Editorial: Vietnam's victory
April 30 is the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War. Twenty years ago this week, the socialist fortnightly Direct Action declared, "Saigon liberated! A victory for all humanity." The Vietnamese people had defeated the most powerful imperialist force in the world, the US, and its Australian and other allies.
People all over the world had been inspired by the struggle of the Vietnamese people for self-determination, and contributed to the victory through years of protests which mobilised millions in solidarity.
Now even the US defence secretary most identified with the war, Robert McNamara, is calling the involvement of US troops a "mistake". They should not have been there, he has said. "We were terribly wrong." But he makes that judgment from the standpoint of the same forces he served in the '60s. His concern is still for the interests of the rulers of the US, not for the Vietnamese people who suffered and finally defeated the US invasion.
The forces that led to US and Australian involvement in Vietnam still exist. Australia's involvement in the Bougainville conflict, in East Timor and in supporting the Indonesian regime all attest to this. The US has intervened most recently in Somalia and Haiti to shore up its own interests.
The wealthy and powerful countries still dominate world politics. The developed capitalist economies still prosper by taking, by force if necessary, the human and material resources of the underdeveloped countries. The multinational corporations of the West still rely on the super-exploitation of the working people of the Third World to boost their profits.
Imperialism guards its profits jealously. The methods used vary according to circumstances: open military intervention, support for undemocratic military regimes, alliances with a "friendly" dictator, such as the relationship between the US and Iraq's Saddam Hussein during the years when the paramount imperialist concern in the region was to subvert Iran.
McNamara and his ilk are not interested in changing this situation. They see the Vietnam War as a "mistake" because US imperialism lost, and in losing suffered damage to its ability to intervene elsewhere in the world.
The US, controlling the most massive arsenal in history, was defeated by the determination of a people who had been subjected to foreign intervention for decades. The experience led to a political phenomenon known as the "Vietnam syndrome" — the broad understanding that millions of ordinary people acting together are more powerful than armies.
The memories of Vietnam are an ongoing inspiration to those of us struggling for a better world: a democratic, feminist, ecologically sustainable world for all the world's people. That is why, for imperialism, the Vietnamese victory will always be a spectre.