Allen and Louis and the Vietnam War – November 1965 Letter

A passionate letter today from 1965  (at the height of the Vietnam War), Allen, in San Francisco, on this day (November 29), writing to his father. The naivety, indeed myopia, on his father’s side exasperated Allen (the simplicity of the goad that he was a “Communist”  that the “Commies infiltrated and used guerilla tactics to ravage and despoil and murder countless peaceful S(outh) Vietnamese”, that somehow an evil manipulating Communist China was the true force behind things and that America, far from being an aggressor, was somehow welcomed there as “protector”.   “I’m not playing that game”, Allen declares .

Allen suggests  (and includes) various texts to counteract this blatant propaganda.

Louis, eventually (but only belatedly) came around to recognizing the essential truth of Allen’s argument.

The letter is included in that exemplary collection of letters between father and son ( a must-read), Family Business (edited by Michael Schumacher)

San Francisco, California, November 29. 1965

Dear Lou,

Before we got on to whether or not I “am” a “Communist” or whether there’s any point to you continuing this line, which you do seem to continue despite the fact that it sees only to be playing with words – capital letter Communist I notice this time – in fact we won’t go back to it (unless you later still want to play that game more) because it’s just too silly to go on with. Or at any rate I’m not playing this game.

Your attitude to the war as you put it is that “The commies from the north a few years back came down like wolves on the fold and murdered the village elders and ravaged the country….the Commies ravaged the South there:. This is a specific set of interpretations of the events which are loosely presented, and inconsistently presented, in U.S. mass media. But in detail they have been contradicted, many times, even in the U.S. press, and I think you have seen those contradictions to set. that forth as the actual event, much less the cause of the war.

Also, “Ho or Mao believe they can take over the. world by force…”  I think that in this context, it’s not far from statement of official U.S. policy, it also is statement of your sense of things, it’s also statement of Hells Angels‘ understanding; and I think it’s a paranoid – Paranoid in the sense that the Birchites are extremely paranoid on same line – interpretation. In the same sense of Paranoia, it’s the Mao-ist interpretation that the “Imperialist powers believe they can take over the world by force”. It’s a paranoid mirror-image, as I was saying in last letter. Both lines of interpretation can only lead to mass destruction.

I rarely “take the side” of the communists but I think basically you misinterpret my resisting “the side” of the US mass media as some sort of favoritism. “You never called the Russians the greatest Imperialist powers” etc. I don’t think there’s any benefit in thinking or acting to resolve the conflict or even understand the conflict by switching the terminology of conflict to ‘”calling the Russians the greatest Imperialist” etc. That seems to lead nowhere but to self-righteousness.

When time came on specifics to speak & act I wound up in conflict & bounced out of the mildest of Red police states. I mean after all that.. well let’s not get back into it. Still I did not at the time  “whitewash Russia” on Hungary. I remember quite distinctly that I was outraged by Russia then. You don’t remember that because you were probably more outraged or outraged in a different way. 1962 we had correspondence & I pointed out that at least Hungary situation was not dead end as Latin America say Brazil, and had improved. At the time you denied this. Subsequent U.S. reporting follows my interpretation that the satellite countries in E(astern) Europe are slowly decentralizing; U.S. now pursuing that line by recognizing * trading with them (inc(luring) Hungary) to encourage the decentralization of military state.

I don’t remember proposing to you leaving Vietnam without negotiation. Tho’ at this point I don’t see what there is to negotiate. We could have negotiated when (when I came back ’63) there was still some hope of a noncommunist S(outh) Vietnam. At this point I think the population of S(outh) Vietnam is so hostile to the USA (it was already 80% hostile according to Eisenhower at the time of possible elections following Geneva, which is why we didn’t want elections  and still don’t). If they are hostile it’s the result of our own actions and I don’t think you can project that on to Ho. We have free speech here but the mass media is sufficiently screwed up that t this day you think that the So(uth) Vietnamese population is on our side. That it’s a Chinese maneuver to take over. That the war is not a civil war but controlled and directed  from the North. That if it weren’t from the North there’d have been no war.

I’ve said over, and over and you’ve read over and over,  that Ho Chi Minh was attempting to take Russia’s side against China, because historically Indonesia & China were always in conflict . And I’ve pointed out that it was Dulles’ policy “neutralism not acceptable” that is pushing S(outh) Vietnam policy into a position so untenable that the effect of our policy is to GIVE China all of Vietnam. Because the only chance we actually had of containing China was to build up neutral pro-Soviet satellites.

“No, I say it again, it is not a civil war that is a figment you are guiled with. I maintain the Commies infiltrated and used guerilla tactics to ravage and despoil and murder countless peaceful S(outh) Vietnamese”. Well this is the crux of the problem, exactly what kind of war was it from 1954 on, what kind of war did it become until a year ago; what kind of war is it now. I think you are accepting very loose thinking in the above.

I mean you are making it sound like “Commies” – presumably from China or agents of China -?? – started it all? If that were so, just like that, I wouldn’t disagree with you. But Experience there, as well as reading, makes it sound so different that your interpretation doesn’t really hold very well. Now the above interpretation you give is really “officially” the basis of US policy; and it is the same as right-wing generalization; and it is the superficial stereotype of war you might read in a provincial columnist or editorial. But it is not the interpretation of  (Walter) Lippmann, or N(ew) Y(ork) Times news stories or editorials, or Pulitzer  (David) Haberstam, or I.F.Stone ,or the London Times, or the French press, or anyone except a minority propaganda group within the U.S.

Jones, Leroi, and myself flip our lid because finally it seems the misunderstanding runs so deep it will lead to bomb war and violence. He’s not a “madman” Really. When I said theoretical communist, it means what it says. I don’t see any future for Capitalism as a theory. Actually I’m probably a syndicalist. The mass media have got to be taken out of private monopoly hands. Giving it to the State would make it as bad or worse, more centralized. Union ownership probably be best…. i.e.. Lucien (Carr) & coworkers determining U.P.(I). policy line, not Roy Howard

Enclosed a few – need I say non-communist ? – articles, one by  (Hans) Morganthau, & one by (Robert)  Scheer. Scheer gives background history & is very simple and readable & should clear up genesis of the conflict. It covers points raised in the article you sent me, such as whether or not Geneva accord was legal, and exactly what was Geneva accord, and who is the VietCong, etc.
The march went alright – no violence at all. we’d persuaded the Hell’s Angels to stay away by getting them high on LSD.
Also enclosed an anti-Marxist leaflet I wrote as direction for the marchers. Anti-violence, which the Marxists here were, just like you, thinking was necessary in the situation. In that sense you’re mirror-images of each other. I’m not playing that game, to the best that I can escape it. Trouble is, we’re playing it with each other, at our age.

Love                                                                                                                                                          Allen

Please read the enclosed Scheer, check it with your memories of the shifts in U.S. emphasis and reporting, and try to follow the whole process from ’54 to now.

November 20, 1965, Vietnam Day Committe marches through Oakland – Photograph by Paul Richards

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