Inoculating Southeast Asia

Noam Chomsky

Excerpted from What Uncle Sam Really Wants, 1992

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 development.)

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 unacceptable outcome.

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 this triumph.

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 American bombing.

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 US violence.

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.