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Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Vietnam War Story Burns & Novick aren't telling

Having now watched the first five episodes of "The Vietnam War" as told by Burns & Novick, I find it a very detailed and sophisticated effort to normalize our collective history of the Vietnam War in such a way that even while we recognize the horror that it was, we feel no collective responsibility for it. Its mission is to prepare the US public to support future US wars wherever in the 3rd world the US may next conduct them. Vietnam need not worry this time; Korea, Iran and Venezuela should be concerned. Its mission is to create a national consciousness about the Vietnam War in which we can look back and see ourselves as "the good guys," flawed perhaps, but still "the good guys." Ken Burns want us to believe that the "better angels of our nature" were still at work in the Vietnam War.

Vietnam:American Holocaust 
To sell this mythology they have to obscure or avoid two important aspects of the Vietnam war story that fly it the face of this good guy image. The first is the sheer meanness and racism of the way the US conducted the war. For 30 years it thought that killing more Vietnamese was the answer. I addressed this aspect in my first blog post on this series and in my film Vietnam: American Holocaust.

The second is aspect I expect this series to continue to avoid is the hint of any larcenous motives for the US war in Vietnam. The motives so far presented are a need to fight communism and a desire to support an independent South Vietnam. These are presented as honestly felt motives even if they latter proved not to be all that. It is nowhere suggested that the US was in it for the money. The image of the United States during Vietnam War is one of an economy that was going well in spite of the burden of the war, when actually it was the other way round; the US economy was doing well precisely because of the war.

The bottom line truth is that US capitalism is addicted to war. The boom times of the '60s required a US war somewhere. It was just Vietnam's turn. Near full employment at home required up to half a million Americans working abroad killing gooks. While an economic and political analysis of why this feature of advanced monopoly capitalism is so well established is beyond the scope of anything I will present here, the temporal relationship is easy enough to illustrate.

To do that I will here present the first thing that comes up in a Google search for "US recession history," which is The History of Recessions in the United States, and add to it my commentary as it relates the corresponding US wars timeline. My comments are in blue type.

US Economy
The History of Recessions in the United States
Causes, Length, GDP, and Unemployment Rates

By Kimberly Amadeo
Updated August 22, 2017

The history of recessions in the United States since the Great Depression show they are a natural, though painful, part of the business cycle

Excuse me! They most certainly aren't "natural." Capitalist crises are caused by the economic inequalities of that system, but that is not the only way to do business.

The National Bureau of Economic Research defines when a recession starts. The Bureau of Economic Analysis measures recessions using gross domestic product.

1945 Recession

This recession lasted only eight months (February to October 1945). It seemed to last longer.That's because GDP continued to fall until it reached -10.6 percent in 1946. This was a natural result of the demobilization from World War II. That happened when the huge demand for military weapons fell off. Government spending dropped, although business spending was robust. Source: “Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA, NBER.).

This recession timeline begins after World War II so it doesn't cover the period of the worldwide Great Depression of 1929-1939 or the fact that in spite of all the various government stimulus and social aid programs, it was ultimately the mobilization the for the war that brought prosperity to American capitalism. Amadeo's history of US recessions begins in 1945 with the recession the US economy immediately fell into as soon as war was not the answer to that central question of monopoly capitalism: How do we forestall economic collapse?

1949 Recession

This 11-month recession began in November 1948. It lasted until October 1949, when unemployment reached a peak of 7.9 percent. It was a mild adjustment as the economy continued adjusting to peacetime production.

There was a lot of pented up consumer demand right after the war, but that only carried the economy so far. In less than four years without serious war spending it found itself back in recession again. It's no accident that 1948-1949 saw the rise of the Cold War and its attended arms race. According to www.us governmentspending.com, the US defense budget, which had been as high as 41% of GDP during WWII, had dropped down to 7.2% of GDP by 1948, and the country started going into recession. Cold War and Korean War spending pushed the defense budget to nearly 15% of GDP, and it starved off recession again until that war ended.

Recession of 1953 

This recession lasted ten months (July 1953 - May 1954). It resulted from the demobilization after the Korean War. Unemployment didn't reach its peak of 6.1 percent until September 1954, four months after the recession ended.

GDP contracted 2.2 percent in Q3, 5.9 percent in Q4, and 1.8 percent in Q1 1954.

As soon as the Korean War ended, US capitalism began to falter again.

Recession of 1957 

It lasted eight months (August 1957-April 1958). GDP fell 4.0 percent in Q4 1957. It immediately plummeted 10.0 percent in Q1 1958. Unemployment didn't reach its peak of 7.1 percent until September 1958

The Fed's contractionary monetary policy caused it.

Actually, the lack of war caused it, although there was never a total lack of war. In this period the US was already paying for about 80% of the French war in Vietnam, and there were always other military expenditures. They just weren't enough to keep the economy humming along. The contractionary monetary policy was a vain effort fix an inherently broken system with monetary patches. Since the end of the Korean War the economy had been troubled, it would take the Vietnam War to deliver the next decade of prosperity. It would be a prosperity paid for by blood, 98% Vietnamese, 2% American.

1960 Recession

Starting in April 1960, the recession lasted 10 months, until February 1961. GDP was -1.5 percent in Q2, rose 1.0 percent in Q3, but was -4.8 percent in Q4. Unemployment reached a peak of 7.1 percent in May 1961. President Kennedy ended the recession with stimulus spending. His opponent, Richard Nixon, said the recession cost him the election. That's because he had been Vice-President so voters blamed the Republicans for causing it.

This economic survey doesn't delve into what Kennedy's stimulus spending was for. Much of it involved the startup costs for America's direct involvement in Vietnam. It would prove to be just a small down payment for the billions in "stimulus spending" that would use the Vietnam War as its justification and keep the US economy humming along for the next decade.

1970 Recession

This recession was relatively mild, lasting 11 months (December 1969 - November 1970.) GDP was -0.7 percent in Q1, then rose 0.7 percent in Q2, 3.6 percent in Q3, and fell 4.0 percent in Q4. Unemployment peaked at 6.1 percent in December 1970.

The war was wining down and already the effects were being felt.

1973-1975 Recession

This recession lasted 16 months (November 1973-March 1975). The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is blamed for quadrupling oil prices, but the OPEC oil embargo alone didn't cause such a deep recession. Several factors contributed.....

Certainly, Arabs asking a fair price for their oil makes for an easy target, but without a doubt the biggest "contributing factor" to this two year recession following the end of US direct involvement in the Vietnam War was the lack of war to "stimulate" United States capitalism. It would stay in the doldrums until Reagan brought it back with a fresh round of military spending. Now, Trump, who ran as a non-interventionist candidate, has ramped up existing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and is looking to start a big new one somewhere soon, while he brags that the anticipatory stock market is at an all time high.

This is the ugly. ignoble truth about US wars, both now and then. Let's see if Burns & Novick even touch on it in week two.

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