The Logic of Withdrawal
Q Howard, could you summarize for us your book "Vietnam, The Logic of Withdrawal"?
A It's a little book. I say this so you won't get scared. You might think I am going to go through it page by page. I will try — when you ask people to summarize their own books, it is a very dangerous a thing to do. They always try to make it seem much better than it is. But I wrote this book after I came back from my trip to Japan. I had gone to Japan to lecture at about 13 different Japanese universities about Vietnam.
I was startled. This was in 1966, and it was in the light of the American escalation and before there was any big American movement against the war, and what fascinated me in Japan was that the Japanese people, wherever we went, at every place we went in Japan, and we traveled in Japan from the very north, Hokkaido, all the way down to, to Okinawa, the Japanese people seemed to be virtually unanimously against the war, against American policy in Vietnam. This was interesting because the Japanese government was sort of cuddling up to the American government and having all sorts of nice friendly relations with the government. The governments seemed to be getting along fine. But the Japanese people were unanimously or close to unanimously against American policy in Vietnam.
So I was interested in this because if the United States was telling the American people that if Vietnam became Communist, that would be a threat to the United States, and the United States was 10,000 miles away, here was Japan, Japan is much closer to Vietnam. How come the Japanese people didn't feel that if Vietnam became Communist it would be a threat? The Japanese people did not seem to care if people became Communist or not. In fact, they said it probably would be better if Vietnam went that way, better than if she is controlled by some foreign power like France or the United States.
So I was curious. The Japanese weren't troubled about that. Americans were troubled. So I thought that I would start writing about that and say, here is a new perspective on the war. Here is a new way of looking at it.
Then I remember also — I was now just a few years out of the South — and I remember how in the last years of the Civil Rights Movement, there was this time when the end of the Civil Rights Movement coincided with the beginning of our escalation in Vietnam and how the black people, especially the young black people in the Civil Rights Movement in the South, immediately reacted to what the United States was doing in Vietnam and said, this is no good, this is wrong and we shouldn't be doing this.
I specifically remember December of 1964. I was in Mississippi. It was a summer where there was a lot of civil rights activities going on, and that summer, these young civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi: Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. One black, two white. They were murdered by a group of white people from that area. The bodies were not discovered until August, and when their bodies were discovered I remember we held a memorial service. The service was held in Philadelphia, Mississippi where they had gone and where this had happened to them. All of us left Jackson, Mississippi, and other places in Mississippi where people were working to register people to vote and other things like that. We all went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, to hold those memorial services. This was August 3, 1964.
We all gathered there at the very solemn memorial, and one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, a young black man, Robert Moses, stood up to talk, and he held up that morning's newspaper from Jackson. The headline in the morning newspaper said: "LBJ says shoot to kill in the Gulf of Tonkin."
The Gulf of Tonkin incident had just taken place, and LBJ's reaction to it was, "Oh, they fired at one of our destroyers. Go get them."
As it turned out later they hadn't, you see. But that's what the headline read: "Shoot to kill, LBJ says, in the Gulf of Tonkin." Bob Moses held this up, and he said that this is what we are against. We are against the violence that killed those three young men here in Mississippi, and we are against the violence that our government wanted to inflict on these Vietnamese people way over there in Vietnam.
So I thought there was a perspective, there was a special viewpoint of the Japanese looking at what we were doing in Vietnam, and there was a special viewpoint of the black people in this country looking at what we were doing in Vietnam. Maybe they had something to tell us that we average Americans could not see so well for ourselves.
So that started me off writing about the Vietnam War. So I wrote about what we were doing there. I wrote about the villages we were destroying, the families that we were killing, the kids whose legs were amputated as a result of our bombing. I wrote about the terror and devastation we were causing, and how, when people were killed in Vietnam as a result of our bombs, we paid compensation to their families. When plantations were destroyed, we paid compensation to the owners, and how the compensation that we paid for a rubber tree that was destroyed was greater than the compensation that we paid for a person that was killed.
Then I asked, why are we doing this? I went into the question of Communism, and the domino theory of containment and all the arguments that were being given by the government as to why we were there. I tried to examine them, and none of them stood up. None of them made any sense.
I came to the conclusion in this book that we were wrong, that we were doing something that, well it wasn't the first that we had done it. We had done it to the Indians for a long time. We had done it to the Filipinos back at the turn of the century. We had done it to the Mexicans in the Mexican war. I mean, our country was not a beautiful, innocent country. We have things to be proud of, like other countries, but this was one of the shameful things in our history.
So I came to the conclusion we were doing terrible things in Vietnam. We were doing them for no good reason. Maybe we were helping somebody who wanted political power or somebody who wanted the economic resources or wealth, but we weren't doing it for any people in America. There was only one solution, and that is to get out as fast as possible. That is why the title of the book was "The Logic of Withdrawal."
In 1967 it was unusual to talk about getting out of Vietnam. Just people, certainly nobody in government, and no one in books, were talking about simply packing up and getting out.
Anyway, that was the idea of the book.