Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executes Viet Cong Captain Nguyễn Văn Lém. The brutality of the US and its allies only heightened opposition to the war

A combination of fierce resistance abroad and a militant movement at home can defeat imperialism. That’s the lesson from the US’s failed war in Vietnam, which ended in 1973 after two decades. The defeat was so great that the world’s foremost superpower is yet to fully recover.

In 1968, the Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF), along with the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), launched a major assault against the US invaders. The US was utterly surprised by the attack’s scale and coordination. 

The Vietnamese resistance blew a hole in the US embassy in Saigon and charged into the building, killing US soldiers. The resistance attacked major cities and US bases, as well as tens of thousands of provincial cities in South Vietnam. 

Although the Tet Offensive was defeated in military terms, it proved one thing—that the resistance could shake US imperialism. And that knowledge inspired those on the streets in the US who were fighting against the war.

Their mass movement began small, with only hundreds attending the first few demonstrations. But as the horrors US forces were inflicting on the Vietnamese people were beamed into living room TVs, there was outrage.  And that revulsion was to combine with a growing feeling that young Americans, particularly black and poor ones, were being sent to die for a cause they didn’t believe in.

But the US war raged on, with ever more deadly weapons, and ever more people were drafted to fight. Soon there were stories of troops killing their officers in a bid not to be sent back to the frontlines, or on dangerous missions.

College campuses across the US were in rebellion, with police and soldiers sent to crush their protests with live ammunition. Now at its height, the anti-war movement could mobilise some 750,000 people in Washington.

The US ruling class was caught in a pincer movement. Resistance forces in Vietnam were growing stronger and more daring, while the war at home was turning into a disaster. Some sections of the establishment now believed that continuing the war would not be worth the political cost. 

Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon, hinted to voters in 1969 that he had plans to end the war. But that was always a lie. Instead, he escalated the brutality and massacres in Vietnam and neighbouring countries in the hope that the resistance would surrender. But that only fanned the flames at home. 

The war became so unpopular that even the mainstream newspapers described it as a disaster. The treaty that marked the end of the US war with Vietnam was signed on 23 January 1973. But it was not this bit of paper or negotiations that ended the war.

It was the resistance of the Vietnamese people, combined with a mass anti‑war movement in the US, that had made it impossible for the warmongers to continue. That amalgamation of forces is what’s needed today to end Israel’s assault on the Palestinians. 

Despite wave after wave of bombings, the Palestinian resistance is still fighting a heroic battle against Israel. But armed struggle on its own is unlikely to win against a state equipped with the best military equipment and funded by US imperialism.  That makes the role of the movement for Palestinian liberation outside of its borders even more important. 

All those in the West who are disgusted by Israel’s murderous attacks, and their own government’s complicity, must continue to take radical action. Together we must make it impossible for our rulers to continue to back and fund the apartheid state. 

The protests against the Vietnam War in Britain in the 1960s were relatively small, yet they played an important role in keeping Britain out of America’s war. This time around, we have a far bigger militant movement. If we can tie it more closely to the organised working class, it will have the power to fracture the West’s support for Israel, and weaken the hold of Zionism.

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