After the level of US casualties in Vietnam, the ruling class changed their war strategy

After the level of US casualties in Vietnam, the ruling class changed their war strategy

by Sean Bresnahan

Forty years from the liberation of South Vietnam, to those of us with an interest in the ongoing situation in our world at present, a reflection on events leading up to the American evacuation, in the final days of April 1975, can help us map the shift from full-scale imperialist interventions, through ‘Vietnamisation’ under the Presidency of Richard Nixon, to the use of proxy-forces in the Middle East today.

The connection can be found in the importance of public opinion on the ‘Home Front’.


Because of public abhorrence at crimes such as the infamous Mỹ Lai massacre – where more than 500 unarmed civilians were raped, tortured and murdered by US Army soldiers – never again could the reputation of the ‘shining light and beacon of truth and justice’ be exposed and brought into question in this manner. In future, either the natives would do the fighting themselves, as far as possible, or the atrocities would be committed by proxy – allowing in turn the added bonus of dehumanising indigenous targets of our violence with public opinion at home.

This is the genius of current imperialist policy, where we have the so-called Al Qaeda Brigades and ‘Islamic State’ committing massacres on a par with and indeed much worse than Mỹ Lai. The difference now is the West’s hands appear clean and a pretext is given for military involvement, and indeed escalation, where none is justified.

A discerning example here might be the recent ‘execution’ of journalists by ISIS, in front of the television cameras and beamed out across the globe for all to see. At a time when British-US policy in Syria was running aground, having already failed with the attempt to blame the Assad government for the chemical attack in Damascus, and with the Syrian Army beginning to recover the situation militarily, these executions served as pretext for engendering an aerial bombing campaign – a campaign that has resolutely failed to target the ISIS-factions and has instead served to strengthen their positions inside Syria.

Serving their masters well

Such military intervention would not have been possible, after the catastrophe in Iraq, without demonising and dehumanising the enemy. To this end the flesh-eating murder-gangs unleashed in Syria have served their masters well. “Any right-thinking person can see the need to take these vicious evil-doers out before they come for us” is the common consensus crafted for our consumption in the halls of power, forged in the blood of those unfortunates who find themselves in the sight of these psychopaths.

The angle is easy to find if we look closely; get your proxies to carry out the Mỹ Lai’s and other such acts of wanton savagery. Rather than a public backlash on the Home Front, with city streets demanding ‘an end to our inhumanity’, instead you garner public support for increased hostilities, military strikes and the ramping up of direct involvement – as a necessary measure for ‘the greater good’.

Logic of ‘war on terror’

Such is the insidious logic – the ‘terrible beauty’ – of the ‘War On Terror’. Creating pretext through exploiting proxy-forces – even where they don’t always realise it themselves – is all too effective. It works. Incubators in Kuwait and Gulf of Tonkin eat your heart out, this is on a whole new level.

The whole operation, from Libya to Syria and now into Yemen, is as cynical as it comes and can be seen, at least in part, as a direct outworking of the Vietnam War, its failures and lessons (though of course that’s not to exclude the influence of its Iraqi equivalent 20 years later).

The response of the American people – as reflected on the ground and in public opinion at that time – and the eventual loss of the war – not on the field itself but in the key battleground of public opinion – signalled the need to shift tactics: first with Nixon’s use of Vietnamisation and the ‘secret war’ in Laos and Cambodia; later with the use of psychological operations integrated by counter-gangs and proxy-forces, designed to foment dissent, provoke response, commit atrocity and create a situation demanding direct military intervention.

From the banks of the Mekong to the streets of San Salvador, from Baghdad and Benghazi to Dara’a and beyond, on and on it goes.

Little has changed

40 years on from Vietnam we can see that nothing has really changed other than the way in which the imperialists conduct the business of war. Millions-on-millions of wasted lives and no end in sight, the European Champions League, the Super Bowl – or other such trifles of distraction – sadly of far greater import to most in our societies today.

Despite the tremendous obstacles facing us in the propaganda war, we’ve no option but to keep on reaching out to anyone prepared to listen. It may seem at times a losing battle, in an environment where the enemy retains massive superiority and control of the chess-board, but we can take solace in the timeless words of the great Jamaican poet and singer-songwriter Bob Marley: ‘Get up, stand up – don’t give up the fight.’

The fight for truth and justice – for another way – a better way – for our children and our children’s children – must go on. . . Together we can win.

Sean Bresnahan is PRO for the 1916 Societies, a new Irish republican organisation, and secretary of the Thomas Ashe Society in Omagh, Ireland.  This article also appears, under a different title, on The Pensive Quill blog in Ireland.  We’ve added subheads and slightly edited it. Thanks to Sean for sharing it with us.


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