My experiences of Vietnam War agitprop make me skeptical of West’s excuses for bombing Syria

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[Editor’s note:  The author, an Australian, never served in Vietnam but was eligible for the draft in 72 and was deeply affected by it.  I understand that, my own generation faced a draft with no “high draft numbers” that Trump and so many others managed to get.
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The truth is, there were no draft numbers until late in the war and anyone exposed to a “draft number” is usually lying.  I went to war with my entire high school class.  
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There was never any question about the US role in Vietnam for those who actually served there with the exception of the “super-stupid,” those who attended the service academies.  VT began as a meeting place for Vietnam vets and got caught up in 90s politics.
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Vietnam was a farce for those who “attended.”  Some of it was absolute joy, the Vietnamese people were great.  The greatest of them were fighting against the United States.  And so it goes… Gordon Duff ]
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Back in 1972, as a 19-year-old Australian male, I was required to register for the ballot to determine conscription for Vietnam, where my country was allied with the US and South Vietnam against the Vietcong and North Vietnam.

I turned 65 in March. And that’s a landmark which can inspire a bit of reflection. Anyway, back in that final teenage year, I hadn’t registered, and I wasn’t going to. However, had Gough Whitlam’s Australian Labor Party not won the election that year, I would have been a draft resister – a stance which would have had surely led to consequences.

As someone raised in a conservative Catholic family when the Catholic Church was playing an actively anti-communist role in Australian society, I had been raised to be willing to “fight for freedom” in Vietnam. What didn’t gel with me, however, was that I could be compelled to fight for freedom.

So at University, surrounded by pro- and anti-war groups and demonstrations, I researched, as best I could, the causes of the Vietnam War.

It was portrayed by Australia’s then Liberal Party government (the equivalent of the UK’s Tories or the USA’s Republicans), and a breakaway right-wing element of the Labor Party, as an epic struggle between Good and Evil, as “Freedom” staring down Communism. The Vietnamese were an extension of Chinese communism, which in turn was an extension of Russian communism.

And if we didn’t win this battle, the government line held how communists would invade the next country south, and the next, and ultimately bring godless communism to democratic and Christian Australia’s doorstep. The mantra that communism was militarily heading towards Australia from Russia and China via Southeast Asia – propelled presumably by gravity – was part of conservative propaganda. In fact, there was even an unsuccessful referendum to ban the Australian Communist Party in 1951.

Colonists versus colonized

The more I examined the historical record, however, the more the Vietnam conflict appeared to be an anti-colonial war, with Australia fighting on the side of the colonizers. The Vietnamese had been promised independence by the French if they supported the Allies in the battle against Japan in WWII. And they obliged, but the French reneged on the deal. In turn, the Vietnamese defeated them; and after the French had been driven out, the US entered the war on false pretenses.

The alleged incidents used to justify the US’ war occurred in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964. The first was described as an unprovoked attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on the US destroyer ‘Maddox’ operating in international waters. In fact, the ‘Maddox’ was in Vietnamese waters as part of covert US support for South Vietnamese attacks on North Vietnamese facilities.

In the conflict itself, the ‘Maddox’ fired first on Vietnamese vessels legitimately defending their territory, and it called in airstrikes by US jets as well. The outgunned Vietnamese vessels were heavily damaged, while the total damage the ‘Maddox’ sustained in the engagement was a single bullet hole.

The second incident did not happen: what was portrayed as an assault by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on the ‘Maddox’ was probably the destroyer mistaking its radar signals, bouncing off its own rudder, for incoming torpedoes.

As trivial and false as these incidents were, President Johnson used them to justify America’s war with Vietnam. Johnson’s “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” was passed unanimously in the Congress; in the Senate, there were only two votes against it.

Almost 60,000 Americans and four million Vietnamese died in that war. Let that sink in: over four million people died because of two “acts of aggression” that did not happen.


After the event, NSA historian, Robert J Hanyok wrote that “the overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack had happened. So a conscious effort ensued to demonstrate that an attack occurred.

Disinformation disaster

The North Vietnamese won the war that followed, and their next battle gave the lie to the state-sanctioned propaganda that had encouraged young men like myself at the time to believe they were fighting to defend Australia’s freedom from tyranny.

Vietnam’s next conflict did not spread communism further south, but resisted an invasion from communist China in response to Vietnam’s invasion of communist Cambodia (which Vietnam had invaded to overthrow the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which was backed by China). Thus, so much for the lies we were fed about a unified communist movement targeting democratic Australia.

I hoped that one legacy of that pointless, brutal conflict would be that Western countries would never again persuade their peoples to engage in a war based on fabrications and misguided ideology.

Of course, my hope was not fulfilled. One of the many things killed by September 11, 2001 was the American people’s skepticism about its governments use of lethal force abroad. And George W Bush’s administration capitalized on the situation to use false allegations that Iraq had “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to justify invading the country.

Then there was Libya. Now there is Syria. The justification for war has shifted from fighting communism, or even fighting Islamic fundamentalists, to what terrible people these dictators are, torturing and gassing their own people. But none of them has been responsible for anything like the four million that died thanks to Johnson’s unwarranted war, nor up to a million corpses that decorate George W Bush’s military chest.

This brings me to the alleged gas attack in Douma. The idea that the Syrian military would use chemical weapons when it was winning a conventional conflict rings serious “Gulf of Tonkin” alarm bells in my war-weary head. No one living outside the Fog of War in Syria can truly know who actually used those weapons – or whether a chemical attack occurred at all (see Robert Fisk’s column) – and yet many journalists in the US and UK have egged their leaders on, and ridiculed those who questioned the government line, rather than displaying the skepticism that is the proper role of the Fourth Estate.

Gullibility, it seems, is more patriotic than skepticism. As I stood against the Vietnam War, I’ll happily be called unpatriotic over opposing what the USA, UK and France, all allies of my homeland, have done, and may well do, in Syria.

Steve Keen
Steve Keen is an Australian economist and author. He’s professor and Head of the School of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University in London. You can support his attempts to build a new economics https://www.patreon.com/ProfSteveKeen.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Duff you did well to compare the conflict in Syria with Vietnam because the outcome will be the same – the sitting government has won and the Americans will cut and run and leave behind their supporters.

    It has been well establish by Russian and Syrian Government officials at the UN that the US has been behind the destruction of Syria and the arming, funding etc. of the terrorists in the country. No amount of lies in the western media will change this.

    The Syrian Governments and its backers, Russia and Iran have won the war – it is all over, there was no reason for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons and everyone knows this. Everyone also knows that chemical weapons use (no doubt orchestrated by the US, UK) was a lame excuse for the US, UK, and France to bomb Syria. This is why so few countries came out in support of the Trump led illegal western bombing of Syria.

    The US, UK and France bombing of Syria also told western allies that these three countries are powerless to really do anything in Syria because they are afraid of what Russia can do in retaliation. Russia is operating in Syria legally, US led militaries are operating in Syria illegally so Russia could nuke whatever facilities the US uses against Syria and get away with it.

    Trump is talking about pulling out of Syria because he knows the west has lost and the Syrian Government has won – JUST LIKE IN VIETNAM . Trump would rather pull out of a Vietnam type of conflict rather than be known as the man who kept backing a losing battle – not something the King of negotiation want to be known for.

  2. @ Steve Keen
    The same lies that Australia was fed half a century ago about “enemies” targeting “world peace and democracy” are fed to the same Nation today and the current twisted and internally confused, but foreign controlled Australian Government is just too keen to jump on any fake war band wagon of the Western allies delivered by the rightful owners of the “democratic Nation Australia”. Being a member of the commonwealth, how can any democratic movement or true movement of independence or even truth itself be established in Australia? The only deja vu that can be detected here is that history always will repeat itself while Australia continues to serve the UK and their international Zionist handlers needs who have undermined all democratic Reality in the eternal colony on a continent far away from London.
    Vietnam was a farce as Gordon rightfully wrote. So is Iraq, Syria and Yemen and so will Iran be in the near future. Why Australia is always involved in “peace keeping of international affairs”? It must be the democratic rule of the colony – right Professor Steve Keen?

  3. I was at around 153 during the lottery while in college. After leaving FSU I worried a great deal about being grafted. Never happened and couple years later the U.S. was hauling itself out of South Viet Nam like an old woman pushing a hand cart. I’ll never forget the images of sailors pushing Hughys over the sdie of aircraft carriers in order to make room for people wanting to escape the incoming North.
    Today Viet Nam is an independent country rebuilding itself and yet continues to suffer the horrible consequences of America’s chemical and biological weapons used on them.
    That Nixon and Kissinger conspired in a bombing campaign to get tricky Dicky re-relected, when it came to pass during the Watergate hearings, which provided a great deal of entertainment watching politicos going down for the count.
    My older brother enlisted at no doubt from the brainwashing from the local Bapduhs minister. Was with the 1st Air Cavalry and managed to make it back home without a scratch but the invisible scars are the one that last. Three years ago my brother was diagnosed with brain cancer brought on buy exposure to Agent Orange during that war. So were a great many others. He died two years ago.
    If I ever get to Texas, I’m going to locate LBJ’s grave and piss on the head stone.

    • I turned 18 in 74, had many friends go to Vietnam before me and was lucky to use the lottery as an excuse to get free beer from the local VFW watering hole. Despite claims here on VT that the draft was ended, the Lotteries continued until 1976. My Dad insisted that if I was called up, I was going. We didn’t know about Agent Orange, we didn’t understand PTSD. We just thought that going to Vietnam sucked. The youth of the country hated Nixon/Agnew. We thought that we were the first generation to have an erection that girls could see. The world was our oyster. Later I married a woman from Texas that lost friends to LBJ in some of his “Parties” at sea. She worked at the State House in her early 20’s and did a little “dancing” on the side. She said he was a total scum-ball and dangerous. Wish I had a roll of the Spiro Agnew toilet paper saved.

  4. tRump claimed he had bad feet…got the doctors to sign off on it…one of the privileges of being wealthy.

  5. In addition to those slain on the battle-field, there would have been unnumbered suicides and generally shattered lives : PTSD with its consequent broken marriages and homelessness, wouldn’t there.

    There were more suicides of British servicemen who served in the Falkands war, after it, than on the battle-field. I thnk a similar finding was recently published in the US, perhaps relating to Vietnam.

    That was really nice to hear you say that about Charlie Cong being the nicest guys, Steve. Strangers called upon to kill each other to line the bankers’ coffers, felt more in common with each other than with the false-patriots, the chicken-hawks with multiple deferments, who had beaten the drums of war.

    Heck, generaly, officers have felt more in common with their foreign counterparts than with their own men, since at least the middle-ages, when they preferred to take each other hostage, live to tell the tale and make a financial killing. Ironically, the only ones who didn’t take prisoners, even as hostages, were the Swiss, who were utter desperadoes.

    • The suicide rate for America veterans is 22/day. During the Viet Nam war a common way for certain American officers to get killed was by fragging.
      Gordon knows a lot more than he is willing to tell, I’m willing to bet. Some good, some not so good.
      There are some things one does not mention in polite company.

  6. Good article Steve. It’s very interesting to read about what the other countries involved in Nam thought. I always wanted to talk to someone who left the States and went to Canada instead of serving. I just wanted to discuss the circumstances etc. – no offense. I have a very interesting case i need to discuss with Gordon Duff about a close friend of mine who was an American POW for about a month and later traded.

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