Updated  
April, 23 2012 22:42:00

People power prevails against unjust war

Coventry fundraiser: Members of the Coventry Young Communist League raise funds in a local shopping centre in June 1968. The placard reads "For the victory of the Vietnamese people". — Photo courtesy of the Communist Party of Britain History Group
Bomb carnage: American B52 bombers dropped bombs on parts of the Long Bien Bridge, the Ha Noi Foreign Language University, Kham Thien Street and Bach Mai Hospital (pictured on December 22,1972). The bombs killed 30 doctors and nurses and destroyed the right wing of the hospital. — VNA/VNS File Photo
Although British soldiers didn't fight in Viet Nam, Britons protested vociferously against US military action in Indochina and almost every day, pictures of civilians being killed were portrayed in the media. VNA London Bureau correspondent Vu Hoi reports

On April 30, 1975 South Viet Nam was totally liberated and the North and the South were reunited under the same roof.

Since then, 37 years have passed yet that glorious victory still remains fresh in the minds of many peace-loving people across the world. Among them, many British friends remember the days on which they took part in anti-American war demonstrations in London and elsewhere, and the happiness they felt at the news that the Sai Gon regime had surrendered and that peace had returned to the Vietnamese people.

Peace lover

Graham Stevenson – a peace lover – is an amateur historian and a member of the British Communist Party. He was eager to talk about what had happened on April 30, 1975 when South Viet Nam was totally liberated.

"It was a sense of relieved elation for those of us who had actively campaigned for a decade or more when Viet Nam finally sent the barbaric US invaders home and reunited their country in 1975," he said.

Stevenson was born and grew up in Coventry, a city that suffered heavy damage during World War II.

He recalled that in the early 1960s, he took part in an international youth project associated with the reconciliation work of Coventry Cathedral in his home city. He joined the Youth Communist League (YCL) in Coventry. However, he conceded that his love for the communist ideology only started when he began to study the history of the communist movement, particularly following the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Russian Great October Revolution in 1967.

It was at that time, anti-American War demonstrations spread out like a raging fire from the US itself to its allies, and Britain was no exception.

In March 1968 when the war in Viet Nam became fiercer, tens of thousands of Londoners took to the streets to protest against the unjust American War, and Stevenson was one of the organisers.

 

Singing for salvation: Musicians sing the blues in the anti-war demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square in 1968. — Photo courtesy of A30yoyo/flickr
Free radicals: The massive student protest put enormous pressure on the British government to turn down US requests to send troops to join the war in Viet Nam. — Photo courtesy of CPB HG
Peace mission: A British Council demonstration for peace in Viet Nam (circa 1965/6). — Photo courtesy of CPB HG
People power

Demonstrations against the Labour Government – an active supporter of Washington – took place across Britain. The demonstrators wanted to show their support for their Vietnamese friends and to protest against the US invaders. The YCL was one of the first organisers of anti-US demonstrations in Britain. In 1965, the league launched the Medical Aid for Viet Nam appeal. It was the first organisation to donate 1,000 British pounds (then a very substantial sum) in medical aid. Subsequently a national charity with very broad support was set up, and is still operational today. Against a background of rising concern at the appalling levels of death and injury to civilians, the "US Out Of Viet Nam" petition was organised in 1966 with 100,000 signatures, and the culmination of the campaign was a modest march to Downing Street to present the petition to Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

On March 17, 1968 anti-American war protests hit the headlines in many British newspapers. On that day, around 20,000 people gathered in Trafalgar Square in Central London and marched to the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. They chanted anti-war slogans demanding that the US withdraw from Viet Nam and that Harold Wilson's Government stop supporting the Pentagon. The Grosvenor demonstration had been called by the Viet Nam Solidarity Campaign which was set up in July 1966 by the International Marxist Group and the YCL.

A key objective of that huge demonstration was to prevent the British Government and soldiers becoming involved in the war. However, some bad elements took advantage of the chaotic situation to drive a wedge among the demonstrators and encourage people to illegally enter the US compound. Violence broke out when the demonstrators were encircled by the police. As a result more than 80 people were injured and some 200 were arrested.

At that time, the World Federation of Democratic Youth launched a worldwide movement "Victory to Vietnamese people, for their freedom, independence and peace" which was geared towards raising money to purchase medical equipment that was difficult to get hold of in war torn Viet Nam. The movement received strong response from the British people, particularly from cities such as Newcastle, Coventry, Manchester and London. More than 4,000 pounds in cash was collected during the campaign. The YCL then bought a lorry which they drove to Sofia, capital of Bulgaria where the World Festival of Youth and Students was being held to hand over the funds to the Vietnamese delegation. Following the campaign, the YCL decided to step up the protests against the unjust war conducted by Washington in Viet Nam. Together with other peace- loving organisations in the country, the YCL successfully organised a huge anti-war demonstration in London on October 27, 1968 with the participation of some 250,000 people. In such a situation, the local media was trying to create an atmosphere of alarm, claiming the march would be a signal of an attempted coup d'etat. In the event of a massive, calm and dignified presentation, an alliance between the massed banners of Britain's proletariat and youth stunned the establishment. The marchers chanted "Hey, Hey LBJ (President Lyndon Johnson's initials), how many kids have you killed today?" and "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh".

The scenes of people hand in hand in the streets singing the song "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh" is still fresh in Stevenson's mind.

The massive protest put great pressure on the British government to turn down the Pentagon's request to send British troops to join the war in Viet Nam. In his book Harold Wilson, Lyndon Johnson and the Viet Nam War, 1964-68, Jonathan Coleman wrote: "London had to reject the frequent American requests for combat troops. In the absence of direct British participation, the Johnson administration tended to regard Wilson's various attempts to moderate the war largely as an irrelevance or even as a downright nuisance. Tensions over Viet Nam helped ensure that the Wilson-Johnson relationship was probably the worst between any British prime minister and US president".

Although British soldiers didn't directly participate in the war in Viet Nam , the British people came out strongly against it, and almost every day, pictures of innocent people including children being killed or injured were portrayed in the media. Phil Katz, an art designer and member of the Royal Society of British Artists said he and many other young people of his age were haunted by the terrible scenes shown on TV, particularly pictures of US B-52s bombers wantonly dropping bombs, including napalm over Viet Nam. At that time Katz was a 10- year-old boy.

When the war ended, like many other progressive people all over the world, Phil was overjoyed at the news that the Sai Gon administration had been toppled and the US had withdrawn their troops from South Viet Nam. A small nation in Asia became a beacon enlightening hope for the people all over the world.

Stevenson said that progressive people everywhere in Britain breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief and expressed genuinely deep gratitude and admiration at Viet Nam's victory. A whole generation of people joined trade union and anti-imperialist activities, inspired by the heroism of the Vietnamese people who had substantially changed world history. — VNS

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