Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 10. 1963.
Vietnam Dictator Diem..... — Uncertain and Inhuman NZ Foreign Policy
Vietnam Dictator Diem.....
Uncertain and Inhuman NZ Foreign Policy
The New Zealand Government must not be permitted to continue its present policy on South Vietnam. Recent events have again shown that the South Vietnamese Government, which New Zealand supports, is one of the most oppressive and undemocratic in Asia. We should think twice before entering the complex and tragic situation in Vietnam.
The Explanation of the present situation is to be found partly in the recent history of Vietnam. In 1940, the French acquiesced to Japanese occupation. About the same time, Vietnamese nationalists formed the "League for the Independence of Vietnam," better known as the "Vietminh." The Vietminh was a Nationalist rather than a Communist organisation.
In March, 1945, the Japanese eliminated all French military and political power in Vietnam. The Vietminh took advantage of the ensuing administrative vacuum, and between March and the Japanese capitulation in August, 1945, established a strong and extensive administrative network. The Vietminh was not without opposition from other Nationalist organisations, but by the time the French returned to re-occupy their colony in 1946, they found the Vietminh had formed a "Democratic Republic of Vietnam," which had secure hold of most of North Vietnam and wide influence in the South.
When the French tried to take over their former colonial territory, a bloody war followed. The French established a puppet "State of Vietnam" under the notorious old emperor, Bao Dai, who "ruled" from the more congenial surroundings of the French Riviera. This war was brought to an end by the Geneva Agreement of 1954, after the French had been defeated by the Vietminh in the famous battle of Dien Bien Phu.
The Geneva Agreement provided for a temporary partition of the country pending free elections, which were to be held in 1956. South Vietnam, or the Republic of Vietnam, became independent and in July, 1954. Bao Dai appointed Ngo Dinh Diem prime minister. Diem set about eliminating political opposition in the South and in 1955 brought the country to the verge of civil war. Since then his shaky government has been constantly threatened from within his own country.
Despite pleas from North Vietnam. Diem has consistantly refused to allow the promised free elections to take place. He claims that in Communist North Vietnam the elections would not be "free." The truth is that his government has never enjoyed popular support; on the contrary, it has a reputation for instability, corruption and inefficiency unrivalled in Asia. It has never become closely associated with the people, as the Communists of the North have.
It has consistantly discriminated against Buddhists (about 80 per cent of South Vietnamese are Buddhists—Diem and his government are Catholic). It has strictly muzzled newspapers, it has a vicious police force capable of committing such atrocities as occurred in recent Buddhist demonstrations, when monks and nuns were brutally attacked and many injured, a few killed. It has never tolerated political opposition—the country's prisons contain an estimated 30,000 political prisoners. In its upper levels the government is largely controlled by Diem's own family.
It is unthinkable that New Zealand should participate in a war to support this regime. In South Vietnam, the Communist Vietcong guerrillas do have some popular support, though it is probably more an expression of opposition to Diem's regime than real sympathy with Communism. The Vietcong are recruited from the rural population of the South. Despite recent American-backed offensives, Vietcong numbers have not been reduced and may even have increased to something over 25,000.
The USA decided in 1961 to give full scale help to Diem in his fight against the Vietcong. Now there are more than 12,000 American "advisors" in South Vietnam. This, of course, violates the Geneva Agreement, which required all foreign troops to leave Vietnam, but then the Agreement has been ignored by both sides ever since it was signed. (It should be noted that the Geneva Agreement which has such anxious lip service paid to it was not signed by the Republic of Vietnam, the USA or New Zealand—France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam were the key signatories.)
It was soon found that the key to the struggle lay not in superior military strength but in the co-operation and support of the countryside peasants. To keep a closer eye on them the USA initiated Operation Sun rise, in which South Vietnam's peasants would be herded into fortified villages. About half of the rural population has now been accommodated in these villages, but Time magazine estimated up to 80 per cent opposed the scheme and large numbers had to be "convinced" at gunpoint. Apparently the USA is in no hurry to introduce democracy to Vietnam.
Lukewarm enthusiasm on the part of Vietnamese troops has forced USA "advisors" to play a more active role in the war. Thus, it is ridiculous for the USA to denounce North Vietnam for supplying the Vietcong when they themselves are supplying, training and even fighting with the Diem forces.
The London Observer reported earlier this year that the USA is using the Vietnamese war to test new weapons. No doubt they are pleased to have real live humans to practice on—but this illustrates that selfish motives of self-defence and their own security are important factors in American participation, rather than concern for the fate of the Vietnamese people themselves.
On June 6 Mr. Holyoake announced that New Zealand had offered to send "a small non-combatant team of service personnel" to South Vietnam. By some inexplicable coincidence, this announcement came only a few days after Mr. Averell Harriman's Anzus visit to New Zealand.
Neither the USA nor New Zealand seem to realise that even if the Vietcong are eventually beaten, there can be no real victory until a stable popular government has been installed. Many New Zealanders lost their lives in the Korean war—and it is interesting to see what we helped establish in South Korea. The country is one of the most poverty-stricken in the world, it exists on American aid. The government has been plagued by instability, at present a military dictatorship is running South Korea.
New Zealand is committed to support Diem without making any immediately substantial contribution to his resources. If the war turns against Diem we would probably have to increase our forces there and take a more active role. Thus New Zealanders would again find themselves fighting in Asia, and for what? No doubt for the same ideals we fought to establish in South Korea.
Or perhaps it is our own security the New Zealand Government is worried about. If so, are we Justified in prolonging a war in another country to serve selfish ends? If we do intend to do so, why not dispatch the whole army, and to hell with the Vietnamese? It would be more consistent than sending a "small non-combatant team."
Clearly the New Zealand Government is confused on this whole issue. But there is still time for it to withdraw its support of Diem and urge a quick and peaceful end to the passion of the war-weary South Vietnamese. New Zealand has the opportunity to change to a more liberal and especially more human foreign policy.—G.Q.