Farley Mowat speaks out on Vietnam

The great Farley Mowat passed away this week. We are very humbled to bring you his first article for Canadian Dimension magazine - a scathing critique of the war in Vietnam published in 1967.

We are saddened to hear of Farley Mowat’s passing (May 12, 1921 – May 6, 2014). Farley was one of Canada’s earliest ecologists, maybe the very first. He was also a powerful anti-imperialist. We are pleased to share his first article for Canadian Dimension with you. Published in 1967, Farley writes about the Vietnam War and warns that the United States “seeks world power and that it will use all means at its disposal, including the greatest and most destructive military machine the world has ever known, to achieve its unstated ends.” How right he was. Not long after this piece, Farley had a firey exchange of letters in our pages after a critical review of his book ‘Sibir: My Discovery of Siberia’ (1970) was published in the magazine. He was an avid reader of Dimension and helped us survive some of our hardest times.

– Cy Gonick (founding publisher and editor, Canadian Dimension)

Here is Mowat’s first piece for Canadian Dimension, published in 1967:

The American presence in Vietnam and the undeclared war being waged there by the United States constitutes one of the most blatant acts of aggression the world has seen since the destruction of Hitler’s Third Reich.

The United States is guilty of the invasion and occupation of South Vietnam. It has no moral, and only highly suspect legal claims to support its presence there. It entered Vietnam at the invitation of, and to provide support for, the corrupt and undemocratic oligarchy controlled by the Diem family. It is of more than incidental interest that this represented the 27th time since 1934 that U.S. military forces had been openly employed to establish, strengthen or support dictatorships in foreign countries, and to prevent the evolution of democratic systems. Nevertheless, the great rallying cry and justification of the United States in its actions against other nations has always been, and remains, the contention that it is the great champion of democracy. In all honesty, we cannot help but ask ourselves: democracy for whom?

The U.S. military establishment continues to occupy South Vietnam solely by the authority of a military dictatorship established with the support of (and maintained by) the United States, in defiance of international law and of the provisions of the Geneva Accords. The claims of the U.S.A. as to the legality of its position are comparable to the claims of Hitler that the occupation of Norway and its use as a military base was justified because it had been requested by Quisling and the Norwegian Nazi Party. It is comparable to the claims of the Japanese that their military occupation of Manchuria, and their use of that country as a military base against the rest of China, was legally justified because a puppet-government, established by the Japanese, had asked for such action.

The truth is that the only “legality” in any of these cases was that of naked force. The United States has used naked force to establish herself in South Vietnam exactly as she did when she occupied the sovereign state of the Dominican Republic.

The United States is guilty of mass murder in Viet Nam. The bombing attacks on both South and North Viet Nam are carried out by the United States Air Force, and the South Vietnam Air Force whose equipment and armaments are entirely supplied by the United States and whose pilots are trained by the United States. These attacks have resulted in very heavy loss of life to non-combatants of two nations which are not at war with the United States.

Murder can be committed in many ways. Gas warfare and chemical warfare of other types have been extensively employed by the United States in Vietnam. The destruction of essential crops over large areas, and the disruption of the biotic balance through defoliation programmes, have inconvenienced the portion of the South Vietnamese population known as the Viet Congo. But these acts have brought starvation, and the diseases attendant on starvation, to an estimated 3,400,000 South Vietnamese non-combatants. It may be remembered that the Nazis refrained from using gas warfare during World War II because they were afraid that retaliation in kind would be swift and effective. The United States is not restrained by any such fears when dealing with the Vietnamese.

The United States forces engage in, and permit the commission of, atrocities in Vietnam contrary to the Geneva Convention on Warfare. Only those who would indulge in a child’s exercise in self-delusion can fail to realize that it is the United States which actually controls the military, political and economic structure of the “government controlled” areas of South Vietnam. The United States is, therefore, morally if not physically responsible for the atrocities and the sadistic treatment meted out to Viet Cong prisoners-of-war, and to any individuals who are accused of being Viet Cong “suspects.” This latter category can, and often does, include any peasants who may be found in an area where U.S. or South Vietnamese troops are operating.

Concentration camps have been established for Viet Cong prisoners and suspects. There is as yet no concrete evidence to show that these camps have reached the appalling depths of degradation which characterized Belsen and Dachau, but there is ample evidence, almost entirely provided by the U.S., witnessing the fact that the torture of prisoners is standard procedure amongst South Vietnamese and U.S. forces. Almost daily (and with a terrifying lack of concern) the United States press publishes photographs of Viet Cong prisoners or “suspects,” men and women and youths who are hardly more than children, being knifed in the belly; kicked in the head; drowned in streams or buckets of water; and being otherwise tortured by South Vietnamese troops, while United States troops look on; or by American soldiers themselves.

This may be the first war in history which has seen the aggressors publish, in their own press, such candid pictures of atrocities being committed on the enemy by their own troops. It is a development that bears thinking about. As a commentary on the ethics which seem to motivate the United States in its actions in Vietnam, it speaks all too clearly.

In terms of what the United States has done, and is doing, in South Vietnam, by its own public admission, the atrocities perpetrated by Mussolini in Ethiopia become mere childish peccadillos and the German treatment of Belgium in two World Wars becomes an act of civility!

The United States is guilty of beginning and of waging an undeclared war against North Vietnam. The largest, most powerful industrial and military nation on earth is waging an aspect of total war against one of the world’s smallest, poorest, and least industrially developed nations. I say “aspect” of total war because the United States has not yet invaded North Vietnam on the ground. But from the air the United States had even by December 15, 1965, dropped an announced tonnage of bombs on North Vietnam which, was almost double the tonnage dropped on Great Britain during World War II by the Germans.

According to the United States, all of this immense tonnage of high explosive, fragmentation, delayed action, jellied gasoline, white phosphorus and anti-vegetation bombing was conducted against military installations or activity and directed against members of the North Vietnamese Armed Forces. This has now been shown to be a calculated and outright lie.

The bombing of North Vietnam by the United States has no legal or moral justification whatever! It is not even justifiable on the grounds that North Vietnamese forces took provocative actions against the United States, beyond attempting to defend their own sea, air and land frontiers. By the free admission of the United States, no North Vietnamese troops even entered South Vietnam prior to the beginning of the bombing of the North. The United States tried to justify its actions on the grounds that actions taken by the South Vietnamese Viet Cong were “directed” by the North Vietnamese. This argument, and subsequent U.S. actions, might have been taken from the example of Hitler’s trumped up excuse for the invasion of Poland. We well remember Hitler’s pretended outrage when Poland tried to defend herself against the Luftwaffe, and we well remember what Hitler did to Poland.

The United States is engaged in an aggressive war which is heavy with racist overtones. It is not too much to suggest that a nation which has produced the widespread Alabama mentality would have little difficulty in persuading itself that the murder of great numbers of Asiatics does not really constitute a crime against humanity. When we examine the war in Vietnam we cannot, no matter how we try, escape the feeling that if the Vietnamese were “white” they would not get the treatment being meted out to them by the United States. It seems certain that the American public would not stand for the atrocities being committed by their forces, and being portrayed so graphically in their press, if the victims were white men. The point is that they are not white. They are no more white than we’re the “gooks,” the name, it will be remembered, which the Americans gave to the Koreans during that unsavoury adventure.

The Government of the United States deliberately and consistently lies, not only to its own people, but to the world, through such international organs as the United Nations, about its presence and purpose in Vietnam. We tend to believe these lies, largely because a number of prominent Canadians find it convenient, or expedient, or rewarding, to support the U.S. stand. Nevertheless it is hard to understand how Canadians can fail to realize that, before the entry of the Americans on the side of the dissolute Diem family, the war in Vietnam was a civil war entirely encompassed within the boundaries of South Vietnam. The Viet Cong, which included communist factions amongst strong nationalist and democratic factions, was in revolt against the overlordship of the Diem oligarchy, and was fighting to restore democracy on the western style! Perhaps such a democracy would not have long survived, although under the Diems it did not even exist. Perhaps the communists would have gained full control. The fact remains that the United States intervened and turned a civil war into a major and terribly destructive war between two sister nations.

Despite the fact that all of the basic criticisms I have here leveled against the United States are indubitably true, they are often confronted by the statement that: “After all, the U.S.A. is containing communism in Asia.” This then becomes the overriding excuse which justifies any and all American interventions, and which permits the United States to murder great numbers of Asian peoples. Yet I recall quite clearly the tenable cry of outrage which went up from the United States against the Russian intervention in Hungary, and the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Obviously we are dealing with a double standard. What is heinous and intolerable when perpetrated by the communists, becomes holy and legitimate when perpetrated by the United States.

We are dealing with the same sort of Big Lie which characterized the Nazi regime, the Stalin regime and, in fact, which has characterized the rationale of every nation which has reached a position of paramount military ascendancy. We are dealing with the sort of double-talk so admirably portrayed by George Orwell. The facts are that far from being the altruistic defender of democracy, the United States is single-mindedly devoting itself to a defence and extension of the political and economic power which it wields in the world at large.

That the United States should adopt this stance should not surprise us. But that we Canadians should allow ourselves to be hoodwinked into condoning it, and into assisting the United States into maintaining it, is to suggest that we have become morally and ethically bankrupt; that we have become, in truth, a mindless parasite which can survive only by blind adherence to the gross body of an unprincipled giant.

To sum up. The United States is the aggressor in North Vietnam. It is an invader and occupying power in South Vietnam. It is guilty of the killing of many thousands of Vietnamese, and is guilty of the destruction of the way-of-life, homes and means of support of many tens of thousands more of this Asian people. It engages in the barbaric use of gas and chemical weapons, and in the inexcusable use of such weapons as napalm and white phosphorus against unprotected people who cannot reply in kind. It tolerates, and perpetrates atrocities against individual Vietnamese, which are contrary to the Geneva Convention, and most certainly contrary to all standards of sane and humane behaviour. It perverts the truth freely, both within its own country and internationally. In short, its actions in Viet Nam are totally reprehensible, utterly inexcusable, and completely abhorrent to anyone who pretends to any of the virtues of civilization.

It does no good to reply that the Viet Cong are communists, that they therefore constitute a threat to the peace of Asia; that they too torture prisoners and murder innocent non-combatants; that they are trying to seize control of their own country by the use of force. These things may be perfectly true, but they cannot justify the actions of the United States. They cannot justify the brutal application of Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick which, in Mr. Johnson’s time, has become the Big Cattle-prod being thrust into the vitals of a small, backward, coloured nation which has only recently escaped from the grip of French colonialism, and which now finds itself fighting desperately to prevent itself being mastered by the American version of economic and political colonialism.

I say this to Canadians. If we are a nation; if we are people who place any value on ethics or morality, then we must take an unequivocal stand against the actions of the United States in Vietnam. Our Government will not act for us, since it is demonstrably subject to the will of the United States. We must therefore act individually and declare, publicly and privately, in any and all company, as frequently as possible, despite reprisals and the dangers of reprisals, that the United States is guilty of a great crime against mankind. That she is perpetrating a fearful wrong. And that we, individually and collectively, will have no part of her military adventure in Vietnam. And that we condemn her for that adventure, before the eyes of all the world.

I am a veteran of the war against Hitler. I am not a communist. At one time, during the Stalin era, I believed that we in the west were in serious danger from a militant world communism which would deprive us of our liberty. I no longer nurture this fear. I believe now that the balance of reasoned action has swung away from our side, and lies with Russia and, perhaps, with China. I believe that both these countries are determined not to engage the west in warfare, recognizing that a new world war would be suicide for the human species. Russia certainly, and China probably, know that the Third World War will be the last.

We do not.

The United States of America, and its flaccid, parasitic allies (which must include Canada) has now become the major threat to world peace and, by extension, to the survival of mankind. I am afraid that if there is a third world war, the United States will start it. I, personally, am not prepared to give any further credence to the protestations of the Government of the United States that it seeks peace in the world. I believe it seeks power – world power – and that it will use all means at its disposal, including the greatest and most destructive military machine the world has ever known, to achieve its unstated ends. Those who choose to adhere to Washington, on the principle that it is better to be on the side of the winner than the loser, are deluding themselves. In the future which threatens us…there will be only losers.