Vietnam War

In his Memoirs (Years of Renewal), Kissinger writes: “Nixon and I argued on the basis of the national interest that, as the leader of the Western Alliance, our credibility toward both friend and foe was at stake [in Vietnam]…There was only one concession we would never make on geopolitical and, above all, moral grounds – to impose a Communist government on peoples who had joined the anti-Communist cause in reliance on America’s word… The so-called peace movement, wrapping itself in the cloak of morality, insisted that there was only one ethical issue, which was peace on whatever terms, and that the fate of the population was irrelevant to that goal (or, in its more sophisticated version, that the peoples of Indochina would be better off if we abandoned them). In pursuit of what amounted to unconditional and unilateral withdrawal, the protestors sought to impose their views by mass demonstrations designed to paralyze the government. The protestors considered the very terms of honor and credibility abominations, the empty slogans of a flawed society which would repeat its errors over and over again until it was made to taste the bitter dregs of futility and humiliation. An “honorable peace” to unite the country was precisely the outcome which the protest movement sought to prevent. In its view, American presumption and vainglory had caused the tragedy in Indochina. It rejected the invocation of America’s role in preserving the global equilibrium as a symptom of a nation obsession with power, and it denied that Nixon had a moral right to invoke the term ‘honor.’”

Evaluate Henry Kissinger’s characterization of the Vietnam War and the peace movement in this quote – and then carefully compare his approach with that of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1967 Riverside Church speech. (You should bring in Chomsky’s “The Backroom Boys” as well). Discuss both the difference in approach and the contrasting judgments and assumptions about the war between King and Kissinger (and by extension the national security leaders we have read about). Consider specifically how King might dissect Kissinger remarks (and vice versa) and as you do so, be sure to highlight the different words and concepts King and the national security managers use to describe the United States, its role in Vietnam, and the global reasons the US was there. What are the basic issues on which King and national security managers disagreed? And Why? In particular, evaluate these contrasting views for how they help to think about the question – “Why Vietnam?”

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