The Vietnam War–Horror, Hypocrisy and Heartbreak–3/3

The Frosting on the Cake: An Egregious Lack of Justice

Russell Tribunal figures.
Members of the Russell Tribunal: Jean Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, and Simone de Beauvoir.

The United States actions in Vietnam arguably constitute both war crimes and crimes against humanity. Why, then, have they not been brought before an international court to account for their crimes. There are two reasons, each more absurd than the other.

  1. They’re too big to try.
  2. They don’t recognize the jurisdiction of any international court.

The one notable exception to this universal reluctance to prosecute the United States wasRusselltribunal1 the Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal, a private body organised in 1966 by Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, and hosted by French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre.

Though it lacked legal validity, this symbolic gesture by two of the world’s grand old men, performed a valuable service by merely naming and shaming the United States, along with their running-dog allies, for their heinous crimes in Vietnam.

There Were Black Ops, Too

Setting aside the fact that, since the United States never declared war on Vietnam, everything they did in Indochina can be considered “black ops,” the Phoenix Program merits separate treatment. Phoenix was a counterinsurgency operation executed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States special operations forces, and the Republic of Vietnam’s security apparatus, in which a conservatively-estimated 26,000 Vietnamese patriots suspected of being VC operatives and informants, were murdered outright. Some sources elevate that number to more than 40,000 “suspects.” This is what happened in Hitler’s Germany, Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile and countless other places. All of those countries, including Vietnam, were thus deprived of valuable leadership in their post-dictatorship societies.

The Metastases of the Vietnam War, Laos and Cambodia

Vietnam was not the only tiny Asian country damned by American intervention during the Second Indochina War. So were Laos and Cambodia, particular victims of intense and extended American bombing

From 1964 to 1973, as part of the Secret War operation conducted during the Vietnam War, the US military dropped 260 million cluster bombs – about 2.5 million tons of munitions – on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years – nearly seven bombs for every man, woman and child living in Laos. It is more than all the bombs dropped on Europe throughout World War II, leaving Laos, a country approximately the size of Utah, with the distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in history. The problem of some 78 million unexploded cluster bomblets littering rice fields, villages, school grounds, roads and other populated areas in Laos, remains a serious problem today. (Source: Legaciesofwar.org)
Cambodia was another victim of the American Vietnam war adventure. In 1969, the US air war against Cambodia escalated drastically as part of Nixon’s Vietnamization policy. President Nixon decided to launch a secret bombing campaign there from 18 March 1969 until 26 May 1970. This was Operation Menu. These bombings were an escalation of what had previously been mere tactical air attacks. Newly inaugurated President Richard Nixon authorized for the first time use of long range B-52 heavy bombers to carpet bomb Cambodia.The invasion was under the pretext of disrupting the North Vietnamese supply lines but the goal was to wipe out Vietnamese communist forces located in Cambodia in order to protect the US-backed government of South Vietnam. The United States dropped upwards of 2.7 million tons of bombs on Cambodia, exceeding, again, the amount it had dropped on Japan during WWII (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) by almost a million tons. During this campaign, about one third of the country’s population was internally displaced. (Source: Wikipedia)

On April 30th of 1970, after his massive bombing campaign had failed in everything except devastating eastern Cambodia, President Richard Nixon declared to a television audience that the American military, accompanied by the South Vietnamese People’s Army, were to invade Cambodia in order to bomb and destroy the Viet Cong base camps, that were backing up the other operations in South Vietnam. (Source: https://vietnamawbb.weebly.com).

Unfortunately for him, President Nixon collapsed before Cambodia and Vietnam did, though at the same time Laos was abandoned to the authority of the communist Pathet Lao, which allegedly went on to kill three million of their countrymen.

Summing Up

What methodology does one employ to sum up the Apocalypse? There are no words. What concerns me most about that savage and depraved war the Americans took to a tiny, backward far-off country in the Far East is its utter heartlessness. There was a blanket of unconcern covering every outrage visited on Vietnam, both North and South. No concern for innocent normal people doing normal things: cultivating their crops, raising their children, struggling to put food on their tables. Suddenly they’re expelled from their villages, which are torched (“We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”) and herded into barbed-wire enclosures, or worse. We’re talking here about five million Vietnamese peasants. Nowhere in my research did I come across any hint of humanitarian concerns on the part of the American officials neither military nor civilian while they were busy planning and prosecuting the Vietnam War. Presumably all of them but one could allege they were “just following orders,” a pathetic defense that had been invalid since the Nuremberg war trials.

As for the Commander in Chief, President Richard Nixon, who was ultimately responsible for everything since taking office in 1969, perhaps his most egregious decision of the war was Operation Linebacker II, the so-called “Christmas bombings,” the ruthless strategic bombing of North Vietnam. Begun on December 18, 1972, and lasting until December 29, American B-52s and fighter-bombers dropped over 20,000 tons of bombs on the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. The United States lost 15 of its B-52s and 11 other aircraft to Russian anti-aircraft missiles before they desisted. North Vietnam claimed over 1,600 civilians killed. (Source: history.com)

After 20 years of murderously abusing the Vietnamese people, the only indication of remorse on the part of the Americans that we have is indirect but telling: the estimated 50,000-150,000 suicides of American Vietnam War veterans since the war ended.
(Source: thefederalist.com)

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The Documentary

The definitive documentary, The Vietnam War, is a 10-part American television documentary series written by Geoffrey C. Ward, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, and narrated by Peter Coyote, available on Netflix and YouTube.