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Now indeed this is been the situation in Vietnam. United States American people never quite grappled with that fact. And so will the United States help the French when the French were trying to maintain colonial rule in Vietnam because the people on the other side were communists but the communists were fighting for national independence. They're fighting for what the Americans were fighting for against the British. Now I know they were communists and communists fighting for national independence can't be as good as Americans fighting for national independence. When you think about it who are those Americans fighting for national independence and what what I like. A lot of them were slaveholders. Now we brush that little thing aside. We were a slave nation at that time not just in the south we what north and south we were a slave nation and a nation of slave holders fighting for independence. Now is it conceivable that at some time in history and in some
place and under some circumstances somebody called a communist. Might stand for the welfare of the peasants more than somebody else who calls himself an anti-communist. In fact the history of the nom suggests that this is so. And if you measure what the National Liberation Front has done in land reform against what the ZM and all the successive regimes have done in land reform you have to take the communists word for it because you know you can't believe anybody called a communist. But if you just take the word of American and congressional investigators on it they have done a better job in land reform then the government that we have supported. Furthermore they do not seem to be as corrupt as the government that we are supporting. Now you might find some negative things to say about
them. But my point is that once you accept the symbol communist to stand for total evil and anti-communist to stand for total Good then you have ruled out that rational scrutiny of a particular situation and indeed a specific look at communism at what is called communism in Vietnam indicates that the Communists. Have been fighters for national independence from the 1940s. That they have. Done. Quite a good job in the land reform. That they have stood more for the peasants than for the landlords. On the other hand those people called anti communists who we have been supporting in Saigon have somehow not measured up to the image that we like to think is associated with anti communism. Because here too the symbol
gets in the way anti communism is supposed to mean everything good. But we find all sorts of strange people anti-communist. We find a Cylon regime which is anti-communist is also corrupt. Controlled by landlords controlled by military men. Now what does this do to symbols that we've been using to justify the war in Vietnam. What we forget somehow. Is that behind. The symbols of communism anti communism. There are very real issues in the world which preceded and transcend communism. Nationalism is one of them. Nationalism is a phenomenon in the world whether you have communists or not. Modernization is a phenomena in the world whether you have communism or not. That is communist nations need to go through a process of modernization just as other
nations need to go through a process of modernization. You find a problem like violence tyranny hunger a problems that exist in the world regardless of communism existed a long time before communism and they exist everywhere in the world. Whether you have communism or not. My point is that somehow we have got to get away from this symbolic thinking to scrutinise the specifics of a situation to get behind the symbols and ask. Who is that. What are these circumstances. What is the evidence in this case and make up our minds on the merits of the situation. And forget about. Ideological symbols or national symbols because that is just barely conceivable that something on coal America. Many under certain circumstances be wrong in what is doing in the world.
This is ideological thinking that I'm talking about. That is the thinking where you think in terms of symbols and don't think beyond them. We had a particularly interesting example of that not long ago when Representative Mendel rivers of South Carolina. You want to one of the leaders of our country. He is. I mean you can't Poo-Poo him you can say oh he's Mendel rivers of South Carolina. He is chairman of the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives he's a very important man. He's in charge of the draft law. You know he holds the hearings on whatever draft laws are passed or not passed. Here's a dispatch from.
Washington. Last year when the when his committee was discussing the new draft law it was members of the House Armed Services Committee demanded Friday the Justice Department disregard the First Amendment right of free speech. Let's forget the First Amendment. Representative F. Edward Hiebert of Louisiana told assistant attorney general Fred Vinson in a loud voice during hearings on the draft. I know this will be rescinded by the Supreme Court he said but at least the effort should be made. A man of courage. Hiebert Heber was backed up. He was backed up in his questioning by elemental rivers of South Carolina. The Chandler. River set the tone. For the exchanges Thursday when he told a representative of the Methodist Board of Christian social concerns ever die Jones was testifying for voluntary service. Rivers said to him. There are only two ideologies in the world. Rivers had taken
courses in political philosophy. Obviously. There are only two ideologies in the world. One is represented by Jesus Christ. In the other by the hammer and sickle. Which do you prefer. Obviously Rivers is the inventor of the multiple choice tests. This is this is high up thinking. And I make the point that Rivers is an important man because something has happened to the quality of leadership in the United States somehow
something there's been some mutation in the line of descent from the founding fathers which has brought us to our present state. Not that we haven't had some very bad moments in the past. But the leadership at this particular juncture in American history seems to be particularly inappropriate for the Times in which we live. When you were Secretary Rusk the man with the straightest face in the world. And. Same things all the time that people believe somebody wrote somebody did a study of that of the press in the Bay of Pigs in the Columbia University. For him to be a newspaper man. And they recalled that as they put it on the very day the American planned American equipped expedition was landing at the Bay of Pigs. Secretary of rusk told a group of newsman quote The American people are entitled to know whether we are intervening in Cuba or intend to do so in the
future. The answer to that question is No. And then the writers of this article say where was the editorial explosion that should have greeted this egregious lie. You know an egregious lie. I guess I don't have to tell you what an egregious lie is. It's a lie above and beyond the ordinary lie. Lyndon Johnson I don't know how many of you saw Lyndon Johnson in that remarkable little interview that took place some oh I don't know month or two ago about four newspaper men were questioning him on national television and carefully selected group of newsmen of course. You know just pick for newsmen off the street and say Would you like to ask questions of the president. And so they are carefully selected but one of them I guess was not selected carefully enough. And he asked. Johnson said Mr. President that I'd like to know
how do you explain this. Why is it that the people on the other side seem to fight so much better than the people on our side. Johnson thought a moment and then gave this analysis. He said You know Tom. I don't know if the fellow's name was Tom but Johnson has these names in which he said. You know. Some people just do things better than other people. Of the three. We have to talk about symbols again.
There is crime criminals and if somebody is labeled a criminal if somebody is indicted by the grand jury if somebody is said to have broken a law a list makes him a criminal. But if somebody has not been indicted if you fact he seems to move freely around. It doesn't matter what he has done. It doesn't matter how many deaths he is responsible for this man is not a criminal. So we have this fantastic scene where. William Kaufman. Is labeled a criminal. By the government of the United States which has sent 20000 men to die and a hundred thousand men to be
wounded and has sent many many Vietnamese to their deaths in a war that has never been constitutionally declared for reasons which have never been adequately explained. They call Bill clawfoot a criminal because Kaufman. Has had the audacity to say Thou shalt not kill and that that is exactly what he is being threatened with jail for. By the men who are responsible for mass murder. But definitions symbols somehow get in the way of our seeing this so we don't understand. And of course crime is not defined on the international level the way it is on a personal level. And so if if individuals did what
nations do we would consider them. It's among the most vicious criminals that have ever existed on the face of the earth. That is if somebody moved down the street from you who let us they had something in his record. And who you heard stories about. And who just didn't look right to you and you decided that this person who moved down the street might be dangerous to you at some point. And so you went out one night and you put a bomb under his house and you blew up his house with his wife and children in order to prevent future trouble. You would be locked up as a madman. But that's what happens in international relations that happens to be the going
explanation for what we're doing in Vietnam. The argument is that we have a right to blow up this country and to destroy this country on the supposition that it is preventing some greater evil in the future. This used to be called a doctrine of preventive war and all right minded people in the country will hire a guide at it when what they said crackpots espoused the idea that we should go ahead and bomb the countries that might conceivably threaten us in the future to make sure that everything would be OK. But that's what we're doing now in Vietnam. So President Johnson continues to go to church because he goes to a carefully selected church carefully selected minister. I suppose in a carefully edited edition of the Bible.
9 commandments. I. Would think. He has become. He perhaps is victim himself of what we all are victims of. And that is the symbolism that leads to mass murder. You may have read just the other day where he said in his speech explaining why we must stay in the end I was his this nation has always been number one and we are going to remain number one. Now you think he was a salesman for Hertz. But. There is this notion about number one what is number one stand what is being number one meaning number one in Y number one in death. Number one and Talat number one in military prowess. Number one in bombs dropped when number one.
And it's the same symbolism which leads us. To cherish to fight for to die for things which represent something that we have forgotten about long ago which means really that they represent nothing but we have become enamored of then in themselves and so we fight for Hill 875. And two hundred men die fighting for Hill 875 because somebody has decided that it is enormously important for us to have a Hill 875. And then a week later after we have won 875 and the corpses are littered on the battlefield. Our troops live draw from Hill 875 quietly that's exactly what happened.
This is lunacy. I know you may have seen the film The Bridge on the River Kwai remember the bridge became that object at the end. Remember the last scene in the film lieutenant was looking around at the river and the corpses lying about on the riverside he said madness madness. And that was in a good war that was in one of the best of Alois and it was full of madness. And this war in Vietnam. Has no saving grace at all. Sometimes people get catch on. Sometimes the events force people to look behind a symbol and it no longer serves its purpose. And so the I think this is what has happened now in connection with talking about fighting for Vietnam and fighting for freedom in Vietnam. You know by now this has become measurable.
That is the rottenness of this regime which we have been talking about you know for how long we have been saying you know the regime we know is corrupt and we know it has its faults but it is getting better we are working on it. Do you know how long this has been going on. This has been going on since 1954 with us since 1950 with the French but I mean it has been going on for 14 years. And I think people are beginning to see that there is something wrong with a regime that cant command the support of its people and it needs 500000 foreign troops and huge amounts of money just to barely keep it alive. I think people are getting perceptive about the fact that it is strange to talk about saving Vietnam.
When we are destroying Vietnam. You can't save a country by killing its people by converting its land into a desert by dropping fire bombs on it square mile by square mile by converting one sixth of its population into refugees. This is not saving a country and I think people are wise to this. And so what happens now. Now that the symbol of Vietnam and freedom in Vietnam and saving Vietnam becomes less and less. Understandable and defensible we have moved on to larger symbols which are harder to identify. And harder to. To find the referent for. And so we talk about well if we leave Vietnam then there is Southeast Asia
the rest of Southeast. You know nobody very few people know about the rest of Southeast Asia but George Cain knows about the rest of Southeast Asia. But aren't too many people who know about the rest of Southeast Asia. There aren't too many people who know what kind of country Thailand is or what kind of government it is or how free Thailand is there not too many people know about Laos or who know about Cambodia. Not too many people know that Burma has lived in peace with China with whom she has a 1000 mile border. For a long time now with no American protection and if any domino should a fall and there was Burma 1000 miles along the Chinese border and with nobody to protect her in a little weak country. But people don't know about Southeast Asia so all you have to do is say when somebody says. But you know we don't belong in Vietnam and we're killing too many people in too many of us are dying it just. We're not helping the situation which is us but Southeast Asia. And people say yeah that's right.
And if somebody should know a little about Southeast Asia you can always go them one better you can say well. The Straits of Malacca. This is our island. We need the Straits of Malacca. We need to control the Straits of Malacca. Not too many people know where the Straits of Malacca are. Not to put it many people know if the Straits of Malacca exist. But if you tell that to people it makes sense because sts are the kinds of things that countries always need and fight for and die. I want to do is mention China a billion nuclear Chinee. Now.
There are two sure things about the future and this is true whether we quote win or quote lose in Vietnam here are the symbols. Win lose. What do they mean. But they're too very sure things about China in the future no matter what happens in Vietnam no matter what happens in Southeast Asia one of them. Is that China is going to have a billion people and to the China it is going to have nuclear arms. Nothing we do in Vietnam is going to change that fact. But people don't think about that and people don't think about well people don't look at China. Look at China's situation. The people don't try to put themselves in the position of China and say Now how would our national security look. Chinese don't have any troops outside their borders. But there are American troops
rather far from all around China's periphery from South Korea to Okinawa to Taiwan to the Philippines to South Vietnam to Thailand. All around. But people don't bother looking into that. And then finally there's national security. That's all you have to do. If you say our national security is at stake and people don't probe and say Now wait a while what national security and how and exactly how will our national security be threatened even if Vietnam goes Communist even if there's another revolution in Thailand. Even that is a revolution in Laos. How will national security of the United States be affected. Well you don't really need to inspect that. But if you if you think about it is there any country in the history of the world that has ever had more national security
than the United States. Is there any country that economically militarily geographically is more secure than the United States a country that produces half the resources of the world. A country that has oceans on both sides is no other country exactly in opposition a country that has enough age bombs to blow everybody up in the world three times. We have so many H bombs. We lose them occasionally. We have to destroy this country. Has to destroy that little country in Southeast Asia for our national security. If somebody came down from the moon and was thrown that statement well he would go back to course immediately.
But when people are in the throes of a national state and a national psychology and the symbolism of nations in the old tradition of believing that you know the automatic salivating response to the bell the symbol then it doesn't matter. Rationality doesn't count. Nobody inspects. Well I think. Perhaps people are beginning to think. And as I say it's a phenomena not just in the United States but elsewhere in the world. And I want to end up just talking about one simple patriotism. For some reason people have gotten to believe again not thinking about it. The to be for your country means to be for your government. The very essence of democracy is that there is a distinction between country and
government. The basic principles on which this country was founded the principles of John Locke and the principles of Thomas Jefferson are that governments are created for certain ends their creations that offices. They're not the country they're created by the people of the country for certain ends. Life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that when. The Government becomes destructive of those ends then that government has broken the contract. And what I am suggesting to you is that we have got to think about patriotism in a way that goes back to Locke and Jefferson and to what democracy means to what are and to what the purposes of government to what the principles of American democracy and of humanity.
And to see that in the case of the list's government has broken its contract with America principle and we should be as patriotic people and as human beings who everywhere in the world should protest against authority whether in Russia China Poland or Argentina or America. It is our. Duty now LifeLink to protest to speak our minds. To say what we truly believe and to resist. Thank you. Thank you. I was. Of how. You have been listening to an address by Dr Howard Zinn an associate professor of Government at Boston University. Dr Zen was a fellow at Harvard University and formerly was director of the non-Western studies program at Atlanta University
before moving to Boston University doctors and spoke in the series as we see it in Vietnam 68. This form of opinion featuring noted spokesmen on the war in Vietnam was sponsored by the Miami University student senate and organized by Dave speller Berg recording and editing was done by the staff of Miami University Radio WMUB in Oxford Ohio. This is a national educational radio.
As we see it: Vietnam '68
Dr. Howard Zinn
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Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3509. This prog.: Dr. Howard Zinn, assoc. prof. of government, Boston U.; former director, Non-Western Studies Program, Atlanta U.
War and Conflict
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Producing Organization: WMUB
Producing Organization: Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
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Identifier: 68-28-10 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:29:42
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Chicago: “As we see it: Vietnam '68; Dr. Howard Zinn,” 1968-07-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 13, 2024,
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APA: As we see it: Vietnam '68; Dr. Howard Zinn. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from