Friday, January 15, 2021

How China Won Trump’s Trade War and Got Americans to Foot the Bill

Bloomberg News

January 11, 2021, 1:00 PM PST

*Chinese trade surplus, exports rose despite Trump’s rhetoric
*Biden administration likely to favor technology controls

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U.S. President Donald Trump famously tweeted that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” in 2018 as he began to impose tariffs on about $360 billion of imports from China. Turns out he was wrong on both counts.

Even before the coronavirus infected millions of Americans and sparked the steepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, China was withstanding Trump’s tariff salvos, according to the very metrics he used to justify them. Once China got the virus under control, demand for medical equipment and work-from-home gear expanded its trade surplus with the U.S. despite the levies.

While trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economic powers didn’t start under Trump, he broadened the fight with the unprecedented tariffs and sanctions on technology companies. The tougher approach, according to the scorecard that follows, didn’t go as he hoped. But he’s leaving his successor Joe Biden a blueprint of what worked and what didn’t.

“China is too big and too important to the world economy to think that you can cut it out like a paper doll” said Mary Lovely, an economics professor at Syracuse University. “The Trump administration had a wake-up call.”
The U.S. Trade Deficit Grew

Trump vowed in his 2016 election year to very quickly “start reversing” the U.S. goods trade deficit with China, ignoring mainstream economists who downplay the importance of bilateral deficits. However, the deficit with China increased since then, hitting $287 billion in the 11 months to November last year, according to Chinese data.

China’s Trade Surplus with the U.S.

January-February 2020 is combined by source

Data: China’s General Administration of Customs

The deficit did fall year-on-year in 2019, as U.S. companies switched to imports from countries like Vietnam, but it remained higher than the $254 billion gap in 2016. That was partly because Beijing’s imposition of retaliatory tariffs on about $110 billion in goods reduced its imports of American products, and these only started recovering in the last few months of 2020.

As part of the phase-one trade deal signed a year ago, Beijing made an ambitious vow to import $172 billion worth of U.S. goods in specific categories in 2020, but through the end of November it had bought just 51% of that goal. The slump in energy prices amid the pandemic and the problems with Boeing Co.’s planes played a part in that failure.

The persistent deficit demonstrated how reliant companies are on China’s vast manufacturing capacity, which was highlighted again by the pandemic. China was the only country capable of increasing output on a big enough scale to meet surging demand for goods such as work-from-home computers and medical equipment.

President Xi Jinping expressed his confidence in China’s rise Monday, telling officials that “time and the situation are in our favor.” The Chinese leader said that he saw “opportunities in general outweighing challenges,” a marked shift from his sometimes dire-sounding warnings of recent months.
China’s Export Machine Rolls On

Trump repeatedly said that China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 caused its economy to take off like a “rocket ship,” a result he viewed as unfair. As it turned out, Trump’s trade war with China coincided with another expansion in Chinese exports. After shrinking for two straight years in 2015 and 2016, China’s total shipments grew each year after Trump took office, including in 2019 when exports to the U.S. fell.

China Exports

January-February 2020 is combined by source

Data: China’s General Administration of Customs

A group of 10 Southeast Asian nations replaced the U.S. as China’s second-largest trading partner in 2019. The shift to Asia is likely to continue as Southeast Asian economies are projected to grow faster than developed countries over the next decade. Those trade links will be further cemented by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership pact signed late last year, which will see 15 regional economies gradually drop some tariffs on each others’ goods.

What Bloomberg Economics Says...

The fact that exports were little affected after four years of trade war speaks to the resilience of China’s manufacturing capacity. However the trade war has exposed China’s vulnerability in certain bottleneck sectors such as high tech.

-- Chang Shu, chief Asia economist
U.S. Companies Stay in China

Trump said that tariffs would encourage U.S. manufacturers to move production back home, and in a 2019 tweet he “ordered” them to “immediately start looking for an alternative to China.” But there is little evidence of any such shift taking place.

U.S. direct investment into China increased slightly from $12.9 billion in 2016 to $13.3 billion in 2019, according to Rhodium Group data.

Foreign Direct Investment

Data: Rhodium Group

More than three quarters of 200-plus U.S. manufacturers in and around Shanghai surveyed in September said they didn’t intend to move production out of China. U.S. companies regularly cite the rapid growth of China’s consumer market combined with its strong manufacturing capabilities as reasons for expanding there. “No matter how high the Trump administration raised any tariffs, it was going to be very difficult to dissuade US companies from investing,” said Ker Gibbs, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.
Economic Losses on Both Sides

Trump claimed that tariffs had boosted the U.S. economy, while causing China’s economy to have its “worst year in over 50” in 2019. However, direct economic impacts were small relative to the size of the two countries’ economies as the value of exports between them are tiny relative to gross domestic product.

China grew at or above 6% in both 2018 and 2019, with tariffs costing it about 0.3% of GDP over those years, according to Yang Zhou, an economist at the University of Minnesota. By her estimate, the trade war cost the U.S. 0.08% GDP over the same period. The clearest winner was Vietnam, where the tariffs boosted GDP by nearly 0.2 percentage point as companies relocated.
U.S. Consumer Foots the Bill

Trump repeatedly claimed that China was paying for the tariffs. Economists who crunched the numbers were surprised to find that Chinese exporters generally didn’t lower prices to keep their goods competitive after the tariffs were imposed. That meant U.S. duties were mostly paid by its own companies and consumers.

The tariffs led to an income loss for U.S. consumers of about $16.8 billion annually in 2018, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research paper.

Another own goal: Tariffs on imports from China tended to reduce U.S. exports. That was because globalized supply chains mean manufacturing is shared between countries, and the U.S. raised the costs of its own goods by levying duties on imports of Chinese components.

U.S. Export Value

Year-over-year change

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Bloomberg calculations

Companies which together account for 80% of U.S. exports had to pay higher prices for Chinese imports, according to analysis of confidential company data by researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve, reducing export growth.

The Rustbelt Stayed Rusty

Trump campaigned hard back in 2016 on pledges to revive the Rust Belt by taking on China and bringing the jobs back home. It didn’t happen.

Growth in U.S. manufacturing jobs flatlined in 2019, partly due to falling exports. Even regions home to industries such as steel, which received explicit protection from Trump’s tariffs saw declines in employment, according to research by New York University Stern School of Business economist Michael Waugh, suggesting that the trade war didn’t significantly alter the trajectory of U.S. manufacturing.

“That stuff is just naturally going to move offshore. The protection maybe delays it a little bit,” Waugh said. “There’s no evidence that the tariffs benefited workers.”

The pandemic’s disruption to the world economy in 2020 makes it difficult to estimate the effect of the tariffs on jobs and investment.
China Changed at Its Own Pace

The Trump administration claimed that tariffs provided leverage over the Chinese, which would force them to make reforms to benefit U.S. companies. “I love properly put-on tariffs, because they bring unfair competitors from foreign countries to do whatever you want them to do,” Trump said.

The biggest victory claimed by the administration as part of its trade deal were promises from Beijing to enhance intellectual property protections. But that was probably in China’s interests anyway.

Mark Cohen, an expert on Chinese law at the University of California Berkeley School of Law and Fordham University, said that while Beijing has made “tremendous legislative changes” to strengthen IP protection in the past two years, its own motivation to enhance innovation may have been a more important factor than U.S. pressure. The agreement didn’t “push the structural reforms in China that would make its system more systemically compatible with most of the world,” he added.

Chinese companies paid a record $7.9 billion in intellectual property payments to the U.S. in 2019, up from $6.6 billion in 2016, and its courts imposed some record-breaking fines on IP infringement involving U.S. companies. But that rate of increase was slower than for its IP payments to the whole world, according to World Bank data, showing the payments to the U.S. were part of a general trend.

China’s Payments for Use of U.S. Intellectual Property

Data: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Washington was also not able to extract any significant commitments on reform of China’s state-owned enterprises, which were also cited as a justification for tariffs.
Trade War to Tech Wars

It’s now up to President-elect Biden to decide whether to keep up the trade war. In a recent interview, he said he wouldn’t remove the tariffs immediately and would instead review the phase one deal.

Washington was also not able to extract any significant commitments on reform of China’s state-owned enterprises, which were also cited as a justification for tariffs.
Trade War to Tech Wars

It’s now up to President-elect Biden to decide whether to keep up the trade war. In a recent interview, he said he wouldn’t remove the tariffs immediately and would instead review the phase one deal.

Compared with tariffs, an escalating conflict over technology is of more concern to China. Sanctions and export restrictions imposed by Washington have threatened the viability of leading technology companies such as Huawei Technologies Co. and microchip maker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. That is an existential threat to Beijing’s plans for economic growth.

“If the U.S. continues to increase its technological blockade, China’s modernization towards the high-end of the global industrial chain will undoubtedly be affected,” two researchers at the official Communist Party school in the province of Jiangsu wrote in an article.

So far, the impact of U.S. actions has been to accelerate Beijing’s drive for technological self-sufficiency. The issue has rocketed up the Communist Party’s agenda, symbolized by a statement last month that increasing “strategic scientific and technological strength” is the most important economic task.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

A 'Very Real War' in Vietnam, and the Deep U.S. Commitment

Originally published in The New York Times, February 25, 1962.

SAIGON, Feb. 24 — The United States is involved in a war in Vietnam. American troops will stay until victory.

That is what Attorney General Robert Kennedy said here last week. He called it "war in a very real sense of the word." He said that President Kennedy had pledged that the United States would stand by South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem "until we win."

At the moment the war isn't going badly for "our" side. There is a lull in Vietcong activities, and the South Vietnamese forces are both expanding and shaping up better as a fighting force. But all that is needed to precipitate a major war is for the Chinese Communists and Communist North Vietnam to react to a build-up of American forces.

American support to Vietnam has always been based on the fear that Communist control of this country would jeopardize all Southeast Asia. And it continues despite the fact that Diem's American critics — especially liberals repelled by the dictatorial aspects of his regime — have been predicting his imminent downfall.

Diem remains firmly in charge and Washington's support for his regime today seems more passionate and inflexible than ever.

U.S. Involvement

Actually, the United States has been deeply involved in the fate of Vietnam since 1949 when the decision was made to subsidize the continuation of French rule against the Communist Vietminh rebellion [see Times05/09/50]. The first United States Military Assistance Advisory Group (M.A.A.G.) arrived in 1951 to supervise the distribution of supplies. Thereafter the United States played an increasingly important role. To use a favorite Washington term, aid was "escalated" until today $2 billion has been sunk into Vietnam with no end to the outlay in sight.

This may sound more reckless than the best brinkmanship of John Foster Dulles' days, and perhaps it is. But the United States is on this particular faraway brink because the Kennedy Administration seems convinced that the Communists won't rise to the challenge of the American presence and assistance.

Forces and Strategy

The battle in Vietnam currently involves some 300,000 armed South Vietnamese and 3,000 American servicemen on one side, against 18,000 to 25,000 Vietcong Communist regulars operating as guerrillas.

The battle that is being fought is complex — in the nature of the fighting, in the internal political background and in its international implications.

The United States does not have any combat infantry troops in Vietnam as of now, but we are getting ready for that possibility. Marine Corps officers have completed ground reconnaissance in the central Vietnam highlands, a potential theater of large-scale action between American troops and Communist forces coming down from the north.

American combat troops are not likely to be thrown into Vietnam unless Communist North Vietnam moves across the seventeenth parallel or pushes large forces down through Laos into South Vietnam.

In that case the United States would have to move in fast. Forty miles below the frontier with North Vietnam and parallel to it is Highway 9. This road has high strategic importance. Not only is it one of the few adequate roads open across the mountains to the Laotian border but it extends across Laos to Savannakhet on the Mekong River frontier with Thailand. If Highway 9 could be held from the Mekong to the sea by American, Vietnamese, Laotian and Thai forces, South Vietnam might be saved.

The situation right now is far more stable than it was last September, when the Communists were attacking in battalion strength and were even able to seize and hold a provincial capital, Phuoc Vinh, for a few hours [see Times09/19/61]. The September action seemed a prelude to an all-out Communist drive to overturn the Diem Government. It precipitated the present flood of American military advisors and service troops.

Today American warships are helping the embryonic Vietnamese Navy to guard the sea frontier against infiltration from North Vietnam and U.S. Navy servicemen presently will arrive to help clean out guerrillas from the maze of tidal waterways in the Mekong River Delta. The U.S. Army helicopter crews have come under fire taking Vietnamese combat troops into guerrilla zones or carrying pigs and other livestock to hungry outposts surrounded by hostile country. U.S. Air Force pilots have flown with Vietnamese pilots on bombing missions against reported enemy concentrations and against two frontier forts recently evacuated by the Vietnamese Army.

So far our contribution in blood has been small. One American sergeant has been killed by enemy action and another is missing and presumed captured. Inevitably our casualties will grow.

It has not been easy to change from conventional warfare, in which the Vietnamese were trained so many years by M.A.A.G., to unconventional counter-guerrilla warfare. Under French influence, the Vietnamese had developed two tendencies difficult to erase: first, the habit of staying inside forts designed for the troops' protection rather than for the security of the populace; second, the habit of good living — a leisurely lunch followed by a siesta.

Hard Living

But counter-guerilla warfare demands hard living. Troops must live in the jungle just as the guerrillas do and eschew the comforts of barracks life.

There are some minor difficulties: most Vietnamese recruits are from the densely populated lowlands — rice paddy boys who have a fear of the jungles, not merely fear of snakes and tigers but fear of getting lost. They move fearfully, with the instinct of a herd, tending to bunch up and thus present fat targets for a Vietcong ambush.

The Vietcong guerrillas also were former rice paddy boys, but they became inured to hardship by on-the-job training in the jungle. Further, the Vietnamese are somewhat smaller than Americans, so they get weary toting eleven-pound M1 rifles and pine for the lighter French weapons they were formerly equipped with.

At a higher level, United States advisors, besides trying to eliminate political manipulation of troops, are attempting to dissuade the Vietnamese from launching large-scale operations based on sketchy intelligence. They see no justification for such operations until a more adequate intelligence system is developed and greater tactical mobility achieved.

Intelligence will improve only when the Government is able to break the grip of fear with which the Vietcong muzzles the rural population. Greater mobility is being provided by American helicopter companies, but this is a costly and dangerous way to move troops.

President Diem

The man who is at the center of the Vietnamese effort and who is also a center of controversy — President Diem- is something of an enigma. He is a mandarin (an aristocrat) and a devout Catholic. So there are two strikes against him at the start, for mandarins were regarded by the masses as greedy and corrupt, and Catholics as an unpopular minority.

Diem, however, has proved incorruptible. Rumors of personal enrichment of members of his family have never been proved. And Diem has been careful not to arouse Buddhist hostility. He is a man of great personal courage, but he is suspicious and mistrustful. The creation of a central intelligence agency here was delayed for months until Diem found a director he could trust.

Diem, a 66-year-old bachelor, often has been accused of withdrawing inside his narrow family clique and divorcing himself from reality. Critics say he distrusts everyone except the family and takes advice only from his brothers, particularly Ngo Dinh Nhu, his political advisor. His brother Nhu and his attractive, influential wife, are leaders, according to critics, of a palace camarilla which tries to isolate the President from the people.

As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Diem keeps close tabs on military operations. His personal representative on the General Staff is Brig. Gen. Nguyen Khanh who has appalled Americans by taking general reserve troops on quick one-shot operations without coordinating with the area commander. Khanh is young, vigorous and driving but, according to his critics, lacking balance and experience.

Lieut. Gen. Le Ven Ty is Chief of the General Staff but he is in his 60's and lacks vigor. Consequently, much of the military direction comes from the President through Khanh.

It is well to remember that Diem has been right and the United States wrong on some crucial issues. In 1955, for example, Diem wanted to crush the powerful Binh Xuyen gangster sect that controlled both the police and the gambling dens and brothels and made a mockery of government authority. President Eisenhower's special ambassador, Gen. Lawton Collins, opposed Diem's plan, fearing civil war. Diem coolly proceeded to assert his power and used loyal troops to crush the Binh Xuyen in sharp fighting in Saigon's streets [see Times04/29/55].

Denied Request

More recently the United States resisted Diem's urgent requests for aid in the creation of the civil guard and self-defense corps. The United States insisted that a 19,000-man regular army was all Diem needed for national defense. Diem went ahead and organized the two forces, arming them with antiquated French rifles. Finally, after alarm bells were ringing to the widespread revival of Communist guerrilla activity and vast sections of the countryside were lost to the Vietcong, the Americans conceded Diem's point. Last year the United States started training and equipping the civil guard.

It is now generally agreed that the civil guard and the self-defense corps are absolutely vital. For until these reserve forces are ready to take over the defense of villages, railroads, harbors, airports, provincial capitals and so on, the army will be so tied down to static defense duties that it will not have the manpower to chase guerrillas.

Last week, in another apparent concession to Diem's wisdom, the United States agreed that any relaxation of tight political controls would be dangerous now. In a speech cleared with the State Department, Ambassador Frederick E. Nolting Jr. urged Diem's critics to cease carping and try to improve the government from within.

Just how serious the criticism is is not clear and there seems to be no agreement among observers whether the President's popularity is rising or falling. One former Diem adviser said he was shocked by the loss of support among the people in the past two years. He blamed this on the fact that Government seemed to grope from crisis to crisis without a clear policy: "It's just anti-Communist and not pro anything."

But another qualified observer, perhaps less biased, cautioned against underrating Diem. Increased guerrilla activity had not been matched, he said, by a corresponding rise in popular discontent and this failure to respond must have depressed the Communists.

Most villages, he added, were like a leaf in the wind: "When the Vietcong enters, the population turns pro-Communist; when the Government troops arrive, sentiment shifts to the Government." But generally the village people would settle for the Government side, he said, not because they admired the Government but because they wanted peace.

Consequently the Government has a great advantage. He estimated that of the 30 percent tending to the Vietcong, only a third were hard-core, another third would adhere to the Communists under adversity, while the remaining third would break off under pressure.

Freedom from dictatorship and freedom from foreign domination are major propaganda lines for the Vietcong. Americans in uniform have now been seen by the peasants in virtually all sections of the country. This has given the Communists a chance to raise the bogey of foreign military domination.

Problems and Prospects

The lack of trained troops to keep the Vietcong under relentless pressure probably will continue to handicap the military command throughout 1962, because at least a year must elapse before the self-defense units will be really capable of defending their villages.

Whether because the Army is beginning to take the initiative and is penetrating secret areas of Vietcong concentrations or because the Vietcong has abated its activities in order to recruit and train, the fact remains that security seems better in most parts of Vietnam.

In peaceful, booming Saigon there is much speculation on how the Vietcong will react to an American build-up. Senior American officers have been studying an enemy guide book to guerrilla warfare searching avidly for clues, as though this modest work were the Vietcong's "Mein Kampf."

There will never be enough troops to seal off the frontiers. There aren't even enough troops to ring Vietcong enclaves near Saigon. Not before summer, when the civil guard and self-defense units are slated to take over the burden of defending their villages will enough troops be freed for a counter-guerrilla offensive. Then, instead of a conventional setpiece offensive of limited duration, a counter-guerrilla drive will seek to keep Vietcong units on the run at all times, tire them out by constant pressure and force them into less hospitable country where food supplies are scarce.

The offensive cannot succeed unless the Government is able to mobilize positive popular support. This will be difficult, for the Government is just beginning to develop grass roots political cadres.

Need Modification

Meanwhile something more than narrowly anti-Communist goals must be offered Saigon intellectuals, who are now scorned by both Diem and the Americans. This group may be permanently alienated unless there is promise of democratic reforms. Without pressure from Washington, there is not likely to be any relaxation of Diem's personal dictatorship. The struggle will go on at least 10 years, in the opinion of some observers, and severely test American patience.

The United States seems inextricably committed to a long, inconclusive war. The Communists can prolong it for years. Even without large-scale intervention from the north, which would lead to "another Korea," what may be achieved at best is only restoration of a tolerable security similar to that achieved in Malaya after years of fighting. But it is too late to disengage; our prestige has been committed. Washington says we will stay until the finish.

Copyright © 1962 by The New York Times Co.

Monday, January 11, 2021

To find Capitol perpetrators, U.S. ruling class should look in the mirror

 January 11, 2021 9:14 AM CST  BY IAN GOODRUM

I don’t need to tell you what happened at the U.S. Capitol last week.

Videos and pictures do a good enough job of that. We all saw the angry crowds massing in support of lame-duck President Donald Trump in Washington. We saw them break into the halls of Congress to overturn the certification of last November’s election, and we saw them ransacking offices to their hearts’ content. Though five were killed in the melee, we also saw most of them getting politely escorted out by Capitol Police.

That lax level of security was a far cry from the militarized phalanxes present during the Black Lives Matter protests in the city last summer, raising a heap of questions about why one of the most secure buildings in the world was supposedly taken by surprise. Since the details of this were in the planning for months, these questions are well worth asking. For my part, it isn’t too difficult to connect the dots—especially after it was revealed how many of the rioters were off-duty police and military.

Nonetheless, many breathed a sigh of relief when the vandals were vacated. No doubt some will consider the inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20 the end of a protracted national crisis. Trump will be written off as an aberration, his term nothing more than a bad dream, an “undigested bit of beef” as Dickens would have it.

But that’s a dangerously simple outlook. This didn’t begin with Trump, and it won’t end with him either. Too easily we forget the U.S. is a country built on slavery, with land forcibly taken from Indigenous populations. The first draft of the U.S. Constitution—right below high-minded passages about “a more perfect union”—deemed Africans property, three-fifths of a whole human being. That’s not a legacy that can be shaken off easily, and near-impossible when so many in power deny its significance.

This might seem an odd tangent, but what happened on Capitol Hill makes broader context even more essential. After a traumatic moment like this, there’s an understandable desire to return to normalcy—but that’s a risky thing to do. Any doctor will tell you it’s pointless to treat symptoms without curing the underlying condition.

I’m tired of the oft-repeated refrain of “this is not who we are” from Americans in denial of their own country’s history. The hordes who attacked Congress are the people who jeered students attending integrated schools. They’re the people who formed lynch mobs. MAGA and QAnon are just the John Birchers and Klansmen of yesteryear. Make no mistake: This is an old, abiding hatred with a fresh coat of paint.

But I also want to correct another irritating myth that’s been making the rounds. For too long the U.S. media have portrayed Trump’s most militant and unhinged advocates as members of an aggrieved working class, or rural people “left behind” by globalization. While there are certainly pockets of support in those communities, the data show by and large they opt out of elections completely—and after multiple administrations and little material benefit to show for it, who would be shocked?

No, the majority of Trump’s base is financially comfortable enough to care about the phony culture war propagated on news outlets and social platforms; they could, after all, take time off to come to Washington, book hotel rooms, and deck themselves out in high-priced weaponry and tactical gear. Safe to say someone working low-paying jobs with no benefits—now risking their lives every time they leave the house, thanks to the U.S.’ criminally negligent pandemic response—has more important things to worry about.

So while Trump’s cult-like base has, for the most part, a greater degree of security than the wage laborers they look down on, it’s still not the ironclad stability the truly powerful enjoy. They make enough to feel invested in the system through property ownership and some expensive baubles, but not where they have any say in their own futures. Due to this “in-between” status, they identify strongly with their exploiters while blaming those below for hampering their success.

That bubbling rage manifests itself in furious resistance to any hint of social progress. To them, life is a zero-sum game, where if someone else wins they must by definition lose. Any concessions granted to an “other”—like, say, Black Americans who want their basic rights—is territory lost on an imagined battlefield.  Trump, with his constant tirades against immigrants and minorities, was their protector. They want him in office, no matter the cost, because they believe the alternative is a far-left Marxist regime under Biden. As appealing as that sounds, the truth is far more boring: Biden is, at best, a moderate who will continue the U.S.’ slow, bipartisan march through neoliberal austerity.

Which will only make things worse. All the trends that led us here, building as they have for countless decades, were turbocharged by the consolidation of capital and the monopolistic control of information through enormous tech companies. With users’ worst impulses aggravated by an infinite-growth model of engagement at any cost, insulated, self-selected fiefdoms formed. The more outlandish and incendiary the posts, the better the numbers—and the greater the algorithmic rewards.

This goes double for the corporate media, the self-styled purveyors of “real news.” For years they regarded Trump as a curiosity, a surefire source for ratings. They invited him on late night talk shows and hung on his every word, and their bottom lines soared. The bonanza paid such fat dividends that not even the 2016 election gave them pause. Instead of much-needed soul-searching, they engaged in the bankrupt practice of “both-sides-ism,” which treats monstrous political views as identical to their exact opposite.

Even more offensive was the language they used to describe the attack. Everywhere you looked, you’d see some newscaster or commentator throw around terms like “Third World” or “banana republic” when talking about the violence. The implication is clear: This sort of thing can only happen in faraway, uncivilized places. Putting aside the racist connotations of such remarks, brutal force has been administered on workers and oppressed minorities for centuries, whether by mobs or the state itself. Think of the Tulsa and Colfax massacres. Wounded Knee. The Haymarket affair. Kent State. And that’s only a small sampling. Pretending this wasn’t a homegrown phenomenon is an act of shameful denial.

It’s particularly ironic to use “banana republic” to deflect because the term comes from U.S.-backed corporate coups! The “banana republics” had their governments overthrown by conglomerates like the United Fruit Company to maximize profits and maintain a sphere of influence. In their rush to deny U.S. culpability in this insurrection—and, by extension, their own—media outlets invoke the violence it perpetrated.

That’s hardly coincidental. For decades, the U.S. has fomented insurgencies around the world to achieve its political and economic aims, planting the seeds of color revolution to punish anyone who didn’t toe the line. Invasions and bombing campaigns were just the tip of the iceberg; even if outright regime change efforts didn’t work, endorsing and funding turmoil across the globe would at least destabilize any dissenters. Well, the chickens have come home to roost. The Contras are at the door.

By cultivating a base of paranoiacs and providing wink-wink nudge-nudge approval for their conspiracies, the right wing and their corporate backers laid the groundwork for this attack. They throw up their hands and ask for peace—but only now when their personal safety is under threat. Up to that point, they were perfectly happy to stoke the flames of hatred and resentment to further their own agendas.

So if they want to know who’s responsible for this sad state of affairs, they don’t need an FBI investigation.

They need a mirror.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Fulbright on Camera

Alex Campbell/May 20, 1966 The New Republic Magazine

Because he is using his powers as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pressure President Johnson into a change of foreign policy, the name of Senator J. William Fulbright was dropped with a clang from the White House social list for six months, from last September until this March, when President Johnson apparently decided that wasn’t the way to influence an Arkansan. Fulbright’s response to the cease-fire took the form of three Christian A. Herter lectures, delivered at Johns Hopkins, in which he defends his dissent from the consensus as “the higher patriotism,” and defines his target as “the arrogance of power.” Further, his committee is continuing its rigorous cross-examinations of Dean Rusk, who as Secretary of State has the job that Fulbright was almost offered by President Kennedy, and of Defense Secretary McNamara and others.

“In a democracy,” Fulbright told his Johns Hopkins audience, “dissent is an act of faith. … The correction of errors in a nation’s foreign policy is greatly assisted by the timely raising of voices of criticism within the nation. When the British launched their disastrous attack on Egypt, the Labour party raised a collective voice of indignation while the military operation was still under way refusing to be deterred by calls for national unity in a crisis, Labour began the long, painful process of recovering Great Britain’s good name at the very moment when the damage was still being done. Similarly, the French intellectuals who protested France’s colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria not only upheld the values of French democracy but helped pave the way for the enlightened policies of the Fifth Republic which have made France the most respected Western nation in the underdeveloped world.”

Fulbright acknowledges that his committee’s televised hearings “have been criticized on the ground that they conveyed an ‘image’ of the United States as divided over the war” in Vietnam. He has two answers to make to this. National consensus can have value, but it can also sometimes be spurious. And it is a patriotic duty not to be silent in the face of apparent error. “Since the country obviously is divided, what was conveyed [by the hearings] was a fact rather than an image.…I see no merit in the view that we should maintain an image of unity even though it is a false image, maintained at the cost of suppressing the normal procedures of democracy.”
For Fulbright, this is the heart of the matter, that began as far as he is concerned last September, when his attack on US intervention in the Dominican Republic as a “grievous mistake” suddenly made him the loneliest man in Congress in spite of his 24 years there. President Johnson’s friend, Senator Dodd, attacked Fulbright’s “tolerance of Communism.” Other senators of both parties joined the attack. The House of Representatives passed, 315-52, an endorsement of armed intervention in Latin America to avert “subversive domination or the threat of it.”

To Fulbright’s surprise and disappointment, much of the criticism was directed not at what I had said about the Dominican Republic and Latin America but at the propriety of my speaking out at all.… I was taken aback by the consternation caused by my breach of the prevailing consensus.” This led him to reexamine the role of the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Should party loyalty be his guide? Fulbright decided that it ought not to have precedence.
The previous August, 1964, Congress had received an urgent request from President Johnson for immediate adoption of a joint resolution about Southeast Asia. Fulbright served as floor manager of the resolution and did all he could to secure its prompt and overwhelming adoption. In doing so, he was influenced by partisanship: an election campaign was in progress and “I had no wish to make any difficulties for the President in a race against a Republican candidate [Goldwater] whose election I thought would be a disaster for the country.” On August 7, Congress with only two senators, Morse and Gruening, dissenting adopted the “blank check” resolution, authorizing the President “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force,” against aggression in Southeast Asia. There had been only brief debate and perfunctory hearings by Fulbright’s committee. But, Fulbright, declared in his first Herter lecture, since the resolution “the Administration has converted the Vietnamese conflict from a civil war in which some American advisers were involved, to a major international war in which the principal fighting unit is an American army of 250,000 men. Each time that senators have raised questions about successive escalations of the war, we have had the blank check of August 7, 1964, waved in our faces as supposed evidence of the overwhelming support of Congress for a policy in Southeast Asia which in fact has been radically changed since the summer of 1964.”

“Patriotic Liturgy”

This and the Dominican Republic experience are the twin motors of Fulbright’s assaults on his country’s foreign policy. But just what he would like to see in its place he himself does not seem too clear about. Sometimes he says his modest aim is merely to “create a greater degree of caution” in the Administration. He can be quite happy and hopeful about the fate of critics like himself: “I see it as a mark of strength and maturity that an articulate minority have raised their voices against the Vietnamese war and that the majority of Americans are enduring this dissent, not without anxiety to be sure, but with better grace and understanding than would have been the case in any other war of the 20th Century.” But then he warns almost in the same breath: “We are succumbing to the arrogance of power [and] not living up to our capacity and promise; the measure of our falling short is the measure of the patriot’s duty of dissent. The discharge of that most important duty is handicapped in America by an unworthy tendency to fear serious criticism of our government. In the abstract we celebrate freedom of opinion as a vital part of our patriotic liturgy. It is only when some Americans exercise the right that other Americans are shocked….”
His definitions of American “arrogance” fluctuate widely. At one moment, it takes the form merely of “drifting into commitments which, though generous and benevolent in intent, are so universal as to exceed even America’s great capacities.” Then he says that “the great majority of the human race are demanding dignity and independence, not the honor of a supine role in an American empire,” and accuses this country of suffering from a psychological need to prove itself bigger and better, because stronger, than other nations.

Fulbright is terribly conscious of American power; the US, he says, is “powerful as no nation has ever been before and the discrepancy between US power and the power of others appears to be increasing.” And he tends, sometimes, to equate power with evil. Thus he argues that the American impact on Vietnam has become as fatal to the Vietnamese as Captain Cook’s discovery of Tahiti was on the Tahitians, who were “corrupted by the white man’s diseases, alcohol, firearms, laws and concepts of morality.” In the same way, apparently, Saigon (which Fulbright has never visited) “both literally and figuratively has become an American brothel.” Saigon is no more an American brothel, literally or figuratively, than was Seoul, Berlin, Rome or wartime London. But the point Fulbright really wants to make is that wherever the United States goes in the world, it takes with it, according to him, “the condescending attitudes of a people whose very success breeds disdain for other cultures.” Americans, he insists, “become boorish when they are in somebody else’s country and treat the local citizens as if they weren’t really there”; the Americans “stamp around in sloppy clothes, drink beer and shout to each other.” All this boorish behavior he attributes to their “consciousness of belonging to the biggest, richest country in the world.” Further, he charges Americans with “trying to inflict our particular version of democracy” on Koreans, about whom we know nothing and actually care less, and on “ungrateful Latin Americans who stubbornly oppose their North American benefactors instead of the ‘real’ enemies we have graciously chosen for them.”

Fulbright isn’t just rewriting The Ugly American. For evidence of his thesis, he goes back as far as the Gilded Age, and triumphantly quotes Mark Twain. But he misses the point. For Mark Twain called his Americans abroad innocents, not boors. “The peoples of those foreign countries,” the quotation runs, “are very ignorant. They looked curiously at the costumes that we had brought from the wilds of America. They observed that we talked loudly at table sometimes … In Paris, they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making these idiots understand their own language.” It is a sad indication of what Vietnam has done to us all that the normally urbane Fulbright quotes the passage to prove in deadly earnest that American “arrogance” was rife then as now. It was more rife then than now. Few if any Americans still defend the 1898 war with Spain, echo President McKinley’s belief that it is America’s duty “to educate the Filipinos,” or agree with Albert Beveridge’s description of Americans as a “conquering race.” But, in that case, what becomes of Fulbright’s judgment that “gradually but unmistakably we are succumbing to the arrogance of power?”

Fulbright is a courageous man, when he feels a cause is worth being brave about; but he is never very sanguine that Americans, or other men, will behave with courage or intelligence. He is, he says, “without illusions as to the prospect of success” when he seeks to “bring reason and restraint” to the discussion about Vietnam. “Past experience provides little basis for confidence that reason can prevail in an atmosphere of mounting war fever. In a contest between a hawk and a dove, the hawk has a great advantage.…” He, alone in the Senate, voted against Joseph McCarthy getting funds to continue his evil work; and McCarthy did not prevail. But, says Fulbright, it is by no means certain that the relatively healthy atmosphere in which debate is now taking place will not give way to an era of McCarthyism.”

That’s at home. Abroad, “we must stop fooling ourselves about economic progress in many countries that receive American aid … democratic methods are more often failing than succeeding in Asia, Africa and Latin America … violent upheavals are … very likely.…” And that’s not the worst that’s likely to happen. A “fatal expectancy” is leading the US and China “toward a tragic and unnecessary war.” People insist on being optimistic; Fulbright will have none of it. “We seem to feel somehow that because the hydrogen bomb has not killed us yet it is never going to kill us. This is a dangerous assumption….”
Hamlet’s own conscience worried him as much as the evil he equated with the King; so does Fulbright’s. He was the only senator who seriously tried to turn Kennedy against the invasion of Cuba in 1960 that became the horrible fiasco of the Bay of Pigs. But, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, Fulbright was among those whom President Kennedy summoned to the White House. “When the President asked for comments, Senator Russell and I advocated the invasion of Cuba by American forces.” Fulbright did so “on the ground that a blockade, involving as it might a direct, forcible confrontation with Russian ships, would be more likely to provoke a nuclear war than an invasion which would pit American soldiers against Cuban soldiers and allow the Russians to stand aside.” He now says tartly that “had I been able to formulate my views on the basis of facts rather than a guess as to the nature of the situation, I might have made a different recommendation”; and he rather sourly consoles himself that, in any case, “the decision to blockade Cuba had already been made. The meeting at the White House broke up after 6 p.m. and President Kennedy went on television at 7 p.m.” to tell the American people. But he evidently finds it difficult to forgive himself for having proposed an American invasion of Cuba, and he now believes that the Cuban revolution “is unquestionably Cuban” and that Castro is “highly popular with the Cuban people.” He says the “facts” are that there are twice as many schools now as before the revolution, “formerly landless peasants … have been given small plots,” “almost everybody … has a job,” “children are well fed.” But “most important of all is the sense of dignity and national pride associated with the revolution. After six decades of being an economic colony of the United States, Cubans are immensely proud of Castro’s successful defiance of the North American giant.” This, apparently, far outweighs executions after kangaroo trials.

Why, then, does the US persist in hostility toward Cuba, Fulbright asks, and replies that it is because “our sympathy for those who cry out against poverty and social injustice … dissolves into hostility when reform becomes revolution; and when Communism is involved, as it often is, our hostility takes the form of unseemly panic.… “ And he gives the Dominican Republic as an example. “Rather than use our considerable resources to compete with the Communists for influence with the democratic forces who actively solicited our support, we intervened militarily on the side of a corrupt and reactionary oligarchy.”

But what was Fulbright doing when that was happening? The answer is: Nothing, just like all the other congressional leaders who were called, once again, to an emergency meeting at the White House. This time it was April, 1965. “We were told that the revolution had broken out four days before in the Dominican Republic had gotten completely out of hand, that Americans and other foreigners on the scene were in danger, and that American marines would be landed in Santo Domingo that night for the sole purpose of protecting the lives of Americans and other foreigners. None of the congressional leaders expressed disapproval of the action planned by the President.” But subsequently the Senate Foreign Relations Committee undertook an exhaustive review of the Dominican crisis in closed sessions. The review convinced Fulbright “beyond reasonable doubt” that, while saving lives may have been a factor, the major reason for the April 28 intervention was “a determination on the part of the US government to defeat the rebel, or constitutionalist, forces whose victory at that time was imminent.” Fulbright observes bitterly that “had I known in April what I knew in August, I most certainly would have objected to the American intervention.”

General James M. Gavin, and General Matthew B. Ridgway who commanded the United Nations forces in Korea, have both testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that they share Fulbright’s fears that this country’s Vietnam involvement may deepen into war with China. Trying to get Americans to see the situation the way the Chinese may see it, Fulbright has asked: Suppose a Chinese army of 250,000 was fighting in Mexico, and Chinese bombs were dropping within 40 miles of the Rio Grande? But Fulbright admits that many Americans – who he says are “severely if not uniquely afflicted with a habit of policy-making by analogy” – use a different analogy from his, and “equate North Vietnam’s involvement in South Vietnam with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, and represent a parley with the Viet Cong as another Munich.” They shouldn’t. Fulbright thunders: “The treatment of slight and superficial resemblances as if they were full-blooded analogies … is a substitute for thinking and a misuse of history.” Instead of being so peevish – or arrogant? – Fulbright might have seized the opportunity offered by the Herter lectures to explain why his analogy is superior to the more common one, why the other analogy, with Hitler and Poland, is all wrong. Thus, he might have put a decisive end to tiresome repetitions of the Munich theme. What in fact he did, was portentously to declare: “The value of history is not what it seems to prohibit or prescribe, but its general indications as to the kinds of policies that are likely to succeed.”
Thailand Next?

What kind of policy does Fulbright think might succeed in Vietnam? Of course, he wants a compromise, and darkly hints that the Administration doesn’t. We may be thinking about how disagreeable it would be to accept a solution short of victory … we may be thinking about our reputation as a great power, as though a compromise settlement would shame us before the world.” Just the sort of unworthy thinking that stamps the US as arrogant. However, Fulbright concedes that there are American proposals to negotiate peace in Vietnam. Unfortunately, the North Vietnamese view them as “fraudulent plots … to trick them into yielding through diplomacy what we have been unable to make them yield by force.” Meantime, Fulbright hopes there will be very careful consideration on the American side before enlarging the war; but he fears “that we are now expanding our commitment to Thailand in the same disorderly way that we became so deeply involved in Vietnam. There is still time, however, for the Senate to insist that any new commitment to Thailand be contracted in full accord with our constitutional procedures, including full and frank debate.”

In the course of trying to educate the nation on foreign policy, Fulbright has been educating himself about China, particularly the wrongs done to that country by the West last century. One consequence of the antagonism between the US and China, he says, is that both seem to think of each other as abstractions: to the Chinese we are not a society of individual people but the embodiment of an evil idea, the idea of ‘imperialist capitalism’; and to most of us, China represents not people but an evil and frightening idea, the idea of aggressive Communism.” Both have been at pains ot dissociate the rival government from its people, though actually it is as foolish to imagine that most Chinese are alienated from their government as it is to suggest, which Peking does, that most Americans oppose theirs. It seems unlikely that either the Chinese people or their government will take kindly to Fulbright’s suggestion, in the third Herter lecture, that the way to handle China is to apply to it the rules that are “desirable in dealing with paranoid individuals.” The Chinese might even call this a typical instance of American arrogance.
“It would do the United States no harm in the short run,” Fulbright says, “and perhaps considerable good in the long run, to end our opposition to the seating of Communist China in the United Nations, and, depending on events, to follow that up with some positive suggestions for more normal relations. The United States has already proposed visits by scholars and newspapermen between China and the US and, although these proposals have not been rejected by the Chinese, it might be well, though not too often and not too eagerly, to remind them of the offer from time to time.”

When Fulbright quits fulminating against American arrogance and gets down to brass tacks about specific foreign-policy steps – “cutting the cackle and getting to the ‘osses” as they say in Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar – it’s awfully hard to see why his views should seem to upset President Johnson.

This article appeared in the May 21, 1966 issue of the magazine.

How Not to ‘Win Hearts and Minds’


By George C. Herring
Sept. 19, 2017

From the early stages of the Vietnam War, American officials insisted that winning the hearts and minds (yes, the acronym was WHAM) of the South Vietnamese people was the key to victory. But the Americans tasked with carrying out that strategy were ill equipped, linguistically and culturally, to make it work. And in the end, that deficit destroyed whatever good will might have existed on either side and doomed America’s foray into Vietnam to failure.

Bui Diem, South Vietnam’s ambassador to Washington from 1965 to 1972, once called the two countries “peoples quite apart.” And indeed, American and Vietnamese culture had little contact before 1950, when the United States began sending personnel to assist in the fight against Communism. Very few of the Americans sent to South Vietnam had more than a cursory understanding of the country’s language, history, religious traditions, etiquette or politics. The cultural disjunction was exacerbated by a strategic one: While the two nations agreed on the fundamental goal of preserving an independent, non-Communist South Vietnam, the stakes of the war for each were grossly disproportionate. The United States sought merely to uphold its credibility; South Vietnam fought for its existence.

Theirs was a patron-client relationship. The United States, the world’s strongest country and still riding high off its victory in World War II, was confident in its power — and its virtue. It expected to lead, and to be followed. In contrast, the South Vietnamese, citizens of a fragile state newly freed from colonial rule and threatened by internal insurgency and external invasion, recognized their desperate need for American help, but they were also acutely sensitive to dominance by an outside power. They struggled to uphold their dignity and autonomy.

Between 1950 and 1965, America’s role in the region, while significant in terms of money and matériel, occupied a limited footprint in the lives of everyday Vietnamese. That changed between 1965 and 1967, when the Americanization of the war brought hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians into the country and put an American face on the increasingly widespread destruction wrought by both sides.

Bui Diem noted the absence of communication between the two peoples during the major escalation in 1965, the “un-self-conscious arrogance” of the Americans and the impotence of the South Vietnamese. “The Americans came in like bulldozers and the South Vietnamese followed their lead without a word of dissent, for the most part without a thought of dissent.”

After 1965, the United States took on the burden of defeating the enemy militarily. It declined to establish a combined command structure with the South Vietnamese, as it had in Korea. It relegated the Army of the Republic of Vietnam to pacification, a task many Vietnamese considered demeaning. Americanization of the war also produced among South Vietnamese a “takeover effect,” inviting them to stand by and let the Americans fight the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. Tragically, American actions encouraged dependency in a nation whose independence it sought to sustain.

As the American presence swelled, tensions between the two peoples grew. Vietnamese resented the way their visitors looked down on them and imposed their ways on a presumably inferior people. They were annoyed by American impatience. Some envied the opulent lifestyle of the Americans, with their enormous bases equipped with all the conveniences of home, including air conditioning, shopping centers and movie houses. Others protested that the troops acted “despicably” toward them, speeding their trucks and cars through traffic at life-threatening speeds. Some claimed that America dispensed aid as though it were being “given to a beggar.”

Most of all, many South Vietnamese resented their dependence on their ally and its suffocating presence in their lives. Some labeled the “American occupation” a “demoralizing scourge.” Vietnamese recognized that the Americans were not “colonialists,” the journalist Robert Shaplen observed, but, he perceptively added, “there has evolved here a colonial ambience that can sometimes be worse than colonialism itself.”

In the bonanza atmosphere that followed Americanization, South Vietnam’s economy centered upon serving the needs of the new arrivals. Prostitution became a special problem. As the number of Americans in Saigon surged into the tens of thousands, the number of houses of ill repute expanded proportionally, provoking criticism in the United States and South Vietnam. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas fumed that Saigon had become an “American brothel.” South Vietnamese Catholics and President Nguyen Van Thieu were especially concerned about prostitution, and pleaded with American officials to do something about the suffocating presence of so many troops.

The result was Operation Moose (Move Out of Saigon Expeditiously), implemented mostly during 1967. Thousands of G.I.s moved to base camps outside the city (where the prostitutes soon followed), some joking that they had been “Moosed.” Saigon was also declared off limits for R & R. The pace was sufficiently slow that the operation was unofficially tagged Goose (Get Out of Saigon Eventually).

The exodus left around 7,900 American soldiers in the city. Moose did not satisfy President Thieu, and it provided no more than a partial solution to the prostitution problem. It also left Saigon more vulnerable to the urban attacks launched by the Viet Cong during the 1968 Tet offensive.

The American way of war also inflicted a huge toll on village life in South Vietnam. To limit its own casualties and cope with unfamiliar and often inhospitable terrain, the United States unleashed extraordinary firepower on the country it was trying to save. Areas of suspected enemy strength were bombed and shelled and burned with napalm, often with little consideration of its impact on civilians. Defoliants were used to deny the enemy food and cover, with horrific short- and long-term consequences for Vietnamese.

American firepower destroyed homes, villages and crops and alienated those whose hearts and minds were to be won. American commanders declared entire areas free-fire zones. Troops would round up villagers, burn their hooches and relocate them from their ancestral lands into squalid refugee camps. The area would then be bombed and shelled. During Operation Cedar Falls in 1967, Americans forcibly relocated some 6,000 civilians from the village of Ben Suc. Caught between the Viet Cong and the Americans, villagers who wanted only to be left alone became sullen or outright hostile. By early 1967, over 1.5 million refugees had drifted into urban slums, where they were susceptible to Viet Cong propaganda.

To be sure, many Americans developed close ties with Vietnamese. Many also committed acts of kindness such as providing medical care and food to people in need. Especially in the early years and in remote areas, American advisers formed attachments with Vietnamese soldiers and villagers. Thousands of troops married Vietnamese women.

Still, most Americans arrived in the country without knowledge of the land and the people. “My time in Vietnam is the memory of ignorance,” one soldier later wrote. Not knowing the language or culture, the Americans did not know what the people felt, or even at times how to tell friend from foe. “What we need is some kind of litmus paper than turns red when it’s near a Communist,” one officer half-jokingly told a journalist.

Relations with South Vietnamese soldiers were likewise strained. Unaware of the difficulties their counterparts labored under, American troops disparaged their fighting qualities. The newcomers expected the people they were defending to offer the sort of gratitude they believed their fathers had gained for liberating France in World War II. When instead they encountered indifference or even hostility, they grew resentful.

For many Americans, the South Vietnamese became an object of contempt, even hatred. “The people were treacherous,” one soldier later recalled. “They say ‘G.I. No. 1’ when we’re in the village, but at night the dirty little rats are V.C.” The ability of the villagers to step around mines and booby traps that killed and maimed Americans provoked suspicion of collusion — and anger.

Americans also brought with them deeply entrenched racist attitudes that prompted the use of slurs such as “gook” and “dink,” which they applied to enemy and friend alike. Contempt could quickly change to a rage that might be turned on Vietnamese civilians. During the summer and fall of 1967, the notorious Tiger Force, an elite commando unit, was assigned to remove civilians from the Song Ve River Valley, suspected to be a source of rice for Viet Cong units. The very name of the mission, Operation Rawhide, suggested a cattle roundup, which had a dehumanizing effect. When the civilians resisted, the Tigers vented their rage by burning their villages. Unhappy with the assignment and under constant fire from enemy snipers, the Americans declared the area a free-fire zone and shot anything that moved, resulting in the brutal killing of numerous civilians.

Nevertheless, the Tigers were assigned another, similar mission, to remove civilians from Quang Tin province. Early in the operation, they were caught in a deadly ambush and suffered heavy losses. After that, all restraints came off. Commanders abetted their vengeance by setting a body count goal of 327 kills (to match the number of the 327th Infantry Regiment, of which the Tigers were a part). The Tigers proceeded to kill hundreds of civilians and compounded their crime by mutilating the bodies of victims, including old women and even babies. The carnage stopped only when the operation ended in November.

The actions of the Tiger Force were replicated with even more savage results at My Lai, in Quang Ngai province, in February 1968, where American soldiers killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians. Such atrocities were not typical of American behavior, and even at My Lai there were soldiers who pushed back against their commanders’ orders to kill. Nevertheless, the atrocious violence reflected attitudes toward Vietnamese that divided the two peoples and made the Vietnamese subservient to Americans. Given the frustrations and failures and mounting casualties of the American war effort, atrocities were perhaps only a matter of time.

George C. Herring, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Kentucky, is the author of “America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975.”