Today marks 40 years since the fall of Saigon — the official climax to the devastating, two-decade long Vietnam War. On April 30, 1975, the communist North Vietnamese forces defeated the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese faction, but only after millions of lives—much of whom were civilians—had been consumed in the conflict. All told, directly or indirectly, six U.S. Presidents would become entangled in the bloodbath which would sacrifice 58,220 U.S. citizens and make “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) a household term.
The Vietnam War actually had its roots during the Mossadegh era, beginning with Harry Truman, who in 1950-51 became the first President to approve military aid to the French colonial army in Indochina which had been fighting the North Vietnamese insurgency.
Much of Truman’s unpopularity at the time was attributable to the Korean War, the very first battle of the Cold War. An Asian nation and Soviet proxy ironically sharing the ‘bad’ North vs. ‘good’ South dynamic, Korea was in many ways a warmup for Vietnam. Truman had already expended tens of thousands of American lives in Korea, a war he launched without Congressional authorization, vowing it would be limited to a mere “police action.”
“The American people have been profoundly disturbed by the cost and futility of the Truman war,” fumed The Chicago Daily Tribune in 1951 of the intervention which, by its end in July 1953, after three years of hostilities, would result in no victory whatsoever. The Vietnam War, one could say, would soon develop into “another Korea.”
Truman’s successor, a former General who knew the horrors of war firsthand, escalated technical and military aid to the French and South Vietnamese, but initially avoided deepening the U.S. role in the area. “...I cannot conceive of a greater tragedy for America than to get heavily involved now in an all-out war in any of those regions, particularly with large units,” warned President Dwight D. Eisenhower prophetically during a February 10, 1954 press conference. A year earlier, his administration had orchestrated the covert overthrow of the popular Mossadegh government in Iran. By the following year, on November 1, 1955, the date recognized as the initiation of U.S. involvement, Eisenhower deployed the Military Assistance Advisory Group to help train the South Vietnamese army.
When Eisenhower first articulated his anti-Communist ‘Domino Theory’ on April 7, 1953, it was specifically tailored to the Vietnam crisis. At that point the CIA plan to overthrow Iranian Premier Mohammad Mossadegh, Operation Ajax, was already well in motion. By the time of his August speech in Seattle, one week after the end of the Korean War and two weeks before the fall of Mossadegh, Eisenhower elaborated on his ‘Domino Theory’ by linking two sensitive danger spots in the same breath—Southeast Asia/Indochina and Iran:
“I could go on enumerating every kind of problem that comes before us daily. Let us take, though, for example, one simple problem in the foreign field. You have seen the war in Indochina described variously as an outgrowth of French colonialism, and its French refusal to treat indigenous populations decently. You find it again described as a war between the Communists and the other elements in Southeast Asia. But you have a confused idea of where it is located—Laos, or Cambodia, or Siam, or any of the other countries that are involved. You don’t know, really, why we are so concerned with the far-off southeast corner of Asia.
Why is it? Now, first of all, the last great population remaining in Asia that has not become dominated by the Kremlin, of course, is the sub-continent of India, including the Pakistan government. Here are 350 million people still free. Now let us assume that we lose Indochina. If Indochina goes, several things happen right away. The Kra Peninsula, [Malay Peninsula] the last little bit of end hanging on down there, would be scarcely defensible, the tin and the tungsten that we so greatly value from that area would cease coming...but all India would be outflanked. Burma would certainly, in its weakened condition, be no defense.
Now, India is surrounded on that side by the Communist empire. Iran on its left is in a weakened condition. I believe I read in the paper this morning that Mossadegh’s move toward getting rid of his Parliament has been supported and of course he was in that move supported by the Tudeh, which is the Communist party of Iran. All of that weakening position around there is very ominous for the United States, because finally if we lost all that, how would the free world hold the rich empire of Indonesia? So you see, somewhere along the line, this must be blocked. It must be blocked now. Now that’s what the French are doing.
So, when the United States votes $400 million to help that war, we are not voting for a giveaway program. We are voting for the cheapest way that we can prevent the occurrence of something that would be of the most terrible significance for the United States of America—our security, our power and ability to get certain things we need from the riches of the Indonesian territory, and from Southeast Asia.”
— Eisenhower: Remarks at the Governors’ Conference, Seattle, Washington, August 4, 1953
It’s fitting that the duration of the Vietnam debacle roughly coincided with the despotic Shah of Iran’s iron-fisted rule—two arrogant, stupefyingly disastrous foreign policy blunders that the U.S. is still paying dearly for, yet simply refuses to actually, really, truly learn from its painfully obvious lessons.
Vietnam: The Path To War by the History Channel (short primer)
“The National Park Service estimates that about 15,000 Iranians will demonstrate Tuesday and Wednesday at the White House and at the Capitol in what could be the biggest demonstrations Washington has seen since the Vietnam War days.”
— Shah’s US visit brings demonstrators to DC, New York Times News Service, Nov. 14, 1977
While police battled Vietnam war protestors in the streets and universities of America, simultanously, another anti-imperialist crusade was erupting across the country. And just as the traumatic Vietnam War was finally ending, anti-Shah fervor was growing into a major movement that was becoming harder and harder to dismiss. And yet it was.
October 22, 1969: This photo ran on the front page of several U.S. newspapers.
A half century after it began, there’s no need to be sheepish about condemning U.S. atrocities in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, when even some of its chief perpetrators like former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara have since denounced them. Calling it a “tragedy”, Henry Kissinger confessed in 2010 that “most of what went wrong in Vietnam we did to ourselves”. Kissinger, however, formerly Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, remains unapologetic about the longstanding U.S. ties to the Shah tyranny which so thrived under Nixon.
“Blowtorch Bob” himself, Robert W. Komer—one of the most zealous Vietnam War proponents in the government—summarized it years later as “a strategic disaster which cost us 57,000 lives and a half trillion dollars.” A top official during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Komer was also engaged in crafting Iran policy. In 1962, he wrote an elaborate treatise on various strategies for maintaining the Shah’s hated U.S.-installed dictatorship, which he viewed as so flimsy, that the Shah could easily collapse simply by America withdrawing its support.
Like a bubbling volcano, opposition to the Shah’s tyranny had been rumbling not for years, but decades, yet despite all the warning signs, the U.S.A. never abandoned their man in Tehran. The scenario had all the makings of another ruinous outcome that would haunt generations to come, or, as numerous whistleblowers termed it at the time, “another Vietnam”.
Secret 1962 Memo Revealed U.S. Feared Shah’s Fall
“The last 20 years have seen Iran become a client state of the U.S., like [Nguyen Van Thieu’s] Saigon rule... Yet, one can expect that the Shah, like Thieu, [Cambodian president] Lon Nol, or Marcos of the Philippines may be faced with a fight from his people for real democracy, despite his massive repressive apparatus.
That fight may require U.S. support to prop up the shah. He gets U.S. military aid now, just like so many other dictators. Unless we stop our government from helping him, Iran could be our future Vietnam.”
— Could Iran Be Future Vietnam?, letter to The Pittsburgh Press, Rob Ruck, Aug. 27, 1973
“There are many similarities between the struggle of the Iranian people and the fight of the Indochinese people and US domination. Veterans who were in Vietnam saw just what US military forces were doing there and saw in whose interests we were serving--and it wasn’t for the great majority of people but rather for Thieu and his clique, who were puppets for US corporations. The Indochinese people for years fought against foreign intervention and against the rulers of their country who were exploiting and oppressing them. Even though Iran doesn’t have thousands and thousands of foreign troops stationed there, the same conditions exist where the Shah and his regime serve the interests of US businesses and use terrorism against the Iranian workers and peasants.
But the terrorism won’t stop the people from fighting their oppression. The killing of the nine revolutionaries will not end resistance to the regime. The continuing demonstrations of the ISA [Iranian Students Association] attest to this fact and accurately reflect the growing struggle of the Iranian people.
— Iranian Students Combat Shah’s Repression, by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in The Veteran, March/April 1976
“Why is it necessary for America to deliver such complex military arms to Iran? It is obvious that if we are encountering difficulties in maintaining our own equipment that Iran will be unable to service and operate what we deliver to them. So, by 1980, just four years from now, we will of necessity have approximately 50,000 American "technicians" in Iran, which this report [Senate Subcommittee Staff Report of Military Sales to Iran] states is already the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf area.
Did not we call our men in Vietnam "technicians" and "advisors," and imply that they would not become embroiled in combat operations? Then, as we became more involved in the quagmire of tragic warfare, the "technicians" of necessity participated in day-to-day combat which escalated into full scale confrontation. Does my memory fail me, or does this sound like the broken record, repeating itself again and again?
[. . . . . . . . . .]
These facts will help you to recall why we protested our involvement in Vietnam--after many thousands of American lives were lost and billions of dollars mis-spent. Now is the time to protest what we are doing in Iran!”
— Iran-Another Vietnam? by David B. McCosker in The Harvard Crimson, January 5, 1977
“But, like Watergate, [the 1953 CIA coup] is not all behind us now, despite the line of every political administration. The crimes perpetuated against the Vietnamese people by the U.S. government continue today against the Iranian people. They are subject to the oppression of a government that could not exist one day without U.S. aid. Behind Carter’s new morality lies the same imperialist ventures and exploitations of foreign peoples.”
— The Shah, the Pres., and empty phrases — letter to The Daily Iowan, February 16, 1977
“Exactly like rats deserting a sinking ship, the relatives of the Shah of Iran are scurrying to the U.S. where they can join such notables as Lon Nol, ex-U.S. puppet dictator of Cambodia, ex-Vietnamese President Thieu (who probably ran off with millions in gold from the South Vietnamese treasury) and ex-General Loan, [Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan] famous for his personal execution--without even a semblance of trial--of a liberation fighter in the streets of Saigon...but even more damned for his job as kingpin of the heroin trade.
[. . . . . . . . . .]
The U.S. should not be a haven for war criminals, even those who have worked hand in glove with the U.S. government, like the ex-leaders of Cambodia and Vietnam, nor for the blood-stained money stolen from the people of Iran. Support the Iranian students--and other students fighting for freedom in their own countries. Down with the Shah in Iran or in the U.S.”
— Iran, Students, and Deportation, editorial by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in The Veteran, Winter 1978/79
“With Carter’s reaffirmation of his support for the shah it is clear in what direction we are heading (I refer of course to the Vietnam disaster).
[. . . . . . . . . .]
The tactics used to keep Americans apathetic towards Iran are the same ones that were used in the case of Vietnam. And, to a degree, they are still effective. But if the people knew that we had men already stationed in the Persian Gulf, or that the 40,000 “military advisors” are actually running Iran’s army, navy and intelligence, then they would react with the same vehemence as when they learned the truth about Vietnam. It is as true now as it was then that if strong opposition to American involvement isn’t initiated we will be in too far to back out.”
— Just like in Vietnam, letter to The Florida Flambeau by V. MacKenzie, Dec. 1, 1978
“The UPI commentary on Iran by Walter Logan...attempts to give no indication of the profound extent of U.S. political and economic involvement in Iran (which far exceeds our former political and economic involvement in Vietnam) and instead attempts to attribute the current uprisings to an internal religious struggle led by Khomeini from his exile in Paris. Yet, a careful reading even of Logan’s highly biased commentary reveals an unconscious admission that the United States has been, and remains, the principal force of corruption in Iran.
[. . . . . . . . . .]
Direct U.S. military involvement In Iran is an Inevitability. When American soldiers are sent to Iran to kill Iranian people, those whose interests are being servect by such intervention would have us believe once again, as in Vietnam, that we are fighting for freedom. The American people owe it not only to themselves but to the rest of the world to prevent the recurrence of such an atrocious crime against an entire people. We must actively oppose U.S. involvement in Iran.”
— Louis Sarno for the Iranian People’s Support Committee letter to The Daily Iowan, Dec. 5, 1978
“How ironic is to to witness Americans express their hatred of Iran, or worse, advocating a military reaction, as if Vietnam had not been a sufficient lesson.”
— Thomas E. Hilton letter to The New York Times, Nov. 25, 1979
“They say that we learned nothing from the Vietnam War, and I’m afraid they’re right. Why are people with liberal and even radical views on many issues suddenly ready to bully and threaten Iranians? Please, before you take to the streets, take time to inform yourselves.”
— Jim Hagen letter to The Daily Iowan, Nov. 15, 1979
“The shouted racist epithets [towards Iranians] such as “camel jockeys” recalls the racism of our dealings with the Vietnamese – the “gooks” and “slopes”.
— M. Cathcart letter to The Daily Iowan, Nov. 15, 1979
“Flag-waving demonstrators shouting "War Now!" and a constant barrage of radio, TV and news articles are now enlightening the American people about what is going on in Iran and about the plight of our hostages held in the U.S. Embassy.
Not since the Gulf of Tonkin incident has there been such an outpouring of patriotism in the U.S. and like the Gulf of Tonkin (which was used to justify our involvement and aggression in Indochina), there is more to this situation than meets the eye--especially the eye that sees only through the U.S. media.
[. . . . . . . . . .]
The U.S., suddenly deeply concerned about international law, didn’t give one damn for that same international law when it toppled the democratic government in Iran--or in Vietnam in 1963 or in Chile in 1973--and in every case out of the U.S. Embassies.”
[. . . . . . . . . .]
As for VVAW, we want the hostages back. The best way to get them back is to have a tribunal around the Shah--let the government put pressure on Panama to get him sent back (we have certainly pressured governments before). Stop all the threats whose main purpose is know-nothing patriotism, and Four More Years!
— Why the Embassy? Iran and the USA, by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in The Veteran, Feb/March 1980
Postscript: The Shah on Vietnam
It should come as no shock that Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
, a staunch anti-Communist who identified strongly with the military, endorsed America’s intervention in Vietnam. President Lyndon B. Johnson personally thanked him during a May 1965 phone call, saying the U.S. was “grateful” for the support. Yet the Vietnam War was rapidly becoming the proverbial tar baby that no one wanted to touch, and soon, the Shah, too, would begin to distance himself from it.
In 1976, the Shah and other foreign leaders were asked by TIME magazine
to write a message for America on its upcoming Bicentennial observance. Pahlavi exalted the United States and the American people for their outstanding character, sacrifices during both World Wars, and their “respect for humanity and love of individual dignity”.
Then he came to the matter of Vietnam, and the tribute began to sound more like a lecture.
The Shah called out the U.S. on Vietnam and Watergate as “the results of faulty judgment and doubtful decision”, and suggested that America’s judgment in its various foreign interventions often “may have been erroneous, and, worse, her intervention lacking in decisiveness.”
And he had specific criticisms of U.S. handling of Vietnam.
“In the beginning of the Viet Nam affair”, wrote the Shah, “America’s intervention in that country was halfhearted, and was not aimed at achieving any definite and clear-cut goals. Following the initial stage, I believe America should have withdrawn from Viet Nam after the downfall of Sukarno in Indonesia in 1968.”
There was a moral to the story, in the Shah’s view:
“I sincerely hope that the American people have drawn the right conclusions from Viet Nam and Watergate, and trust that they will soon forget those events, so as to be able to devote their talent and might to the world responsibilities that have devolved upon them in our turbulent epoch.”
ORIGINAL SIN: The 1953 Coup in Iran Clarified | by Arash Norouzi