Review of 'The American War', Jonathan Neale, Bookmarks £10
The Vietnamese called it the American War, the invasion and occupation of their country. It was a war of such sheer brutality it is a tribute to human determination that a people could survive. The Vietnamese people paid a heavy price in this war, but in spite of the onslaught that they faced they defeated the greatest imperial power in the world.
As you read The American War the cruelty of the US invasion reminds you of the lengths they are prepared to go to to extend their rule. As you read the details of the Mai Lai massacre of hundreds of men, women and children by US troops it will make you so angry that this could happen to a people.
Jonathan's book gives a voice to the people who fought the war, and how and why they fought against such odds. But this is not just a book about war - this is a story about resistance to that war. Rebellion spilled out in all the major American cities with protests in almost every corner of the globe. Jonathan chronicles the disintegration of the American army in Vietnam as the predictions of victory were ridiculed by GIs, who increasingly refused to fight, and even shot their own officers.
Jonathan doesn't just provide a chronology of the war-central to the book is a class analysis. This is a story of a national liberation movement pitted against working class GIs. There were a disproportionate number of young blacks conscripted, themselves in rebellion against racism at home. As Jonathan highlights, 'Opposition to the war was strongest among poor and less educated Americans, those that would have to fight and die.'
Jonathan also casts a critical eye on the aims and strategies of the Vietnamese Communist Party. It led the liberation movement and many died in what was a heroic struggle against the French, Japanese and the Americans. Jonathan then follows the events in South East Asia after the war.
A crucial element in the book is how people can change. The protests against the Vietnam War were very small to begin with, yet by the end of the decade the White House was defended by machine guns - not from the Communists, but from the American people.
The new introduction points out that the book was published after the Seattle WTO protests but before 9/11 and the current Iraq war, but the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam are striking: a willingly complicit media parrots lies about weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links with Al Qaida just as it did the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident; the predictions that troops would be greeted as liberators, that the war would be over very quickly with few casualties (the generals said that the Vietnam War would take three months to win); the racist charaterisation of Iraqis - the new 'gooks' - not to be trusted and even ungrateful for the occupation; and of course the greatest anti-war movement in history in every corner of the globe - like the 1960s and 1970s, only bigger and better and before the war had even started. A majority of Americans are now against the Iraq war and almost half of all Americans see the occupation of Iraq as another Vietnam.
Many of us who became politically active in the 1960s and 1970s have been active in the recent anti-war and anti-capitalist movements. The greatest lesson that we have learned from those years is that these movements must continue to give a lead, that we need to develop a political alternative based on the spirit of solidarity and resistance. We have learned that wars and inequality are endemic parts of capitalism.
I would advise people to read this book as well as Jonathan's other very valuable book What's Wrong with America? to see what the US is like without this alternative. Relying on the Republicans and Democrats or the Labour Party is a mistake that we must not make again. Jonathan's books are about linking past and present resistance. This is a timely reissue of an excellent and informative book for a new generation opposed to US and UK imperialism.