By: Albert A. Klein  | 

Letter to the Editor: Viet-Nam (Vol. 31, Issue 10)

To the Editor:

I have recently received my copy of Inside Yeshiva University, a newsletter for faculty, in which I came across a most distressing piece of information. I am referring to the story on page 2 which notes the presentation by 30 Yeshiva undergraduates of a petition to a representative for President Johnson, supporting his Vietnam policy.

It is rather unfortunate that the students of any institution, particularly a Jewish one, would succumb to both a morally and legally indefensible position. If Mr. Robert Mark and the others who led the delegation to Washington had taken the trouble to read our Government’s White Paper on Vietnam, issued about a year ago, they would readily have seen that even the State Department in an official document could not muster enough evidence to support our intervention in what is essentially a civil war.

Do the 800 Yeshiva and Stern students who lent their names to this infamy know that: 1) According to President Eisenhower we prevailed upon the late dictator Diem not to participate in supervised elections in 1956 as stipulated by the Geneva accords of 1954 (which we didn’t sign, but by which we promised to abide) for fear of having our puppet lose to a Communist, Ho Chi Minh;

2) According to current official policy we are fighting to reinstate just those Geneva accords which our ‘ally’ violated 10 years ago, and for which Americans and Vietmamese are dying needlessly;

3) The two countries of North and South Vietnam do not in fact legally exist and is instead a myth perpetuated by our propaganda. The 1954 Geneva agreements specifically state that the partition at the 17th parallel is in no way a political or permanent one, but is merely division into two zones to be officially reunited in 1956 (under those elections we prevented from being held); and that therefore — and this is of vital importance especially to those who hold to the opinion that supplies, men, etc. are coming from the North — this is a civil war, since the country is indeed not divided into two political entities, but is instead, according to ratified treaty, one entity;

4) The above mentioned White Paper acknowledges — if one reads the entire document, not the out of context headlines that the newspapers printed — that about 2% of the Viet Cong weapons are Communist made, and the remaining 98% are weapons captured from American and South Vietnamese troops;

5) The U.S. Constitution is being violated, since Americans are dying in an undeclared war, and only Congress has the constitutional right to declare war;

6) The only foreign soldiers in Vietnam, again according to United States statistics, are in fact American troops — this up until comparatively recently, after we forced North Vietnam to finally send troops when we burned up its countryside with no provocation— that can be documented.

To Jews the moral aspects should be even more compelling. How many who signed the petition know that Dean Rusk recently acknowledged: that peace overtures have indeed been made by North Vietnam, but that we haven't taken them up on it because we don't feel that they're sincere; and meanwhile hundreds of human beings are being slaughtered while we aren't even willing to ‘test’ their sincerity at the conference table. (One wonders just whose sincerity is being questioned after the Geneva violations!)

And, even more frightening, was our official denial that North Vietnam even made these overtures, only to be admitted after newspaper revelations dug up the truth, one such overture being turned down because, get this, it might have embarrassed the President during the 1964 election campaign.  Better to have voted and been slain, no doubt, than never to have voted at all?

We are systematically destroying a people who are simply continuing the precedents set by our own American Revolution. It bothers me not that Hubert Humphrey says we cannot negotiate with the Viet Cong; what does disturb me is what his response might be to the question of whether colonial England should have made peace with the American rebels, or instead as Humphrey analogously pleads, with France, who aided the revolutionaries.

We claim that our bombers are hitting only military targets, but it must puzzle, or at least should puzzle, even the most casual observer that so many bombing runs  are needed to destroy the military capacity of such a tiny country. If what we are saying is true, then North Vietnam must be composed of nothing but military complexes—unless one understands that the people of North Vietnam have armed themselves with such destructive weapons as old rifles and stones; therefore, we can justify our indiscriminate bombing of villages and homes as the destruction of military installations, since each peasant harbors at least one of these ‘offensive’ weapons in his hut.

Surely college students can come up with a less stereotyped reaction to national uprisings or, for that matter, Communism, than the harshness of the mortars and the napalming of the flesh. I am not interested in rhetorical excursions concerning mainland China's alleged involvement (even General Maxwell Taylor has spoken of the historical animosity between the two countries, and discounts their participation)  nor am I interested in Donald Duncan's statement  (Duncan is a former Special Forces ‘Green Beret’ who recently quit after getting fed up with the whole operation) that “anti-Communism is not the same as democracy” — although I agree.

What am I concerned about is the acquiescence of those who should be more informed, of those who should be supporting, not defeating, the right of self-determination and non-intervention. The immediate reality is to stop the bloodshed. We can negotiate with the Viet Cong or, for those who refuse to legitimize the untenable interventionist position of the United States, we can get out now. I am not concerned about America losing face, as Norman ‘Thomas has passionately pleaded, but as a human being and an American, I am deeply worried that she is losing her soul. 

Albert A. Klein

Professor of Pediatrics

Albert Einstein

College of Medicine