August 24, 2007
George Szamuely is an absolutely brilliant writer, whose acerbic columns for Antiwar.com, entitled “Decline of the West,” took the viewpoint of a supremely realistic, pitilessly objective observer whose grasp of history, and especially the history of human folly, gave his readers a uniquely informative and entertaining perspective on world events. I first read him when he was part of the old Taki’s Top Drawer over at the New York Press, and I eagerly snapped him up as a columnist for Antiwar.com when we were just a fledgeling site, with maybe a few thousand visitors per day, practically a lone voice speaking out against the Kosovo war. In any case, George and I had a spat, at one point—over what, I can’t quite remember—but I always regretted losing him as a columnist, and today it was brought home to me exactly why. I was looking through the archives for something about the Vietnam war that would really underscore the total absurdity of our President’s sudden embrace of the Vietnam analogy—and I came upon this piece by George. A snippet:
“The truth is that the overriding lesson of Vietnam is that we have learned nothing from it. Then as now, the United States launches wars for no reason other than to secure its dominance over other nations. Then, as now, the supposed “threats” from which nations are to be saved serve merely as the agency of American empire. Then as now, “allies” are really only satellites. Then as now, the United States is sublimely indifferent to the casualties “ human, material, moral and psychological “ that it inflicts on other nations. Why were we in Vietnam (to paraphrase a famous question)? It certainly was not to stop the spread of Communism. In 1949 the Truman Administration did not seem too distressed to see Chiang Kai-shek’s armies crushed by those of Mao. In 1954 the Eisenhower Administration rejected the entreaties of the French to help them defeat Ho Chi Minh. In 1975 the Communists seized all of Indochina, and Americans barely noticed.
“Were we in Vietnam to help the South Vietnamese? Unlikely. Not for one minute did US policymakers show the slightest respect for the independence of the South Vietnamese. They were to do as they were told. If they fell out of line, they would be punished. A cablegram dated August 24, 1963 sent by the State Department to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in Saigon gives one a sense of the arrogance of American power: ‘US Government cannot tolerate situation in which power lies in [Ngo Dinh] Nhu’s hands. [Ngo Dinh] Diem must be given chance to rid himself of Nhu and his coterie….If…Diem remains obdurate and refuses, then we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved.’ …. As we know, it was this cable that began the train of events that led to the overthrow and murder of South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem. The Americans had got tired of Diem. He was too proud to follow unquestioningly Washington’s orders. Diem had to go. So he was subjected to the, by now, standard American sanctimony and hypocrisy. Diem was not “ horror “ a ‘democrat’!
”… Throughout their years of involvement in Vietnam, US policymakers never doubted their right to decide who would and who would not serve in the Saigon Government. There was never any question of withdrawal. If the President of South Vietnam “remains obdurate,” the United States would not pack up and leave (the honorable thing to do). No, it would seek his overthrow.”
This last bit about Diem brings to mind the recent brouhaha over Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, with the President and other US officials distancing themselves from their own supposed sock puppet, and Senator Carl Levin, Hillary, and others openly calling for his dismissal.