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What Labour Governments used to do: Harold Wilson, LBJ, and Vietnam

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2018 by kmflett

What Labour Governments used to do: Harold Wilson, LBJ and Vietnam

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The debate about Theresa May’s support for Donald Trump’s bombing of Syria on Friday night (he’s now back on the golf course, there are priorities involved here) saw at least one Labour MP mention what Labour Governments used to do on war. What Blair did on Iraq is well within current memory.

What that altogether more wily politician Harold Wilson did on Vietnam perhaps less so

Unlike Australia and New Zealand, Britain did not commit forces to US efforts to prop up the corrupt Diem regime in South Vietnam from 1962-1975.

If Britain did not commit front line troops in Vietnam, British Government support for American action was largely unwavering. In March 1965 Harold Wilson told the Commons that the Government fully supported ‘the action of the United States in resisting aggression in Vietnam’.

He was echoing a line developed by the Tory PM before him Alec Douglas Home and backed by the Tory PM after him, Heath, as well.

What did this full support mean?

While no troops were officially committed, the SAS fought in Vietnam under the banner of the Australasian forces. Other troops were seconded to the US and fought under that auspices.

These were not rank and file soldiers but specialists and experts in jungle warfare.

Indeed Britain trained US, Vietnamese and Thai troops in its Malaysian facilities in the late 1960s.

It was not just training and expertise that was provided.

The British monitoring station at Little Sai Wan in Hong Kong was used by the Americans to help them target bombing raids on North Vietnam.

All that said Wilson also resisted considerable pressure for Democratic President Johnson to publicly back the US with troops. He resisted, perhaps because he recognised the potential political consequences and that may well have been related to the strength of opposition to the Vietnam War in the UK.

Wilson also, at least up to the Tet Offensive in Spring 1968 when it became clear that the US was in any case losing the war, associated himself very closely with international negotiations to secure a ceasefire and peace in Vietnam, albeit essentially on US terms.

As ever, protest and survive

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