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Fallen Leaves by Will Durant

Fallen Leaves by Will Durant

Author:Will Durant
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster


CHAPTER SIXTEEN

ON VIETNAM

Anything written on May 7, 1967, about so fluent a situation as the war in Vietnam will almost certainly seem foolish in 1969; even the pronouncements of the best-informed statesmen have provided some wry humor in a year or two. But I stand up to be counted; I speak my piece, and take my chance with sardonic time.

It is one distinction of the twentieth century that while protests against war have mounted, war has become more frequent and extensive, more destructive of life and property, than ever before. Poets, philosophers, and mothers mourn, but our instincts continue to divide mankind into jealous or hostile races, nations, classes, and creeds. The possession of power tempts to its use; the definition of national interest widens to cover any aim; the demand for security suggests and excuses the acquisition and arming of ever more distant frontiers. Men above military age are readily moved by calls to patriotism; pleaders for peace are scorned as cowards, and arguments for mutual understanding and adjustment are branded as appeasement—as if to appease a quarrel were to sin against the Holy Ghost. The organs of public opinion are conscripted to expound and exalt the generals; a soldier’s uniform transfigures a civilian, intoxicates a maiden, and almost reconciles a mother to the killing of her son. Governments find it easier to begin a war than to win an election.

The Constitution of the United States reserves to Congress the right to declare war, but it does not forbid the president to wage war if he can call it by another name. This may sometimes be made necessary by international crisis requiring quick action—which might not be obtainable from a deliberative assembly. In effect, as regards war and peace, the American presidency is a dictatorship limited in time, allowing impotent public criticism, and ultimately guided by generals and admirals. Armed with this strategy, American presidents have repeatedly initiated military intervention in foreign states, and Congress, faced by an accomplished fact, has felt compelled to approve.

In 1948 the Sixth Fleet of the United States was ordered to prevent a Communist revolt in Greece, and to resist Russian pressure upon Turkey. In 1957 Congress sanctioned the Eisenhower Doctrine, which pledged the United States to aid any Middle East nation threatened by “overt armed aggression from any country controlled by International Communism” (Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1957); on this basis help was given to the government of Jordan, and American troops were landed in Lebanon (1958), although “in neither instance was there real evidence of ‘overt’ aggression from a Communist-controlled country” (ibid). President Kennedy reaffirmed the Eisenhower Doctrine in 1963. In 1965 President Johnson declared that the financial and military power of his country would be used, at the request of any Asiatic government, to suppress any revolutionary movement suspected of communistic inclinations.

These pronouncements were not made without provocation. Communist leaders in Russia and China had explicitly and repeatedly declared their resolve to overthrow the American economic system, and to foment



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