It was 40 years ago today that the last troops from America’s criminal war against the people of Vietnam scurried ignominiously onto a helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and fled the country where US forces had killed some 3-4 million people in the name of “fighting Communism.”
It’s hard to celebrate the end to that nightmare conflict, which is still destroying lives in Indochina thanks to the thousands of tons of carcinogenic Agent Orange defoliant which American planes spread across the land in a vain effort to starve out the peasants and to destroy the jungle to deprive Vietnamese fighters of cover.
Many of the generals who lead today’s imperial wars and who cooly contemplate new bloody conflicts against Syria, Iran, Russia or China, “earned” their initial promotions and battle “cred” by contributing to the slaughter in Vietnam. Many of today’s politicians, like Sen. John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry, got their start committing war crimes in Vietnam. Henry Kissinger, one of the country’s greatest living war criminals, and a key architect of the US war against the people of Vietnam, has grown fat and rich on the reputation he gained for ruthlessness as President Nixon’s national security director and later Secretary of State.
While we may not celebrate April 30, it is a good time to reflect on how that wretched and criminal war directly produced the dysfunctional war-mongering nation and society that we live in today. There is a direct link between the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on that decade-long military mayhem in Vietnam, and the hollowed-out cities of today’s United States, the schools that crank out fodder for more wars and new workers for the low-wage service-sector jobs that are all that is left in an economy that no longer makes anything but burgers and bombers.
Today as you read this article, armed US soldiers are patrolling the streets of Baltimore enforcing a kind of martial law, and police who are hard to distinguish from occupying troops are doing the same in cities across the country, as tens of thousands of people take to the streets to protest the police murder of a young man arrested for running away from two cops who looked at him funny. Freddie Gray hadn’t done anything wrong when two Baltimore bicycle cops rode by and decided to harass him, causing him to flee. But that didn’t stop the cops from chasing him down and stomping on him, crushing his larynx and breaking three vertebra in his neck. Nor did it stop them from binding his wrists behind his back, shackling his feet and tossing him, un-restrained by any seatbelt, into the back of a van which they then drove with deliberate recklessness through the city, slamming his limp and unprotected body all around the floor of the vehicle until they had severed his spinal cord at the neck, killing him.
More than 40 years ago, American soldiers — the antecedents to Baltimore’s cops — were doing similar things to captured Vietnamese fighters, cutting off body parts and slamming them around during “interrogations,” and then, eventually, taking them up in helicopters and just pushing them out the door to fall to their deaths.
There’s little difference really, between what was happening in Vietnam in the 1960s and ‘70s, and what’s going on in today’s towns and cities. Then it was the Vietnamese who were the victims. Today it is Americans of color, and poor whites, who are being brutalized, hunted down, shot in the back, slammed around in vans, jailed for extensive periods, or executed after brief kangaroo court trials.
There is, happily, a resistance movement growing here in the US. In Ferguson, MO, in Baltimore, MD, in Washington and Indianapolis and New York, young people are fighting back, and it’s not just minorities. Young white kids are angry too, at the callous brutality of militarized cops, and at the limited opportunities they all face in a country that is today of, by and for the rich.
It would be nice to think that sometime in the future we could witness the last centurions of the rich scuttling aboard some helicopter on the roof of the New York Stock Exchange to flee to some tax haven in the Caribbean, but that is not possible. The next battle will be for the US, and there won’t be anywhere for the losers to flee; they will have to face their former victims should that happy day ever arrive.
In the meantime, I’ll think back to that joyful spring day 40 years ago when people from all over New York City, myself included, spontaneously poured into a big green field in Central Park to celebrate, at long last, the end of the Vietnam War.