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The peace negotiations in Paris have been marked by the classic Vietnamese syndrome: optimism alternating with bewilderment; euphoria giving way to frustration. The halt to the bombing produced another wave of high hope. Yet it was followed almost immediately by the dispute with Saigon over its participation in the talks. The merits of this issue aside, we must realize that a civil war which has torn a society for twenty years and which has involved the great powers is unlikely to be settled in a single dramatic stroke. Even if there were mutual trust-a commodity not in excessive supply- the complexity of the issues and the difficulty of grasping their interrelationship would make for complicated negotiations. Throughout the war, criteria by which to measure progress have been hard to come by; this problem has continued during the negotiations. The dilemma is that almost any statement about Viet Nam is likely to be true; unfortunately, truth does not guarantee relevance.
Matters of race and color are not actually more important in world affairs now than they were, say, a generation ago; only the thrust and direction of their importance have changed. This has been, of course, quite a change. The world of the 1940s was still by and large a Western white-dominated world. The long-established patterns of white power and nonwhite non-power were still the generally accepted order of things. All the accompanying assumptions and mythologies about race and color were still mostly taken for granted, hardly as yet shaken even by the Japanese challenge to Western primacy in Asia or by the attempt of the Germans to make themselves masters of the master race. The world of these late 1960s is a world in which this white dominance no longer exists, certainly not in its old forms. The power system which supported it has crumbled. Its superstructure of beliefs about the superiority-inferiority patterns of races and cultures lies in pieces amid the ruins. While some people cling to chunks of the debris and stand defiantly in the door-openings of their shattered towers, most of us are stumbling blindly around trying to discern the new images, the new shapes and perspectives these changes have brought, to adjust to the painful rearrangement of identities and relationships which the new circumstances compel. This is now the pressing business of individuals, nations and whole societies, and in the cluster of matters with which they must deal, hardly any is more nettling and more difficult to handle than the matter of race, especially as symbolized by differences of physical feature and color of skin. Of all the elements involved in this wrenching rearrangement, race or color is surely one of the most visible, more important in some cases than in others but hardly in any case not important at all.
It was the third week in August 1968 and the North Atlantic allies were relaxing on their beaches, in their mountains and in their chancelleries too. There was plenty to relax about, for 1968 had started as a big year for détente in Europe. The East-West exchange in political leaders was at an all-time high; a Western leader who had not recently been in Poland or Rumania was hardly alive politically unless he was home preparing to receive his opposite number from Hungary or Bulgaria. The Mayor of Moscow was in The Hague; the Red Army Choir was about to entertain in the concert halls of England; the University of Minnesota Band was practicing for its trip to the Soviet Union. The John F. Kennedy Airport was braced for the second ceremonial Aeroflot flight, part of the new nonstop service between Moscow and New York. In Moscow, carpenters were hammering together a big Italian trade fair. And in Washington, the White House was working hard on the possibility of talks with the Soviet Union about strategic nuclear missile and anti-missile systems.
For the third time in a generation-1938, 1948, 1968-Czechoslovakia has transformed the political atmosphere of the civilized world. The eight- month "Prague spring," the Soviet invasion of August 20 and its grim consequences have stirred strong emotions throughout Europe and beyond. Not since the Hitler-Stalin Pact, perhaps, has the outrage at Kremlin policy been so general, embracing Richard Nixon and Herbert Marcuse, Chou En-lai and Josip Broz-Tito, Bertrand Russell and Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Luigi Longo and Paul VI.
With the obvious exception of Viet Nam, nothing the U.S. Government has done in recent years in the field of foreign policy has created so much controversy as its intelligence operations, especially the secret subsidizing of private American institutions. The sinking of the Liberty with the loss of 34 American lives during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and the capture of the Pueblo by North Korea in 1968 brought home to the American public the dangers involved in one type of intelligence collection and embarrassed an already beleaguered Administration. Of all the U.S. intelligence organizations, the Central Intelligence Agency has been the most vociferously attacked. It has been accused of perpetrating the 1967 Greek coup, arranging the death of Ché Guevara and even fanning the flames of the recent student riots in Mexico as a means of influencing the Mexican Government to adopt an anti-Castro stance in hemispheric affairs.
Once again the Middle East seems fated to become the main danger zone of world politics. During the last decade the East-West détente has prevented a head-on collision between the superpowers there, but many signs point to impending changes. As the Soviet Union reaches strategic parity with the United States, there is growing temptation for it to assert its strength in an area so much nearer Moscow than Washington. The Western withdrawal from the area will be complete with the British departure from the Persian Gulf. From the Soviet point of view the Middle East is a vacuum and seems the least risky area in the world in which to expand the Soviet sphere of influence. The Russian drive to the south which began in the eighteenth century seems at last likely to achieve fulfillment.
Recommendations for fundamental reforms in the organization and administration of foreign affairs have been made by high-level committees and task forces on the average of every two years since World War II. Despite the near unanimity of diagnosis, little has been done to deal with the serious problems uncovered; they are still with us, unsolved and debilitating.
Viet Nam has become more than a small country in South- east Asia. It has become a symbol of a new kind of American involvement in world affairs and a focus for intense and bitter divisions throughout every facet of American society. Few issues have produced a greater flow of books, articles, speeches, journalism and TV reports and commentaries. This stream of words has been devoted almost exclusively to two subjects: the conduct of the war, with speculations about appropriate military strategy and prospects, and the political and moral issues of the position of the United States and its allies. Whether the people of Viet Nam prosper or become permanent economic and political cripples or dependents, and how they may construct a viable nation after the fighting ceases, are issues that are rarely discussed. Yet the answers to such questions may determine the future even more than the direct outcome of the war itself. Whether the sacrifice of lives and treasure has been wasted, what lies ahead for Southeast Asia as a region, and indeed, the future standing and influence of the United States in the Pacific Basin will depend largely on the skill-or lack of it-with which the postwar economic development and reconstruction of Viet Nam, both South and North, are planned and carried out.
With the success of the Liberals in the Canadian general election of last June, a forceful new Prime Minister (elected leader of his party only a couple of months earlier) received a clear mandate for political action. Attracted by the swinging style and obvious intellectual calibre of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, observers in other countries have been taking a greater interest than usual in Canadian affairs. And they have naturally been especially concerned to know about the new administration's views on international issues.
The United States and Japan approach a changing relationship. Japan wants the continued nuclear guarantee of the United States but is restive at the protracted American control of Okinawa and the irksome problems arising from American military bases in Japan. The natural desire of a leading industrial nation for a more "independent" foreign policy, including what is vaguely expressed as "autonomous defense," appears to be steadily growing. At the same time, the United States, under a new Administration and in a post-Viet Nam period, can be expected to reassess its responsibilities overseas, particularly in Asia. The simultaneous meeting in Japan of these forces for change could, if the gears mesh smoothly, produce a healthy transition toward a sounder, more mutually responsive Japanese-American relationship. On the other hand, misunderstandings or misplaced expectations on either or both sides could block such a happy result and damage the interests of both countries.
The Human Rights organs of the United Nations have been-to use a typically American term-great on production but poor in distribution. Since the adoption of the Charter in 1945, making the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms a purpose of the organization, the members have produced a cornucopia of papers proclaiming principles and goals which almost no state dares contradict publicly, but which few observe conscientiously, and which fewer still embrace to the point of allowing their practices to be inspected.
South Africa is possibly the most controversial of countries. Its defenders acclaim its political stability; others ask at what price in civil rights. Its economic boom is the pride of its advocates; its economic inequality is the target of its critics. "Separate Development" of ethnic groups is presented on one hand as an enlightened solution to racial tensions; on the other hand it is condemned as not only racist but unworkable.