A Fly’s Eye View of America’s War Against Vietnam

Part Three: Wear jeans, millions of flies can’t be wrong.

Colonel, later Major General, Edward Lansdale began his professional career in advertising. In other words, Lansdale was a corporate propagandist. He is credited with the campaign that made Levi’s Jeans into a “national craze” and converted plain working clothes into what has become the standard clothing item of the American empire. ((Douglas Valentine, “Whatever Happened to the CIA? Dirty Wars and the Cinema of Self-Indulgence”, Counterpunch, Weekend Edition, June 7-9, 2013))

Lansdale went to the Philippines in 1950 where he became infamous for his contributions to the development of US political warfare tactics. ((Alfred W. McCoy, Policing America’s Empire (2009) p. 337 et. seq.)) He introduced tactics applied by the US colonial (Commonwealth) forces to suppress popular revolts that began after the defeat of Japan and the restoration of US rule in the archipelago. It was the success attributed to Lansdale’s guidance and the subsequent suppression of the Huk rebellion that earned him a reputation as the US counter-insurgency expert of the post-war period.

The US began its advice and support to the French in Indochina in 1945. The first advisors came from the OSS that already had acquired considerable experience in the region through its cooperation with various groups resisting the Japanese occupation. The OSS had even advised the Vietnamese resistance under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. ((OSS/CIA officer Lucien Conein came to Indochina around late 1944.)) OSS operatives helped train and arm the Vietminh during the war. When the war ended and US policy dictated restoring France to power, OSS operators began working with their French counterparts—to the extent the French trusted them—to suppress the Vietnamese nationalists. ((Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program (1990), p. 22 et seq.)) Thus they were participant-observers from the very beginning of the First Indochina War. Moreover they knew both sides intimately. Today one must ask therefore whether any credibility can be given to claims by those in the US regime that relied on OSS intelligence that they did not understand the nature of the Vietnamese nationalist struggle and the determination of the Vietminh to fight for an independent Vietnam.

However, there is a more important point to be made here. Namely, that the agents and officers of the US secret armies (aka intelligence community) were part of what became the war against Vietnam from the very beginning—years before the US became officially involved, before the invasion was visible and acknowledged. That means not only did the war against Vietnam begin well before the USS Maddox incident that unleashed the bombs against Tonkin (the province of Indochina comprising the bulk of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam). Before describing or explaining the significance of this fact, some points need to be made.

Every intelligible argument is always an argument against something. Every open argument presumes that those who are arguing know, admit and accept the terms of the argument and feel constrained by them. Elaborate rituals in courts and legislatures are based on the assumption that only what is openly reported, debated and decided is legitimate. If this standard is applied to the fundamental questions about the war against Vietnam, one will soon find that much, if not most, of what constitutes the scholarly or public debate about the US role in the mass murder of over 3 million people in Indochina does not come close.

As I have already argued the war against Vietnam is treated as an “intervention” which it was not, at the invitation of a “friendly government” that did not exist, under premises of collective security which were fabricated, for opposing “communist (Soviet/Chinese) imperialism” imagined (aka “Cold War”) and in a limited form, which it clearly was not. Since the central assertions about the origin and nature of the US invasion of Vietnam and its war against all of Indochina, definitely from the side of the US government and mostly from those who claim to have studied it (even opponents), are demonstrably false, it follows that any argument about the war, its nature and consequences based on these false premises will lead nowhere except to an indirect (by opponents) and direct (by proponents) affirmation of the foregoing assumptions. This leads subsequently to the conclusion — by and large shared by both “sides” of that argument — that the war was a regrettable mistake. From this consensus arise such tedious questions as “What should the US have done differently?” or “Could the US have won the war?” or “Couldn’t peace have been achieved sooner?” The list could continue.

To demonstrate the futility of these questions it helps to recall that while a visible, if not numerically significant, minority of white Americans demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, for both strong and weak reasons, there was no comparable mass demonstration to demand that the US Government fulfill its treaty obligations; e.g., paying reparations to Vietnam for the poisoning and destruction of enormous parts of the country and the killing and maiming of millions of its inhabitants. It took until 1995, twenty years after the last helicopter lifted off of the roof of the Saigon embassy compound before the “loser” extended full diplomatic recognition to the country that had defeated it. President William Clinton was quoted as saying that the time was at hand “to bind up our wounds”. ((Alison Mitchell, “Opening to Vietnam…” New York Times (12 July 1995).)) Never mind that President Clinton avoided the draft and any personal wounds at the time; it does stretch the imagination to compare some 55,000 deaths with over three million by calling them “our wounds”.

If scholarly debate or public politics are to say anything meaningful about the war, then they have to explain not only the 22 year hiatus, with almost Cuba-like embargo conditions, but the inability of such scarred and divided US Americans to acknowledge the crimes of their government and compel that government to do justice to a country it did its best to destroy.

To place this in its proper perspective one must consider that although the Allies (US, France, Britain, Soviet Union) agreed that Germany must pay reparations for the slaughter and destruction wreaked by the Nazi regime in the Soviet Union (and other countries), it collected its own share of reparations through corporate (not state) “investment” in the German economy, including seizure of intellectual property which was, of course, given to US corporations and deprived the Soviet Union of the reparations agreed by dividing Germany in May 1949. ((By declaring the establishment of the Federal Republic (FRG) in the western occupation zones, the Soviet Union was forced to support the creation of a state in its zone of occupation. The government seated in Bonn and controlled by the US through Konrad Adenauer was not compelled to pay any reparations to the Soviet Union. Before the official creation of the US vassal, much of the industry (concentrated in Saxony) was dismantled and removed to the US sector leaving the Soviet Union with a part of Germany heavily damaged by the war from which to exact the reparations it was due and needed to rebuild what the Nazi armies had demolished in four years of vicious warfare. In fact, the creation of the FRG gave the US secure bases in Europe both for its bloated military and its expanding corporations. The German state created by the US in 1949 continues to function as a forward base even since 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Soviet Union. In other words, the US regime recognises even the most flimsy excuse for a government by its vassals, while withholding every dignity from those it cannot immediately dominate.)) The US claimed reparations although it never fought a single battle against the Wehrmacht on its own soil and only actually waged war against Germany starting in 1944. The US concluded hostilities with Germany unilaterally in 1951. By 1955 Germany enjoyed full diplomatic recognition—a mere ten years after the war, and Germany started the war!

The war against Vietnam was “a mistake” for US Americans: for its proponents, because the US did not win, for its opponents, well—for the same reason. If the US had won, Cam Ranh Bay would probably still be a major US naval base and US soldiers on leave or liberty would still be raping the local women like many do in Guam and Okinawa, where no war is being waged. ((For example, Bob Kovach and Chelsea J. Carter, “U.S.-Japan deal withdraws 9,000 Marines from OkinawaCNN (27 April 2012), Ann Wright, “Guam Resists Military ColonizationCommon Dreams (17 August 2009): “In 2008, the US Ambassador to Japan had to fly to Okinawa to give his apologies for the rape of a 14 year old girl by a US Marine. The US military forces on Okinawa had a 3 day stand-down for “reflection” and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to express her “regrets” to the Japanese Prime Minister “for the terrible incident that happened in Okinawa… we are concerned for the well-being of the young girl and her family.”)) Instead of litanies about how traumatic the war was and self-congratulation among those well situated reminiscing about the good old days in Berkeley (but not Watts), discussion would be confined to obtuse base realignment measures or other niceties of the war department’s budget.

Probably the most hypocritical of all apologies for the result in 1975—also represented throughout the political spectrum—is that the US regime “didn’t understand the Vietnamese or underestimated their fierce patriotism”. This excuse betrays a more fundamental quality in the “American” character. US Americans have been raised—or indoctrinated—to believe that behind the face of every person who does not live in the US there is an American yearning to be free (free of everything that is not American, that is). Even among themselves, US Americans are notorious for their belief in the natural superiority of their way of life. Even people who have written admiringly about the US have taken note of this quality. Domestically this can be felt in the oppressive conformity demanded in the “land of the free”. Tocqueville noted that the conformity of opinion he found was stronger than anything he had experienced under the most tyrannical European monarchy. The German Hermann Graf Keyserling, although he thought the USA was destined to be a great country, said that Americans talk a lot about freedom of opinion but do not think much of it. C L R James, a Trinidadian sports journalist and historian, complained that although his American Civilization was complimentary of the country’s virtues, it was still confiscated by the US customs authorities and he was deported to England. ((Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835), Hermann Graf Keyserling, America Set Free (1929), C L R James, American Civilisation, written between 1950 – 1953 and published posthumously (1993).)) The claim to have misunderstood the Vietnamese is cynical when uttered by those privy to the intelligence acquired as early as 1945 by OSS operatives. For the rest of US Americans such a claim only underlines the ethnocentrism or nativism which equates patriotism with loyalty to the United States and denies the possibility, let alone the legitimacy, of other peoples’ loyalty to their country.

To properly understand why the United States of America has been able to terrorise the entire planet, even more than their British cousins did, one has to bear in mind the fanatical religious conviction underlying the “American way of life”. Whether one calls it a “civil religion” or focuses on the strength of the weld between patriotism and fundamentalist Christian sects in the US, there can be no doubt that the “American way of life” became a crusade. Arthur Sullivan’s hymn is even more fitting to the US than for the relatively modest British missionary effort. The British, despite their established church, had an ambivalent relationship to missionaries in their colonial possessions. There was business and then there was the church. In the “American way of life”, business is the church, just as the church is a business. For example, John D. Rockefeller, the robber elevated to the barony of business through his Standard Oil cartel, became a major benefactor of the mainline Baptist churches throughout the country. His grandson Nelson continued this business to enhance his South American investments. ((See Gerald Colby, Thy Will Be Done, the Conquest of the Amazon (1995) describes the activities of Nelson Rockefeller and his sponsorship of William Cameron Townsend of the Wycliffe Bible Translators, using missionary activity to support his business and political agenda. See also Rubem Alves, Protestantism and Repression (1985) for an examination of missionary complicity in the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1986).))

Probably the most infamous of the business evangelicals has been Billy Graham, a Southern Baptist minister who could be seen as a kind of “spiritual advisor” to the war against Vietnam. Although Graham, in contrast to other white evangelical crusaders, opposed racial segregation early, he was a staunch supporter of US foreign policy from Eisenhower through to Nixon—counselling each president except Kennedy. On the other side, people like the deceased Steve Jobs of Apple, was a classic example of business as religion, promoting all the company’s products like “iLife” in the format of a Christian revival meeting. ((iLife was presented by Jobs at MacWorld in San Francisco (2003).)) The archetype of this aspect of the “American way of life” was Dale Carnegie, whose book How to Win Friends and Influence People achieved canonical status in the entrepreneurial communion of faith. ((Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), another canonical text of the “self-help” movement is Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (1952). Both self-promotion by the authors and substantial corporate support made these books bestsellers.)) Capitalism is not a popular ideology or political movement but a term for the critique of the political-economic system. Hence there is little explicit promotion of capitalism as an ideal in itself (except perhaps among the reactionary “Austrian school” which came to dominate economics faculties in the US in the 1980s). Ayn Rand attempted to elevate capitalism to an explicit American ideology articulated in her novels published in the beginning of what would be called the Cold War. ((The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) are her two most well known novels. In 1966 she published the essay Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal. Although she managed to acquire cult status, attracting people like former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan to her circle, her vision of capitalism as a positive ideology never achieved a broad following. However, Rand did become a kind of aesthetic galleon figure for the Austrian school economists in their crusade against Keynesianism. The Austrian School is generally associated with Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. In the 1950s the Austrian school was little more than a cult among anti-communist economists, some of whom were close to what became known as the monetarist or Chicago school of which Milton Friedman was the high priest. During the Reagan Ascendancy, however, the Austrian school emerged from the cracks and has since infested political-economic policy in the US. Keynesianism—to the extent it recognised the need for state spending to ameliorate the damage done by capitalism—was displaced from public policy and public consciousness.)).

Today Islam appears to have replaced communism as “public enemy number one”. Many well-meaning US Americans, embarrassed by the attacks on Islam in a country which brags about its constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom, still feel compelled to follow the regime’s public arguments against supposed fanatics because they believe the US to be the bearer of Enlightenment humanism, leaving all other countries and creeds somehow less humanist, less enlightened and less tolerant. To place this misconception in proper context consider that one of the great men of early American history, Cotton Mather, a model of religious intolerance in puritan Massachusetts Bay was born in 1663. On the other hand Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, after whom Wahhabi Islam is named, was born in 1703. Reverend Mather was a good thirty years ahead, burning witches before the Sunni preacher who inspired Saudi kings to beheadings could formulate his teachings. It is true that the US Constitution prohibits the State from establishing a church or forbidding free exercise of religion. This amendment has been interpreted as guaranteeing religious freedom but it was ultimately a Puritan response to the British establishment of the Church of England with the monarch as its head. It was certainly not a testimony to religious tolerance in public life. ((Religious restrictions to eligibility to elected office were common in the colonies that became the US. Only in 1961 did the US Supreme Court declare religious qualifications for public officeholders unconstitutional.  Jews and atheists had been barred from public office in some states. In Torcaso v. Watkins (367 US 488) the Court re-affirmed that both states and the federal government were prohibited from requiring any kind of religious test for public office. The Maryland law in dispute required that even a notary public certify belief in God. A 1997 South Carolina case invalidated a state law requiring the acknowledgement of a supreme being as a condition for public office. Emerson v. Board of Education (1947) extended the separation of church and state doctrine to include public aid to religious organisations whether singularly or severally. While many US Americans like to take religious freedom and tolerance for granted, none of these decisions has remained unchallenged in practice. The laws governing termination of pregnancy and the privatisation of social services since the 1980s has created through “faith-based initiatives” problematic circumventions of the Constitution, while the Supreme Court has restrained its hand.))

When those English colonists declared their independence from Great Britain, the Southerners among them did so to preserve chattel slavery while the rest wanted the freedom to slaughter the indigenous and steal their land. ((Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776 (2014).)) The majority of “white” Americans who came afterwards had to accept this or pay the consequences. The compliant were rewarded with “other peoples’ land”. US Americans have learned by and large to accept the annihilation of indigenous peoples because without it they would have been forced to fight against their wealthy Anglo-American masters. In other words US patriotism was grounded in bad faith and dishonesty. Only by pretending, like the settler-colonisers in Australia, that they had acquired or inherited a land without people could they continue to build the country into what it became. Brazil was organised under a similar principle (especially in the southern states of Sao Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina), but Brazil was not in Vietnam (Australia was!)

That is why it can (and should) be argued that the US invaded Vietnam just as it had invaded Korea (and Mexico as well as Cuba in the 19th century) not by mistake, not because of a misunderstanding or because of some communist threat but because “invading” other people’s territory is how the US was created in the first place. It is just natural for the US regime to invade territory when that territory belongs to non-whites. That is what was meant by manifest destiny.

The atomic bomb was built by the US with the help of a peculiar combination of German and Eastern European scientists. Officially the bomb program was accelerated because of fears that the Nazi regime would build one first. That was clearly Albert Einstein’s motivation for writing President Roosevelt—although he changed his attitude toward the bomb later. People like Einstein definitely feared a fascist regime armed with an atomic bomb. However, that was not the primary concern of those who ultimately pushed for its use against Japan. DuPont was keen on the enormous amounts it would earn on this exclusive and very expensive weapons project. The fascist exiles in the US, together with their friends among the US elite, saw with dismay that Nazi Germany was not going to crush the Soviet Union. The hopes that Hitler would do what the Allied expeditionary forces from 1917 – 1925 were unable to do, destroy the Soviet Union, were dashed at Stalingrad. The bomb offered the Western powers the potential to blackmail the Soviet Union with overwhelming destructive force and no need for troops on the ground. It also seemed to be an answer to the problem of manpower in the Pacific. Strategic planners knew that the US could never field a force with the numerical strength to dominate China. Dropping two atomic bombs on Japan allowed open-air tests on its main targets—non-whites in Asia and, if necessary, the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union understood this, just as they grasped that the Western allies waited until 1944 before attacking Germany, despite official promises to relieve the Soviet Union by threatening Germany’s western front. So when Stalin demanded assurances in Eastern Europe, Roosevelt was compelled to give them. Very few US Americans knew either about the promises to open a second front or the promised reparations and control over the “road to Moscow” to prevent future attacks on the Soviet Union. Winston Churchill knew when he gave his infamous “Iron Curtain” address in Fulton, Missouri that the Allies had given their full consent to the Soviet occupation. Most US Americans did not.

When US forces occupied Korea and installed the fascist Syngman Rhee in the South—Japan had already been defeated. The Koreans and Russians had forced the Japanese out of the North and they had surrendered in the South. Again what most US Americans appear not to have known or never mention is that prior to 1949 substantial US financial and commercial interests—in other words corporations and crime syndicates—were integrated in the drug and contraband trade that had been based in the Chinese “treaty ports” for nearly a century. The foremost of these was Shanghai which was divided into three extra-territorial settlements for the US, Great Britain and France.

Just as US industrial magnates viewed Japanese industrialisation after the Meiji restoration (1868) as a threat to their expansion into the Pacific “markets”, the crime syndicates and their interface to legal business activity, the intelligence community together with merchant banks, saw the Japanese competition in an extremely lucrative opium trade. The British had established the opium monopoly for exporting opium to China—a right they had won by waging two wars against China. ((Opium Wars: First Opium War (1839-1842) and Second Opium War (1856-1860) also known as the “Arrow War” waged by Britain against China first as retaliation for Chinese destruction of the opium cargo belonging to a British trader. As a result China was induced to lease Hong Kong to the British and to permit them to import opium into China.)) Chiang-Kai-shek had become the local managing director of this Sino-European drug trade until Mao Zedong drove him and his gangsters, together with their OSS supporters, to Formosa. There the Kuomintang (KMT) warlords subjugated the island’s indigenous population and waited until MacArthur or some other great American appeared to lead them across the straits to restored power on the mainland.

In the 1950s the so-called China Lobby enjoyed a status not unlike that enjoyed by the Israel lobby today. It is probably no accident that both KMT-ruled Formosa and Israel are substantial hubs for the whole range of offshore illicit traffic, whether drugs, weapons or money itself. Like the KMT, Israel enjoys the more or less unconditional support of the US regime, especially its intelligence community—which maintains close professional links to Israel as well as its other “offshores”.

In the wake of the Japanese defeat, the British first reinforced the French in southern Vietnam while the KMT was given control of Tonkin. After KMT troops pillaged Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh asked the French to return to displace the Chinese. Given the stakes it is not hard to imagine—if hard to prove—that the French colluded with the KMT to force Ho to abandon his immediate plans for Vietnamese independence.

Far-fetched? Only if one knows nothing about the European exploitation of China until the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Douglas MacArthur was a stalwart of the China lobby. He was also the US warlord in the Pacific.

The restoration of French rule after 1945 has been defended due to the exigencies of the Cold War. But the “Cold War” was stated policy for common consumption, just like the fairy tales about the US relationship between all belligerents in the European theatre. These fairy tales have been so well marketed in the US that even respected critical scholars have never questioned them—at least not out loud.

If the Cold War is seen for the fraud that it was, then a major premise for the rationalisation of the US war against Vietnam must be seen as equally fraudulent. That does not mean that no one defending US policy in such terms was aware of this deceit. Given on one hand the intensity of indoctrination to which the recruits to the corporate and imperial bureaucracy are subjected one can accept that many people in that bureaucracy, both in government employment and in the media, genuinely believed in the “threat”. On the other hand there is a more elemental factor involved. In 1940, US Attorney General Robert H. Jackson, who led the US prosecution team in Nuremberg and later was appointed to the US Supreme Court wrote:

Activities which seem helpful or benevolent to wage earners, persons on relief, or those who are disadvantaged in the struggle for existence, may be regarded as ‘subversive’ by those whose property interests might be affected thereby; those who are in office are apt to regard as “subversive” the activities of any of those who would bring about a change of administration. Some of the soundest constitutional doctrines were once punished as ‘subversive.’ ((Quoted in Frank J. Donner, The Age of Surveillance (1980) p. xv.))

Frank Donner notes further:

American liberalism has failed to curb the repressive thrust of nativism—and not only because it has chosen to take a stand at the wrong point (the courtroom) in the governmental structure. Its commitment to the libertarian tradition has been deeply flawed (I refer here to its dominant sectors) by anti-communism and by subservience to the corporate sector. And, since the New Deal, liberal standard-bearers—intellectuals, academics, and lawyers outside the political mainstream—have been all too ready to compromise a professional commitment to full freedom of political expression as a demonstration of political realism, the price the idealistic outsider must pay to enter the corridors of power in an insider’s role. In its retreat, liberalism has historically acquiesced in substantive limitations on political expression in exchange for procedural, “due process” palliatives. In the same spirit, and until recently, it embraced clandestine counter-subversive domestic intelligence sponsored by the executive as a libertarian alternative to such cruder repressive modes as legislation and exposé-style congressional investigation.

Like other dubious enterprises, intelligence has resorted to a claimed professionalism—and in particular, a cosmetic vocabulary—as a badge of legitimacy. Language has become an integral part of the subject of intelligence. Not because its terminology is particularly arcane and technical, but rather because it uses what George Steiner has called the ‘complex energies of language’ as a shield against the constitutional, political, and ethical attacks to which it is highly vulnerable. (The same defensive need explains the proliferation of euphemisms and pseudo-professional jargon in the Vietnam War era.) (emphasis added). ((Frank Donner, op. cit. p. xiv))

Donner’s analysis of the role of so-called intelligence, which he considers itself to be a form of political repression, does not apply only to domestic intelligence operations—notably the Red Scares since the Palmer Raids—but to foreign intelligence operations which became the focus of US foreign policy in the post-war era.

This liberal position is the same held by most of those who call themselves “progressives” in the United States. In fact, the term “progressive”, easily confused with the ideology of late-19th century middle class reformism although actually closely related to it, arose out of submission to political repression in the United States under President Theodore Roosevelt. At that time political repression was primarily corporate terror; e.g., the domestic spying and terrorism perpetrated by companies like the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the various railroad police. ((Harry Anslinger, the first and long-lasting director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, began his career as an officer in the Pennsylvania Railroad Police, the goon squad of Mellon’s railroad empire. Interestingly enough, Anslinger—a great rival of J Edgar Hoover—considered his agency an important institution for maintaining white supremacy by policing Blacks who were disproportionately targeted by the drug laws. The FBN cooperated with the CIA in managing the US interest in the international drug trade and hence part of the covert war in Asia. See Douglas Valentine, The Strength of the Wolf (2006).)) In the rural South the Ku Klux Klan performed this function. By the time Wilson became president the demands of “progressives” for government regulation of corporations were translated into increasing nationalisation of corporate police and the creation of federal police and intelligence services, foremost of which became J. Edgar Hoover’s infamous Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). By adopting the term “progressive” the liberals distanced themselves from socialists, communists, anarchists, and anyone else who advocated fundamental change in the political and economic system dominated by corporations.

Having conceded the corporate distinction between acceptable opposition and radical demands for change, a blind eye was turned to America’s particular kind of political repression. The result was a thorough isolation of popular movements such as those that aimed to abolish the racist tyranny in the South or mass unionisation in the industrialised North. At this point government political repression was augmented by the work of tax-exempt foundations like those created by Rockefeller and Carnegie—the predecessors of the National Endowment for Democracy founded during the Reagan administration to intensify political warfare abroad.

As already argued at the end of World War II, the liberal establishment and corporate progressives both agreed on the need for an alternative to Marine expeditionary forces as a means of coercing countries targeted for (continued) exploitation by US corporations. This was the main reason why William Donovan proposed the creation of what became the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after the US emerged as the number one world power in 1945. With the unexpected (and undesired) survival of the Soviet Union the liberal elite saw its failure to directly or indirectly crush a revolutionary regime. Kennan also saw—and that was the real point of his “X” article in Foreign Affairs—that the US (especially its corporations) would be vulnerable now that there was a major industrialised power capable of defending itself against US attacks—whether overt or covert. This also meant that US corporate liberalism was not the only alternative to classical European colonialism. While it is true that Donovan’s ostensible credentials for proposing a post-war intelligence service derived from his responsibility for wartime intelligence directed against the Axis powers, the real pedigree upon which he built was his work as a “white shoe” lawyer. The “white shoe” firms were corporate law firms mainly located in New York City. They represented their clients in classical legal disputes and transactions but also organised the political repression where US corporations had their overseas operations. The star among these political law firms was Sullivan & Cromwell—where John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen were partners. John McCloy, the Standard Oil lawyer who served as Deputy Secretary of War during WWII came from similar stock. The methods that became CIA stock and trade were first used by these law firms and the corporations they represented.

“Intelligence” is called “market research” in business administration. In fact, it involves spying on competitors and consumers/clients. “Propaganda” is what business folks call “public relations” and “advertising”. Finally “foreign intelligence” which includes “counter-intelligence” is the equivalent of sales and industrial sabotage.

Donner adds:

In addition to supplying a functional rationale, both military conflict and social science have contributed cosmetic language and images to disguise the realities of investigative purpose and conduct. Thus, for example, sociology contributed the term “data collection” to describe, inter alia, surveillance, wire-tapping and the use of informers. The FBI uses “domestic” or “internal security” intelligence to designate what I here call political intelligence. It staunchly rejects “political intelligence” as a suitable usage because that includes mainstream politics. However, the terms “political intelligence” or “domestic political intelligence” accurately describe what the Bureau does: it collects information about the politics of domestic targets… Domestic intelligence is our shield against threats to “internal security”, while foreign intelligence is supposed to provide the same protection for “national security”, the interest threatened by hostile external activity. ((Frank Donner, op. cit. p. xv.))

How was the war against Vietnam actually waged? It was not a war against two belligerents meeting on the battlefield to contest territory. When the US regime sent its first “advisors” to Indochina their job was to determine how US (corporate) interests could be secured and furthered in the region. When Eisenhower told state governors what the US needed in Indochina—cheap or free minerals, natural resources and, of course, captive labour—he was certainly speaking with the knowledge that one of his chief foreign policy advisors, Clark Clifford, was DuPont’s chief lobbyist and that his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles represented powerful banking and merchant interests—both as lawyers and personal beneficiaries of their clients. Although he had worked as a junior officer with corporate bullies like Douglas McArthur ((On 28 June 1932, Douglas MacArthur, together with George Patton, was ordered by Herbert Hoover to suppress the so-called Bonus Army protest in Washington. Cavalry, infantry, tanks, tear gas and all the trimmings were deployed against unarmed veterans. Dwight Eisenhower was an aide to MacArthur during the repressive action taken at the height of the Great Depression.)), he was no Smedley Butler—his warnings about the military-industrial complex notwithstanding. ((Smedley Butler (1881-1940), US Marine general and two-time Medal of Honor winner, denounced DuPont and other companies before Congress for conspiring to overthrow the US government while Franklin Roosevelt was president. He also wrote War is a Racket (1935) in which he admitted that his career in the Marine Corps consisted of leading expeditionary forces to kick small countries and popular movements so that they would not threaten the wealth and property of US corporations.))

The war began with an “intelligence operation”, partly to support the French, partly to undermine them and make way for the US. By 1948 the French were no longer able to protect their troops so they launched counter-intelligence/counter-insurgency operations with the help of the CIA. GCMAs were formed (at the same time as US Army First Special Forces), the precursors of the PRUs developed by the CIA in the beginning of what would become Phoenix. In 1954 Edward Lansdale arrived with his kit. By the mid-1950s US soldiers were fighting with the French and the 350-member US Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) was stationed in Saigon to dispense money to the French and anyone else who might serve US interests in Indochina at the time. ((Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program (1990), p. 24-25.)) This was the pattern set well before the Southeast Asia Resolution (Gulf of Tonkin).

Phoenix is usually presented as a perhaps unpleasant program introduced to help the military perform its conventional warfare role to secure South Vietnam from communist subversion. The reverse is the case. Increasing military deployment was ordered to support CIA’s intelligence/political warfare assignment. The US did not want war with China after Korea. It also did not want to openly cloak itself in “colonialism” by supporting the French to the end or openly taking their place. Edward Lansdale was brought in because of his reputation in the Philippines (don’t all yellow folks look alike) to develop psychological operations. However, Lansdale’s personal forte was marketing through terror. While his critics said that he was just too idiosyncratic and self-important to be effective, convinced of his own mastery of the field, they clearly underestimated something Lansdale understood well: selling the war at home and not just promoting political repression with a smile. Lansdale did not have to be an expert, he just had to appear like one. In helping to expand the covert war for control of Vietnam, he also convinced many at home that this was the way to win against the Vietnamese as well as domestic and international public opinion. At first it seemed like he had the wonder drug to overcome the Vietminh. When he didn’t, he became the target of heavy criticism both by civilian and military leadership. Yet by insisting that the great Lansdale came with a counter-insurgency plan—that didn’t work—he also gave an alibi to an enormous escalation in political warfare and the subordination of the conventional military to these objectives and the organisation created to fulfil them.

If Lansdale was a “failure” in the field, this “failure” made it possible for people like William Colby to deny that Vietnam was a war waged by the covert corporate forces, capitalism’s invisible army. Even the ultimate failure of the US military to hold ground, drive the “VC” or the regular Vietnamese army out of the South could be blamed on the military. The scope, strategy and tactics of the primarily political war waged against the Vietnamese civilian population and the systematic political repression for which Phoenix was born remained in the shadows of B-52s, inaudible behind the tremendous blasts. Meanwhile the CIA could blow craters of its own into the population in the hopes of persuading the Vietnamese of the great transcendental value of wearing Levi’ blue jeans and working for the Yankee dollar.

• Read Introduction here:  Read Part One here; Read Part Two here

Dr T.P. Wilkinson writes, teaches History and English, directs theatre and coaches cricket between the cradles of Heine and Saramago. He is also the author of Church Clothes, Land, Mission and the End of Apartheid in South Africa. Read other articles by T.P..