Muslim Press has conducted an interview with Staughton Lynd, a long-time activist, to discuss the Vietnam War and American exceptionalism.
In what follows, the full transcription of the interview has been given.
Muslim Press: Mr. Lynd, what urged you to be involved in anti-war activities?
Staughton Lynd: To begin with, I opposed wars because my school and family encouraged me to make ethical evaluations. The Vietnam War appeared especially unjustified. The United States encouraged the South Vietnamese government not to take part in the nationwide elections agreed to at the 1954 Geneva conference, because the US government believed that Ho Chi Minh would win. The notion that the NLF was an extension of Chinese imperialism had little foundation. When I visited Hamoi in 1965 I was shown stakes planted centuries earlier in the waterway between Haiphong and Hanoi to protect Vietnam from Chinese invasion.
MP: Do you think American exceptionalism played a big role in the Vietnam War?
Staughton Lynd: American "exceptionalism" expressed itself in genocide against Native Americans and in slavery, not in anything noble that other nations should copy. It was hypocritical for the United States to present its invasion of Vietnam as anything other than what it really was: unacceptable intrusion in the affairs of another people.
MP: What do you think was the major reason that led to the war?
Staughton Lynd: The case has been made that Ivy League figures such as the Bundy and Rostow brothers wanted to show that they could play a role in history as heroic as the role played by their fathers and uncles in World War II.
MP: What's your take on anti-war activists of that war? Do you think they failed at preventing the Vietnam War?
Staughton Lynd: The largest anti-war movement during wartime developed during the Vietnam War. We failed to stop the war as it dragged out for a dozen years. On the other hand, by the early 1970s the US military in Vietnam had become non-functional. Soldiers refused to obey orders and stayed in their tents. I believe that among younger relatives of those conscripted for Vietnam, an anti-war orientation still exists.
MP: How do you compare the anti-war movement at that time with the anti-war movement today?
Staughton Lynd: To the surprise and consternation of the 1 per cent, there is disaffection among volunteers for military service today comparable to that among conscripts for the Vietnam War. It expresses itself differently, for example in suicides rather than "fragging" of junior officers.
MP: Do you think the same ideology was also behind the Iraq War?
Staughton Lynd: Economic factors -- especially oil and poppy -- were more important in the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan than they were in Vietnam.
MP: How does democracy work with capitalism? Are these two reconcilable?
Staughton Lynd: In a relatively prosperous society such as the United States became when the Midwest and West were taken from the Native Americans, a certain degree of "democracy" has been possible. In hard times, capitalist societies tend toward fascism.
Staughton Craig Lynd is an American conscientious objector, Quaker, peace activist and civil rights activist, tax resister, historian, professor, author and lawyer. His involvement in social justice causes has brought him into contact with some of the nation's most influential activists, including Howard Zinn, Tom Hayden and Daniel Berrigan.