Chapter 14 – The Vietnam War Debate; Confused in Canberra
BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA;
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS and FOUR LANGUAGES
Confused: Studying Economics and Japanese, Explaining the Sino-Soviet Dispute, Pushing the Enclave Solution for Vietnam, and Writing a Book about China
1. A Book about China?
2. Back to the PhD – Learning Economics
3. Learning Japanese
4. The Sino-Soviet Dispute
5. Jim Cairns, and Vietnam Solutions
6. The Enclave Solution for Vietnam
7. Finding a Publisher
Attachment: The Sino-Soviet Dispute, Origins
Those were dark days.
Fortunately I was getting to know R. whom I had met earlier when she was doing part-time work at a small Civic Centre coffeehouse run by a Ukrainian lady with whom I liked to practice Russian.
R’s gentle femininity did much to calm a tortured soul.
Gradually I began to realise that if I was to present the anti-Vietnam War case properly, I had no choice but to tackle the China question fully.
And if I was to do that I would have to write a book.
1. A Book about China?
It was no use quoting bits and pieces from past documents.
Nor were occasional articles in The Australian or elsewhere enough.
In a book I could try to explain the full background to Beijing’s various foreign policy disputes – the Sino-Soviet dispute and the details I knew about the Sino-Indian dispute in particular.
With these things explained, Beijing’s foreign policy attitudes began to make sense, even during the mad days of Mao.
They also made sense because during the sixties foreign policy was run by two intelligent and moderate Chinese – Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping .
But how do you sit down to write a detailed book on Chinese foreign policy when you are a PhD researcher still trying to get on top of advanced economics, and the Japanese language, and speaking to anti-war audiences around Australia, while collecting research materials for a difficult PhD topic – Japan’s direct investment overseas?
2. Back to the PhD – Learning Economics
Fortunately some problems on the economics side of things were being resolved.
After a dreadful experience with a typical ANU theoretical economist told to teach advanced economics to PhD candidates (these people can fill an entire blackboard with figures simply to prove some obscure point of economic theory of no relevance to anybody) I was taken in hand by the ANU expert on trade economics, Max Corden.
Corden too liked economic theory.
But by using graphs and diagrams, he could explain things so clearly, neatly and simply that finally I began to realise not just what the theories were about but also the logical beauty of economics as a science.
It was a lesson that would help me later in getting to understand the Japanese economy.
Max was also a very moral person. He too agonised over the Vietnam War.
But his mathematical mind was never able fully to grasp the bias and deliberate distortions behind so much of the policy debate.
He wanted to believe that if, as in economics, one simply set out the political variables in the right sequential order, the conclusions would automatically emerge, QED.
But in foreign affairs there is little room for this kind of logical analysis.
3. Learning Japanese
I also had to get on top of Japanese.
I had tried initially to plough through Japanese economic texts with the help of dictionaries and my knowledge of Chinese ideographs. I was getting nowhere very fast.
Soon I was forced to realise that I had no choice but to try to learn the language from the bottom up, as a living language. Only then could I use it for research.
I had discovered the same earlier with Chinese and Russian.
To read a difficult language, you must reach a stage where, when you see the script, you ‘hear’ the spoken equivalent. Do that, and the meaning emerges naturally, as if you were listening to someone saying the same thing.
The alternative is to try consciously to translate each word, and then try consciously to pull them all together into sentences which provide some kind of consistent meaning. That can be very painful and time-consuming, with Japanese especially.
But how to learn Japanese from the bottom up while still stuck in Canberra?
First step was to enrol for a course in the Japanese language department at the ANU.
Second step was to leave the course three weeks later.
Our ‘teacher’ was a typically useless Japanese academic recruited at great expense from Tokyo. His main aim in life was to preserve his dignity as an ivory tower resident, improve his English, and convince us how remote, refined and impossible was the language we were supposed to be learning.
In years since I have met several former students from that ANU class. Like their Japanese equivalents learning English in Japan, few recover from the harm caused by bad initial teaching.
I decided quickly that did not need to be part of this fraud. I would begin to learn the language by myself, as I had begun to learn Russian four years earlier.
I found a rather nice Japanese woman, Mrs Crawford, married to a former Australian soldier who had been based in Japan.
As with Mrs Gapanovich when I was learning Russian, each week I would ask her to tape-record a few very simple texts for me to study.
I would listen closely and repeatedly to the tape over the week, check a textbook for the grammar and vocab, and then try to talk to her about the contents at the next meeting a week later.
Given the many other distractions in my life at the time I did not get very far.
But it at least gave me a start with the language, something those poor wretches in the university class would never have.
Years later I would try occasionally to expose the scandalous way Chinese and Japanese were being taught at most Australian universities. But I was fighting windmills.
The only result was to upset the academic establishment and be bombarded with angry rebuttals.
The poverty of much Asian language teaching in Australia at the time was a major reason for the poverty of Australian expertise and policy towards Asia, certainly when compared with the US and even with Europe.
I wrote a long letter to Crawford when he was ANU chancellor, trying to warn him about the state of Japanese teaching at his own university.
I never even got a reply.
4. The Sino-Soviet dispute
Meanwhile, I still had the much larger problem of what to do about explaining China and its polices to an Australian audience.
Writing a book would require enormous time and effort, even though I had much of the material in my head.
R. was willing to help. But was that enough?
The turning point was an invitation from Lo Hui-min, a Chinese history researcher at the ANU, to give a seminar in the Asian Studies department.
Lo was 100 percent Chinese – he fretted constantly over the way I courted reprisals by criticising government policies. (In China the key to survival had always been to keep out of the way of the people in power).
But he appreciated what I was doing and wanted to give me a voice, at least within the university.
I chose the Sino-Soviet dispute as my topic. Finally I was motivated to start doing the homework I should have done much earlier, namely to try to nail down the origins of the dispute rather than concentrate on who said what to whom.
If the dispute was not genuinely ideological, as I had discovered, then what was it?
(See attachment below for my explanation)
Sadly, my detailed analysis of the dispute went over many of the heads of the assembled ANU academics at the seminar.
But Lo realised that I had dug up material of value. He urged me strongly to get it published somewhere, and I realised he was right.
(Some Chinese researchers have published similar material I assume. But to this day, as far as I know, no one else in the West has done the detailed research needed to find the truth about the dispute.
(The conventional China-watchers –- Donald Zagoria, for example, with their elaborate studies of the polemics and their claiming that the main cause of the dispute was an aggressive, hardline Beijing angered by Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin.
(This was supposed to explain Beijing’s alleged worldwide aggressiveness.
(The damage caused by this and other mistakes in analysing the dispute was enormous, as I explain later.)
But once again I was back my earlier problem.
To explain the Sino-Soviet dispute I would have to give much of the background to China’s other foreign policy disputes, Taiwan’s Offshore islands especially, since they were closely involved.
I would also need to explain the 1962 Sino-Indian dispute, then being using as crucial evidence of Chinese alleged aggressiveness.
All that, including Khrushchev’s domestic problems, would require a book, and the time to write it, I thought.
I put in an application to the ANU authorities for leave to start writing. Crawford reluctantly approved a maximum of six months, with scholarship stipend suspended during that period.
(I should add that in four years at the ANU, Lo Hui-min was almost the only person there to take any real interest in my information about China, even though I had been on the China desk in EA with access to much classified material.
(Those not interested included almost all of the people in that wretched, ASIO-infiltrated, ANU international relations department.
(That also included the alleged ANU expert on Vietnam and guerrilla wars – Hedley Bull, a typically full-of-himself, British academic, immersed in the wars of a century ago and with little knowledge of the wars going on around him at the moment.
(I note that the ANU, sharing the communist need for icons, even flawed icons, has named a building after him.
(In fact the only person in that department to show any interest in my EA information and the dynamic of guerrilla wars was an American, Hanno Weisbrod.
(His excellent work on US and Australian covert involvement in Laos in the early sixties never received the attention it deserved, though it was crucial to the later US-Australian involvement in Vietnam.)
5. Jim Cairns, and Vietnam Solutions
Meanwhile I was still trying to fight the Vietnam war outside the ANU.
I had got to know some people in the very leftwing Victorian ALP executive.
Through them I had met up with Jim Cairns, later deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam government and then the leading ALP voice of reasoned opposition to the Vietnam War.
Later in my dealings with Cairns I was to discover there was a sloppy, indulgent side to him, especially when women were involved.
And that was long before the Morosi affair of 1975 which would lead to his political downfall.
But despite that, his political views and arguments were clear and good.
His book “Living with Asia” not only gave an excellent analysis of the dynamics of leftwing, anti-government insurgencies; it included an outline of the evolution of Soviet communism in the twenties and thirties.
That a self-educated ex-policeman from Melbourne could know in such detail the events of another age in a very foreign country on the other side of the globe was amazing.
Yet even on the Left, and certainly not on the Right, he got little credit for this research.
His principled opposition to the Vietnam war would be written off as the typical way-out bleatings of an old-time leftie.
The writing-off would be done by establishment academics proud that they had never sullied their minds with any serious study of Communism and its origins, let alone the dynamics of insurgencies and revolutions.
Through Cairns and the Victorian ALP executive I got drawn into ALP infighting more than I should have. But I was motivated by what as I saw as the urgent need to force a debate over Vietnam.
It was a race against time.
The US military machine had the power to grind down the insurgents in South Vietnam, just as the British had crushed the insurgency in Malaya.
But unlike Malaya, where much of the war and the brutality were hidden, there was a good chance that with time people in the West would come to realise what was actually happening on the ground in Vietnam.
Some first-class journalists were beginning to report much of this in detail.
I assumed, naively, that the soldiers and the officials in Australia and involved with Vietnam must also be coming to realise the facts and be seeking a solution.
As well, I knew already how Australia earlier had played such a crucial role in encouraging Washington into Vietnam.
By getting the facts of the war, and China, into circulation in Australia, there was a chance to change Australian opinion, which in turn offered a chance that Canberra could exert some moderating influence on Washington.
Maybe we could even stop the war – if we tried a bit harder! Fanciful thinking? Of course.
For soon I was to discover in the clearest, and worst, possible way the impossibility of stirring any sensible debate in that intellectual and moral morass called Australian public opinion.
6. The Enclave Solution for Vietnam
Increasingly I was running into the favourite argument used by mid-road progressives:“it is all very well to criticise the war in Vietnam. But in that case you have to put forward an alternative. You can’t just ask Australia and the US to walk away from it all.”
They were right, in a sense. An alternative policy that preserved US face, and guaranteed the survival of the anti-communist Vietnamese, had to be put forward.
And by chance I had worked out that policy. I called it the enclave solution.
I had long realised the role Taiwan had played in providing refuge for some worthy Chinese anti-communist thinkers and officials.
I had got to know some; one of them was the father of Duan-Mu Chien Ming, the Taiwan Embassy friend in Canberra who helped me so much with my Chinese.
While on the China desk in EA I had tried to point out the role that Taiwan could have played in moderating Beijing’s occasional lunges into crazy economic and other policies if only there was some contact and exchanges between the two sides.
Beijing’s fits of anti-Western attitudes could also be moderated if there was some guarantee the US would not try to use Taiwan as a base for attacks against China.
Even better would be some guarantee that the US would not oppose eventual reunification with China.
Why not push this idealised Taiwan model as the answer in Vietnam?
The mechanics of it all would be more complex than for island-isolated Taiwan. But they were not impossible.
It would begin with the West recognising that a civil war was underway in Vietnam, and that while it hoped Saigon would win out against its pro-communist enemies, the West would only provide as much support to Saigon as the pro-communists were receiving from outside sources.
Once it was clear that on this basis the pro-Saigon Vietnamese could not win in their civil war against the pro-communist Vietnamese, the West would then say: we have no choice but to accept the outcome of that civil war fought on equal terms.
But we would also say we could not tolerate seeing the pro-Western, anti-communist Vietnamese forced to flee the country or being wiped out by their enemies.
To prevent this tragedy, the West would set up an enclave – some coastal territory where the pro-Western, anti-communist Vietnamese could regroup, on condition they would not allow themselves to be used as a base for revenge attacks on the pro-Hanoi Vietnamese in the rest of the country.
From then on the Western military intervention in Vietnam would be restricted to protecting the borders of this enclave.
Meanwhile much of the funds being used to prosecute the war would be diverted to help create a viable economy for the enclave.
Eventually it might even come to provide not just a haven for the deserving anti-communist Vietnamese. As with Taiwan (and Hong Kong) vis-a-vis Beijing, the developing enclave would provide an economic and social model for the communist leadership in Hanoi, which almost certainly would be bogged down in Marxist orthodoxy after their victorious civil war.
Would the pro-communist forces in Vietnam accept this? Almost certainly, I thought.
They too were tired of the war. They were suffering greatly. They would get to control the bulk of Vietnam outside the enclave.
Provided there was some guarantee of eventual reunification, or of some kind of confederation, say after 20 years, they could feel they basically had achieved their objectives.
War hatreds would gradually abate.
My first move was to try to sell the enclave idea to the ALP, then out of power in Canberra. I went first to Cairns who quickly realised the merits of this compromise solution.
But he said he would first need to try to sell it to the Victorian ALP executive. After that, he would try to have it endorsed as national ALP policy.
But Cairns did not even get to first base.
I am told that at the end of his presentation to the Victorian executive, one of the more extreme left-wingers had sarcastically congratulated him on having outlined the government policy, and would he now kindly outline the leftwing policy.
I heard no more from Cairns for a while.
I decided to try another tack.
An election was due later that year (1966). The then Prime Minister, Harold Holt, was trumpeting his famous pro-Vietnam War slogan – All the Way with LBJ.
In advance of the election, LBJ, in the shape of US president Lyndon Baines Johnson, was about to descend on Australia to support to Holt’s Vietnam policies. During his visit LBJ would also condescend to meet the ALP.
But the then ALP leader, Arthur Caldwell, was getting nowhere with his calls for an unconditional withdrawal of Australian troops from this ‘dirty, filthy unwinable war’… even if history was to prove him correct.
He would get even closer to nowhere if he just repeated this to LBJ.
Meanwhile Caldwell’s heir apparent and ALP foreign policy spokesman, Gough Whitlam, was just keeping his head down and saying nothing. He was leaving Caldwell to take the flak.
My idea was to get to Whitlam in advance of the LBJ meeting, and persuade him of the merits of the enclave solution
And while LBJ would almost certainly reject it, the ALP could then go into the election saying it had put a moderate, compromise solution to Washington only to see it rejected out of hand.
My first problem was how to get to Whitlam, whom I had never met and who had little reason to know me.
I got an introduction to John Menadue who was then Whitlam’s secretary. Menadue met me cagily, but promised to pass on my proposal.
I never got a response from either him or Whitlam. The ALP went to crashing defeat in the election.
The election over, I still wanted to do something about my idea.
I leaned hard on Deamer to give me space in The Australian to publish it, which he did – almost an entire page. But once again the reaction was minimal.
There was a querulous letter from an ANU international relations academic who thought my idea flawed since the communists would never accept it and the enclave would be indefensible anyway.
As for the rest of the pro-war, pro-Saigon people I can only assume that they saw my compromise proposal as a sinister leftwing attempt to forestall the inevitable US victory.
It was, after all, only 1966 and almost everyone assumed a US victory was certain if the intervention and the killing continued.
Years later, after the US and its Saigon friends had lost the war, completely and humiliatingly, I tried to prick a few consciences by reminding our Vietnam hawks how much better things would have been for their anti-communist, pro-Saigon Vietnamese friends if they had been willing to consider a compromise solution.
But once again, no reaction.
By definition, I guess, being a hawk means never having to admit past mistakes.
Especially over Vietnam.
After all, if your heart was in the right place from the start – close to the people in power, to the pundits, and away from those ugly people supporting jungle guerrillas — then you cannot have been too wrong.
Later I came to realise how important ‘enclave solutions’ would be for resolving other disputes, in the Middle East for example. But our strategists and ideologues believe all civil wars have to be fought to the bitter end with only one side (ours) being allowed victory and continued existence.
The rest have to be destroyed, which adds greatly to the brutality and duration of those wars.
I often wonder about the fate of those brave Chinese in Malaya who had fought the Japanese up till 1945 and then tried to resist the reimposition of British colonial rule after the war.Total elimination was the hope of the British, and Australian, armies sent in to find them and kill them.
(Years later I would come to realise the futility of trying to find compromise solutions to East-West military conflicts: opposition from the powerful the spy-military-industrial complex.)
7. Finding a Publisher
Meanwhile I was plodding away with the manuscript of my China book, helped as ever by the unstinting and uncomplaining R.
My six months time limit from the ANU had quickly expired. I was eating into the time that I should have been using for my PhD work. And I still needed a publisher.
Some time earlier I had had an offer from Lloyd O’Neil, the energetic and very liberal-minded manager of The Lansdowne Press based in Melbourne. He was keen to help me get my ideas into print.
But Lansdowne usually concentrated on popular books – sport, nature, children’s tales.It was an unlikely place to go for a serious book on Chinese foreign policies. Even so, O’Neil seemed very keen to have the book.
As the writing progressed, my doubts grew. I was moving into some rather heavy academic territory. Could Lansdowne really handle that kind of book?
I decided I should check out first whether the rightwing-contaminated ANU Press would be interested.
They took one look at the emerging manuscript and fled. They were not into publishing polemical books, they said.
(Later I learned that they had passed the MS to my dear friends in the ANU international relations department, who had lost no time in saying that this ‘leftwing, pro-Beijing tract’ was quite unsuitable for an academic publisher.)
It was a serious setback.
But around the same time I had had an approach from a rather slippery character called Peter Ryan running the Melbourne University Press.
I knew something about Ryan’s rightwing views and past involvements with Australia’s spy networks.
But surely none of this would carry over to his management of a reputable university press, I thought.
I was wrong. Ryan had gone out of his way to tell me how much MUP wanted to put out a book on China and I had cooperated by giving the book a much stronger academic slant than I had planned for Lansdowne.
Ryan sat on the MS for months, by which time I was already in Japan.
I then got an abrupt letter saying it was much too biassed to be fit for publication.
It was a bad setback.
Fortunately I was able to contact O’Neil from Japan, who was still willing to publish. But there was no way for me in Japan to rewrite it as a more popular book.
I never really recovered from the MUP setback, which was probably Ryan’s intention from the beginning.
Once again, the Empire had struck back.
Japan was to become – had to become – the only way I could escape the nightmare I was facing in my native Australia.
Attachment to Chapter 7
The Sino-Soviet Dispute, Origins (set out in more detail at the top of Life Story).
The standard explanation for the dispute was that Beijing was upset by Khrushchev’s famous 1953 condemnation of Stalinism.
Beijing was supposed to want a return to hardline aggressive Stalinism while Moscow wanted something more liberal
From this it followed that the Soviets were the good communists, having to contend with and oppose the pro-Stalin communists in Beijing.
The Chinese communists were the bad communists, despite ample evidence that before 1956 Beijing had sided with reformist movements in Eastern Europe.
True, later documents confirmed that the Chinese were not very happy about Khrushchev’s 1956 attacks on Stalin; political movements need icons and at the time Stalin and Lenin were the only communist icons available for use.
So Beijing had to do something to keep the Stalin icon alive. But this difference over Stalin was hardly likely to trigger a violent dispute lasting almost a decade.
At a 1957 gathering of world communist parties, the Chinese had specifically endorsed Moscow’s leadership of the communist bloc.
As late as January 1959, Mao Tsetung had sent an effusive message to Moscow praising Khrushchev’s leadership of the Soviet communist party.
Most significantly in June, 1957, Beijing had thrown crucial support behind Khrushchev in his life-and-death confrontation with the Moscow hard-liners – the anti-party group centered on Molotov.
If Beijing was hard-line and anti-Khrushchev from 1956, why was it going out of its way to help him escape attacks from hard-liners in 1957?
None of this could support the thesis of a hard-line China determined to confront a soft-line Moscow.
But in that case what had triggered the dispute? And why had it become so vicious and intense?
To find a causal factor, I decided to go carefully through the chronology of events between June 1957 and the early 1960’s when the polemics burst into the open. That narrowed the field of suspects greatly.
On October 15, 1957, soon after he had ousted his hard-line opponents – the so-called anti-party group – Khrushchev gave Beijing a promise to help China develop nuclear weapons.
It was a major show of gratitude for Beijing’s help against Khrushchev’s anti-party group opponents.
There was even a hint, unlikely and distant though it appeared, of a Soviet nuclear backup if China ever faced a nuclear threat from outside, from the US presumably.
Khrushchev had also endorsed the Chinese model of communist development – a major ideological compromise. This too was Khrushchev’s way of saying thank you for the support he had gained from Beijing in June 1957 against the anti-party group.
But on June 20, 1959, the Soviets cancelled their nuclear agreements with China. Soon after they began open criticisms of the Chinese communist model.
Clearly the cause of the dispute had to be something between June 1957 and June 1959. What was it?
By careful elimination I ended up with just one event, unlikely and distant though it appeared.
This was Beijing’s August 1958 confrontation with a US-backed Taiwan over the Offshore Islands in the Taiwan Straits.
Already, while in External Affairs, I had heard hints that the US, at a crucial period in the confrontation, had threatened use of nuclear weapons against China.
Meanwhile Khrushchev had already begun his attempts to reach détente with the Eisenhower administration in Washington – attempts which began with the 1955 ‘Geneva Spirit’ of detente, and culminated in the famous Camp David meeting of September 1959 with Eisenhower.
Just three months before Camp David, Khrushchev had cancelled his nuclear promises to Beijing.
In other words, the Taiwan Straits crisis had forced Khrushchev to realise the full implications of his nuclear promise to China – that he would be committed to help China in a nuclear confrontation with the US at precisely the same moment that he was trying to ease nuclear tensions with the same US.
He had no choice but to cancel his nuclear aid promise to Beijing.
That this indeed was the origin of the dispute was confirmed in the subsequent polemics, where the theme of Moscow’s foolish willingness to trust and appease an aggressive US was a constant refrain in the Chinese statements.
In short, the dispute had little to do with one side being ideologically more moderate or more extreme than the other, or even being more aggressively inclined than the other.
It came back squarely to a clash of national interests, with Beijing locked into confrontation with the US over Taiwan while Moscow was trying to lock itself into detente with the US – a detente that would put an end to the Cold War which was costing Moscow so much but which would do little to solve Beijing’s problems with Taiwan.
In those days Soviet specialists in the West had little interest in Beijing problems over Taiwan. None seemed to realise the connection with the Sino-Soviet dispute.
Beijing’s openly avowed and highly personal dislike of Khrushchev and the Soviets after June 20, 1959, which they saw as the cause of the dispute was in fact a result, not a cause, of the dispute.
At the time Beijing was making much of the fact that it did not fear nuclear war with the US; that it could lose much of its population and industry and still survive.
This was immediately picked up by our hawks, and to some extent by Moscow, to prove Beijing’s inherent adventurism.
But if you are threatened with nuclear attack (as Beijing was over the Offshore Islands), and you still have no nuclear weapons, then all you can do to dissuade the likely attacker is to say you do not fear nuclear attack.
Unfortunately this common sense was also not allowed to disturb the thinking of our simple minded, anti-China dogmatists.
The Russians were the good communists;
The Chinese were the bad.
A lot of Asian and other people were to die because of this mistake.