40 Years Later, Remembering the Legacy of the Viet Nam War

40 Years Later, Remembering the Legacy of the Viet Nam War


By Dik Cool


The PBS documentary, “Last Days in Viet Nam” is an excellent piece of cold war propaganda.  What could be better than to show two hours of Vietnamese fleeing the (gasp!) advancing communist hordes.”  The map drips red, the people flee and the talking heads intone that Saigon is falling to the communists.”  But wait, aren’t the communists also Vietnamese and isn’t this their country?  So Viet Nam has fallen to the Vietnamese?  Isn’t the US the invader, the occupier, the imperial force that has tried to subjugate a nationalist movement?  In 1776, didn’t we fight to expel the occupying British?  A more accurate description would be that the capitalist invaders had finally been driven out by Vietnamese forces committed to freedom and independence for their country.  Their only sin was that they believed in a different economic system, communism, for their country.

Perhaps a brief history will bring perspective to all this.

During WWII, U.S. flyers shot down by the Japanese were frequently rescued by Ho Chi Minh’s guerilla force, the Viet Minh, the only reliable ally that the US had in the area.  After the war ended, at a million-person rally, Ho declared Viet Nam’s independence from France, using language from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a document he revered.  The United States, led by anti-communist zealots, chose to betray Ho Chi Minh and support France’s re-colonization of Viet Nam.

In 1954, at Dien Bien Phu, the Vietnamese defeated the French, by then 80% financed by the United States.  The Geneva Accords temporarily divided Viet Nam into north and south, with elections to be held in 1956.  The United States refused to support the elections because, as President Eisenhower admitted in his memoirs, “Ho Chi Minh would win.”  Washington proceeded to install a series of puppet dictators in the south, claiming it was defending democracy and freedom.

By 1967, the United States had 500,000 troops in the south, was regularly bombing the north and using the carcinogenic herbicide Agent Orange over vast areas.  The anti-war movement military and nonmilitary grew rapidly.  Immolations, the ultimate protest, occurred in the south and in the United States.

The Pentagon does not want you to know any of the following information:  The G.I. movement against the Viet Nam war was perhaps more important to ending the war than the civilian peace movement.  By 1971, with 500,000 troops in Viet Nam, the US military was on the verge of collapse and the brass were panicked.  Officers were being fragged, whole units were refusing to fight, drug use was rampant, black GI’s had coined the phrase no Vietnamese ever called me n-----,” and antiwar GI coffeehouses and newspapers had sprung up at most US bases around the world.  In April, 1971, several thousand Viet Nam vets, in a powerful, moving demonstration, threw their medals on the steps of the US Congress.  Vets symbolically occupied the Statue of Liberty.  US soldiers realized they had been lied to by a country they trusted.  They came to understand that the people they were killing had done nothing to the US; they simply wanted to control their own destiny.  The veterans then and now had to bear a double burden.   They had fought a war and then had to fight to stop a war they realized was unjust.  The toll this took on our soldiers is staggering.  Over 150,000 have committed suicide, far more than died in the war, and the suicides continue to this day. Veterans also have had to fight to get the VA to acknowledge the effects of toxic Agent Orange and PTSD.  They deserve better.  Much better.

Mass demonstrations, draft resistance, civil disobedience, tax protests and lobbying involved millions in the United States and millions more internationally.  In 1970, students were killed at Kent and Jackson State while protesting the US invasion of Cambodia.  Most campuses went on strike.  The United States signed the Paris Peace Agreement in January, 1973.  US forces withdrew and prisoners of war were returned.  The agreement guaranteed US aid to rebuild a devastated country.  The United States violated the agreement, instead imposing a trade embargo.  The war’s horrific toll:  Viet Nam - 2 million dead, 3 million wounded, 13 million refugees, 200,000 missing in action;  the United States 58,000 dead, 304,000 wounded, 1,900 MIAs.

Frequently the war is described as a tragic mistake,” an aberration in US foreign policy.  As the Pentagon Papers showed, it was not a mistake, but a calculated attempt to suppress a popular movement that was unfriendly to capitalism and western domination.  Similar actions against Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, Iraq and Afghanistan, show US foreign policy is not guided by democratic ideals.  But if they said it was guided by corporate profits, who would support it?

As with US veterans, the war’s legacy continues to exact a horrible toll on the Vietnamese.  Since the war’s end 40,000 people have been killed by unexploded ordnances (bombs, grenades, mines, artillery shells) and another 65,000 maimed.  There are millions of these killers still in the ground.  In areas heavily sprayed by Agent Orange (produced by Monsanto), birth defects are an epidemic as are neurological diseases.  From 1961-1971 about 20,000,000 gallons of toxic herbicides were sprayed on southern Viet Nam (The Nation, 3/16/15).  Many US veterans have returned to Vet Nam to help repair this devastation.  They have also helped push the US to do the right thing, and finally the Obama administration has begun to do so.

What are the lessons of Viet Nam?  The Pentagon and its PR firms learned to never again televise a war it breeds opposition.  Witness the almost total censorship of the Gulf War, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.   We the people learned a painful lesson that our government lies to us, and that its agenda is almost always aligned with the rich and powerful, in spite of assertions to the contrary.

We also learned that all authority must be challenged and held accountable to the needs of the people and that this process never ends.  Whether it is the US government, multinational corporations, the Pentagon or state governments, the need for vigilance, resistance and community-building is essential.

In late 2014 retired general Nguyen Van Rinh was asked how the US could make amends for the war.  He said, Admit the truth and acknowledge that a great crime was committed here.”



Dik Cool first opposed the US war on Viet Nam in 1964.  He was imprisoned in 1967-68 for draft and war resistance.  In 1970 he joined the staff of the Syracuse Peace Council and spoke against the war at colleges, schools and community groups.   He is the founder and publisher of SyracuseCulturalWorkers.com, a national publisher which, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the war’s end, has just republished an iconic Ho Chi Minh poster.  Ho, like George Washington, is considered the father of his country.

Vietnam Women and children huddled by tree at My Lai

  (Unarmed civilians in My Lai where more than 500 were massacred

Dik Cool, Publisher

Syracuse Cultural Workers

PO Box 6367

Syracuse, NY 13217

800.949.5139 x 106 fax 800.396.1449

315.474.1132 x 106


12 Things Sigmund Freud Got Right

Freud surely offers much we can use to understand our aggressiveness, denials, defenses, and sexuality. The Nazi's and Communists hated him, and he exposed our American greed to the light of day. Here are a few reasons why we should honor many of this thoughtful and wise man's ideas:

12 Things Sigmund Freud Got Right

Many major ideas by Freud have been borne out and are still relevant today.
May 6 was Sigmund Freud's birthday (born in 1856). It has been more or less 100 years since Freud wrote many of his groundbreaking books and papers on the human mind -- exploring and theorizing about dreams, culture, childhood development, sexuality and mental health. And while some of his theories have been discredited, many major ideas have been borne out and are still relevant today, according to Discover Magazine. They are a roadmap to our minds and are still useful and accepted -- in one way or another -- by all educated people, who grapple with the issues of self-knowledge and human motives. Freud tells a story that few of us want to hear: We do not know ourselves. We do not really know what motivates us or why we do what we do.
           Our conscious thoughts are just the tip of our mental iceberg.
In commemoration of Mental Health Awareness month this May, the following list, compiled with help from the American Psychoanalytic Association, are 12 examples of the gifts Freud left to us. 1) The Unconcious. Nothing Comes "Out of the Blue": Freud discovered that there are no accidents and no coincidences. Even "random-seeming" feelings, ideas, impulses, wishes, events and actions carry important, often unconscious, meanings. Anyone who has ever made a "Freudian Slip" that has left them embarrassed or baffled will attest to the importance of the unconscious meanings of the things we do and say. That time you "accidentally" left your keys at your lover's apartment may have been an accident; but more likely, at least unconsciously, you wanted to go back for more. From dreams, to Freudian slips, to free association -- delving into one's unconscious as a means of unlocking often hidden or denied fantasies, traumas or motivations is still crucial to gaining the whole truth about human behavior. 2) Sexuality is Everyone's Weakness-and Strength: Sex is a prime motivator and common denominator for all of us. It is not a message many want to hear. So high is our disgust for these elementary Darwinian principles -- that led to human triumph over all other living things -- that we spent much of our time denying the dark side of our lives. Even the most prudent, puritanical-appearing individuals struggle greatly against their sexual appetites and expression. One need only look to the many scandals that have rocked the Vatican, fundamentalist churches, politicians and celebrities alike. Freud observed this prurient struggle in men and women early on in Victorian Vienna and extrapolated easily from there. 3) A Cigar is Never Just a Cigar (except when it is): It is a commonly accepted idea in contemporary psychology that everything is determined by multiple factors and also idiosyncratic to the individual. So, nothing is so simply determined. So is it a pacifier? Okay. A penis? Perhaps. A cigar? Sure. However, few would argue that all meanings have profound implications. No controversy here. So go ahead, have a cigar. 4) Every Part of the Body is Erotic: Freud knew that human beings were sexual beings right from the start. He took his inspiration from the baby nursing at the mother's breast to illustrate the example of more mature sexuality, saying, "No one who has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction later in life." He knew, too, that sexual excitation is not restricted to genitalia, as pleasure is achieved through erotic attachment to potentially any idiosyncratically defined area of the body, and most definitely not limited to genital intercourse between a male and female. Even today many people have great difficulty accepting this idea. 5) Thought is a Roundabout Way of Wishing: Freud discovered that the mere act of thinking (wishing and fantasizing) is itself gratifying. In fact, what therapists and psychoanalysts commonly observe is that the fantasy is more mentally and physically stimulating fulfilling than the actual, real life action the fantasy is organized around. Is it any wonder that reality doesn't measure up to the intense, vivid fantasy? Freud's observation that humans' attempt to fantasize things into reality is today fully accepted by neuroscientists as the basis for imagination 6) Talking Cures: "If someone speaks, it gets lighter" From Freud's introduction lecture XXV. Whether an individual's therapy is based in Freudian psychoanalysis or some other form of talk therapy, the evidence is clear that talking helps alleviate emotional symptoms, lessen anxiety and frees up the person's mind. While medication and brief therapy can often be effective in alleviating symptoms, talk therapy uses the powerful tool of the therapeutic relationship. The whole person is involved in the treatment, not just a set of symptoms or a diagnosis, therefore deeper and more lasting change becomes possible. 7) Defense Mechanisms: The term "defense mechanism" is so much a part of our basic understanding of human behavior that we take it for granted. Yet, this is another construct developed and theorized by the Freuds (Sigmund and his daughter, Anna). According to Freud, defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny or distort reality in order to protect against feelings of anxiety and/or unacceptable impulses. Among the many types of defense mechanisms coined by Freud, i.e. repression, rationalization, projection, denial is perhaps the most well known. Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring. Denial can be personal-for example denying an addiction or denying a painful life experience-but it can also take the form of denying scientific, social and cultural phenomena -- for example, the reality of climate change or the Holocaust. 8) Resistance to Change: Our minds and behavior patterns inherently resist change. It's new, it's threatening and it's unwelcome -- even when it's a change for the good. Psychoanalysis got this ubiquitous principle of resistance right, and found tools to bring it to consciousness and defeat its stubborn ability to create obstacles to forward movement, both of individuals and groups. 9) The Past Impacts the Present: This might seem like a no-brainer to most of us in 2015, but more than 100 years ago, this was an "ahh-ha" moment for Freud. Today, many of Freud's theories on childhood development and the effects of early life experience on later behavior contribute greatly to helping and treating patients whose lives are stuck in repetitive patterns. 10) Transference: An example of the past impacting the present is the concept of transference, another Freud construct that is widely understood and utilized in today's psychology practices. Transference refers to very strong feelings, hopes, fantasies and fears we have in relation to the important relationships of our childhood that carry forward, unconsciously, and impact present day relationships. 11) Development: Human development continues throughout the life cycle; a successful life depends on adaptability and mastery of change as it confronts each of us. Every new stage of life presents challenges and provides the opportunity to reassess our core personal goals and values. 12) The Price of Civilization is Neurotic Discontent: Freud stated, "The inclination to aggression constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization." Few thinkers have looked so unflinchingly at human aggression as Freud. While the guns of August still echoed and European anti-Semitism grew rife, Freud wrote Civilization and Its Discontents (1929), declaring: "Man is wolf to man. Who ... will have the courage to dispute this assertion?" "Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved," Freud wrote in 1929, using words as relevant today as then, "but rather, (are) creatures whose instinct (is) aggressiveness." We continue to meet the enemy...and it is us. Yet if we cannot change, what will happen to our civilization?" The Nazi invaders in World War II banned and attacked Freud, as did the Communists afterwards. New Yorker editor David Remnick quotes a Hamas leader saying that Israel must be destroyed because "the media -- it's controlled by the Jews. Freud, a Jew, was the one who destroyed morals." But Freud did not like America. He thought that Americans had channeled their sexuality into an unhealthy obsession with money. He wrote to a German friend after World War I, "Is it not sad, that we are materially dependent on these savages, who are not a better class of human beings?" Ironically, America, in the end, turned out to be a most favorable repository of Freud's exquisite legacy of ideas.
  Blake Fleetwood is a former reporter for the New York Times and Daily News. He taught political science at NYU.

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Who Counts

Who Counts?

Body Counts, Drones, and “Collateral Damage” (aka “Bug Splat”) By Tom Engelhardt

In the twenty-first-century world of drone warfare, one question with two aspects reigns supreme: Who counts?

In Washington, the answers are the same: We don’t count and they don’t count.

The Obama administration has adamantly refused to count. Not a body. In fact, for a long time, American officials associated with Washington’s drone assassination campaigns and “signature strikes” in the backlands of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen claimed that there were no bodies to count, that the CIA’s drones were so carefully handled and so “precise” that they never produced an unmeant corpse -- not a child, not a parent, not a wedding party. Nada.

When it came to “collateral damage,” there was no need to count because there was nothing to tote up or, at worst, such civilian casualties were “in the single digits.” That this was balderdash, that often when those drones unleashed their Hellfire missiles they were unsure who exactly was being targeted, that civilians were dying in relatively countable numbers -- and that others were indeed counting them -- mattered little, at least in this country until recently. Drone war was, after all, innovative and, as presented by two administrations, quite miraculous. In 2009, CIA Director Leon Panetta called it “the only game in town” when it came to Al-Qaeda. And what a game it was. It needed no math, no metrics. As the Vietnam War had proved, counting was for losers -- other than the usual media reports that so many “militants” had died in a strike or that some Al-Qaeda “lieutenant” or “leader” had gone down for the count.

That era ended on April 23rd when President Obama entered the White House briefing room and apologized for the deaths of American aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, two Western hostages of al-Qaeda. They had, the president confessed, been obliterated in a strike against a terrorist compound in Pakistan, though in his comments he managed not to mention the word “drone,” describing what happened vaguely as a “U.S. counter-terrorism operation.” In other words, it turned out that the administration was capable of counting -- at least to two.

And that brings us to the other meaning of “Who counts?” If you are an innocent American or Western civilian and a drone takes you out, you count. If you are an innocent Pakistani, Afghan, or Yemeni, you don’t. You didn’t count before the drone killed you and you don’t count as a corpse either. For you, no one apologizes, no one pays your relatives compensation for your unjust death, no one even acknowledges that you existed. This is modern American drone reality and the question of who counts and whom, if anyone, to count is part of the contested legacy of Washington’s never-ending war on terror.

 Read the rest of this article at:


Daniel C. Lavery's photo.

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