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On this day, when 68 years ago Vietnam declared its independence from both France and Japan, we would like to remind Secretary of State John Kerry, the US Congress and the American people of some important points which Secretary of State Kerry made 42 years ago about America’s role in Vietnam, for many points in this testimony could be applied to the question of US involvement in Syria today. Mostly, one need only replace the name Vietnam with Syria. That was a long time ago and perhaps it is time for everyone, especially Secretary of State Kerry to read it again.

We have selected a few relevant excerpts, but the reader may want to read or re-read the entire text:  Complete Testimony of Lt. John Kerry to Senate Foreign Relations Committee From the Congressional Record (92nd Congress, 1st Session) for Thursday, April 22, 1971, pages 179-210.
(40pp) http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/videodir/pacificaviet/kerry.pdf

Kerry citing Kennedy:  the US Can’t Right Every Wrong;
Cannot Solve Internal Political Struggles of Another Country;
The US Has Exhausted Its Capacity

Mr. Kerry: “President Kennedy said this, many times. He said that the United States simply can’t right every wrong, that we can’t solve the problems of the other 94 percent of mankind. We didn’t go into East Pakistan; we didn’t go into Czechoslovakia. Why then should we feel that we now have the power to solve the internal political struggles of this country?

We have to let them solve their problems while we solve ours and help other people in an altruistic fashion commensurate with our capacity. But we have extended that capacity; we have exhausted that capacity, Senator. So I think the question is really moot.” [pp. 189-190] pp. 16-17

Kerry on the War Being a Civil War and Lack of Support from Allies:

What was Found and Learned in Vietnam

Mr. Kerry: “We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.

We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.  

We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies…” [p.181], p. 6

Kerry On the Right of a Country to Determine Their Own Future

Mr. Kerry: “The only other important point is that we allow the South Vietnamese people to determine their own future and that ostensibly is what we have been fighting for anyway.” [p. 186] p. 12

Mr. Kerry About Lack of Threats to the US from the Region

Mr. Kerry: “In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom….is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.” [p. 181] p. 6

We would say that there was actually more justification for the war in Vietnam, in the context of the Cold War, than there is for US involvement in Syria today. However, some of the stakes were the same.  If the conflicts over oil and natural gas pipeline projects appear clearly to be what is at stake in Syria today, the stakes in Vietnam were actually similar.  According to the declassified Pentagon Papers ( http://www.archives.gov/research/pentagon-papers/ , in July 1941:  “… the occupation of Indochina by Japan possibly means one further important step to seizing control of the South Sea area, including trade routes of supreme importance to the United States controlling such products as rubber, tin and other commodities.  This was of vital concern to the United States…” http://media.nara.gov/research/pentagon-papers/Pentagon-Papers-Part-I.pdf They say ca 1951-52:  “Southeast Asia, especially Malaya and Indonesia, is the principal world source of natural rubber and tin, and a producer of petroleum and other strategically important commodities.http://media.nara.gov/research/pentagon-papers/Pentagon-Papers-Part-II.pdf Today, despite the war and despite the withdrawal, the US appears to be working with Vietnam on these same interests today. This suggests another approach is possible, besides war: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=120687  Furthermore, Vietnam was France’s war and this war in Syria may well be France’s war; it may be about France not wanting to be dependent on Russia for its natural gas. Secretary of State Kerry may now speak French in more ways than one.

Kerry on the Need to Learn To Define Legitimate Threats

Mr. Kerry: “I think there will be guerrilla wars and I think we must have a capability to fight those. And we may have to fight them somewhere based on legitimate threats, but we must learn, in this country, how to define those threats and that is what I would say to this question of world peace.” [p. 195], p. 22

Kerry On Ground Troops vs. No Ground Troops

Mr. Kerry: “We veterans can only look with amazement on the fact that this country has been unable to see there is absolutely no difference between ground troops and a helicopter, and yet people have accepted a differentiation fed them by the administration.

No ground troops are in Laos, so it is all right to kill Laotians by remote control. But believe me the helicopter crews fill the same body bags and they wreak the same kind of damage on the Vietnamese and Laotian countryside as anybody else, and the President is talking about allowing that to go on for many years to come. One can only ask if we will really be satisfied only when the troops march into Hanoi.” [p. 184], p. 9

Kerry on the Importance of Responsive Institutions in a Democracy

Mr. Kerry: “I think it is helpful to try to put it in perspective and not lose confidence in the basically good motives and purposes of this country. I believe in the possibility of making our institutions work effectively. I think they can be made responsive to the welfare of the people and to proper judgments. I only throw this out because I have a feeling that because of the unusual horror that has developed from this war too many people may lose confidence in our system as a whole.” [p. 196], p. 24

Mr. Kerry: “….democracy has to remain responsive“. [p. 197], p. 25

Kerry on the Involvement of Congress

Mr. Kerry: “We are asking here in Washington for some action, action from the Congress of the United States of America which has the power to raise and maintain armies and which by the Constitution also has the power to declare war.

We have come here, not to the President, because we believe that this body can be responsive to the will of the people, and we believe that the will of the people says that we should be out of Vietnam now.” [p. 184], p. 9

This, of course, is why it is important for the vote on Syria to pass before the US Congress.  And, the importance of it having passed before the British Parliament.  It shows the importance of having Executive, Judicial and Representative Branches. This is why Haiti urgently needs its Parliamentary elections.  We wouldn’t want President Martelly or Prime Minister Lamothe to unilaterally declare war on the US or France now would we? That thought may appear absurd, but less absurd than the US and France involving themselves in Syria’s affairs. Surely the US and France have things which President Martelly or PM Lamothe would like to have. Perhaps the US’ oil and gas?  Reparations from France? Perhaps poor and homeless Haitians could be sent by them to occupy the homes of the French and Americans?

Secretary of State Kerry’s very nice letter to Vietnam for their National Day: http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/08/213654.htm