Vietnamese boat people: The refugee horror show

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Putting out to sea in boats stolen from the government, 700,000 Vietnamese have fled their country. Nearly one-quarter have died at sea and 200,000 are in refugee camps. And the boss press, in an orgy of hyperbole, recklessly exploits this flight to proclaim it as proof that the Vietnamese government is worse than the Hitler regime.

In a bizarre, tbrough-the-looking-glass propaganda blitz, the U.S. denounces the government of Vietnam for alleged violations of human rights and finds support from some former antiwar activists.

But the critical questions are seldom addressed: Who are the boat people, and why are they fleeing?

Vietnam revisited

Vietnam is in deep crisis.

Much of the countryside is devastated after 30 years of destruction by defoliant chemicals, napalm, and just plain conventional explosives.

The population is concentrated in cities which suffer a severe food shortage because of the wartime destruction of agricultural land.

Vietnam’s economy has been shattered further by a trade embargo imposed by the U.S., by costly military maneuvers on two of its borders, and by the refusal of the U.S. to pay promised war reparations.

As a result, extremely harsh living conditions prevail and the government is trying to relocate the urban population in New Economic Zones to help increase agricultural production. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the people privileged under the old regime are now departing.

From 50% to 70% of the boat people are ethnic Chinese, who formed the bulk of the old middle class. Many Chinese lost their businesses during the 1978 nationalizations of trade and industry, and hate the regime.

Another sizable portion of the boat people is composed of 400,000 army officers, national police, and intelligence agents under the Thieu regime who were neither evacuated as promised by the U.S., nor granted U.S. sanctuary now.

Debate among the doves

In an “Open Letter to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” published in five major newspapers on May 30, 1979, pacifist singer Joan Baez and other well-known liberals, intellectuals and artists charged that “the cruelty, violence and oppression practiced by foreign powers in your country for more than a century continue today under the present regime.”

Without making the slightest distinction between the revolutionary government of Vietnam and the superpowers of world imperialism, the signers claim that “for many, life is hell and death is prayed for” and call on Vietnam to uphold the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Baez also complained she was “used” by the Left during the Vietnam War.

The letter provoked instant condemnation from former antiwar leaders Jane Fonda, Dave Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, and Tom Hayden.

In the June 29 issue of Seven Days, Dellinger writes, “By lining up uncritically behind wildly inflated charges from discredited sources, [Baez has] made it easier for the U.S. to continue its present policies of denying aid to Vietnam.”

He says further that the world bourgeois press used by Baez as sources received their information from Doan Van Toai, a Vietnamese who is reputed to have close ties to the CIA.

No more Vietnams!

The U.S. ruling class, aided by Baez and Co., is attempting to use the plight of the boat people to wash its own hands of historic guilt, discredit the Vietnamese revolution, disorient the revolution in Indo-China, justify State Department rejection of diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and win public support for its next war.

The callous refusal to help rebuild Vietnam and alleviate harsh conditions there is directly responsible for the suffering of millions and exacerbates the refugee problem.

Faced with the downward spiral of its own economy, plagued by inflation and recession, U.S. capitalism needs a new war to save itself from collapse. The economic and political war against Vietnam is designed to justify the Vietnamese shooting war in retrospect, and to lay the moral groundwork for another.

The cause of the refugee problem is the White House itself. Workers must demand that the government immediately fulfill the task of rebuilding Vietnam and opening the doors of the USA to all immigrants regardless of their origin.

The Vietnamese war is far from finished.

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