Follow-up letter on U.S. Imperialism in Vietnam, February 17, 1994

I wrote this letter in response to an attack on my first letter about U.S. imperialism in Vietnam. The Montclarion cut it heavily, butchered one quote beyond legibility, and left out the documentation; this is the version I originally wrote.

To the Editor

The Montclarion

Dear Madam:

I'm replying to the criticisms of my article, and of myself, in last week's Montclarion (2/17, p.12).

1. Prof. Paul Scipione believes U.S. involvement in Vietnam was not to "exploit it for cheap labor and raw materials but to protect all of Southeast Asia from falling under Communist domination." But he fails to explore what this means.

After WWII peasant rebellions against brutal landlord exploitation and the landlord-dominated governments raged throughout Asia. Such rebellions had occurred for thousands of years; the peasants had always lost. What was different in the post-WWII era was that some of those peasant rebellions were winning, for the first time in history, because they were led by communists.

In China and Vietnam communists, mostly peasants themselves, led peasant armies to defeat Western imperialists and their landlord collaborators. The peasants got the land, and their standard of living increased dramatically. But in countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea American and British imperialists managed to suppress, through mass murder, the peasant rebels, who wanted only a chance to live free of conditions little different from slavery.

Why do U.S. capitalists want to keep peasants poor? For cheap agricultural goods, to be resold at a high profit; cheap raw materials; and cheap labor, from peasants driven off the land and forced to work in subhuman conditions for subhuman wages. These conditions still persist in all of Southeast Asia, and U.S. corporations still profit from them today, while exporting jobs and hurting American workers. This is what "protecting Asia from Communist domination" means in practice.

2. Atrocities:Scipione is wrong on all four points he makes. (a) The "hundreds of civilians butchered" at Hue in 1968 were killed by Americans. This massacre was later blamed on the North Vietnamese by the U.S. and Saigon governments. (For these and all references, see Sources, at end).

(b) Books about documented U.S. atrocities are many, but there are few lists of even alleged communist atrocities in Vietnam. The longest I have seen is in the Appendix to Pike's pamphlet. It is not trustworthy -- Pike fabricated the "Hue massacre" myth -- and he gives no evidence. Still, Pike does not allege even one communist atrocity of the scale of My Lai.

(c) Scipione denies there was a U.S. policy of committing atrocities in Viet Nam. He is wrong. Mass murder of unarmed civilians was a direct and predictable consequence of U.S. military campaigns and "free-fire zones."

Two examples: Operation WHEELER WALLAWA, in 1967, killed 10,000 civilians; they were "counted" as "V.C.", but few were. These mass murders were "A matter of policy," according to the Newsweek reporters on the scene. Operation SPEEDY EXPRESS (1968) caused over 5,000 civilian deaths while killing probably fewer than 200 guerrillas.

And killing any "Vietcong" was a war crime, just like the Nazis' killings of anti-Nazi partisans in Europe during WWII! An invading country, the U.S. simply had no right to be there or to kill anyone, any more than the other Western imperialist nations or Japan, or Nazi Germany, did.

(d) Scipione states that the South Vietnamese, not Americans, killed thousands in the Phoenix Program. Wrong again! According to intelligence agent Jeff Stein,

 ...when someone was picked up their lives were at an end because the Americans most likely felt that, if they were to turn someone like that [i.e. who had been savagely tortured] back into the countryside it would just be multiplying NLF ["Vietcong"] followers.

Another officer in "Phoenix", Bart Osborne, testified before Congress in 1971:

I never knew in the course of all those operations any detainee to live through his interrogation. They all died. There was never any reasonable establishment of the fact that any one of those individuals was, in fact, cooperating with the VC, but they all died and the majority were either tortured to death or things like thrown out of helicopters.

Osborne again:

It [Phoenix] became a sterile depersonalized murder program...

Equal to Nazi atrocities, the horrors of "Phoenix" must be studied to be believed.

It is not surprising that Scipione has swallowed the vicious U.S. propaganda about American foreign policy -- we all have! It's pushed everywhere; opposing viewpoints are seldom permitted. The truth is kept out of the media and school, where we are taught that America "has good intentions" and is "moral", in contrast to other imperialist nations.

Most of us cannot believe that we have been so lied to! We are taught that propaganda is something that happens to others, not to us! In fact, the population of all capitalist countries is deceived about the massive atrocities of their own governments -- so they will march off "patriotically" to do whatever their rulers want. It's the same with us. The moral: THE U.S. GOVERNMENT LIES! NEVER BELIEVE A WORD IT SAYS!

3. Scipione praises "free enterprise" and the "free press." Far from "free", the press in the U.S. is tightly controlled to exclude dissident viewpoints, such as the truth about the Vietnam War. There are many excellent books on control of the news in the U.S. (see Sources). As for "free enterprise": this is Chamber of Commerce pap. Capitalist culture may be "free" for tycoons, but not for anyone else.

Capitalism is based upon exploitation. Capitalists produce no value; it is extracted from workers, who get only a small part of it as wages. This exploitative economic system produces an exploitative culture: racism, nationalism, sexism, poverty, unemployment, crime, moral degeneracy, the wastage of millions of lives and the shocking concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a very few who use the rest of us for their purposes.

Scipione states I "espouse socialism." But I don't. I certainly detest capitalism, which has proven utterly incapable of providing a decent life for the vast majority of the human race. And I have great respect for the communist movement of the past. But socialism has failed to create an egalitarian society free from the horrible racism, exploitation and cruelty of capitalism. Of course, from the standpoint of the majority, capitalism is worse: for example, the standard of living of the working class has fallen drastically since western-style capitalism has been established in East Europe. But socialism is, in fact, a mixture of elements of capitalism and communism, in which the capitalist elements came to predominate. This was its downfall, in my opinion -- that it did not break entirely with capitalist inequalities.

I'd like to deal with one outright lie that Scipione stated about me personally. How can he write "Dr. Furr never invites me to guest lecture in his course on the Vietnam War"? Scipione has spoken four times in that course! One year I even assigned his novel 'Shades of Gray -- ironically, a devastating exposure of capitalist degeneracy -- as required reading!

Scipione states that students deserve "a more balanced view" of the Vietnam War period. My response: I use, and respect, scholarly viewpoints. Like anyone else, Scipione should study the research on the Vietnam War before presuming to speak on it. As for "balance": Paul, do you invite Marxist, communist and other anti-capitalist speakers to your business classes? You should! Take a dose of your own medicine.

Finally: I ask The Montclarion to stop attacking me through derogatory headlines. My letter carried a headline mocking me, and Scipione's letter also carried a headline mocking, not Scipione, but me again! This is grossly unfair, not only to me, but, more important, to your readers. It is irresponsible journalism, unworthy of you. If all ideas are fairly presented, without favor, the truth -- and the readers -- will benefit.

Grover Furr, English

Sources: Peasant rebellions: Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An; Gabriel Kolko, Anatomy of a War. Atrocities: Gareth Porter, "U.S. Political Warfare in Vietnam -- the 1968 'Hue Massacre', Indochina Chronicle, No. 33 (24 June 1974), reprinted in the Congressional Record 19 Feb. 1975, and Edward S. Herman and D. Gareth Porter, "The Myth of the Hue Massacre," Ramparts, May-June 1975. Douglas Pike, The Vietcong Strategy of Terror (U.S. Mission: Saigon, 1970); Ed Herman, Atrocities in Vietnam; The Winter Soldier Investigation (1972); Herman and Noam Chomsky, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism. Policy: 'Pacification's Deadly Price,' Newsweek 19 June 1972; Herman and Chomsky, 313-321. "Phoenix": Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program(1990) (Stein and Osborne quotes); Herman and Chomsky, 327 (Osborne quote). Control of press: Ben Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly; Dan Schiller, Objectivity and the News; Michael Parenti, Inventing Reality; Herman and Chomsky, Manufacture of Consent. On capitalism and exploitation: start with Karl Marx, Value, Price and Profit, then try David Smith and Phil Evans, Marx's Kapital for Beginners (1982).

Go to the first letter in this series; or back to the Table of Contents of my Vietnam War Page.