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Is the War in Vietnam a Just War?

This question, which involves our position in Vietnam and the many peripheral ques­tions have been main topics of discussion over the past several years. Because this situation has so closely affected all of our lives it does not lack in public opinion. For example, those who can remember the Korean and the Second World War, fear an escalation of the Vietnam action to this point, and we are all, undoubtedly, ac­quainted with persons who are faced with military service in Vietnam. News broad­casts echo the reports of demonstrations, draft card burnings, Congressional hearings, and the like. We all have opinions, one way or another, regarding this matter. 1 do not assume to be an expert on this subject, but I would like to think that what is set down here might in some small way give the reader a little more light on the subject. The subject being as complex and involved as it is does not lend itself to one absolute solu­tion. To come to any opinion at all con­cerning a matter of this sort we can only assume that the supposedly reliable sources are relating the truth and base our opinions accordingly. I say supposedly reliable be­cause we who are not as closely connected to the military and political goings-on can only assume that because of their position the news reporters and politicians record reliable information. Using these sources for my information, I would like to approach the subject from two viewpoints, that of legality and that of morality. These view­points, at first, seem to be one in the same, but we will approach the legality issue through the pacts and documents of past history, asking ourselves, does the U.S. have a legal right to be in Vietnam? The moral­ity viewpoint can be approached by asking the question, whether die U.S. present-day actions are justifiable in view of their pur­pose and what is the purpose?

I would like to begin this discussion with a brief history’ of the conflict in Vietnam, viewing the events since World War II in perspective. The struggle in South Vietnam stems from disruption of two world wars.  World War I and World War II disrupted a structure of power which had stood for one hundred years. Taking advantage of the resulting turmoil, the Communist na­tions have attempted to extend their control into other areas of the world. The Marshall Plan and NATO succeeded partially in con­taining Communist advances in Europe. Beginning with the Truman Administration, the U.S. government has become increasing­ly aware of the fact that Southeast Asia is vital to the security of the U.S. To some, this may seem to be an unwarranted state­ment, but I will attempt to explain it later. In 1954, Undersecretary Smith stated that, according to Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, the U.S. would “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force,” and also, “would view any renewal of the aggression in violation of the aforesaid agree­ment.” More directly connected with Viet­nam is the fact that soon after the Korean War, France decided to withdraw from Southeast Asia. In accordance with their withdrawal there was a division of the ter­ritory included the division of Vietnam at the 17th Parallel. This was in agreement with the Geneva accords of 1954 and was recognized by the United Nations. At this point, U.S. military personnel and equip­ment were introduced into South Vietnam as a replacement for the French personnel and equipment. The following facts (state­ments by Secretary Rusk at Congressional hearings) as I have said before, will be ac­cepted as truth for the mere fact that I have nothing better to go on. After the division of territory, North Vietnam expected that because of South Vietnam’s weak political and social conditions it would be only a matter of short time before South Vietnam would fall into their control. But contrary to expectations South Vietnam made consider­able progress. Hanoi’s reaction to this was to place a secret political-military organiza­tion in South Vietnam for the purpose of propaganda and the assassination of local officials. In 1960, North Vietnam made it publicly clear that it was attempting to envelop South Vietnam into its own political organization.  At about the same time the National Liberation Front was estab­lished. This was a Communist creation in­tended to voice the opinion of the whole of Vietnam. Hanoi intended that this or­ganization be viewed by the rest of the world as the voice of a truly communistic South Vietnam. This organization has not concealed its role in stating, in 1961, that it would “act overtly to lead the revolution in South Vietnam.” Late in 1961, the U.S. forces in Vietnam began for the first time to take an active part in the conflict. These actions were intended to decrease com­munist aggression. Since that time there has been a continual escalation of U.S. strength in accordance with continued aggression.

To begin the actual discussion, I will list some of my contradictions of the war and their reasons. Following this I will present the official refutations to these contradic­tions.

Many people feel that the United States does not have a legal right to be in Vietnam, that we have such vast military power and like to use it. The United States is acting as the policeman of the universe. Also, in these actions, many people feel that there is no logical reason for the United States to be in Vietnam.

Another reason is that the war in Vietnam is based on a series of U.S. miscalculations. The U.S. is comparing the conflict in Viet­nam to the Second World War, where small countries were being faced with active ag­gression, while the actual fact here is that the conflict is civil in nature and Vietnam is essentially one country. Also, we some­times base our actions on the fact that Southeast Asia is a testing ground for com­munist theory, but actually revolutions are born out of misery and discontent and are not controlled by a central head. A fact brought up along these lines is that of one hundred and forty-nine serious internal in­surgencies in the past eight years the Com­munists have been involved in only fifty- eight of them.

According to John C. Bennet, president of Union Theological Seminary, a just war necessitates just means. Our actions in Viet­nam are in direct violation of this point. The accidental bombings of villages in South Vietnam, the poisoning of rice crops, and the torturing of prisoners are morally in­tolerable.

We have continually rejected direct nego­tiations with the Vietcong. The U.S. calls for unconditional negotiations but combines it with affirmations about the outcome that the other side could never accept. As a result there have been no negotiations.

Finally, because the American public seems to be lacking in understanding of the conflict, the military actions are dubious. The government has obscured the reasons for their actions either because they them­selves don’t understand it or otherwise the real reason might involve complications which would not be acceptable to the Amer­ican public.

Much of the following information has been taken from “The Department of State Bulletin” recorded when Secretary Rusk was before the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations. In answer to the legality issue, Rusk cites a few reasons. According to in­ternational law, we are authorized by the well-established right of collective self ­defense against armed attack, to aid South Vietnam against the armed attack of North Vietnam. Even though South Vietnam is not a member, the self-defense point is not limited to U.N. members and so the U.S. is not stymied on this point. Although Vietnam is a temporarily divided state, in­ternational agreements and laws require that the demarcation line be respected by both zones. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organiza­tion was established for the support of the nations of Southeast Asia. In this agreement the U.S. joined with Great Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Pakistan, and the Philippines “to guarantee the secur­ity not only of the member nations, but also to come to the aid of certain protocol states and territories if they so requested.” Article IV, paragraph 1 of SEATO states that “each Party recognizes that aggression by means of armed attack would endanger its own peace and safety”; he agrees that it will in that event act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.” This treaty has guided the U.S. in their Vietnam actions.

The fact of the origin of the conflict is not entirely’ clear to me but the fact that the Communists have taken advantage of the situation and are attempting to channel the revolution along their own lines is im­portant.  President Eisenhower once said, “Strategically, South

Vietnam’s capture by the communists would bring their power several hundred miles into a hitherto free region. The remaining countries in South­east Asia would be menaced by a great flanking movement. The freedom of twelve million people would be lost immediately and that of one hundred million others in adjacent land would be seriously en­dangered. The loss of South Vietnam would set in motion a crumbling process that could, as it progresses, have grave conse­quences for us and for freedom.” The U.S. is not attempting to impose a political or social structure but is trying to allow Viet­nam to be itself.

The morally intolerable instances which were mentioned before, are, as General Taylor says, normal courses of war and are to be expected.

As I mentioned before, even the opposi­tion admits to President Johnson’s efforts for peace but they feel that the U.S. is hindering these efforts by speaking of con­ditions which the Vietcong would not ac­cept. The U.S. government has listed four­teen points (on public record) along the lines of negotiations, not in form of condi­tions but in the direction of withdrawal. Hanoi insists that negotiations must follow four points which they have established. The third point is of concern to us and has caused a stalemate in negotiations. It says that “The internal affairs of South Vietnam must be settled by the South Vietnamese people themselves in accordance with the program of the National Liberation Front.” The XLF does not voice the opinions of South Vietnam. It was a creation of North Vietnam. No prominent persons belong to it and it has been reported that Vietnamese students are wholly against it. For these reasons the U.S. and North Vietnam cannot negotiate while this point is insisted upon by Hanoi.

In response to the feeling that the U.S. government has been secretive in their deal­ings in Vietnam, I can only say that the nature of war demands a certain amount of secrecy but also the past Congressional hear­ings have given the LT.S. Citizens a greater understanding of the conflict. Up to a cer­tain point we can learn much by doing some conscientious studying on this matter.

This brings us to the main point of my article, “Is the War In Vietnam a Just War?” “Just” according to the dictionary means comfortable to law, impartial, fair, and honest in dealings with others. As you can see, this definition allows for many personal slants to the meaning, but for now we will use the formerly mentioned criteria of legal­ity and morality. Once again we must as­sume the creditability of our sources. Taking this into account, I think that I have shown that by pacts, treaties, and documents the U.S. has a legal right to be in Vietnam. In regard to the moral viewpoint, I stated that the military actions in Vietnam follow the normal courses of war. If my assumptions are true, I think that I can say that the war in Vietnam is justifiable.

I hope that I have not elevated our sub­ject out of proportion, realizing that our real battle is not earthly, but we cannot fol­low our government blindly. Our govern­ment is representative of the people and we must be concerned with this representa­tion. No matter what conclusion that each individual reaches it must be in the form of criticism, positive or negative. This criticism must not reach the bounds of active opposi­tion. Romans 13:1 & 2. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” Let this be the rule in our reactions towards Vietnam and any governmental undertaking.