Friday, May 15, 2009

U Thant's library.

Recently, I took a few days off work to get all the final paperwork in for my grad degree. Mostly, this involved sitting in the international relations department waiting for various people to come in so that they could sign my forms, so I had a lot of time on my hands. After reading an LSAT prep book for the better part of an hour, I wandered over to a collection of bookshelves housing U Thant's library. It was sort of a compendium on world trouble spots circa the 1960s - lots of US-Soviet stuff, and lots of Asia/Vietnam stuff. In the middle of this, I picked up a book from the 60s called the "Vietnam Reader", a compendium of about 20 articles from people on various sides of the conflict. Most of the stuff from political leaders was polemical - Lyndon Johnson's was basically a list of things the United States wouldn't do ("We will never back down in the face of Communist aggression. We will never be defeated in Vietnam. Aggression aggression aggression tyranny aggression aggression"). The North Vietnamese articles were equally polemical ("We will fight for our homeland, homeland homeland homeland glorious history homeland.")

In the middle, however, was an incredibly lucid article about the conflict from Hans Morgenthau, the founder of realism. While I remain skeptical about whether his philosophy can be applied in all situations, it did a brilliant job of cutting through the rhetoric and shoe-banging in this situation. More incredible, for an article written in the mid-60s, everything he predicted would happen in Vietnam actually did happen. Morgenthau argues that US involvement in Vietnam is not worth it because the real threat to US interests in Asia is not Vietnam, but China. If we left Vietnam in the 60s, he said, Vietnam would become an ally of the Soviet Union, which was also China's enemy. Showing an ability to read history books sadly lost among most commentators of the person, Morgenthau wrote that China was the traditional enemy of Vietnam, and predicted the North Vietnamese government would seek alliance with China only if desperate. This is exactly what happened. After reunification in 1975, Vietnam became a Soviet ally, allowing the USSR to build a navy base there, and an antagonist towards China, fighting a border war with that country in 1980. After the USSR collapsed, Vietnam was without allies and did attempt to turn to China, only to have China rebuff all offers of alliance and authorize foreign oil companies to drill in Vietnamese waters. So the two were never natural allies.

Morgenthau went on to suggest that the United States should seek to prevent North Vietnam from becoming desperate by withdrawing from the country, which it was unlikely to hold in the long term anyway, so that Hanoi would side with its "first choice" ally, thus creating a thorn in China's southern side, rather than a Chinese-influenced Vietnam. Morgenthau noted that since the only way to completely counter Chinese influence was to invade and occupy the country, we would do better to content ourselves with the cheaper option of checking its power, even at the expense of our Cold War philosophy. Wow. It's an interesting thing about human psychology - we have a tendency to assume our enemies are working with each other. In the Cold War, this often translated to an assumption that all Communists were the same. This mistake is staggering obvious when someone else makes it - for example, the Khmer Rouge convinced themselves that the CIA and KGB had put aside their differences to make life difficult for them - but much less obvious when we make it ourselves. Perhaps it takes a certain amount of cynicism about everything to actually do the research about our's antagonists that allow us to make accurate predictions.

No comments:

Post a Comment