In the Umea city library, there's a display honoring a well-known Swedish author who died this year. The author is shown speaking at gatherings, holding up anti-weapons signs at protests, in foreign countries. She was quite old, probably in her eighties or nineties, when she died.
I just finished a book of hers called "Faglarna i Namh Dinh" (The Birds in Namh Dinh). The noble author, Sara Lidman, went to Vietnam during the late 1960's, early 70's, while the Vietnam war was going on.
She describes the people fighting for and hoping for Ho Chi Minh's victory over the Americans. Ho Chi Minh had helped his people fight themselves free of France's colonial rule. Just after that, the U.S. - who had earlier promised to allow Vietnam a self-governing indepence - began dropping tons of bombs a day on the Vietnamese countryside.
Strong women and hardy farmers were among those fighting for Vietnam's self-determination. Sara Lidman's book showed pictures of Vietnamese daily life, and the people seemed beautiful: girls had long hair, square and peaceful faces, and dark eyes; kids and adults shared a gentle skin color which seemed like a conductor's wand, steering harmony in one another and in nature. The Vietnamese had been a people who loved poetry, singing, musical instruments, theatre, and puppetry, a people who gathered often for cultural events.
During the Vietnam War, however, Vietnamese factories and schools were bombed. Many Vietnamese had to live underground, with rats and no sunlight. Arsenic was thrown on their crops. Other times, their rice patties were sabotaged so that 80% of the output was lost.
Sara Lidman talks about the politics of the war, in a revealing way which I would guess most Americans are never allowed to read about. The Vietnam War was driven by American politicians who were driven by big American companies.
The National Planning Association produced a piece during the war called "The Communist Threat," in which they wrote, "The real threat lies in communist countries' transformations, which decrease their willingness and possibility to play a complement to the industrial economies to the west."
American companies (Standard Oil, New Jersey, Cal-tex, Bristol-Meyers, IBM, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, for example) sent representatives to Vietnam because they wanted to invest there once the U.S. military forced open Vietnam's economy. Rockefeller's and Chase banks were instigating members of an Asian banking organization that planned to reap the benefits of Vietnam's privatization, at the expense of poor Vietnamese workers.
Vast deposits of oil were found off the Vietnamese coast. Many U.S. companies and some English ones began searching the South China Sea for their share of the Vietnamese resources. The C.I.A. had selected a puppet president, Bao Dai, who they would then help to power. Bao Dai would then work out a deal, once the U.S. won the war, whereby the U.S. companies could take the oil out of Vietnam tax-free and take home all the profits.
The Mekong River was also greedily ogled as a source of great energy. U.S. companies wanted to dam the river. They wanted to open up paper factories in Southeast Asia, where the wages were so cheap (and, thus, they wanted to take jobs away from paper workers in the Western world).
One organ of the United Nations, the World Bank, was a stimulating player in the war. The World Bank loans money to third-world nations to "boost their development," and I think they try to look like good guys around the world. But, Sara Lidman says the World Bank was pushed by American businesses during the 60's.
Eugene Black had headed the World Bank around the beginning of the war. In his book, "Alternative in Southeast Asia," he wrote about the World Bank: "Our foreign help-program (U-HELP) plays a deciding front role for American business-life. Our three most important objectives are:
"1. U-HELP seeks a large and immediate market for U.S. products and services.
"2. U-HELP stimulates the development of new, foreign markets for U.S. corporations.
"3. U-HELP enriches receiving-countries' economies to a free-trade system in which U.S. companies can blossom."
Black clearly wasn't concerned with HELPing any poor people. In addition to heading the World Bank, Black was a managing partner of Chase Manhattan Bank, the N.Y. Times, American Express Company, ITT, Electric Bond & Share Corporation, Cummings, Engine Corporation, Woolworths, and Royal Dutch Co. He was an advisor to USA Express Corporation and to the sheik of Kuwait.
He also said, "It's very difficult to get a farmer in Southeast Asia to understand he has to pay for water." Yeah, no shit, Eugene - especially to a U.S. company!
By trying to force American-style capitalism on the Vietnamese, the U.S. was more accurately tyring to deal slavery to the people than freedom.
The first two dams on the Mekong River were in Thailand. They carried water to U.S. military bases. The areas surrounding these bases transformed into run-down, dirty, depressed places. Thai children and men were brought in to entertain the dollar-waving soldiers however they could, while prostitution surged.
U.S. air force pilots, for example, made $38,000 a year during the war. Vietnamese, South Koreans, Thais, and Filipinos recruited by the U.S. military were paid twenty cents a day. One tribe in Laos had virtually no men remaining because the males left to fight for America when they were only ten years old.
The U.S. said then that South Korea had been "pacified." This meant that South Korean workers earned $15 to $20 a month, a twentieth of what Americans earned. The U.S. wanted to do the same thing in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The Southeast Asians would then become low-paid pions in businesses run by American millionaires and billionaires. They could enjoy the freedom of pumping oil - a resource which ought to be owned by them - straight out of their land and into, let's say, a British company's wallet.
Even then, though, the killing might continue. In 1966, the Sakarno government fell in Indonesia. U.S. companies were free to go in. In the aftermath, the C.I.A. helped with the massacre of 100,000 Indonesian communists and communist-sympathizers.
Sara Lidman asked a funny question in her book, which tried to justify U.S. imperial greed. It was something like: Did Vietnam steal the Mekong River in Vietnam from the USA?
It was a middle-aged Sara Lidman who went to Vietnam to research what was really going on. She wrote home to Swedish newspapers in support of Ho Chi Minh and his people's cause. I think that most Americans, including myself, still haven't been told what was really going on.
I believe that truth about Vietnam War politics are still relevant today. One might ask the question: Did Iraq steal the oil in Iraq from the USA? What did American and British companies stand to gain from a U.S. occupation in Iraq? And, most importantly, will the Iraqi people become more free or less?
Even in October of 1970, Philip H. Trezise commented in a Department of State Bulletin, "The American consumer who pays taxes - will he call for higher prices just to be able to call the USA self-dependent on oil, or will he call for larger imports and lower prices?"
I don't know if Sara Lidman's books have been translated into English, nor if they're allowed in every country. But, I'd recommend reading them. Another alternative is Noam Chomsky's "At War with Asia." Reading "Alternative in Southeast Asia" by Eugene Black could also be eye-opening.
Later. Modern Oddyseus.
with a ton of help from Sara Lidman's "Faglarna i Namh Dinh"
"We read so often in the Western press about our land being 'poor.' And sometimes we wish this was true. Then maybe we could live in peace. But, unfortunately: our country has enormous natural resources, above and below the ground, even in the sea." - a Vietnamese man, speaking to Sara Lidman
"He who works the land with his hands year-round must be the one who owns the soil." - a Vietnamese saying