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Getting Out of Vietnam

In response to:

Vietnam: Shadow and Substance from the September 16, 1965 issue

To the Editors:

The special supplement on Vietnam for September 16, 1965, has just arrived, due to the vagaries of forwarding at this season. May I express my sympathy for Messrs. Morgenthau, Kraft, Fall and Raskin? With the publication of the Chinese document on the strategy and tactics of revolution (“surround the cities”), and the Chinese ultimatum to India, the premises of all four articles have been swept away. The position of your authors recalls that of some liberal and left-wing isolationists at the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939. We can expect another “God that Failed” from some, and from others the discovery that our action in Vietnam is not “an imperialist war” after all, but an heroic effort to protect the innocent people of Asia from domination by a despotism worse than that of Stalin.

The plight of your authors is summed up in the story Joan Robinson brought back from Poland in 1956. Two Polish Communists were coming from a meeting at which the Crimes of Stalin were reported. “Isn’t it awful?”, one said. “Yes, but it’s not the worst,” the other replied. “What do you mean? How can anything be worse than sending innocent people to concentration camps, and torture, and executions without trials?” “I’ll tell you what’s worse,” the second man answered. “That’s what my mother-in-law has been saying for years.”

Eugene V. Rostow

Yale University Law School

Hans J Morgenthau replies:

Dean Rostow’s letter has one virtue: it condenses in a short space some of the main tenets of the new demonology, in which China has replaced the Soviet Union as the source of all evil.

The first of these tenets is that anybody who opposes the war in Vietnam on any grounds is an isolationist. Speaking only for myself, I have warned since 1943, when I was called a Fascist, against the new imperialism of the Soviet Union. I have supported consistently all the policies of the United States—containment, Marshall Plan, foreign aid, Atlantic Alliance, United Nations—to which isolationists must be opposed, and have criticized some of them frequently because I thought they did not go far enough. I am opposed to the war in Vietnam because I am convinced that this war will not only fail to contain the power of China but will of necessity lead to its expansion. I have criticized our Asian policy for fifteen years because it has consistently failed to bring its means into harmony with its ends. To call such a position isolationism is of course sheer demagoguery.

It is characteristic of all anti-Communist demonologies that they are unable to distinguish between national policies pursued by Communist governments and policies inspired by Communist ideology. It is a fact, which the demonologies cannot accept, that all the moves which the Communist government of China has made in Asia, from Taiwan to Pakistan and India, have pursued national objectives which have been approved by the Nationalist Government of China and which any Chinese government, regardless of its ideological coloration, would have pursued under similar circumstances.

The demonologists are unable to distinguish between Communist propaganda and the actual objectives pursued by Communist governments. Thus they believe that the recent statement by Marshall Lin Pao is a blueprint for future Chinese policies. As a matter of fact, it is a compendium of geopolitical absurdities, comparable to those which the German geo-political metaphysicians used to propound during the Nazi period. As such, it is incapable of being used as guidance for foreign policy. It is propaganda pure and simple, aimed at the morale of the nations of Africa and Latin America among whom China would like to gain a foothold. Our befuddlement by it is an extra dividend which we present gratuitously to China.

I don’t need Dean Rostow’s mock sympathy. Our real sympathy ought to be tendered to a great nation whose intellectual leaders can propound inanities with a self-assurance that ought to be reserved for the revealed truth.

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