Regular readers of this blog will be aware that comments below posts are not viewable one week after a post goes up. In this instance, it is a shame as an interesting debate occurred between some of this blog’s regular commentators from both below and above the line. Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi suggested that there were double standards at play between the treatment by this blog of Hobsbawm and its treatment of Hitchens. In my opinion, Aymenn’s complaint is justified.
He accurately quoted Christopher Hitchens as saying in 2004:
The media cliche about the war is that it‘s like Vietnam. The Vietnamese were a very civilized foe and if they had had weapons of mass destruction, for example, wouldn‘t have used them and didn‘t target civilians, did use women as fighters and organizers, were not torturers and mass murderers and so forth.
In a dispute, another regular commentator, declared that Hitchens was mentioning “facts.”
This is simply not true. The North Vietnamese Communists and the Viet Cong certainly did use torture. Guenter Lewy (America in Vietnam [Oxford University Press, 1978], pp.337-8) discusses the treatment of American prisoners :
The most frequent mode of torture was to put a prisoner into ropes – arms tied tightly behind the back and head and shoulders forced down until the mouth practically touched the feet. As a result of constricted circulation, after a while the pain became so excruciating that the prisoner was prepared to do anything his captors demanded….. Col Kenneth North told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that according to statistics kept by the prisoner organization, approximately 95 percent of the men in the North Vietnamese prisons were tortured.
As regards mass murderers, one can consider what happened at Hue early 1968 when, in the course of 26 days:
some 5,800 civilians were killed or abducted; most of the missing are considered dead…. mass graves were discovered gradually during the following 18 months and yielded some 2,800 bodies. The lack of visible wounds on a large number of these victims, who included two Catholic priests, indicated that they had been buried alive.
Source: Ibid., p.274.
Commenting on terror killings, Lewy adds (p.277):
The killing of noncombatants through VC terror, on the other hand, was systematic and intentional, in violation of the most basic principles of humanitarian conduct in time of war forbidding deliberate attacks on the civilian population.
Mass murders by Vietnamese Communists had occurred even before the Second IndoChina War had begun. Communist policy in the Soviet Union and China had led to millions of deaths as a result of Stalin’s collectivization and Mao’s so-called Great Leap Forward. Michael Lind (Vietnam the Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America’s Most Disastrous Military Conflict [Free Press, 1999], p.152) explains what happened in Vietnam:
Collectivization began on March 2, 1953 with the promulgation of a “Population Classification Decree” that divided the subjects of the Hanoi dictatorship into five categories from “landlord” to “agricultural worker.” Somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 Vietnamese were summarily executed for being of the wrong class category; many more were imprisoned in the Vietnamese Gulag.
After the war, many Vietnamese were so scared as to what the Communists would do that they left the country in rickety boats. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 1 million people fled Vietnam in the aftermath of the the 1975 communist takeover of which some 400,000 died at sea.
Source: Associated Press, June 23, 1979.
Those fleeing had good cause to be worried. According to Doan Van Toai, after the fall of Saigon, the whole of the county was turned into a “Vietnamese Gulag” with food rations dependent on whether the Communist Party bosses were obeyed. And then, after hard days at work in rice fields, free time was restricted as peasants had to attend indoctrination lessons. (Source: Human Events, March 17, 1979.) And in terms of deaths etc, Human Events (August 27, 1977) reported one former elected Communist government official estimated by 1977 that
between 50,000 and 100,000 people had been slaughtered outright; that there are another 200,000 or more in the “re-education” camps; an additional 200,000-300,000 who have been processed through these camps, released, but kept under the equivalent of house arrest; and perhaps one million or more sent to “new economic areas” to perform forced labour.
And so it goes on.
Michael Lind (Vietnam The Necessary War, [Free Press, 1999], p.156) comments:
members of the Western left who minimised or made excuses for the North Vietnamese Land reform terror were apologists for state-sponsored genocide
There does indeed seem to be a double standard.