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Do you remember Viet-Nam?

The American intervention in Vietnam generated a mass movement of protest in the U.S.A. Giant anti-war demonstrations were held regularly. Draft cards were burnt, decorated soldiers returned their medals and eventually the U.S. ground army in Vietnam disintegrated. Anti-war activist Bob Silverman looks back.

The Vietnam war ended on April 30, 1975. Thousands of Americans and their Vietnamese "friends" were hastily evacuated from the roof of the U.S. embassy the previous day.

The South Vietnamese army of over a million men had disintegrated. Cam Rahn Bay, a coastal city, 150 kilometers North East of Saigon, was abandoned a day before the National Liberation Front and the North Vietnamese even arrived. The soldiers were being paid by the U.S. and the last U.S. ambassador, Graham Martin, denied evacuation to IBM employees on the grounds they had to stay to process the Saigon government's payroll.

The South Vietnamese army was not the only one to disintegrate during the war. Seven years earlier, American ground soldiers, those soldiers who are most subjected to being killed or wounded and who often also see who they kill and injure, began refusing to fight. The U.S. army in Vietnam disintegrated and was withdrawn.

Two former Vets, staffers at the Vietnamese Veterans Against the War, Barry Romo and Pete Zastrow, in a letter to the National Guardian of June 5, 1985, a U.S. progressive paper, describe some the reasons for the disillusionment in Viet Nam...“Killing is, for most people, a hard thing to do. That's why there is the hoopla, the myths, the propaganda, the brainwashing surrounding most armies. It is necessary so that troops will not just take orders but will kill and take the chance of being killed. It was more than many Vets could comprehend or handle to discover that your friends were killed, that you were wounded -either physically or mentally- for a bad cause, and that the people you have been killing or trying to kill were in fact the good guys. That contradiction lies at the base of psychological problems of Vets....by 1979, 65,000 Vietnamese vets had committed suicide.”

Do you remember the war ? Did you know that the American armed forces dropped more bombs on Vietnam, both North and South, than in all fronts in World War II. Still visible from the air is the moonscape of craters left by U.S. B-52 bombers that dropped an estimated 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam. Do you know that 1.5 million Vietnamese died in the war as well as 57,000 Americans ? Do you remember that a the height of the American intervention in Vietnam, in 1966, 550,000 U.S. armed personnel were there? Do you remember My Lai, where Lt. William Calley and his platoon gunned down hundreds of old men, women and children 17 years ago?

Vietnam has still not recovered from the American ecocide in their country. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, based in Gland, Switzerland, just did a study on Vietnam. In its report the I.C.C.N. observes:...“United States forces destroyed dikes and other agricultural productive systems, created landslides in steep areas by bombing and spraying an unidentified acid on limestone, attacked wildlife such as elephants and oxen with guns, bombs and napalm to prevent their use for transportation and devastated large areas of land with ‘saturation bombing’ ” (New York Times, May 21 1985, T. Netter Op.Ed.)...United States statistics indicated that more than 19 million gallons of herbicides, known as agent orange, white and blue, were dropped on croplands and forests. The herbicides contained dioxins that remain at toxic levels today.

...“The colossal damage from 25 million bomb craters, which caused displacement of a billion cubic meters of earth, results in health hazards and disrupts water flow and the particles of shrapnel enbedded in living trees render their wood less valuable”... “Further damage was caused”, the report says, “by the clearing of large tracts of forest, agricultural land and ‘even villages and cemeteries’ with giant bulldozers used by American troops searching for Vietcong guerillas in the South...”

Do you remember the U.S.S. Maddox and the Tonkin Bay incident? U.S. president, at that time, Lyndon Johnson, claimed that North Vietnamese patrol boats had attacked that destroyer a few miles off the North Vietnamese coast on August 4, 1964. Using this incident as a pretext, Johnson ordered squadrons of U.S. planes to bomb oil depots in North Vietnam. Later, it was revealed, the so-called North Vietnamese attack, had never even happened. It was a fabrication. Admiral James Bond Stockdale, who was there, reveals this in the Vietnamese special issue of Newsweek, April 15, 1985.

I remember the hundreds of thousands of young Americans who came to Canada to avoid participating in a war they could not accept. I remember when, in April 1971, 2000 vets, many on crutches and wheel chairs, marched on Washington and dumped the medals some had won at the Pentagon. Huge coordinated international days of protest against the hideous war were regularly held. One in Washington attracted over a million people.

The bicycle played an important role in the defeat of both the American and, previously, French occupiers of Vietnam. The Vietnamese pushed up to 500 pounds of supplies on their bicycle, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the mountains of Vietnam Laos. Small and flexible, dollar bicycles were virtually immune from the attacks of planes costing 6 million dollars each.

The physical legacies of the American intervention ??? limited to the environmental danger still abounds. The Vietnamese estimate that 7.5 million unexploded bombs, mines and other explosives still are buried. “In the newly formed Province of Bin Tri Thien, which straddles the old Demilitarized Zone, some 4,000 people have been killed by discarded American ordinance since the end of the war.”

The brutish forces of the American invaders collapsed on its own contradictions. In the end, the Vietnamese David triumphed over the American Goliath. The will of a people to be independant and free after 100 years of foreign domination bore fruit. April 30, 1975, the winning of Saigon was a day, a beacon in the hearts of humanity.

“19 millions gallons of herbicides known as agent orange, white and blue, were dropped on croplands and forests”.

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By Robert Silverman.

Published in the Le Monde à Bicyclette Journal Autumn 1985.

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© Robert Silverman 2000