U.S./NATO Rulers Haunted by ‘Vietnam Syndrome’


The Vietnam syndrome is alive and well. It explains why Jesse Jackson, despite opposition by the Clinton administration, led a delegation of religious leaders and a U.S. Congressman to gain freedom for the three captured GIs-Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone, Specialist Steven Gonzales, and Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez.

Jackson, who has been in support of the bombing war on Yugoslavia, has positioned himself toward adapting to the changing mood of the American people.

The Clinton administration had stated their opposition to his venture but did not stop it. They too remember Vietnam and if necessary may seek to extricate themselves by the best compromise they can get from Milosevic that will allow them to correctly say it was a victory for world imperialism.

Before Jackson gained the release of the three GIs, he only asked for a one-day cessation of bombing as a gesture of American willingness to negotiate. But soon after reaching Germany with the freed POWs, Jackson moved a little further left by calling on Clinton to ease up on the bombing. Clinton administration spokespersons rejected his request, declaring their intention to step up the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo.

Jackson’s intervention is no real measure of his political stance toward the war and the bombing, both of which he has supported along with most other Democratic Party “liberals.” He merely seeks left cover for his pro-war position.

His stance is typical of pro-capitalist “liberals” and pro-Democratic Party “socialists” who called for “negotiations” during the Vietnam War and defended then-President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s war policy with the slogan “Part of the Way with LBJ!”1

These shame-faced supporters of that imperialist war opposed the slogan “Bring the Troops Home Now!” which ultimately brought millions of American antiwar marchers into the streets.

Jackson’s intervention can only be correctly interpreted as due to his recognition of the growing mass opposition to the bombing and to the war. And as a canny and opportunistic capitalist politician, Jackson is positioning himself to adapt even further to the mass mood when he believes it will become a mass movement in the streets of America.

Further evidence that American capitalism fears the consequences that will flow if and when body bags start coming home was revealed when The New York Times reported on April 29 that the U.S. Congress voted 249 to 180 against sending troops into combat in Yugoslavia. (They hedged their action by saying that Clinton can do so only when and if Congress gives its approval.)

Congress also rejected a motion authorizing the bombing of Yugoslavia, in a 213 to 213 vote (a tie vote defeats the motion). But Congress also voted against another motion to withdraw U.S. troops from the Balkans.

That’s bad enough, but as we will see below, these votes were primarily a hypocritical deception and tactical maneuver designed to gain momentary political advantage by appearing to be antiwar. Their longer term goal is to postpone escalation of the war until either Milosevic capitulates or until the growing antiwar mood in this country could be somehow reversed.

Another piece of contradictory evidence came the next day in another vote by some of the same lawmakers to more than double the $6 billion requested by President Clinton to finance the bombing and the war in general. (The fact is, however, that the military budget can be expanded by the president of the United States on his own authority.)

But why in the world are the most trigger-happy congressional advocates of imperialist aggression seeking to adopt the mantle of pacifism? An editorial in the April 29 Times lets it all hang out. The editors write:

Lawmakers were right yesterday to insist that President Clinton seek congressional approval if he decides to order ground troops into combat. Mr. Clinton says he has no intention of invading Kosovo or Serbia, and NATO has made no preparations to do so, beyond the drafting of contingency plans.

If sentiment within the alliance changes, Mr. Clinton would be well advised to start moving troops and weapons to the Balkans to keep the option open and to increase the pressure on Mr. Milosevic.

Congress should not limit Mr. Clinton’s hand on such preparations. But if the president chooses to send ground forces into battle, he will need the full support of Congressand the American people. [Emphases added.]

In other words, this New York daily-which is one of the most authoritative voices of corporate America-knows that a significant sector of the American people have already made clear their opposition to sending their young men into Yugoslavia to kill and be killed.

The Times knows that the Clinton administration had better find a way to get the approval of the American people before sending in ground troops, however they can, because of their fear of having to face a massive antiwar movement far sooner than occurred during the Vietnam war.

Remember the Tonkin Gulf incident

How could the growing opposition to the war on Yugoslavia be reversed and provide the bipartisan capitalist Congress an excuse to vote to send our sons to kill and be killed in Yugoslavia? The fact is that despite the great sympathy felt by most people for the suffering of ethnic Albanians at the hands of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, opposition to the war on Yugoslavia grows with each bomb dropped.

The following short extract from an excellent history of the Vietnam antiwar movement, “Out Now!” by Fred Halstead (Pathfinder Press, New York), suggests one of the ways corporate America may hope to reverse the growing antiwar sentiment in the United States:

In August [1964] two American destroyers, under orders to patrol as close as 11 miles to the North Vietnamese shore, were allegedly fired upon by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on patrol against Saigon [South Vietnamese] commandos who had repeatedly raided that area of the North Vietnamese coast. [President] Johnson used this staged incident as the pretext to launch the first U.S. bombing raid on North Vietnam and to press through Congress the infamous Tonkin Gulf resolution that was subsequently used as the authority for the massive escalations of the next three years.

This staged incident did indeed give capitalist America the pretext for war on the Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination. While American troops, then called “advisors,” had been sent to fight in Vietnam as early as 1959, it took years and thousands of dead young American soldiers coming home in body bags before mass antiwar sentiment-expressed in antiwar marches and demonstrations-began growing from the hundreds to the thousands by 1965, and ultimately to the hundreds of thousands by the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Today, in contrast, starting immediately after the first day Yugoslavia was bombed, there were small but significant protest actions in opposition to the U.S.-led NATO assault. In just one month, protests of as many as several thousand or more in several cities began to break out.

This sent the message to Clinton’s bipartisan capitalist government that mass demonstrations will begin growing to massive proportions far sooner, and perhaps far larger, than in the Vietnam War years, if body bags start coming home.

Different economic conditions

But why is there such a difference between the Vietnam War period and today? Why is opposition to U.S. imperialism’s assault on Yugoslavia growing so much more rapidly than during its assault on Vietnam in the 1960s?

It’s primarily because the war policy of American imperialism in the 1960s was based on President Johnson & Company’s economic policy of “Guns and Butter!” But today it’s based on President Clinton & Company’s policy of “Guns and Less and Less Butter!”

Thus, in the ’60s, living standards were rising, as families were evolving from having one breadwinner with a full-time job supporting a family to having two breadwinners. Now, however, most American working-class families require two or more breadwinners to eke out a lower and ever-declining standard of living!

And the future looks far grimmer for working people today than then. Downsizing is accelerating, part-time lower-paid jobs are replacing full-time, higher-paid jobs.

Last, but not least, a marked reduction in the variety of social services-like public education, health care and welfare for capitalism’s worst victims-is making the difference between a tolerable and intolerable standard of living for the average working-class family.

That helps explain why just last month, amidst the first weeks of the bombing, the San Francisco AFL-CIO Central Labor Council adopted a strong resolution against the war, the bombing and the sending of troops into Yugoslavia.

That too is something that never happened during the Vietnam War period. In fact, in those days the AFL-CIO top bureaucrats were among the most aggressive supporters of the U.S. capitalist government’s war on Vietnam!

But despite the top official “leaders” of American labor, the masses of American workers, including a few of their unions, constituted the bulk of those marching in the streets in solidarity with the right of Vietnamese workers and peasants to self-determination.

How to stop ethnic cleansing

Unfortunately, many American workers still give grudging support to the bombing. Why? Because they see no other way to stop Milosevic’s crimes against ethnic Albanians and other oppressed nationalities in Yugoslavia.

But that’s absolutely unrealistic. Neither the U.S.-commanded NATO forces nor any other imperialist military force has any intention to stop the horrific suffering in the Balkans.

On the contrary, imperialist bombs and missiles have already destroyed much of the Yugoslav industrial infrastructure and all the country’s bridges vital to the economy of the entire region. And they are adding significantly to the misery of all the peoples there-especially ethnic Albanians in whose name they wreak havoc throughout the region.

The real aim of imperialism, contrary to their pretensions, is to remove any and all obstacles to the “right” of imperialist banking and corporate profiteers to take over and freely exploit the economic infrastructure of the entire central and eastern European region.

So what and who can really bring an end to the suffering of the peoples of what was from 1945 until 1987-despite the misleadership and reactionary policies of Stalinism-a relatively united and peaceful Yugoslavia?

The only force that can stop imperialism and Milosevic’s criminal ethnic cleansing is the international working class, acting in solidarity with the workers of Yugoslavia in the Balkans and elsewhere in the region.

Moreover, the more generalized expression of Milosevic’s crimes comes under the heading of chauvinist violation of the historic principle of international class solidarity.

No matter how distant the revival of proletarian internationalism in the region may appear to the average well-intentioned and informed person, it is the only way the tragedy in the Balkans and everywhere else can be brought to an end.

But this is not as far-fetched as it may appear. The fact is that the majority of people in Belgrade-Serbians for the most part-are opposed to Milosevic and his policy of ethnic cleansing.

The proof of this was shown by the fact that Milosevic lost the last Belgrade city government election, and a significant minority of the Serbian population had participated in massive demonstrations against Milosevic’s reactionary policies in 1996-97.

And to top it off, the April 30 New York Times reported on a new development that, as we shall see, gives further evidence that class solidarity is alive and well in Yugoslavia despite the divide-and-conquer strategy of world capitalism and the bureaucratic regimes that made up what was still a unified Yugoslav Federation of Socialist Republics up to its disintegration starting in 1989.

The Times article reports that significant opposition had existed from the first to Milosevic’s assaults on ethnic minorities at all levels of Yugoslavia including in its army. This includes opposition to repression in Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as in Kosovo.

Opposition was so great that Milosevic had to purge the military of some of his top generals to get the kind of creatures willing to do his dirty work. Thus, The Times reports:

Mr. Milosevic also purged scores of senior army officers to find generals who were willing to command troops that work with the police in savage attacks on civilians. Midlevel army officers have long questioned the professionalism of the [Milosevic] loyalists while quietly voicing doubts to Western military officers about the future of the army.

“Yugoslav males did not want to get sucked into the fights in Croatia or Bosnia,” said an American military official who has long experience in the region. “But indications are that young men are responding to the draft now in significantly higher numbers than in the past. After five weeks of bombing in Kosovo, they are saying to themselves, ‘Gosh, we are still standing.'”

This signifies much more than a remarkable shift by young Yugoslavs toward willingly entering the Yugoslav army to fight against the U.S.-commanded NATO war on their country. It proves that while Yugoslav youth were unwilling to fight in Milosevic’s war of repression against ethnic minorities, they will fight to defend their country and more importantly, to defend what’s left of the conquests of their socialist revolution.

Moreover, it serves to prove that if the Yugoslav working class succeeds in defeating this imperialist assault, they will not stop with that. The momentum of victory in such a righteous struggle will tend to carry them over into a struggle against Milosevic’s reactionary Stalinist policy of ethnic cleansing.

And no less important, the momentum of their struggle against internal and external injustice will serve to fully restore international working-class solidarity in Yugoslavia.

International class solidarity, after all, was the strategy by which Tito’s multi-ethnic Yugoslav Communist Party was able to organize a guerrilla army that defeated Adolph Hitler’s awesomely powerful imperialist army of occupation during World War II.

They were compelled, at the same time, to fight a war against the reactionary armed forces of Yugoslav capitalism. That was something that could not be done without uniting all the nations of the old Yugoslavia in a united struggle for their common class interests as working people.

And finally, the momentum of their currently ongoing struggle has its own revolutionary logic. They will be impelled to overthrow the reactionary Milosevic-led Stalinist bureaucracy and carry through a long overdue political revolution, whose logic leads to an even broader federation of socialist republics under the control of democratic councils elected by workers and farmers from their places of work.

So, in the meantime, how can we here in the United States help suffering Kosovars and other oppressed nationalities in the region and, at the same time, contribute to the revival of a broad movement in Eastern Europe in defense the common class interests of the workers of the world?

The only way we can contribute to such a development is by mobilizing masses of American people, in the spirit of international working-class solidarity, to stop the criminal counter-revolutionary war led by American imperialism on Yugoslavia. That is the only road-there is no other-to world peace and the liberation of the peoples of the world from capitalist barbarism!

1 In the 1964 election, when at first Johnson’s supporters portrayed him as the “peace candidate” as against Barry Goldwater who was widely portrayed as the “war candidate.” After the Tonkin Gulf incident, the slogan of these “liberals” and “socialists” was, “All the Way with LBJ!”

But a sector of the more left-leaning radical supporters of Lyndon B. Johnson sought left-cover for their pro-Johnson electoral policy by adopting the slogan, “Part of the Way With LBJ!”

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