Samuel Huntington: Brutal American war modernized Vietnam

A scene from the US military’s Operation Rolling Thunder during the Vietnam War.

Neoconservative American thinker Samuel P. Huntington, popular for his reactionary notion of the “clash of civilizations,” once said that the American war of aggression in Vietnam in the 60s and the 70s ironically modernized South Vietnam.

This unbelievable spin was offered by Huntington to justify the brutality of the American ground troops’ pacification campaign in South Vietnamese rural villages and equally vicious massive bombing spree all over the countryside.

It is simply preposterous to say that the Vietnam war, which included the dropping of more bombs by the US than all the bombs dropped during entire World War 2, transformed a rural society into an urbanized one.

This way, the US troop and local South Vietnamese soldiers’ human rights violations that led to the forced eviction of millions of Vietnamese into the overcrowded cities is underwritten as a way of “modernizing” the country.

Huntington rationalized this crime against humanity as simply a matter of draining water in order to expose the fishes, saying this deprived the guerrillas the peasant communities in which they can organize resistance against the American invaders and their local puppet troops.

Huntington enthusiastically comments: “The depopulation of the countryside struck directly at the strength and political appeal of the Viet Cong… The Maoist-inspired rural revolution is undercut by American-sponsored urban revolution.”

Other cynical US officials moreover encouraged this “brutal urbanization” as a way of creating a large reserve army of unemployed laborers who they can hire for their extensive logistical requirements and operations of large US bases.

Terrified children run away from the massive bombing of the outskirts of Trang Bang.

But while originally aimed at breaking the Vietnamese rural resistance against US imperialism, this logic had the unintended result of weakening the US war effort in the long-term.

Even as the massive US firepower led many peasants to an attitude of personal resignation and a focus on mere survival amidst the intense bombing and fighting, thus making them less likely to support the Viet Cong, it was also a double-edged sword that also made them apathetic to the efforts of the US and their local puppets to gain their allegiance.

Uprooting a huge rural population and artificially bringing them into the cities posed the dilemma of how to economically support them given the limited resources of an overstretched urban economy. This made the South Vietnamese regime utterly dependent on US aid and loans.

The conscription of tens of thousand young Vietnamese into the war effort against the guerrillas further stretched the limits of what the overextended economy can support, creating massive unrest and social strife, and making the situation ripe for more urban support for the guerrillas.

But this is no longer surprising from a neoconservative paid hack who also postulated that it is no longer contending ideologies or nation-states but ethnic, cultural and religious identities that are now the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War era.

Of course, just like when Huntington offered the idea of US bombing as modernization to justify US aggression in Vietnam, he also pushed for this idea of the clash of civilizations to justify atrocities against the peoples of the world at a time when “communism” was no longer an effective bogeyman to justify its military buildups.

American Agents of modernization and urbanization of Vietnam.


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