Naïveté Versus Reality in Vietnam

The distinguished professor of political science and Fellow of Peterhouse at Cambridge delivers in this essay “a call on the American people, on its leaders, on its pastors and masters for candor, self-control and self-criticismin the dark days into which the Vietnamese war has led us. The paper is drawn from Sir Denis’ introduction to the Blaustein Lectures which he delivered last year at Lehigh University.

THE most important international events of the past year have been the changes in Chinese policy internally and externally. Internally, an upheaval has taken place whose character and scale we are not yet competent to judge. Externally, China is more and more hostile to the outside world of the West and more and more hostile to Russia. Each of these attitudes is of great importance for American policy and for the foreign policy of America’s allies. But it is essential that the American people and the American government accept the awkward fact that the most important thing about China today is the continuation of the Chinese revolution, and that internal revolution may well be — is almost certain to be — far more important than any question of Chinese foreign policy or of the American tendency to see China, perhaps to see all outside powers, in terms of their impact on the United States. Even if there were no differences of opinion and policy between China and the United States, if there were no war in Vietnam, if China had no interest or part in that war, or if the United States had washed its hands of policy on the Asiatic mainland, the Chinese upheaval would still be the most important news story of these years.

It is easy to assert, for it is true, that the Chinese Communist export movement has failed for the moment. It has failed disastrously and conspicuously in Indonesia; and in a continent where so many people, very wisely, plan to back a winner, the savage penalties inflicted on those Indonesians who backed a loser — that is, the Chinese Communist-directed revolution — are highly educational. Maoism may be the wave of the future all over Asia — this is not at all impossible, and, as some people argue, is highly likely — but it is a wave which at the moment is receding. And if this is true of Asia, it is still more true of Africa and of Latin America. The great siege of the urbanized, capitalist, or deviationist world by the rural masses led by the Chinese Communists has not yet begun. It may never begin. For the moment, unless the rulers of China have completely lost the caution which in many ways they have displayed since they triumphed in 1949, their real attention is being devoted to whatever is going on in China.

It is obviously convenient for the rulers of China to persuade the rulers of the United States that China is as much a menace for world order as were, for example, Hitler’s Germany and militarist Japan. But this may be a necessity in diverting the attention of the rulers of America, and even the rulers of Britain, from the realities of the Chinese situation, from the problems which any rulers of China will have to face.

It is possible to argue, and it has been argued powerfully, that the new China of Mao is economically and militarily a paper tiger. It is possible to argue that China is in fact an intrinsically poor country and that it is “overextended,” not in territorial area, but in its demographic aspects. That is to say, the fact that the Chinese are a quarter of the human race — and soon may be a higher proportion — may be a handicap and not a help. To become a modern industrial state, China, like all other countries in the past, will have to squeeze surplus value out of the peasants to provide the capital for an adequate program of industrialization. But there may be no surplus to be squeezed out of the peasants because there are too many peasants. Mao can preach an austerity program; he may not only be reaffirming his belief in the virtues developed during the Long March and during the war against the Kuomintang, but also be as ready to preach and practice a doctrine of “frugal plenty,” with the emphasis on the frugal, as was Eamon de Valera in what seems a remote past in modern Ireland. But his hand may now be forced by the problems of population, by the birthrate, by the relatively meager resources of Chinese territory compared with the needs of the Chinese people. True, the problem has been traditionally also a Japanese problem, and statistically speaking, is still a Japanese problem, which looks more serious than the Chinese problem. But the Japanese are not so much handicapped by vanity, by unwillingness to learn, or by being ruled by a classical Chinese poet as are the Chinese.

What is the point of these rather banal remarks? It is merely to suggest that the great upheaval now going on in China may be of great importance for the immediate present, and perhaps still more for the future of China, but may have no immediate importance for the policy of the United States. It may be that Mao is swimming over another waterfall, to adjust a famous English proverbial expression; or, to go back to a Chinese metaphor much used a few years ago, he may be making another “great leap forward” and may fall on his face again, as he did then. The policy now being preached and practiced by the organized strenuous youth movements of China may be a policy designed to cover up resentment and hostility to many aspects of the remaking of Chinese society which have been so much admired by Westerners, who would be horrified to see any such society created in their own countries. It may be, as has often been suggested, that Chairman Mao is anguished by the thought that the austerity, discipline, and devotion which the Chinese Communist Party displayed in such abundance, and which produced in many aspects of Chinese life very impressive results, have now become unpopular and possibly impracticable. “The mandate of Heaven” may be in the process of being withdrawn from Chairman Mao. I do not think this is likely; but some great subterranean earthquake is occurring, and all that political seismologists can do is to register the internal quakes, landslips, and possibly volcanic explosions — and to remember that these are far more important for the Chinese governors and governed than any external triumphs.

We may be sure that however archaic are the military theories of Marshal Lin, however much he may believe in the superiority of his mass armies, he does not believe any longer that the United States is a paper tiger; and he may very well hesitate to launch out on a course of action in which the reality of the tiger’s claws will be decided.

In any event, we may be certain that control of China, with the harnessing of the forces released by the new campaign for saving the soul of the Chinese Communist revolution, preoccupies the rulers of China and the people of China much more, even, than does Vietnam or North Korea, or the wickedness of Russia, or the impotence of the United States. And just as the policy of China is certainly not centered exclusively or mainly on the problem of relations with the United States, it will probably be wise for the rulers of the United States and the American people not to see in Communist China the cause of all their ills, and in its defeat and destruction the remedy for those ills, ills inherent in the human situation and not in the particular wickedness of societies which are refusing to adopt the American Way of Life.

IT IS against this background of the great internal upheavals in China, of the vicissitudes and the transformation of China, which may take another generation before more than the outlines are visible, that the American people should consider the problem of Vietnam. The Americans have inherited in Vietnam a series of problems which they did not create. It is easy enough to dismiss these problems as the results of the nefarious rule of France for fifty years or so. This is to take too simplified a view of East Asiatic history, and too simplified a theme of “imperialism.” In many ways, modern Vietnam is a French creation. It could be argued, indeed, that the destruction of French rule in what they called Indochina has been a disaster, as it has brought to the surface a number of problems which the French had at any rate managed to control from roughly 1870 onward. It is easy to see the movement southward of the militant Tonkinese as simply a Communist conspiracy inspired, subsidized, directed from China. It is easy to see everything that is displeasing in the states of what was the French Union of Indochina as weaknesses which are due to imperial rule. But many of these problems date from long before any French people had ever heard of Indochina.

A good many of the problems now facing the United States as the new imperial power are more or less the same as those that faced France as the old imperial power. Just as President George Washington found himself faced with many of the problems of the American frontier that were too much for King George III, so the new imperial power, the United States, is faced with many of the problems which became too much for the French after the collapse of France in Europe and the destruction of their power and prestige by the Japanese between 1940 and 1945. One of the alarming features of a great deal of the official output of reassuring messages from the White House and the Pentagon is the verbal resemblance to what the French were saying from 1945 until 1954. The same possibly insoluble problems produce the same comforting noises.

Of course, the noises made by the Pentagon or even by the White House are more comforting and more plausible than those made in Paris or in Saigon by the French. The United States is not a defeated country and has overwhelming resources which the French lacked. Until quite recently, it had the great advantage of not appearing necessarily as an imperial power opposing a strong, indigenous, nationalist movement. The strong nationalist movement was threatening French power, feebly it is true, before the last war. One of the first agitators who was in at the birth of the French Communist Party after the First World War was the young Annamite student Ho Chi Minh. Whatever chances the French had of adjusting themselves to a dignified retreat from Indochina such as the British achieved in India, they lost very largely through the imperious temper of Thierry d’Argenlieu, the monk turned admiral, but still more through the refusal of the French to accept the obvious consequences of a British type of withdrawal; for if the British had to leave a far greater, richer, more powerful imperial position, held firmly for a much longer period, it was impossible to believe that the French in Indochina (or the Dutch in Java) could succeed where the British had failed, or where the British had voluntarily given up their imperial role, whichever way we care to look at it.

The French not only failed to convince the revolutionary leaders, north and south, in Tonkin and Cochin China, of their good faith; they did not display good faith. And contrasting with the last years of French rule, the American assistance to the political and economic well-being of Vietnam could possibly have seemed not a new form of imperialism but a specialized form of American aid. Whether this was a practical policy or not, no one will ever know. For by the time the French threw in their hand in 1954 and the Americans picked it up, it was a bad hand with very few trumps.

It is for this reason that so many of the official apologias from the White House and the Pentagon sound like the old French stories. The crisis of credibility which destroyed what little willingness the French people had to continue the “dirty war” is now raging in the United States. There is, in fact, far more disbelief just below the surface, among people whose disbelief is quite serious, than has yet been overtly declared.

IT IS now evident that one of the difficulties which the French inherited or invented is now plaguing the Americans. In India, for all their faults, the British had trained at Oxford and Cambridge, Sandhurst and in jail, a ruling class for both India and what became Pakistan. It is possible that Ho Chi Minh could have become another Nehru if a great many things that did not happen had happened. But the weakness of the French position between 1950 and 1954 was above all political. The policy of bringing back the former emperor of Annam, Bao Dai, to be a rallying center of nationalism, traditionalism, and the political base for an amicable settlement with France was not intrinsically foolish. Of course, Bao Dai was not a leader with anything like the intelligence or energy of Ho Chi Minh. His dynasty had not such deep traditional roots as many of the French seem to have thought. But above all, he was not given a chance to “make like an emperor.” The French did not even build up the traditional, ornamental, sacred character of the office to which they wished to restore Bao Dai. Even had his imperial authority and prestige not been weakened by his loss of all plausibility as a ruler under the Japanese, it would have required a great deal of political talent on the French side and political talent among the counselors of the emperor to make this experiment succeed. And it was the political failure which doomed the French military effort. For it must be remembered that no indigenous South Vietnamese force or, so far, any American force has had such military successes as were achieved by Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny. But Marshal de Lattre and Marshal Leclerc, following up the principles of Marshal Foch, realized that the basic problem in Indochina was not military but political. (We now know that in 1919 Marshal Foch refused to send troops to the debatable land between renascent Poland, the Ukraine, Great Russia, Hungary — all the fragmented relics of the broken-down empires. He asked, “Is there a government to support?”

And being told there was no such government, he replied, “A government can get along without an army, but an army cannot get along without a government.”)

The problem which faced the French faces the Americans. The governmental structure they are backing in what is now called South Vietnam is less and less plausible. There it is not a crisis of credibility, but of the virtually universal prevalence of incredibility. It is conceivable that Diem was the best ruler in the American sense that could be found for South Vietnam. If that is so, the experiment of creating a state and an alleged nation called South Vietnam was doomed from the start. But it is also obvious that no successor has been found for Diem, that the decline of political effort by the Vietnamese state has been catastrophic and has been reflected not only in politics but in war. The young man who calls himself Marshal Ky is quite clearly a very inferior version of a traditional mandarin like Diem, but may not be so much handicapped by religious associations as was the zealous Diem and his much too zealous brother, the Archbishop of Hue. But it is very difficult indeed to see what is the claim of Marshal Ky on the support of his fellow countrymen, a claim that begs a great many questions in any case, and on the government of the United States. It is certainly not due to any known military achievements. That he is tough, brave, anti-Gommunist, and all the other adjectives beloved by Time magazine is no doubt true. Anti-Communism, like patriotism, is not enough. (The role of Marshal Ky is rather like a parody of the role of Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek in his last active years. “Why,” asked Senator Tom Connaliy, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate, “if he is a generalissimo doesn’t he generalize?” One could put the same question to Marshal Ky, and one need not stay for an answer.)

It is because of these, I should have thought, extremely obvious considerations that it is rash to parallel the situation of the government set up in and around Saigon (this seems to be the best description of it) with a gallant little nation striving to protect its independence, its culture, and so forth. There is no visibly viable body politic in South Vietnam, and there is less and less, at the moment of writing, evidence of an effective fighting force. From the point of view of its supporters as well as its enemies, the United States in Vietnam today is not merely in the French bed; it is behaving in that bed in the same way that the French did.

To say this is not to condemn, by this parallel, all American action. The Americans are discovering, to their astonishment, that a great deal of what the French did in Indochina was worth doing, and that a great many of the Indochinese in North and South Vietnam, in Cambodia and Laos, are very much more deeply marked by their French training than they are likely to be by any American training. Even the enemies of French rule opposed French rule in a French way. So it does not follow that the Americans are doomed to fail in Vietnam simply because they are, by necessity, in many ways imitating the French; in some ways imitating the French better, and in some ways imitating them worse. And the immense economic and military resources of the United States make it possible that they can do a great deal to repair the damage that more than twenty years of war have caused in Indochina (an increasing amount of damage being caused by the Americans themselves).

But it is a very dangerous illusion to think that what is being defended in South Vietnam is an established, rational, deeply rooted small nation “rightly struggling to be free,” or to remain free. Such a nation may be created in the future. The unity running from the Chinese border down to the borders of Malaysia which existed in 1939 was a French creation. It does not follow therefore that the area in the Mekong Delta which the French called Cochin China could not be turned into a state with as good prospects of survival as, say, Thailand. Even so, it would be under constant threat from the North, where the energetic Tonkinese covet the fertile lands of the South.

WHAT is, in the circumstances, a “rational political policy”? Perhaps no rational political policy is possible. The late Lord Morley, the eminent Liberal intellectual, used to say that one of the hardest lessons to learn in politics is that there are often no good solutions, only less bad solutions. It seems to me quite certain that there is no good solution of the type contemplated, one assumes, by John Foster Dulles in 1954. That is to say, there will be no South Vietnamese state committed emotionally, ideologically, by gratitude, by necessity, to follow the policies of the United States in Asia, and still less in the world. Without having any inside, or indeed much outside, knowledge, I believe it to be certain that the inhabitants of this unfortunate portion of the globe would settle for the departure of the Americans, of the inhabitants and soldiers of North Vietnam, of the Viet Cong and the various military leaders in South Vietnam in return for almost any kind of peace. Many of them would probably settle for the return of the French — at any rate, for the return of the French regime as it was in 1939. Americans tend to exaggerate the ideological commitment of people and to see the world in black and white terms. They also feel that people should and do prefer to live up to the assertion “Give me liberty or give me death” without at this moment deciding what “liberty” means in this context. It should be pointed out that when Patrick Henry made, or is declared to have made, this choice, he was in no danger of death and in no particular danger of losing his liberty. In one form or another, the whole country that was French Indochina has been suffering the horrors of war since 1940. The whole of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China has been suffering the horrors of war with hardly any interruption and on an increasingly horrible scale since 1953. In these circumstances, it is extremely unlikely that the luckless peasantry of this unfortunate region are as zealous in defense of the West or as undying anti-Communists as one would infer from reading Time magazine. There are times in history in which people prefer peace to justice, even when justice is an evident and realizable ideal.

Therefore, a rational political policy must begin by accepting the inevitable and natural desire of the people of South Vietnam — and, one suspects, of North Vietnam too — not to be liberated or defended at an excessively high cost. It also involves acceptance of the fact that the neighbors of Vietnam, North and South, may have many more important things to think about, from their benighted point of view, than saving the Western position or the American way of life in Southeast Asia. In offering to defend South Vietnam, as a short time ago in threatening to liberate North Vietnam, the Americans are not necessarily in a seller’s market. If the departure of the Americans would end the war, it is quite likely that a great part of the population of North and South Vietnam would gladly settle for tyranny. In the same way, it is equally probable that the inhabitants of North Vietnam would settle for peace even if it involved breaking with China or possibly even if it involved discarding its liberator Ho Chi Minh. I have no doubt that he is regarded as much more of a liberator than Chiang Kai-shek was regarded in China in his last disastrous years, or than Syngman Rhee ever was in Korea. But again the people of North Vietnam may find that being reconstructed on Communist lines has become a very expensive luxury. (Of course the departure of the Americans might make it a cheap luxury and one, if not necessarily appreciated, to be tolerated as very much better than war.)

This does not mean that a great deal of propaganda about liberating South Vietnam which comes from Communist organizations in Hanoi, from Moscow, from Peking is truthful. The war in Vietnam would have been ruthless even if the Americans had never entered it. It might well have been ruthless even if the French had never entered it. There is no reason to believe that the Tonkinese, a very militant and aggressive people, would not have been as formidable in totally local civil war as Chairman Mao and his Chinese have proved to be. There is no reason to doubt that such a war would have to be carried on with a savagery which we are accustomed, offensively and possibly hypocritically, to call Oriental. The Catholic missionaries and converts in Hué in the middle of the nineteenth century were treated with an ingenious savagery which is indigenous, although, of course, not unique.

But if it is wise and right to reprove the savagery by which the Viet Cong attempt to liberate and to impose their authority on South Vietnam, it is quite another thing to justify American adoption of equally savage means. Indeed, one could say more savage means, since the technical resources for horror in the hands of the Americans are greater than those in the hands of the Viet Cong. There is another point. The American government says that in South Vietnam it is defending Western values. This means that it must fight with one hand tied behind its back. If it does not tie one hand behind its back — that is to say, does imitate its enemies (who do not profess Western values) and uses its immense technical superiority with no adequate sense of restraint — its crusading role is even more ambiguous and even less likely to be believed in. The French attempt in Algeria to defend Western values and formal democracy was perhaps doomed from the beginning. Yet it was not, formally speaking, a totally mean concept or a totally base objective. But when the French Army imitated and equaled and perhaps surpassed the Fellagha in savagery, the formal battle was won at the loss of the political and moral battle. The battle of Algiers was indeed a Pyrrhic victory. So may many of the American battles turn out to be.

THERE are two points which the American people quite naturally do not notice about the exercise of American power in Vietnam. First, all of Asia is conscious of the fact that the atomic bomb was dropped on an Asiatic people and not on the Germans. Many believe (I do not) that had Germany still been in the war when the atomic bomb was ready, Germany would not have been induced to surrender by the atomic bomb. But it is not merely a question of the dropping of the atomic bomb on an Asiatic people — to put it more brutally, on a colored people. It is a question of the comparative immunity with which the Americans can do it.

An awkward truth which is accepted all over Europe as well as Asia is that the lavish use of air power in Vietnam is the work of a country which has never been bombed and which, in this sense, does not know what it is doing. For this reason, a good deal of the American reporting of the war in Vietnam strikes people — for instance, in London — as odious. How it strikes them in Calcutta or Tokyo is a matter of speculation, but not of much doubt. If we contrast the resources of the United States and the resources of the Viet Cong, whatever we may think of the political morality of the activities of the Viet Cong, it does not seem to the outsider that the Viet Cong are inferior to the Americans in courage, resolution, or belief in their cause. For this reason, the news that the Americans had dropped napalm on their own troops was received with very mixed feelings in Europe. There were, of course, professional and permanent anti-Americans who had all the joys of Schadenfreude at the news. For them, there is no folly and no crime of which the Americans are not intrinsically capable, and there is no folly and no crime which the enemies of the Americans are not justified in committing. But many people who do not share these views in the least could not help reflecting that a fate had befallen unfortunate young American soldiers that has frequently befallen even more unfortunate Vietnamese children. This is part of the political cost of the use of overwhelming American technical power in a war of this kind. It is perhaps the only way the United States can wage this war, but this fact has to be put on the debit side of the bookkeeping of this war. Therefore, all military news of successes from Vietnam (and much of the military news of successes has been false) is important only if that success prevents political defeat or leads to political victory.

Certain kinds of success might lead to political defeat. There have been suggestions, for example, of destroying the elaborate dike system of North Vietnam. For a country which depends on irrigation, such destruction would be an unforgivable and unforgiven crime — possibly as unforgiven in South Vietnam as in North. It was noted by Thucydides as a proof of the increasing barbarism of the Peloponnesian War that the Spartans occupying Attica destroyed the vineyards and the olives. For this they were not forgiven by the masses of the Athenian population. (They were, of course, forgiven by the aristocratic and wealthy Athenians, who saw the Spartans as allies, as perhaps some selfish and wealthy South Vietnamese would forgive the Americans.) And it took the French peasant a very long time to forgive the wanton destruction of trees, fields, crops, the seeds of future crops, committed by the Germans in their retreat in the spring of 1917. We may be sure that there are many people in the Pentagon and in the State Department who, quite apart from arguments of political advantage, know what a moral disaster total war waged even for the visibly best of causes in Vietnam would be; and for a great part of the human race, the cause is not visibly the best. (The announcement by General Eisenhower that he had been prepared to drop atomic bombs to induce the Chinese to make a treaty over Korea has shocked more people in Europe than perhaps the General realizes.)

There is no reason to believe that the American people are willing to use all their power in so ambiguous a cause as backing the alleged nation of South Vietnam or even backing the large number of South Vietnamese who very much object to being liberated by North Vietnam or by China, either directly or indirectly. I do not think the American conscience is at all easy on these points, and the more flag-waving and patriotic politicians and the noisier military men do not represent anything like the national consensus. Nor is it likely that they could by any propaganda methods create one.

No military victory without a political victory has any real meaning, and some military methods make a political victory totally impossible. The United States, if it really wants to win in a realistic sense, must fight with a hand tied behind its back, and that means that the war must make greater and greater drains not only on American surplus wealth, but on American manhood and American temper. There is a price for victory in Vietnam — military victory or political victory — which is too high for the American people to be willing to pay.

But is there anything short of complete victory and an ostentatious public defeat of what is assumed to be Chinese aggression? There is no way which is not too expensive to force North Vietnam or the Viet Cong or China or all three of them together to accept a conspicuous defeat which would make the wavering peoples of Southeast Asia confident that by backing, or being backed by, the Americans they are on the winning side. The most that the United States could hope to gain is the production of an extremely delicate infant body politic which we could call South Vietnam for perhaps ten years. During these ten years, it may prove viable or wither on the vine. It may prove to be a successful rescue operation, like, for example, the saving of the Philippines from the Huks, a success unappreciated in America because the power of the Huk rebels was not reported adequately to the American people when it was in full force. It may, on the other hand, turn out to be a version of the French attempt to set up Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. That failed for many reasons, but for one basic one: that the United States, its hands freed by the ending of the Civil War, was close at hand and France was far away. When and if China gets through its present convulsions, it will be close at hand and the United States will be far away.

This, of course, works both ways. In Southeast Asia there is not only a millenary tradition of Chinese power; there is a millenary suspicion of Chinese power. The traditional heroes of some of these people were heroes because they resisted Chinese power. It is even more complicated than that, for the minor states of what the French called Indochina, for example, Laos and Cambodia, are more afraid of North Vietnam and South Vietnam than they are of China. They are also more afraid of Thailand than they are of China, and they are probably less afraid of the United States than of any of these rivals. It does not follow, therefore, that the successor to an unsuccessful American equivalent of Maximilian, whoever he may be—and Maximilian was quite as good a bet as Marshal Ky seems to be — will necessarily be Communist, or if Communist, will necessarily be a satellite of Chinese power.

In any event, we do not know what Chinese power will mean in the next few years. Nothing in the not very long run, except an extraordinarily improbable collapse of China, can make the contest for power and influence in Southeast Asia between the United States and China an equal affair. It can be made a nearly equal affair only on one condition, and that means that the United States manages to present itself to the peoples rather than to the states of Southeast Asia as an ally against Chinese preponderance. And that means the United States must accept them as allies largely on their terms, not on American terms. For example, they may genuinely call themselves Communists, or they may simply use the word as a general “boss word.” The American people must learn not to react automatically with horror at the mere mention of the word Communist. But those who use the word Communist in America and in Europe in a friendly sense may be very friendly indeed, seeing the Communists’ triumph ipso facto as a triumph of the good. I have no such illusions; but preventing a country like South Vietnam or Cambodia from going Communist should not be the main object of American policy, even if it is feared that if one of these small states goes Communist, all the other states will, on the domino theory, fall.

The American people will have to accept the fact that, for good or ill, the Communists often represent in all of these countries the most energetic, active, and from the point of view of character, admirable members of the society. In societies so archaic, with the old order breaking down and the new order not appearing, for the really patriotic and public-spirited young to go Communist is very tempting. This, of course, is true not only of Asia but of Latin America, and it must be allowed for. If it is not allowed for, the United States may find itself allied with people who are not very admirable in themselves, with people who have the naÏve political ideas and ideals of Marshal Ky and are destined to fail. Every attempt that is made to save a part of “the free world” from Communism should be undertaken only after a careful assessment of what is being saved. Thus, the United States saved the Dominican Republic from the alleged danger of a Communist takeover. But for reasons which escape me, it has not managed to save Haiti, the other part of the island of Hispaniola, from a government much worse than any Communist government could possibly be.

Then it must also be remembered that in all of these regions there are many political problems that have nothing to do with even nominal Communism. Ghosts walk all the time. The ghosts may be absurd ghosts that one would have thought long dead. But that does not matter; they walk. For example, I am not sure that the disciples of the Reverend Ian Paisley in Ulster, who are devoted to saving Ulster from Rome, would not prefer to be ruled by Chairman Mao rather than by Mr. Lynch; and the world is full of Ulsters.

The most the United States can hope for, it seems to me, in South Vietnam is the creation of a minimum political structure which promises peace first of all. Not peace on any terms, but peace on nearly any terms. It is possible but unlikely that the United States, by doubling its present military effort and by ignoring all political costs, can win a military victory and establish some kind of government supported by American military power. The claims of this government to represent any respectable political organization will deceive nobody outside the United States, and will deceive fewer and fewer people inside the United States. Many Americans, possibly most Americans, feel this, and some see it clearly enough.

There are, of course, special obstacles in South Vietnam. For example, in the new assembly which has just been elected, Catholics are very much overrepresented: “Although they comprise only nine per cent of South Vietnam’s 15,300,000 people, they will hold at least twenty-six per cent of the assembly’s seats.” There are, obviously, reasons why the Catholics are overrepresented. They are a minority, and a minority in great danger from a Communist victory. Most of them are refugees from North Vietnam; whether they are regarded as an equivalent of the exiled Jews in Israel or the exiled Palestinians in Jordan does not matter. They have the tenacity and unity which exile and danger produce. It is, of course, possible to disregard their danger and their claims entirely. This is done regularly in Eastern Europe by a great many Protestants and Jews who do not feel any more sympathy with Catholics in danger of persecution than many Catholics do for Jews or Protestants. But because of the political naÏveté of a great part of the American Catholic population and a great part of the American Catholic hierarchy, policy may be too much affected by the natural sentiments of the Catholic voters, as some people think it is too much affected by the natural sentiments of American Jewish voters. It is a hard saying, but American policy must not be seriously affected by the possible wrongs of Vietnamese Catholics, and there must be no repetition of the mistake against which Mr. Nehru warned the American government, of relying on this minority group, better educated, more united, better disciplined than the run-of-the-mill Vietnamese, as the essential ally of American power. Backing minorities of this kind turns out, as a rule, to be a poor investment.

On the other hand, it seems certain that a great many people in South Vietnam do not wish to be liberated by North Vietnam, whether they are Catholics or not. The attempted conquest of the Mekong Delta by the aggressive Tonkinese was an old story before either the Chinese or the Russian Revolution began. The Americans might play the role of the French in protecting South Vietnam from invasion from the north. (The French did not do so very successfully, as the infiltration continued all during French rule.) The United States might also protect Laos and Cambodia, as the French did with rather more success, against aggression from Thailand and Tonkin.

But the main possibilities of political success in South Vietnam involve making political success the first priority. This means avoidance of follies like the too lavish and too warm endorsement of Marshal Ky given by President Johnson. It involves coming down on the profiteering practiced both by the possessing class in South Vietnam and by too many of the American occupiers for whom the war is good business, as it was for the equivalent groups under the French regime.

To carry out the building of an effective infrastructure would require tenacity by the American builders of the infrastructure, more political intelligence in the American higher command, and in fact a kind of concealed imperialism such as the British used openly in India. There is a good deal to be said for General Gavin’s policy of building an impregnable base in South Vietnam from which the Americans cannot be expelled, but from which they should be very reluctant to emerge. Such a policy needs some hope of the creation of a viable South Vietnam state, if not of a viable Vietnamese nation, to justify it. For the only viable nation in this region might simply be a Vietnamese nation including both North and South, and of course there is no guarantee that the South Vietnamese state will not become Communist as long as the Communists show so much more energy, relevant courage, and relevant competence.

Whether the materials for a viable South Vietnam state now exist I do not know. Whether they existed and could have been used if the French had been wiser I do not know. But I am inclined to suspect that they did and could. Whether they now exist, and if so, can be used, depends on a very thorough reconsideration by the United States of what it is trying to do, what are the limits of its power, and whether what it is aiming at can be attained by a policy that seems to be, from the outside, far too heavily concentrated on military success, and to have a very naÏve idea of what is meant by military success.