Ten years after the end of the Vietnam War many people are attempting to assess the significance of that war in terms of our role as the West's leading military and economic power. Our immediate and most pressing problem, as President Reagan and his advisers see it, is Nicaragua. Secretary Shultz said immediate aid to the contras is necessary "to save the people of Nicaragua from the fate of the people of Cuba, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos."
Shultz's summation of the lessons we must learn from the Vietnam War is a reiteration of the same arguments that were common before our fateful Vietnam venture: namely, that as the West's most powerful country and its leader, we must "fill the vacuum" created by the retreat of the European powers and that unless we do so, there will be a domino effect. The Communists will take over country after country until we are threatened on our very borders. Rhetorically, Shultz asks: "Do we want another Cuba in this hemisphere? How many times must we learn the same lesson?" He adds, "Here is your parallel between Vietnam and Central America."
I think that, like our decision-makers in the Vietnam fiasco, our leaders today are making the same mistakes. We want a quick military solution to a deep-seated social, economic and political legacy of European colonialism.
Our leaders repeatedly lump a people's genuine grass-roots desire for national self-determination and economic justice with Communist plots to overturn existing regimes. Unfortunately, in most of the so-called Third World nations there is pitiful poverty and repressive, elitist governments run by a small fraction of powerful, wealthy landowners and industrialists. Any attempts by the people to gain economic and political advantages are often met by brutal repression, including torture and murder.
The United States has all too frequently been on the side of the oppressors. We fail to see that most of the revolutionaries in the Third World countries are first of all nationalists who want some measure of political and economic justice. If they fail to get help from the West, they elicit help from any source, including the Communist Bloc nations. It is one of the great ironies of history that the United States, a country born of revolution, should be the chief supporter of so many dictators and tyrants throughout the world, and that Russia, a country that betrayed its own revolution and its Marxist/Leninist doctrines, should be on the side of those who want change. Both the United States and Russia, it seems to me, have betrayed their own revolutions.
In our Ahab-like monomania to root out communism everywhere, we actually help to create Communists out of desperate, hungry people; we sustain dictatorships; and we ignore the advice and help of friendly countries in the troubled areas. In short, we rush headlong into another Vietnam in other places. Secretary Shultz has read the wrong lessons 10 years after out devastatingly divisive Asian quagmire.
DEWEY D. AJIOKA