Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the son of an émigré Hebrew scholar, addressed the issue of the moral responsibility of intellectuals in a special supplement in the New York Review of Books in February 1967. Based on a thorough examination of U.S. policy in Vietnam, he judged that it was genocidal in conduct and imperialist in intent. Like other intellectuals on the left, he viewed U.S. involvement in Vietnam as neither an aberration nor a simple mistake but rather as part of a larger design to extend American hegemony. Chomsky examined the role of the intellectuals in World War II, particularly those in Germany and Japan who failed to speak out against the atrocities committed by their respective governments. Considering the relative freedom of Western societies, he argued that academics and intellectuals had a responsibility to “seek the truth hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us.”
According to a 2003 health study, an estimated 3,181 villages in South Vietnam were directly sprayed with toxic chemicals, and another 1,430 were indirectly sprayed, exposing “at least 2.1 million but perhaps as many as 4.8 million people” to the herbicides. The defoliation of South Vietnam’s jungles and forestland resulted in rampant soil erosion, wildfires, floods, malaria and disease epidemics caused by rat infestations, among other serious ecological consequences, some of which still linger a half century later. The heavily defoliated A Luoi Valley once possessed a tropical forest rich in hardwoods and rare species of trees, full of elephants, tigers and monkeys, its rivers teeming with fish. In July 2009, American professor Fred Wilcox found it covered by wild weeds with poor fauna, having only 24 bird species and five mammal species, a fraction of what existed before the war.
For an excellent analysis of economic motives interwoven in the American quest for hegemonic power in Asia as well as ideological-driven rationales, see Noam Chomsky, At War with Asia: Essays on Indochina (New York: Vintage Books, 1970; republished, Chico, CA: AK Press, 2004).
The nature of the American mistakes in Vietnam range from ineffective military strategies (including, from the hawkish side, failure to invade North Vietnam), to inadequate attention to winning Vietnamese hearts and minds, to the identification of Vietnam as a vital strategic interest, to the basic attempt to impose U.S. designs on Vietnam. See David L. Anderson, “No More Vietnams: Historians Debate the Policy Lessons of the Vietnam War,” in David L. Anderson and John Ernst, eds., The War That Never Ends: New Perspectives on the Vietnam War (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007); and John Marciano, The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration? (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016).
The historian Henry Steele Commager expressed a similar view in an article in the New York Review of Books, October 1972. Comparing the U.S. war in Vietnam to the Confederacy’s war to preserve slavery and Germany’s war of aggression in World War II, he wrote, “Why do we find it so hard to accept this elementary lesson of history, that some wars are so deeply immoral that they must be lost, that the war in Vietnam is one of these wars, and that those who resist it are the truest patriots.” Cited in Neil Jumonville, Henry Steele Commager: Midcentury Liberalism and the History of the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), p. 177. Of course, the peace movement’s quest was to prevent the war and stop the war, irrespective of American victory or defeat.
Bernstein's vigor, broad repertoire and enthusiasm had often been attributed to sheerirrepressible youthful energy. But Bernstein's later style proved that these qualitiesarose from something far deeper: a zest for discovery. In his DG releases, Bernstein notonly slowed things down, but he probed ever deeper to discover yet-untapped profunditiesin the works he loved best. He did this in the only way he knew how: by letting hisemotions run free. And perhaps he had finally reached the stage in life where he no longercared about criticism to the effect that his bloated ego had overwhelmed a proper artisticaesthetic.
Foremost among these is the absurd linkage of America's greatest conductor with, of allpeople, His Royal Highness Prince Charles. What, you may properly ask, does America'sflamboyant supreme musical genius have to do with the staid wastrel English monarch-to-be?And yet HRH's goopy face and insipid watercolors disgrace each cover and his patheticartistic creed bloats every booklet. The unintended contrast between the richness ofBernstein's talent and the poverty of the Prince of Wales's privileged affluence is bothstriking and pitiful.
Ives: (October, 1958) (now on Sony SMK 47568).Charles Ives was one of America's best-kept secrets: a devout Yankee insurance executivewhose private passion was to transform Handel, hymns and patriotic songs throughear-bending polyrhythms, microtones and dissonances to yield a music that wasquintessentially American in its blend of contradictions. Although Ralph Kirkpatrick hadchampioned Ives's piano music, it was Bernstein who fostered America's discovery of itshidden treasure when he led the world premiere of Ives's in 1951, 50years after its completion. (A delightful anecdote: despite much urging, the obstinate77-year old composer claimed disinterest and refused to attend the concert; but hisequally stubborn wife went, received the accolades and, upon returning home, found theirkitchen radio tuned to the station which had broadcast the concert and her husband, whodenied it all, in a rare state of joy.) The release of this recording cemented Ives's fameand launched a full-scale Ives revolution. Bernstein revels in the naive delights of thiswork, which culminates in a riotous coda of Tchaikovsky, "Columbia, Gem of theOcean," reveille and a jarring dissonance.
The CD of the concert (DG 431 768) remains only a grim deathbed memory, best forgottenin favor of more vital souvenirs of a fabulous career. Bernstein's true final legacy liesin the valediction of his late recordings, which exemplify all he had lived for as anartist and as a human being. Ever the egoist, Bernstein tried to thwart death through afinal concert and to defy mortality through the permanence of recordings. Ever theexplorer, Bernstein's final records transcended tradition to blaze musical paths that noprevious conductor had dared to attempt. Ever the teacher, Bernstein imparted a greatfinal lesson through his deeply inspired and passionate interpretations of power,conviction and truth. Ever the visionary, Bernstein devoted himself to a musical ecstasythat would inspire the artistic outlook of future generations. And ever the humanitarian,Bernstein poured every last drop of his life into the redemptive power of music for thesake of all mankind.
I am sure the great American people, if only they knew the true facts and background to the developments in South Vietnam, will agree with me that further bloodshed is unnecessary. And that the political and diplomatic methods of discussions and negotiations alone can create conditions which will enable the United States to withdraw gracefully from that part of the world. As you know, in times of war and hostilities, the first casualty is truth.
The liberal wing of the antiwar movement, represented by groups such as SANE, WSP, Student Peace Union, and Americans for Democratic Action, supported détente, diplomacy, and demilitarization of the Cold War, paying particular attention to the nuclear arms race. Liberal peace groups worked to build a broad-based movement, gain positive media attention, and influence members of Congress – all essential elements of movement-building. At the same time, they tended to narrow their vision and political goals to what was feasible within the American context, which fell short of what was needed to achieve peace in the international context. The unwillingness of liberal peace groups to support U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam not only divided the antiwar movement but also constituted a missed opportunity to combine domestic peace efforts with international diplomatic efforts led by UN Secretary-General U Thant, which were based on the Geneva formula. According to the historian Milton Katz: