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How America Fractured in 1968 (nytimes.com)
125 points by aaronbrethorst 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments



I'm seeing a body of growing evidence that the long-term fracture was due to the War in Vietnam:

* it created anti-government groups like the Weathermen

* it spurred activist groups on campuses around the country to stage admin building take-overs, sit-ins, and attempts to disruption to the war draft

* it created a group of Veterans-- like John Kerry-- who came back and described for the general public horrific war crimes committed by U.S. servicepeople

* it created an even larger group of veterans who came back and described a war which-- even if the serviceperson believed in the aims of the U.S. gov't-- was clearly unwinnable

All of those things led to the use of federal resources domestically to try to quell the growing anger and violence against the war.

There is just no other way the national guard would be deployed and end up firing on students without the war.

Without that war, you would have had an older population who thought the younger generation was naive, wrong, lude, and in some cases immoral.

With the war you had one side thinking the other was becoming a growing existential domestic threat to the country.

Sound familiar?

edit: clarification

edit 2: Don't forget that toward the end of his life, MLK Jr. spoke out against the war and ended up splitting his own base. (Oddly the article doesn't mention that.)


Don't forget that toward the end of his life, MLK Jr. spoke out against the war and ended up splitting his own base.

MLK's speaking out against the war was unpopular, but do you have any references that show he actions split his "base"? That's interesting since I was under the impression that the war was deeply unpopular with blacks.


He talks about it in his speeches, and it's also worth noting that his base was not only composed of black people

>I remember so well when I first took a stand against the war in Vietnam. The critics took me on and they had their say in the most negative and sometimes most vicious way. One day a newsman came to me and said, "Dr. King, don’t you think you’re going to have to stop, now, opposing the war and move more in line with the administration’s policy? As I understand it, it has hurt the budget of your organization, and people who once respected you have lost respect for you. Don’t you feel that you’ve really got to change your position?" I looked at him and I had to say, "Sir, I’m sorry you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I’ve not taken a sort of Gallup Poll of the majority opinion." Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.

-Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution, 1968


> There is just no other way the national guard would be deployed and end up firing on students without the war.

Oh? The Michigan National Guard did quite a bit of shooting during the Detroit riots of 1967.


Looters versus unarmed peaceful protest in broad daylight?

And I think it was even common sense back then that breaking curfew was dangerous.


I watched Vietnam In HD (great series) and I came away with many of the same observations that you did.

Do you feel like this was also a generation that missed their chance to be "men"? What I mean by that is that in all past memory, men had gone off to battle and were welcomed home as heroes. This was different, and I feel like in some ways led to the emasculation of the American male. They missed their chance to be heroes like their fathers had been in WWII. The women's rights movement also started at the same time. It was a complete upset to the social norms that had been established in society.


A contributing factor to this phenomenon is the overwhelming presence of news cameras in that war. In previous US wars, the news was censored under war time powers. In Vietnam, citizens watched every night in gory, uncensored detail, what was actually happening. Of course time takes it's toll as the war drug on with no meaningful resolution.


Very good point. It also underscores the rise of television, which imo contributed to the fracturing of society that has been most fully realized now via social media.


There’s nothing great about war, war is misery, death and suffering. Anyone who didn’t have to take part in one is lucky.


Oh definitely, I wasn't advocating for war, but I think it is it clearly something that attitudes changed about inexorably after Vietnam.


An interesting take on war from a semi-modern perspective is _War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning_ by Chris Hedges.


I still want to read that, having read most of his books. He’s a fantastic author.


I think it's more about army being detached from the society. I have red some memories of Vietnam veterans and it seems to be a common point. French have experienced the same in Vietnam, according to Jean Larteguy and even during WWI according to Louis Barthas. It's also a common problem of alienated Arab armies, getting hit bad every time they fight with a solders' nation of Israel, I believe Kapuscinski has written something about it as well.


Can you please clarify what you mean by "detached", I want to be sure I am reading you correctly.


This makes similar points - https://thenib.com/the-good-war


Thanks for sharing this. As someone who grew up in the 90's I definitely recall the resurgence of WWII nostaglia after Saving Private Ryan was released.


> it created an even larger group of veterans who came back and described a war which-- even if the serviceperson believed in the aims of the U.S. gov't-- was clearly unwinnable

Was it really "unwinnable"? I watched "Vietnam in HD" which is a fantastic series if you're into that kind of thing. It is a difficult watch at times. What I gathered from that is most people seemed to blame the "seek and destroy" tactic. This involved prioritizing destroying enemy encampments, but not actually taking territory. There didn't seem to be line advancements or attempts to create new bases further into enemy territory.

I'm not a military strategist, and I have no idea the kinds of logistics required for it. I do know that it seemed to kill morale for soldiers to go take a hill, and then abandon it for the enemy to go back and take once again. Essentially taking the same ground over and over again. It seems like a lesson in futility.


It was unwinnable not because of the tactics used but because the war was a hollow gesture: we weren't supporting a viable, legitimate RVN, but rather a corrupt government that lacked the support of its people (and, at times, actively persecuted important factions of its people).


I don't think it was winnable.

Based off of experience in Korea, US didn't want China to enter the war. To avoid this, the US couldn't commit to full-scale of invasion of North Vietnam, which I believe would have been necessary for victory. Without a full scale invasion, they thought that they could 'tickle' the enemy into submission by aerial bombing of the North combined with ground-army defense of the south. I believe they were over optimistic.

It's easy to say "yeah, if the US had more manpower and/or crossed into North Vietnam and/or used different tactics we could have won!" and maybe that's true, but proponents of this view often fail to consider the entry of China as a possible outcome.


That's certainly true. It was definitely a proxy war and iirc the North definitely received, at a minimum, support from China. I'm not incredibly well versed on the subject, especially the geopolitics at the time. Perhaps with all of that considered, the US was hamstrung a bit.


The Pentagon Papers were originally commissioned as a way of reinforcing the war effort and tuning it to find a way to win. They ended up being, among other things, a compendium of the reasons why that outcome was very unlikely.


Correct, if crushing the enemy was the goal, the only way to win was to take over cities, land and controlling as an occupying force. The military had oppressive and crippling rules of engagement put on them when fighting a guerrilla style war.

The alternative with political pressure would have been to work with China and Russia which at the time, communism was the biggest threat, so that wasn't an option.

https://www.quora.com/How-could-the-U-S-have-won-the-Vietnam...


Here's a fun fact: Jimi Hendrix was a paratrooper in the early 60s and supported it in it's early stages. Of course later he abandoned his support for the war as many did.


I was eight in '68, and remember it well. The shootings, especially the Kennedy one, the strange Mexican olympics, the Czechoslovakia debacle, the American election, TV of longhaired protesters, and of course Apollo 8, which at the time I considered by far the most monumental event of the year- and still do.

The Vietnam war made no great impression. It was a constant stream of background noise in my European childhood, I don't recall one single specific episode of it, let alone any idea what the whole sorry thing was about.


If you're curious in retrospect, I found this to be the best book I've read about the entire Vietnam period. (along with historical context before and after)

https://www.amazon.com/Vietnam-History-Stanley-Karnow/dp/014...

Granted, there's a lot we know now that wasn't known at the time (e.g. MACV-SOG's pre-Tonkin activities and concealment of same from Congress, or the serious consideration of tactical nuclear weapons during the Battle of Khe Sanh), but if you're into history it's a good read.


> let alone any idea what the whole sorry thing was about.

Like the Korean War before it, to stop the spread of communism. Domino theory and such.


I've recently read an account of that time by UC Berkeley professor and it was terrifying: young men terrorizing and using violence towards students and professors during classes, setting fire and planting bombs/dynamite on university buildings, openly calling to killing policemen on radio stations. It seemed like their program was pure anarchy and destruction.


Or maybe not anarchy, but a result of committed increasingly politically conscious young people trying to stop an unjust, brutal, imperialist war, and in the process learning just how ugly their brutal imperialist government(s) were. And getting push back from that regime with force and oppression. And as a result some taking it to the logical extreme.


One of the more interesting pieces of open media I've found: a documentary produced at the time of the Columbia student protests of 1968. (49 min total)

https://archive.org/details/Columbia1969

https://archive.org/details/Columbia1969_2

There's a lot revisionist history on both sides, but it ultimately boiled down to young people attempting to assert their visions of the world, while entrenched, older power structures attempted to avoid change.

Personally? I think it's inspirational for people to get off their ass and try to effect change they believe in.

Action, not anger.


Why not link that account?

Mentioned in another comment:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Program

> Military intelligence officer K. Barton Osborne reports that he witnessed the following use of torture:

> > The use of the insertion of the 6-inch dowel into the canal of one of my detainee's ears, and the tapping through the brain until dead. The starvation to death (in a cage), of a Vietnamese woman who was suspected of being part of the local political education cadre in one of the local villages...The use of electronic gear such as sealed telephones attached to...both the women's vaginas and men's testicles [to] shock them into submission

Yes, I bet a some anti-social people used the protest movement to engage in their own oppression ("killing pigs" and "killing commie charlies" is the same thing in a way), but using them as a fig leaf is blatantly profiting of their deeds to hide yet other vile deeds, and to smear the best parts of a generation that at least tried.

That professor may never know even just one first-hand account of a person murdered as they looked away, and in turn may never know the life they actually lived. People don't like to hear that, but sometimes, who you think you are is just a shiny consolation price for being distracted from what you're actually serving. People can fool themselves and beyond a threshold, they're usually too weak to ever stop fooling themselves. They fell down the gravity well, let them serve as a warning. See them, see the well, and judge their words accordingly.


> Why not link that account?

It was in Polish (the professor in question was Czeslaw Milosz), in Milosz's letters to Jerzy Giedroyc.


> That professor may never know even just one first-hand account of a person murdered as they looked away, and in turn may never know the life they actually lived. People don't like to hear that, but sometimes, who you think you are is just a shiny consolation price for being distracted from what you're actually serving.

The professor was a declared lefist since the 30ties, but, having witnessed Stalinism first-hand, he was very opposed to blind and brutal use of "revolutionary" force. Actually, by his account, most of the other professors were very conforimist in caving in to the anarchists' violence and appeasing their demands.


Moral-based violence is the worst because the people actually believe they are doing you a favor as they force you to accept their world view or face the consequences. They establish new totalitarianism and feel they make the world a better place.

Late teen and early twenty-something kids have some amount of knowledge, but zero experience. We are reliving the same problem today. Antifa, just like the protesters in the 60s are a bunch of naive kids led by people exploiting that naivety for political gain.


> Antifa, just like the protesters in the 60s are a bunch of naive kids led by people exploiting that naivety for political gain.

Just like the kids the US government sent to Vietnam. That war was "Moral-based violence" and the idea that the counter reaction was the real evil is insane.

Edit: There are plenty more recent examples of the government using moral justifications for war - "They hate our freedoms". "Axis of evil". "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists".

If "Moral-based violence" is scary, the US government is its number one peddler, not the protestors.


I'm against it when it's students 50 years ago or the government today. What if they had "won"? We'd have the same problems and evils -- only the leaders would be different.


I’m not arguing or criticizing or even differing with you here, but simply and genuinely asking: who is exploiting Antifa, and for what gain?


> Comparing behavior of the government to the behavior of private citizens.

You know, it's possible for both of them to be the bad guys, right?

The class of '68 were petit totalitarians. Thankfully we had no Chairman Mao in the USA to really set them loose (like the Red Guard was in China).

The people building these bombs and such were cruel and violent. Hiding behind a shield of a "peace, love, and equality" ideology.


It says radio tv and papers were it, then.

Having lived pre internet news days i am a minority that can truly describe how it was a different world back then. Our world is so much better because tv radio and newspapers matter so much less. We have to think for ourselves and decide which topics are newsworthy:not have others coax and decide what is important.

Long live the internet


I graduated from high school in 1968 and I find that media and its contents including the internet are more centralized and homogeneous now than they were then. The internet did not not just add to the mainstream media, it replaced some of its most interesting parts and replaced much the underground media that existed alongside it. In those days it was not just Time/Life/Newsweek/ABC/NBC/CBS, you could also find on the newstand left- and dissident journals like Ramparts and Evergreen Review, and their right wing counterparts. And, some of the contents of the mainstream media itself were higher quality and more varied. Compare a current issue of Esquire or Rolling Stone - now mostly entertainment industry promotion and fluff - with a 1968 issue, where they had very long articles by authors like Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Oriana Fallaci, and many more. Beyond that there was a thriving world of underground papers and newsletters with contents ranging from sharp and pertinent to crackpot, with odd and sometimes wonderful DIY production and design. Not just print media - the FM radio station I listened to was literaly underground, their studio was in a church basement. People organized huge demostrations using these DIY media. Yes, it is probably easier now for a random person to get their opinions in front of a lot of eyes, but most of these carry little information, they mostly just repeat what the writer has seen/read elsewhere - and it appears on the same homogeneous platform with everything else. It takes a bit more energy and ingenuity to express your opinions or self-expression in a self-published mimeographed or xeroxed newsletter, but it contributes more variety and might even make a bigger impression.


Agreed, "real" alternative voices were more noticeable back then. On the newsstand, in the library, in a magazine everyone read, at a campus talk or on TV. Noam Chomsky used to appear on PBS when was young - now you have to go to RT (literally!) or other foreign media like AJ/BBC/DW to see anyone outside the dualistic status-quo.


  We have to think for ourselves and decide which topics are newsworthy:not have others coax and decide what is important.
Well, most of the time people choose the convenient route of confirmation bias. The internet is certainly not providing any solutions to that problem currently..


In a college architecture course we were asked to write a paper on 1968, with little other guidance. I remember digging in and being surprised at how pivotal that year was. In 2016 I found myself thinking about that paper, feeling like we might be living through a year that future professors would ask their students to write about.


The US has always been fractured, the country wasn't even created by choice as much as necessity. The whole Electoral College system is in place to keep it politically unified.

There comes a point were States like New York and California are better off alone. As it stands today large parts of the US are underrepresented. A suburb in Miami is more important for the presidential election than all the votes in NYC.


This is related in time and U.S. Political scene: the documentary "Best of Enemies" which centers around ABC's coverage of the U.S. Presidential party conventions hosted by William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. It also analyzes their histories and it analyzes the rise of identity politics in the U.S. And this identity politics / these debates perhaps showcase the ideological fracturing of the U.S.

> http://www.magpictures.com/bestofenemies/


I must be alone in thinking that times are pretty good and the US is not fracturing, and today is nothing like the late 1960s or 70s.

Crime/violence:

Both violent and property crime rates are way down [1].

My home region of the Ozarks (SW Missouri, NW Arkansas, NE Oklahoma) is much safer than when I was in jr. high and high school (1995-2001) when there was a huge amount of rural violence associated mostly with the meth trade. I had friends and neighbors killed both purposefully and incidentally with this, none of whom were users or involved in the trade in any way--just children or landlords or neighbors or whatever. We used to get out of school because the cops would be raiding meth labs within shooting distance of the school. This has largely subsided. There is definitely violence associated with the opioid crisis, but the deaths have been overdoses and suicides at least among the people I know.

War:

There are definitely some nasty and protracted conflicts abroad, but, unlike in 1968, the US is not mired in them and losing thousands of soldiers a year--Wikipedia gives 4,491 deaths for US soldiers for the entire Iraq war, for example. Not that it wasn't a horrible and unnecessary loss, and several orders of magnitude worse for Iraqis than the US, but this was also the case for Vietnam (and Cambodia, Laos, etc). While there continues to be strife in the Middle East and a few other places, and I worry about Africa being a major site of east vs. west proxy war in the coming decades, globally the situation seems more peaceful and democratic than in the Cold War or the colonial era.

Societal issues in the US:

There is a lot of sound and fury, but protests are largely peaceful. The protests involved with Ferguson, Charlottesville, etc. were much more mild than in the 1960s, or the race riots of Tulsa (1921, 39-300 deaths, 10,000+ people left homeless [2]), LA (1992, 63 deaths [3]), and so forth.

Gay rights were granted largely peacefully as well--lots of progress here, though it wasn't frictionless.

Similarly, the recent wave of defenestrations of powerful men due to sexual abuse is to me a net positive even if there are inevitable witch hunts associated.

Domestic terrorism seems to be less of a concern. I don't know about rates but from what I understand there were a lot of bombings from both far left and far right sources in the 1960s and 1970s. We haven't had any high-profile political assassinations in a while.

The rise in single-parent households is a concern. I have no idea how much this reduces the incidence of domestic violence as moms don't live with abusive dads. Maybe a little?

Homelessness is also a major concern but is slightly decreasing over the past decade, not even accounting for population growth [4]. I have no idea how it compares to the 1960s or so. I think a lot of mentally ill people were institutionalized then, which isn't the case now AFAIK.

The economy:

Parts of the economy are good (stocks, general employment levels), and though there are still problems with stagnant wages for many, debt levels (particularly student loans), and housing prices in many places are terrifying (I'm living in SV on a pretty meager nonprofit salary, because my wife has a great job that pays OK). But it's a lot better than it was a decade ago, or in the 70s. There are still huge issues with medical care that need to be resolved, but at least lots of people are employed as paper pushers...

Inequality is a major concern, I concede. And I worry about an upcoming stock market crash.

I think it's possible that trade work will pay better and better, and as more tradespeople rejoin the middle class communities (neighborhoods, school districts etc.) some of the inequalities of social status between the higher-income blue-collar work and lower-income white-collar work will dissipate.

The environment:

Way better than in the mid-20th century. We have a lot more protected lands than in the 1960s, and air and water quality are much improved (thanks, Nixon!). From Wikipedia:

"In the United States between 1970 and 2006, citizens enjoyed the following reductions in annual pollution emissions:

- carbon monoxide emissions fell from 197 million tons to 89 million tons

- nitrogen oxide emissions fell from 27 million tons to 19 million tons

- sulfur dioxide emissions fell from 31 million tons to 15 million tons

- particulate emissions fell by 80%

- lead emissions fell by more than 98%"

Without looking stuff up, I think that the broad population shifts from rural and semi-rural to urban and suburban since the 1950s are decreasing the pressure on the environment; national forests in most places are recovering from the ~1850s-1950s logging period.

Climate change is bad, forest fires are bad, the decrease in insect populations are probably quite bad and may indicate a very rotten ecological foundation. However, the effects of climate change aren't directly tearing our country apart at present; the debate over it (and the underlying struggle for power and authority between science and government vs. church and business) is or did contribute. Once agriculture begins to fail in the Great Plains and CA central valley, it'll get real.

---

Honestly, I don't get it. Sometimes I think things have been decent for long enough that we've forgotten what it was like when things were really bad--the Civil War, WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, Vietnam, etc.

I also think that a lot more of the seeming chaos is that more voices are included than previously, particularly from marginalized communities.

This aren't perfect, but are they awful? Or are we just bored and riled up about small matters such as the rhetoric of our politicians, or their seeming inability to get stuff done?

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_the_United_States

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_riot

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1992_Los_Angeles_riots

[4]: https://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/health-ca...


As side note: gif with nytimes article headlines are totally useless on phone, not readable at all


Ironically those graphics are the whole point of the article. It is supposed to simulate what the year 1968 might have looked like if there had been a Twitter feed back then. There is very little original content in the article text itself.

Edit: On further inspection, I am coming to the conclusion that the article is really a thinly veiled advertisement for TimesMachine, a subscription newspaper archive.

https://timesmachine.nytimes.com


You had to say “a side note” because it’s technically not the semantics of the page, but thanks for making the comment. We need to call out functionally crappy design, especially when it interferes with good content


Not just that, but for me they also cause the actual article text to jump around, making reading the article quite frustrating.


What gif? I only found a couple and they were at the bottom of the page in the related article stuff.


There are graphics simulating push notifications of 1968 news every few paragraphs, captioned "Photo: Associated Press". They animate only once, so try reloading?

I agree that it animates a tad too quickly, and that the animation really isn't needed.


I think figgis may be responding in a sarcastic way and trying to point out that those are not animated gifs, but are actual HTML page elements, animated with CSS. If you view on desktop and use a browser DOM inspector (like Chrome Dev Tools) you can verify that this is the case.

To be honest I'm quite impressed that NYTimes went this length to create these technical widgets. Do they have software engineers or web developers working in conjunction with journalists on articles like these? Seems like a relatively high cost of production.

Although I'm not a fan, I have to say in this case it does do its job quite well, which is to demonstrate how having twitter news would feel like back in the 1968s~ time.


>> To be honest I'm quite impressed that NYTimes went this length to create these technical widgets ... Seems like a relatively high cost of production.

That's because the article is really just an advertisement for TimesMachine, a subscription newspaper archive. I didn't notice it at first, either.


Yes, they have newsroom developers and newsroom web designers. That’s how they managed to create well integrated pieces like the 2013 Oscar trailers article [1] or the many d3js interactive dataviz. [1] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/19/movies/awardss...


> I think figgis may be responding in a sarcastic way

Was not intended, just curious. But that would be why I couldn't find it.


The speed is part of the effect - big news happening fast and before you have had time to digest the previous event. At least, that was my take.


Side note to the side note: I remember reading here that someone had a scriptlet that removes nytimes stories from hackernews. If someone has such a thing, would you mind sharing it?


> It was also the year of the Tet offensive, an enormous attack by North Vietnamese forces, and of more than 16,000 American deaths in the Vietnam War, more than in any other year.

Sigh...half a century later the Tet offensive is called "an enormous attack by North Vietnamese forces".

How about an enormous attack by "South" Vietnamese forces, like the National Liberation Front? Who took over the American embassy in Saigon, the "North Vietnamese forces"? It was a local NLF C-10 Sapper batallion. The North Vietnamese attack had its main thrust toward the Vietnamese border, the ARVN's I Corps Tactical Zone. Further south it mostly aided the NLF (and local populace) uprising.

The Tet Offensive was costly to the NLF - after years of fighting the French, the Americans, and their Vietnamese collaborators, the NLF was somewhat worn down, and the Tet Offensive was kind of its last hurrah. From 1968 on, the resistance in southern Vietnam became more dependent on North Vietnamese aid.

Insofar as "North" and "South" Vietnam, these themselves are created entities. In 1940, Vietnam was under the control of the Vichy French, who were somewhat hostile to the US. Then it fell to Japanese control. In March 1945, the Vichy French were completely ousted. The OSS was arming and supporting Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, people like Archimedes Patti.

At the end of 1945, the French wanted to take colonial control of Vietnam again (Ho Chi Minh had declared independence with a very pro-US speech and policy, seemingly approved by local American government officials). The French did not have the manpower to take over Vietnam though and asked the English for help, as French/English interests were not 100% US-aligned (see Suez crisis). The English did not have the manpower either so they sent Nepali Gurkhas to take back Vietnam. Many events took place in the next weeks and months, I can't go into it all here, including the British rearming the Japanese to fight against the Vietnamese.

So years of guerilla warfare ensue between the Vietnamese and French colonialists, ending in the 1954 Geneva conference. There, a promise for elections is made. Also pledged is reunification. The US is not a party to the conference.

Eisenhower says in his memoirs he could not allow elections as Ho Chi Minh would have won. So the US starts a policy against the promised elections and reunification. Like the Japanese, French and English, the US at some point invades southern Vietnam. It begins a war against the mostly southern NLF resistance, which includes not just communists but Buddhist monks, Vietnamese nationalists etc., all of these comprise the NLF. Of course, on the long war from 1954 to 1975, including things like the Phoenix Program where the CIA went around south Vietnam murdering school teachers, newspaper columnists and anyone seen as being against US forces being in Vietnam. By 1972 the US began pulling out, and was ousted in 1975. By then the southern resistance forces had been decimated (along with millions killed in the south) and the "northern" forces had become more prominent.


The strangest thing to me was how pro-US Ho Chi Minh was and how strongly we ignored that, largely for a policy of colonialism that everyone already knew was dead. France doesn't catch near enough crap for that.

We should have told France to stuff it.


Should have? Yes. Could have? Probably not. No one in the US gave two shits about French Indochina, it was all about Western Europe and containing the USSR/Communists during the scramble to pick up the pieces after the war. France had a large Communist party that was a key part of the resistance during the war and maintained a good reputation after, and large proletariat revolutions had a historical precedent in France that probably scared US government officials to death. No matter how much he was hated, you backed de Gaulle over the alternative so that you only had to worry about Eastern Europe and not have a grenade explode in the middle of the continent. Not a good choice, but even in hindsight it seems like there were not a lot of good options available to the US.


>Should have? Yes. Could have? Probably not. No one in the US gave two shits about French Indochina, it was all about Western Europe and containing the USSR/Communists during the scramble to pick up the pieces after the war.

And what exactly business was of them to contain anything in foreign countries?


It was no more the business of the US to contain the USSR in Western Europe than it was the business of the USSR to violently repress any possibility of democracy in Eastern Europe and install puppet governments in same. Realpolitik is a bitch, but better to understand the real world than pretend that some fantasy of how things "should" work is a useful guide.


Very well put. I would say that containment went too far (even Keenan thought so later in life) but violent class struggle and Communist takeover was exactly what was being pursued by the Soviet Union. Although initially the hope seems to be an international coalition of workers under Communism (i.e. there would be no need for an invasion, workers from all nations would unite under its banner) the Bolsheviks quickly crushed that idea by turning the first truly communist state into a virtual dictatorship, and crushing any opposition using violence.


>Realpolitik is a bitch, but better to understand the real world than pretend that some fantasy of how things "should" work is a useful guide.

Well, the worst hypocrites when it comes to forgetting that "realpolitik" being a bitch are the US though.


Whether it was their business or not, I'm thankful Americans did it, because it meant that I have been able to live my first 50 years in freedom and peace.

Without American support after World War II, also Western Europe would have been ruled by stalinist USSR.


The US? Because if Europe gets overrun by Soviets, like they got overrun by Germany, guess who's next? Could you imagine Soviet Europe for the last 60 years?

My uncle was drafted in Vietnam, except he didn't go to Vietnam, he went to West Germany. He spent his time waiting for the Soviets to roll their tanks over the border.


>The US? Because if Europe gets overrun by Soviets, like they got overrun by Germany, guess who's next?

Again, that's not their business. Besides half of Europe wanted to be socialist -- and I'm speaking of the support for such parties in Western Europe.

>Could you imagine Soviet Europe for the last 60 years?

Many wished exactly that at the time. Again, not the business of a foreign power to meddle.


>Besides half of Europe wanted to be socialist -- and I'm speaking of the support for such parties in Western Europe.

There's a big, big difference between wanting to be socialist and living under a Soviet regime.

It is US business because if Europe was overrun by Soviets, the US would have to get involved, if not for their own interests, certainly the interests of the now subjugated Europe. It's also a hell of a lot harder fighting with your back to the ocean. I mean we are talking the exact same scenario that happened in 1914 and 1939, except instead of Germany, it would have been the USSR. The Eastern Bloc countries revolted for a reason.

Not only that, the victors of WWII wanted the US military there for that very reason.

>Again, not the business of a foreign power to meddle.

It sure was welcomed in 1917 and 1941.


>It is US business because if Europe was overrun by Soviets, the US would have to get involved, if not for their own interests, certainly the interests of the now subjugated Europe.

So, it would have been equally OK for other nations to invade the US in the interests of the black slaves, the native Americans, the other peoples all over the world it harmed, etc?

>It sure was welcomed in 1917 and 1941.

You'd be surprised. That's how Americans tell it themselves, and also how, via Hollywood, they taught modern historically illiterate people to see it.

In surveys and polls the decades just after WWII, when the thing was still fresh in memory, most Europeans placed the biggest role in defeating Nazi Germany with USSR, not the US.

  In 1945, most French people thought that the Soviet Union 
  deserved the most credit for Nazi Germany's defeat in World 
  War II — even though the Soviets didn't play much of a role 
  in France's liberation, relative to the US and Britain. By 
  1995 and 2004, however, the French had changed their minds, 
  and were crediting the US as the biggest contributor to 
  victory in Europe (...)
https://www.vox.com/2014/6/16/5814270/the-successful-70-year...

  Scholar addresses question, ‘Who won World War II in 
  Europe?’

  There’s no easy answer, said Norman Davies, an Oxford-
  educated British historian and Poland specialist who has 
  written widely on the 1939-1945 conflict.

  (...)

  Among the Davies so-called myths:

  That D-Day was big and decisive. (About 80 percent of 
  German forces were lost on the Eastern Front, he said, 
  where the biggest battles raged.)

  That the West triumphed over the Third Reich. (Germany was 
  all but defeated by the Soviets well before the Allies 
  landed troops on the continent, he contended.)

  In fact, asserted Davies, it was the Red Army that played 
  the decisive role in defeating Germany, “and they were in 
  the service of an evil tyranny.”

  Sheer numbers alone help dispel myths about the war, he 
  said. In 1939, the United States had half as many trained 
  soldiers as Poland — and it took until 1944 to muster 100 
  American divisions. The Germans fielded 230 divisions, and 
  the Soviets as many as 400.
http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/09/scholar-addres...

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/the-soviet-union-hel...


>So, it would have been equally OK for other nations to invade the US in the interests of the black slaves, the native Americans, the other peoples all over the world it harmed, etc?

Depends on how you look at it, the North certainly invaded an independent CSA (the South) over slavery as most of the war was fought in the South. Obviously the North thought it was ok and the South didn't. Also, the UK nearly join the war on the side of the South. "OK" is such a simple term, I think we are having completely different levels of discussion.

>You'd be surprised. That's how Americans tell it themselves, and also how, via Hollywood, they taught modern historically illiterate people to see it. In surveys and polls the decades just after WWII, when the thing was still fresh in memory, most Europeans placed the biggest role in defeating Nazi Germany with USSR, not the US.

So my statement was Europe wanted the US to enter the war (which they most certainly did.) You are arguing that the USSR was the most responsible for defeating Nazi Germany. Do you see how those are two different things? I know you want to win the argument, but at least counter argue what I'm arguing.

FWIW, I agree that the USSR was the single most important factor in defeating Nazi Germany. Russia was also was one of the factors of the rise since they signed the Soviet-German non-aggression pact, then both Germany and Russia invaded Eastern Europe. Oops.

https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-08-21/pact-between-hitler-a...


I don't think many people in Western Europe wished for a Soviet Europe, but quite a lot of people wanted something far more democratic-socialist than the US was willing to allow. It's definitely a factor in the creation of the EU.

The dichotomy of "everything must be US-style dystopia capitalism or full communism" has poisoned politics for over half a century.


Sweden is seen as a democratic-socialist country, but the guns were definitely aimed east. This was probably the case for most countries in Europe. Why would anyone want to be part of the Soviet union? Not even the Soviet members did.

I think the "foreign power meddling in our business" needs to be nuanced -- I'm personally happy the US decided to spend taxpayer's money to keep us safe.


> Besides half of Europe wanted to be socialist -- and I'm speaking of the support for such parties in Western Europe. [...] Many wished exactly [Soviet Europe] at the time

While there was support for socialism in Western Europe, after 1956 it was not necessarily support for Soviet-style socialism, since the invasion of Hungary appalled many Communists and led them to denounce the USSR. Then, the uproar of 1968, the USSR was mocked by many as a spent force politically and no friend or guide to future actions, so the Situationists or Maoists proposed instead their respective takes on Communism. So, plenty of Western European socialists appreciated the USSR staying far, far away.


The US didn't meddle, NATO was co founded by European governments. My own country literally begged the US to house nuclear weapons in order to keep the Soviets out.


Depending on which country you speak of, it was usually just the pro-establishment, pro-rich part of the political elites, as opposed to the whole country "begging the US".


Well, his pro-US sentiments are somewhat exaqggerated. Ho Chi Minh was yet another alias for Nguyễn Ái Quốc/Nguyễn Sinh Cung who lived for a time in the Soviet Union and founded one of the several competing Vietnamese Communist Parties in the 1920s. He always was pro-Soviet, but he was willing to work with the US because he believed that the US wanted to break up the French Empire after the war.


That doesn't change at all. In the same pace it was ignored how pro-US Russia in 90s was, largely for intertia from Cold War times which was irrelevant but also the only mode that was remembered.

This lead to Russia only getting humiliation for its forward steps, and fast forward 20 years, new "cool war" with Putin.

The problem here is also short memory. It's Orwelesque "Oceania always had war with Eurasia", ignoring that "always" is just 40 years, but also it's all two generations can remember. In XX century, suddently human memory became too short for politics.


> it was ignored how pro-US Russia in 90s was, largely for intertia from Cold War times

Russia wasn't “pro-US” in the 1990s; after the fall of the USSR, Russia, after a brief moment of inward-focussed stabilization, returned to active geopolitical competition based (in Europe, at least) largely on fanning the flames of pan-Slavism.

At best, under Yeltsin, Russia could be “pro integration into the neoliberal regime of international trade”, but that's a far cry from being pro-US.


That's as much affection as you can ever see from a country this size.

Russian pan-Slavism faces an obvious obstacle of Poland. It's a no go. If you're talking about Serbia, then let's face it, 90s Europe saw a fire lit in their midst that they couldn't contain for a decade. It's a thorough failure of pan-European security. On yet another attempt to extinguish flame with gasoline, even Yeltsin's Russia had to do something. Which was totally not much.


>If you're talking about Serbia, then let's face it, 90s Europe saw a fire lit in their midst that they couldn't contain for a decade.

Couldn't extinguish? They help lit the fire.


> Sigh...half a century later the Tet offensive is called "an enormous attack by North Vietnamese forces".

> How about an enormous attack by "South" Vietnamese forces, like the National Liberation Front?

In fairness, wasn't Tet both the NVA and VC? And Tet was organised and executed from the North, predominantly by Giap, right?


Thanks for mentioning the Phoenix Program, I had never learned about it, it's crazy that stuff like this is just glossed over.


What about.... Article's point not being about Vietnam war.


In hindsight the US should have just supported Ho Chi Minh and his government. The man was more of a nationalist and anti colonialist than a Soviet pawn.


If the NYTimes' tweets had the same level of quality as their pretend tweets from the past, I'd follow them.


Do you mean the would-be push notifications? That’s the same level of quality as what they do for current events. The push notifications are in the top three reasons I pay for the Times. I can’t recommend a subscription enough.


Do you have a sample of what the current ones contain?


“No one is bombing Hawaii”


Not sure I need to spend $15/mo to know that. :)




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