A rebuttal by Zach Foster
The title of this piece, “Chris Harman’s Vietnam,” is an ironic one given that Harman, like many—if not most—of the Marxists and contemporary outspoken critics of the war, neither was in the war nor served in the military. The title of this rebuttal refers to a 1968 book review Harman wrote in International Socialism magazine, in which he comments on Lucien Bodard’s The Quicksand War: Prelude to Vietnam, John Gerassi’s North Vietnam: A Documentary, Jean Lacouture’s Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography, and Dennis J. Duncanson’s Government and Revolution in Vietnam.
Harman begins by stating that the first three books are by journalists, having “the advantage that they are readable and full of information, but leave much in the way of analysis to be desired. The fourth is not even readable.” His desire for analysis (Marxist political analysis) is unrealistic, since a journalist’s job is not to analyze, but simply to report what is happening. He attacks Duncanson’s book right off the bat for being “a collection of often irrelevant (and often unfactual) facts on the history of the Vietnamese conflict to justify the author’s beliefs…” Immediately this makes the reader wonder exactly how Harman knows Duncanson’s information is irrelevant or incorrect. The fact that Harman even mentions Duncanson’s beliefs might lead the reader to conclude that Duncanson’s writing is being attacked simply because his beliefs disagree with Harman’s beliefs.
Harman leads the reader to believe that Ngo Dinh Diem was not the best leader the Vietnamese have had, and that the United States was not helping the Vietnamese. When Harman implies that the U.S. wasn’t helping the Vietnamese, he probably means that the U.S. wasn’t helping the North Vietnamese. The author of this rebuttal would like to remind Harman and his readers that the North Vietnamese were the military enemies of the U.S. and the South Vietnamese. Any claims that the Viet Cong (for years believed to be truly representative of the South Vietnamese population) are proven false by the book Victory in Vietnam: the Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam, which admits that throughout the war the VC were an arm of the North Vietnamese Army and were both raised up and led by Communists from North Vietnam. Any ideas that the Viet Cong were a grass roots movement from the South are akin to saying that Ulysses Grant represented the Confederate army.
Harman’s implication that Ngo Din Diem was not the best leader South Vietnam ever had is grievously false. Author Phillip Jennings—a Vietnam War veteran of the Marine Corps and Air America, and current scholar of the war—elaborates on Diem’s qualifications. Diem was an active Vietnamese nationalist and anti-French activist (even once offered a government position by Uncle Ho himself), knew the game of politics well, and his actions that many critics called dictatorial were actually using traditional Vietnamese strong-man methods—firmly entrenched in the nation’s culture—to slowly bring the Vietnamese to Western democracy. Diem’s suppression of rebellion and manipulation of election results (of an election which he actually did win) were not meant to prove his leadership skills to Western government idiots, but rather to prove to his own people that he indeed had the “Mandate From Heaven.” It was under Diem’s leadership that Saigon and the other urban areas were cleared of insurgent armies—the private armies of the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao religious cults, the Binh Xuyen paramilitary crime organization (who later merged with the Viet Cong), as well as Viet Minh holdouts from 1954—and he politically outmaneuvered the French colonialist holdouts who thought they could make South Vietnam a puppet state. The North Vietnamese propaganda book Victory in Vietnam details how painfully close Diem came to crushing the Viet Cong in the early years of the fabled “unwinnable war.” Under Diem’s administration, South Vietnamese for the first time had the right to free speech and could protest against their government and form political parties, while under Ho Chi Minh’s rule, North Vietnamese political parties were dissolved, their leaders imprisoned and murdered, and bullets were required to pacify the population into trying to make Communism work. Under Diem’s administration, rice production doubled, livestock populations tripled, and the number of rural schools increased tenfold. Under Ho Chi Minh’s rule, land reform and central planning caused a famine that resulted in Ho and General Giap embarking on an apology tour throughout the countryside to save face. These few facts alone shed an entirely new light on Diem.
Continued in part 2 of 2