“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” Karl Marx
If there is one subject that shows the bias of college campus liberals more than any other, it is the Vietnam War. Many university professors of today were radical anti-war students in the 1960’s, and the habit of condemning America’s role in Vietnam seems to only harden with age. It is perhaps not surprising that when a radical group of the sixties holds a reunion, they hold it on a college campus, and the attendees include lots of modern day university faculty members.
A modern-day student whose only knowledge of Vietnam comes from mainstream history books and classroom lectures will inevitably be led to share the perspective of the left wing radicals who write most of the books, and give most of the lectures. According to standard textbook portrayals, the people of North Vietnam were perfectly happy living under Communism in the fifties and sixties, and the folks trapped in anti-Communist South Vietnam envied their Northern neighbors. The Americans, according to this view, came in as aggressors, in violation of an international treaty, and killed and terrorized a lot of innocent people in an attempt to deny the Vietnamese people the form of government they craved.
The truth is very different.
The Geneva Accords, and American “Violations”
The story of the Vietnam War begins with an international conference in Geneva in 1954. Vietnamese military forces, some of them Communist, had just succeeded in expelling a French colonial government from all of Vietnam, and had quickly formed two rival governments. Communist forces set up a government under Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam, and anti-Communist forces formed a South Vietnamese government under the leadership of Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem. The two sides immediately started fighting each other for territory.
Representatives of several different nations joined together in Geneva to discuss the situation and issue recommendations.
The conference produced ten documents called, collectively, the Geneva Accords. One of the documents called on the brand new governments of North and South Vietnam to hold joint elections in 1956, in which voters from both countries would vote to choose a single government under which the two nations would be merged into one. Two years later the South Vietnamese government, with the support of the United States, refused to participate in the joint elections.
This rejection of joint elections, according to college professors and other left wing extremists, was the first of America’s Vietnam era “crimes.”
The View from The Ivory Tower
Professor Eric Foner, a past president of the American Historical Association, takes this position in his textbook Give Me Liberty. Dr. Foner accuses the U.S. of trying to undermine a “struggle for national independence, led by homegrown communists who enjoyed widespread support throughout their country.” “The Truman and Eisenhower administrations,” says Foner, “financed the creation of a pro-American South Vietnamese government in violation of the Geneva Accords of 1954 that had promised elections to unify Vietnam. (Italics added) By the 1960’s, the United States was committed to the survival of this corrupt regime.”
A few pages later Dr. Foner states that “Despite the Cold War rhetoric of freedom, American leaders seemed more comfortable dealing with reliable military regimes than democratic governments.”
The five professors1who wrote the textbook Nation of Nations put it this way:
In May, at an international peace conference in Geneva, the French negotiated the terms of their withdrawal. Ho Chi Minh agreed to pull his forces north of the 17th parallel, temporarily dividing the nation into North and South Vietnam. Because of Ho’s broad popularity, he seemed assured of an easy victory in elections scheduled for within the next two years. Dulles,2 however, viewed any Communist victory as unacceptable, even if the election was democratic. He convinced Eisenhower to support a South Vietnamese government under Ngo Dinh Diem. Dulles insisted that Diem was not bound by the Geneva accords to hold any election – a position the autocratic Diem eagerly supported.
The late professor Howard Zinn uses similar language in his textbook A People’s History of the United States: Dr Zinn devotes thirty-two pages of his freshman American history textbook to the Vietnam War. That’s seven pages more than his coverage of the American Revolution that created our nation! Zinn, who has actually been identified by the FBI as an undercover Communist, joins the other textbook authors in condemning the American war effort.
The Other Side of the Story
The real story of the Vietnam War is very different from the portrayal college students are getting from their gray-pony-tailed professors. There was no American “violation” of a commitment to area-wide elections. There was no American commitment to hold such elections. There was never anything like a “democratic government” in North Vietnam; quite the contrary. And Ngo Dinh Diem certainly was not “bound by the Geneva Accords” to participate in a joint election pooling voters from North and South Vietnam.
On the Geneva Accords, and Who Was “Bound”
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Geneva Accords consisted of “The 10 documents—none of which were treaties binding the participants—consisted of 3 military agreements, 6 unilateral declarations, and a Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference.”3(Italics added) The language of that Final Declaration makes it clear that it is not an actual treaty: “The Conference takes note of,” “The Conference expresses satisfaction at,” etc.
The Pentagon Papers mention that no one actually signed the Final Declaration, and that no sooner was the document produced than the United States went on record with objections to it.
The government of South Vietnam, known at the time as the “State of Vietnam” was not even given a voice in the creation of the document. The only permanent members of the Supervisory Commission that produced the documents were the Soviet Union, Communist China, France, England, and the US. These imperial powers collectively decided that the future of South Vietnam should be decided not by an election in South Vietnam, but by a joint election pooling the vote from South Vietnam with that from the Communist North.
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Meanwhile Ho Chi Minh’s regime in North Vietnam was so brutal in its repression of its own people that something like one million people voted with their feet by fleeing to the South. According to this Wikipedia page, as many as three million people might have fled the North if the Communist government had not stopped most of them.
A much smaller number of citizens left the South for the North, without any interference from the Diem government.
Why America Defended South Vietnam
The professors and textbook authors who try so hard to make America the villain in Vietnam are twisting history. Ascribing the high moral ground to the Soviet Union, China, and North Vietnam is an inversion of real morality.
By the time the Geneva Accords were released, the Soviet Government had murdered something like thirty million of its own citizens under Josef Stalin. Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, who somehow always comes across as a hero in mainstream history books, was about to start a reign of terror that would put Stalin to shame. And between 1954 and 1956, the period during which these supposed partners for peace were trying to orchestrate a joint election in the two Vietnamese nations, Ho Chi Minh’s government killed off an estimated eight thousand people in a very heavy-handed effort at forced collectivization.
America’s so-called “violation” of the joint election clause of the Geneva Accords is something every American should be proud of. The only part of the story that’s really regrettable is that the US was ultimately unsuccessful in keeping Communism out of South Vietnam.
1Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, and Stoff
2(American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles)