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Practical Violence In Vietnam

“French imperialists … have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice” (Minh 1). Ho Chi Minh describes the effects of French colonization in a similarly to Frantz Fanon, who writes about practical and moral violence as a response to psychological and physical violence (Fanon). Practical violence has a clear purpose.

As a means to an end it is undeniable, unstoppable and effective in recruiting a people to force change. Moral violence is a method of responding to unjustness. It allows the dehumanized to respond to subjugation, to unify and overcome division, and to build solidarity. In Algeria and Vietnam, practical and moral violence arose with oppressed masses yearning for independence and decolonization indirectly promised to them for decades.

The fight against fascism in Europe in the absence of freedom at home added to the disappointment of the Wilsonian “promise fading into bitter disillusion” (Manela 9). The combination of rigid social and political inequalities and mounting foreign opposition to liberation lead to the growth of nationalist and socialist ideologies, and ultimately spark violent protests in Algeria, and the war in Vietnam. In Vietnam and Algeria, violence was irrefutably an essential component of decolonization.

While both Vietnamese and Algerians fought against psychological and physical repression with practical and moral violence, the use of force was expressed as a methodical tool in Vietnam and took on a more emotional character in Algeria, which was caused by the degree of integration of the colonies, the driving forces behind the social and political upheavals, and the international portrayal of the revolutions in the two countries. The difference in French control over the settlement colony Algeria, and the occupational colony Vietnam, defined the struggles for self-determination in both countries.

The establishment of Algeria as a settlement represented a dramatic difference between the two countries, largely due to the treatment of Algeria as a politically independent province of France, which caused the inflow of “French soldiers and … a population of over a million European settlers (Beauvoir 553). This sizeable inflow of foreigners lacking any connection to their new home created a dramatic conflict of interest and differences in opinion, as the pied-noirs fiercely opposed a separation from France.

Algerian life was “divided into compartments, this world cut in two is inhabited by two different species” (Fanon 40). The stark contrast between the wishes of the French and those of the natives is indicative of the struggle, and inability, to align conflicting realities within Algeria. The lack of equal rights and growing tensions find expression in “bloodthirsty explosions – in tribal warfare, in feuds between septs, and in quarrels between individuals” (54). Fanon’s interpretation of moral violence as a means of coping identifiable violent outbursts he describes.

It takes events such as the death of 12,000 in Phillippeville, and Lacoste’s instituting of urban and rural militias to bring out the emotional, moral response in angry waves of protest and revolution against the French. The nature of Algeria as a province resulted in an explosive, emotional conflict of interests between ethnic groups. Conversely, warfare and civil unrest seen in Vietnam was more methodical and calculated. While Vietnam suffered both physically and psychologically under French colonization, measures of violence against foreign influence were carefully considered and planned.

An example of careful planning by Ho Chi Minh was the Tet Offensive, during which the Viet Cong attacked strategic cities and towns throughout the Republic of Vietnam on the Tet holiday. By mounting a coordinated attack, the Viet Cong penetrated the outer wall of the U. S. embassy compound in Saigon, and demonstrated an unexpected level of strength (Walton 2). Despite ultimately losing the fight, a shift in public opinion within Vietnam and in America “contributed to the interpretation of the Tet Offensive as a political and moral defeat for the U. S. (2).

The offensive was only one element of a long-term strategy to win the support of the Vietnamese masses in the North and the South, and to “influence public opinion” (Truong 146). By being good stewards of the people, and by employing a strategy that protected their interests, the Viet Cong were able to strike fight a strategic war against foreign resistance to decolonization. Careful planning of practical violence had greatly contributed to the victory of the Viet Cong agenda.

The differences in the organization of the approach to dealing with violence was significantly more methodical in Vietnam, than in Algeria. Especially when violence is used, “decolonization unifies that people by the radical decision to remove from it its heterogeneity, and by unifying it on a national, sometimes racial basis” (46). The Algerian colonial bourgeoisie did not represent the native population, which quelled the chance for a struggle for freedom led by the upper classes, and produced the demand for unification on an ethnic level.

However, the social hierarchy in Algeria stood in the way of any meaningful transition. Fanon writes that “violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction. It makes him fearless and restores his self-respect” (Fanon 94). According to Fanon, having a violent, moral response to psychological and physical control is necessary to adjust the moral reflexes and honesty of a repressed population. Violence is necessary primarily as an emotional conduit, not for accomplishing a specific, planned purpose.

In the instance of Algeria, it nevertheless made it possible to have a revolution despite national disunity. By beginning with Ho Chi Minh questioning the righteousness of French colonialism, and only later developing into a socialist movement, Vietnamese opposition to colonial rule has a strong foundation and a clear, organized structure. In Vietnam, “the revolution went through two stages: The ‘bourgeois stage’ … and the ‘communist stage’” (Tonnesson 11). Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence is a significant component of early protests against foreign influence in Vietnam.

Minh discusses both physical and psychological repression by the French, and condemns the hypocrisy of French subjugation of Vietnam, despite claiming, in their constitution, that “all men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights” (Minh 1). This belief, however, is not echoed in French foreign policy. Consequently, the Laodong Party attempted to establish an ideology for a political party guaranteeing assistance for free worship, equality between men and woman, protection for minorities and foreign residents, as well as standards of living.

The Laodong Party is truly attempting to “unite and lead the working class, the working masses and the entire people of Vietnam” (Minh 2). Minh is focused on creating a strong sense of nationalism and community by expanding his philosophy. Ultimately, Minh decides that the time has come for widespread mobilization and denunciation of the regime. This progression in thought and in the assessment of the necessary approach over seventeen years shows a deliberate and systematic approach to oppose colonization.

Public perception and awareness of violence in both Algeria and Vietnam ultimately contributed to the success of the revolutionary parties. The case of Djamila Boupacha being brought to the attention of the French contributed greatly to the cause of Algerian natives, by revealing methods of detention and torture that horrified readers, as well as publicizing that “‘pacification’ had claimed over a million victims” (556). Spreading the story in an impactful way was primarily possible due to the Djamila Boupacha Defense Committee, which brought the case to be tried in Paris.

Moving the trial allowed the public to see that Algerian representatives were intentionally covering up the crimes. The campaign successfully demonstrated the psychological and physical abuse brought against Algerians, in a manner that was impossible to ignore. While in Algeria the response to unexpected violence was mostly centered on eliciting an emotional result, the press releases related to Vietnam were underscoring the impracticality of the war effort there.

Cronkite helps communicate to the American people that the war would continue to be lengthy, brutal, and far from over. Following the Tet Offensive, the general understanding of the war was that unwinnable, and Walter Cronkite asserted that America was “mired in stalemate” (Walton 2). The growing understanding of how deadly, costly, and taxing the war in Vietnam would continue to be only added to the existing distaste for the war. The public response was primarily focused on the fact that the situation in Vietnam is not under control.

The Vietnamese resistance was stronger and more determined than the public had been led to believe, and the American victory was long delayed. By showing how impractical and difficult the war was yet to be, “the Tet Offensive had an important influence on public opinion and official policy in the U. S. ” (Walton 2). Both in Algeria and Vietnam, public awareness and resentment of violence aided the colonized nations in gaining independence.

Violence played a crucial rule in the decolonization of both Algeria and Vietnam, but the type of violence, as defined by Frantz Fanon as either practical or moral, differed between the two countries. For Algeria, ethnicity determined social hierarchy, and overcoming the disparity between French pied-noirs and natives required moral violence. Moving Djamila’s case to France was a fundamental step in bringing widespread, public attention to the case and the morally outrageous torture of political prisoners by the French army.

In Vietnam, violence was a practical tool that was used by Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong to accomplish their goal of decolonization. The ability of the Vietnamese to strategically plan was amplified by the fact that they were able to establish demands and a strategy, and then to appeal for support from the population. Possibly the strongest use of practical violence was guerilla warfare, culminating in the Tet Offensive, which forced the Americans to reach a compromise. Both moral and practical violence were instrumental in Algeria and Vietnam’s struggle for decolonization.

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