western imperialism in the Pacific, the United States progressively began to reclaim the economic interests of the Imperial Japanese Empire. In order to turn the puppet Japanese regime into a economic powerhouse, the United States launched a series of imperialist thrusts against Indochina, Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, not coincidentally all areas which had been included in the Japanese Empire’s wartime occupation. In the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea the United States satisfied itself by supporting puppet governments that would aid in the exploitation of resources by western corporations. According to the Boston Globe: “After the (U.S. Army) troops seize an area that the VC have held, the landowners move right in after them and even use the troops to help collect back rents.” [8]However nations which did not accept United States economic subjection both communist and noncommunist were to become victims of American aggression. Korea and the People’s Republic of China both had strategic areas of their nation illegally occupied by the Americans. In Indonesia the C.I.A played a decisive role in launching a military coup against a strongly noncommunist, nationalist hero Sukarno because of the threat that he would nationalize the assets of western corporations in Indonesia. The C.I.A. would also play a major role in the coup against Diem who despite being a pro-American puppet did not follow orders from Washington well enough. The neutralist regime in Cambodia, which the United States had insisted on at Geneva would also fall victim to an American military coup. The big business units of the United States considered South East Asia a major opportunity for economic exploitation of valuable resources such as rubber and oil. According to Noam Chomsky a major aim of American policy towards Vietnam was to create a regime that would complement the west’s industrial economy.

Paradoxically the United States pursued an international strategy during the Vietnam conflict of encouraging the development of social imperialism in the Soviet Union as a bulwark against New China while at the same time insisting that Red China was simply a puppet of the Russians. From the death of Stalin onward the United States primary foreign policy goal was the destruction of New China. While already fearful of the Soviet Union’s revolutionary appeal to colonial peoples of the world, the idea of a colored superpower actively aiding the brown nations was a scenario the United States could not tolerate. In 1950 the United States had attempted a direct land invasion of New China through Korea which had been smashed at the epic Battle of the Yalu. From then on the United States pursued a new strategy of encouraging social imperialism in its fellow white superpower- the Soviet Union while using indirect means to destroy New China. To isolate New China the Eisenhower administration preserved the legitimacy of its colonial client in Taiwan by suggesting ludicrously that New China was a Soviet colony. The ignorant and racist statements by Dean Rusk for example are mind blowing: "The Peiping regime may be a colonial Russian government -- a Slavic Manchukuo on a larger scale. It is not the Government of China. It does not pass the first test. It is not Chinese." [9] Vietnam was to prove the testing grounds for both sides of this nefarious plan. The Soviet Union having fallen victim to Social Imperialism was all to willing to sacrifice the people’s liberation movements in Vietnam and around the world for the sake of Russian national interests. The United States by offering incentives for Russia to abandon her revolutionary nature was the prime force in implanting social imperialism in the Soviet Union. By 1963 when the United States first began escalating forces into Vietnam it was clear that containment was no longer directed at the white Soviet superpower but at New China alone. Nikita Khrushchev’s abandonment of revolutionary principle around the world particular Vietnam was so blatant it was to play a major role in inciting the 1964 coup against him. [10]Mao Zedong’s Three Worlds Theory provides major insight into America’s intentions in Vietnam. Mao’s Three Worlds theory holds that there are three major international communities in the world. The first world is made up of the two white superpowers the United States and the Soviet Union while the second world is made up of the primarily white nations of Europe and Australia as well as westernized Japan. Opposed to both the first and second worlds was the third world made up exclusively of colored nations of which New China, Vietnam and most of America’s victims were members. By understanding the Three Worlds theory it becomes easy to understand why the United States would be willing to reach agreements with her fellow superpower to combat world liberation. The Soviet Union was perfectly willing to abandon Vietnam to American imperialism. In one of the greatest farces in history the United States began its invasion of Vietnam with the Tonkin gulf resolution. Later released American state documents reveal that Lyndon Johnson had planned to launch an invasion of Vietnam long before the fictional attack in the Tonkin Gulf. The United States did not come to the aid of the South Vietnamese government it launched a full blown invasion of a liberated nation. New China was the primary target of American intervention. Between 1965-1968 the USAF targeted a railroad in Vietnam that was the only line of communication between southwest China and the rest of the nation. [11]

The defeat of the mightiest empire in the world by “peasants in black pajamas” was to be a great symbolic triumph for the oppressed colonial peoples of the world. However in terms of foreign policy, communist victory in Vietnam proved to the world the futility and waist of the nearly 30 year war in Indochina. The aftermath of the war would prove to be the greatest argument against the necessity of containment. Containment at least in the Asia Pacific region was for all intents and purposes dead. From then on the United States under Nixon and Kissinger’s more pragmatic foreign policy would be forced to act rationally toward its fellow nations and not engage in fanatic crusades against freedom. Another great myth disproved by the people’s victory was the idea that South Vietnam was being invaded by the North. Instead final victory in South Vietnam was won by the people, and for over a year an independent communist “Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam” governed the nation separate from the north under the presidency of Huynh Tan Phat. [12] The victory of the Vietnamese people to control their own nation did not lead to Red Chinese hordes spilling across all of Southeast Asia. Instead Vietnam would fall victim to the same social imperialist virus the United States had created in the Soviet Union. The myth of a communist monolith was disproved by the inter-communist bickering that followed in the 1970s. In one of the great ironies of history the United States under the Nixon administration was forced to come to an uneasy truce with the rising New China in order to combat the social imperialist Russia that America had created. The socially imperialist Soviet Union would attempt to use the victory of the people in Vietnam to further its aims of encircling and destroying New China. New China however would smash social imperialism in her brilliant military victory against social imperialist Vietnam after her aggression against Cambodia. Despite Vietnam’s eventual betrayal of New China, the Vietnamese victory is still a great testament to the power of Mao Zedong thought to inspire even the lowest to fight for freedom.


References Brandon, Henry. Anatomy of Error; the Inside Story of the Asian War on the Potomac, 1954-1969. Boston: Gambit, 1969.

Bommarito, John E. The Truth About Viet Nam. St. Louis, Alert Publications, 1966.

Chomsky, Noam, At War with Asia New York: Pantheon Books. 1976

Duiker, William J. U.S. Containment Policy and the Conflict in Vietnam 1994

Eisenhower, Dwight D. Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 ( Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, Inc, 1963)

Ho Chi Minh, Declaration of Independence 1946 http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1945vietnam.html

Progressive Labor Party, Vietnam: Defeat U.S. Imperialism, 1971,

Smith, R.B. (Ralph Bernard). An International History of the Vietnam War, Vol. 1. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.

Taylor, Jay, China and Southeast Asia: Peking's Relations with Revolutionary Movements. New York, Praeger Publishers,1976

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