- The Guardian
- Issue #2039
27th January marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, the agreement which ended the US war on Vietnam. From 1955 to 1973, the United States waged one of the harshest wars in modern history against the Vietnamese people, as part of its aggressive Cold War anti-communist foreign policy.
During the war, the US military dropped more bombs than were used in all of World War II. It also deployed chemical weapons, napalm, and cluster bombs, and sent hundreds of thousands of draftees to kill or be killed, usually against their will. Millions of Vietnamese people were killed, maimed, and poisoned, the legacy of which is still unfolding today. The war was spread to Laos and Cambodia, with more death and destruction.
Along with Australia’s participation in its subservience to the US, the imperialist attempt to maintain dominance over Vietnam failed. To this day, the US war in Vietnam marks one of the biggest military and foreign policy disasters in the history of the United States.
It also marks one of the great victories of socialism and anti-imperialism. Against all odds, the Vietnamese people were able to defeat the world’s mightiest military, from the world’s richest country. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam, foreign imperialism was defeated, and national liberation and unification were achieved.
Midway through 1964, American TV showed North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Tonkin Gulf. Within two days it was claimed they had attacked two US destroyers, a claim later shown to be another deliberate lie. President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress for the power to “take all necessary measures to repel an armed attack against the forces of the United States to prevent further aggression.” The Tonkin Gulf resolution was approved by Congress by a vote of 416 to 0 and the Senate by 88 to 2.
In Australia, the Menzies Government introduced conscription, which they called the National Service Act, giving it the power to send conscripts overseas.
Six months later, Menzies announced that Australia would join the United States in its war against the “Communists of Vietnam,” because they were a “direct military threat to Australia.” No official declaration, just a bald statement to shore up Australia’s alliance with the US, although our involvement technically began in 1962 when Australia sent a small contingent of 30 “military advisers,” dispatched as the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), also known as “the Team.
US imperialism’s military interventions in Asia are a trail of defeats; Korea, left divided but still a defeat for the big power.
The Paris Peace Accords – signed by the United States, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the provisional revolutionary government of the Republic of South Vietnam – was the culmination of negotiations that began in 1968.
During the talks on the accords, the United States kept delaying the signing, as the US continued its attempt to carry out its stated objective to “bomb the North into the stone age”. When it became clear that the US effort was futile, Washington finally agreed to sign the accords, ending what was, until Afghanistan, the longest war in US history.
In Australia there was a huge campaign against conscription initiated by five women – Jean McLean, Joan Coxsedge, Irene Miller, Chris Cathie, and Jean McLaine. They were arrested and jailed for 14 days in Fairlea Women’s Prison in Melbourne for handing out anti-conscription pamphlets while on government property.
Opposition to the war grew, with huge moratoriums, marches, sit-ins, pamphleteering, lectures, street theatre, vigils, petitions, work stoppages, and public meetings held across Australia.
The withdrawal of Australia’s forces began in November 1970 under the Gorton government when eight Royal Australian Regiments who had completed their tour of duty were not replaced. A phased withdrawal followed and when the Whitlam government was elected in December 1972, it immediately abolished conscription and pulled Australia out of the war and by 11th January, 1973, Australia’s involvement was over. Approximately 60,000 Australians served in the war, including ground troops, naval forces and airmen, with 521 killed and 3,000 wounded. Since then more have died of cancer, a result of agent orange.
But for the US, the war dragged on until 1975 with its ignominious defeat. Estimates of US military personnel who served in Vietnam vary from 2.6 to 3.8 million. There are 57,939 names of those who died or are missing as a result of the war written on Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
It was a war Washington never forgot nor forgave, considering it an insult to its national pride. As a consequence, Vietnam was punished by a trade blockade and by political and economic isolation which lasted for more than two decades. It was also being punished – like Cuba – for not having a full-scale capitalist parliamentary charade.
The signing of the Paris Peace Accords was celebrated in Vietnam with one major theme throughout the week of commemorations that victory in the war belonged not just to the Vietnamese people. Rather, it was an international victory – a victory of all peace-loving and progressive people of the world against injustice and imperialism. Speaker after speaker talked about the importance of the international peace movement that stood by Vietnam in nearly every country in the world.
Vietnamese war veterans and survivors of US bombings became extremely emotional when thanking the international groups for their support during the war. There was a special thanks offered to US military veterans who returned home to spread the word about the unjust and criminal nature of the war and to rally support for its end.
Those of us today who want to fight for peace and to stop imperialism must follow in the footsteps of those that fought through the 1960s and ’70s. We must learn the importance of broad, progressive movements. We must learn from their immense dedication to the cause of peace. And we must learn the strength of internationalism.
Today, the international peace movement is weak and fractured. But a mere 50 years ago, it helped to end one of the bloodiest and longest wars of the 20th century. It can be done again today.