The Washington Post: America’s Imperial Scribes

Vo Nguyen Giap, the military leader of the Vietnamese resistance to French and American domination, has died. The Washington Post has a decent obituary, but this bit of language really caught my eye.  Listen carefully to the different verbs that are used to describe the actions of the US versus those of the Vietnamese, post-Geneva Accords.

At the Geneva Conference that followed the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam was divided into two countries: north and south. In the north, the Communist Party ruled under the leadership of Ho. With the French colonialists out of the picture, an ambitious land-reform program was undertaken, for which Gen. Giap would later apologize. “[W]e . . . executed too many honest people . . . and, seeing enemies everywhere, resorted to terror, which became far too widespread. . . . Worse still, torture came to be regarded as a normal practice,” he was quoted as having said by Neil Sheehan in his Pulitzer-winning 1988 book, “A Bright Shining Lie.”

In the south, the United States replaced France as the major foreign influence. CIA operatives worked to blunt communist initiatives, and by the early 1960s, U.S. soldiers began arriving as “advisers” to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Men and supplies flowed southward from Hanoi, and indigenous guerrilla units throughout South Vietnam began raiding government troops and installations. The United States increased its level of support, which by 1968 had reached 500,000 military personnel.

So in 1954, Vietnam was merely “divided.” By no one. In the North, the Communists “ruled,” “executed” innocents, and “tortured.” In the South, the US merely “replaced” France as an “influence.” The CIA “worked,” American soldiers “arrived,” supplies “flowed,” the US “increased support.”

Sixty years later, America’s imperial scribes are still at the top of their game.


  1. foppe October 4, 2013 at 2:40 pm | #

    I guess history can be written by the losers after all…

  2. enrique October 4, 2013 at 8:06 pm | #

    Great post. Another blatant example of this is the genocide of American Indians and America’s violent war of aggression and expansion against Mexico … people and the press would rather forget about these ugly historical truths than remember

    • Stephen Zielinski October 9, 2013 at 7:29 pm | #

      The Philippine-American war and its aftermath was a bloody and totalizing effort which killed at least a million Filipinos and led to the establishment of English as the language of government and business. Of course, Uncle Sam slaughtered Filipinos in order to liberate and protect them from foreign predators.

      The war prefigured the debacle in Viet Nam — and Iraq. It also reflected the genocide of the aboriginal Americans in both tactics and, to a lesser degree, outcome.

  3. Mitchell Freedman October 5, 2013 at 12:36 am | #

    It’s even worse than that, Corey. The Geneva Accords did not create two different countries. The Accords set up zones to ensure an orderly procession for the French soldiers to leave Vietnam. The French were sent south away from where the strongest resistance to colonial rule had been. The Accords set up national elections for all of Vietnam in 1956, two years after the 1954 Accords.

    At the time the Accords were agreed upon, by the US, Communist China, France, the Vietnamese Communist leadership and I forget the other nation or nations, it was expected the Accords would be signed.

    Suddenly, John Foster Dulles and Ike said the US was not going to sign and that nobody needed to sign. The two men each gave assurances that the US would honor the Accords.

    The US then set out to create a new country in the southern sector, grabbed Diem from upstate New York, and installed him as president with an election so phony the CIA was embarrassed. The CIA had earlier told Ike that if free elections had been held, Ho would have won with at least 70% of the nationwide vote (northern and southern sectors, in case there is still confusion among any readers).

    So the Washington Post article is wrong to talk about the Geneva Accords creating two “countries.” That is simply not true.

    • BillR October 5, 2013 at 11:59 am | #

      Pinky & Bunny discuss the origins of the Vietnam War.

      • Mitchell Freedman October 5, 2013 at 2:20 pm | #

        God bless Pinky and Bunny. That was brilliant, BillR. I am knocked over by its wonderful and creative, yet straight forward explanation of the origins of the US war against Vietnam. Outstanding!

  4. GeoffH October 6, 2013 at 8:51 pm | #

    Your post reminds me a bit, actually reminds me a lot, of Yonstan Mendel’s LRB’s 2008 piece “How to Become an Israeli Journalist”. Words really do have power.

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