Catholic Church In The Vietnam War Essay

, Research Paper

email: all the hunt@aol.comcatholic church in the vietnam warThe Catholic church played an instrumental role in supporting the government of SouthVietnam during the Vietnamese War by feeding, clothing, and providing spiritual supportto the Vietnamese people. Historically the people of Vietnam were of a Buddhistbackground, until the Roman Catholic French missionaries introduced Catholicism inthe 1600 s into the early 1800 s. France decided to take complete control of the countryin 1867, in part because of religious persecution against the missionaries, and ruled until1954. In the century preceding what has come to be called the Vietnam War, theVietnamese people were subjected to invasion by the French and the Japanese, with eachpowerful nation trying to maintain colonial power. By 1954, the Vietnamese peoplewere successful in driving the French colonialists from their land. Following the withdrawal of the French from Vietnam, struggle for regionalpower took place among the various military and political groups that had arisen inopposition to the French. In the north, Ho Chi Minh, an ardent communist rose topower, while in the south the Catholic capitalist Ngo Dinh Diem took control of the civiland military apparatus.In the north, the choice of religion was guaranteed by the communist constitution. Religion of any type was not well received by the communists, however. Diem used thehistorical intolerance of religion, for which the communist were known worldwide, toexploit the fears of the Catholic Vietnamese living in the north. As many as 800,000North Vietnamese migrated to the south where they were integrated into the SouthVietnamese society ( World Book 292). This strengthened Diem s nation by increasingthe population with reliable Catholics that opposed communism, and weakened theempire of his opposing force. It also galvanized the American Catholics in supportingthe South Vietnamese because this was such a massive exodus of Catholics fleeing acommunist environment. In South Vietnam, Diem was closely aligned with the Catholic church. A closerelative was bishop in South Vietnam who had close ties with the Church leadership inthe United States. The Catholic President of the United States, John F. Kennedy wasinterested in shoring up the South Vietnamese government from the dangers of thecommunist north. President John F. Kennedy ordered a step-up in military advisors, inmilitary aid, including the increase of American advisers, technicians, pilots, and planes.By February, 1962, about 2,700 U.S. advisers had arrived. By November, 1963 – whenKennedy was assassinated – there were about 16,300 U.S. military men in South Vietnam(World Book 293). Much of the support and sympathy from the United States was originallyexpressed through CRS, or Catholic Relief Services, the overseas relief agency of theCatholic Church in the United States. Initially the project was funded internally throughcollections and appeals, with the aid going to the impoverished citizens of SouthVietnam. With the passage of time however, politics in Vietnam and in the United Statescame to play a much larger role in how aid was raised and distributed. President Kennedy figured he could help the South Vietnamese more by givingaid in the form of food and medical supplies, than he could by supplying military goods.The CRS already being stationed there and contributing generously, influenced hisdecision heavily. The step of directing this food supply to the South VietnameseGovernment s local military forces and families was undertaken by CRS as a wageincrease to the soldiers requested by U.S. General William Westmoreland (Quigley102). The evolution of the CRS, from a non- political relief agency to basically a toolof the U.S. government and the Catholic Church in their efforts to influence the warresults, is a significant and telling development in the politics of this war. Historically, the church has been against war involving the killing of any people,soldiers and civilians alike. In certain circumstances however, The Catholic Church felta war could be justified and deemed appropriate if it was seen as necessary to save apeople or land. War can be just only if employed to defend a stable order, or morallypreferable cause against threats of destruction or the rise of injustice (Long 24). Eventhough the CRS was originally a conduit for strictly humanitarian aid, the United States

and The Church recognized it s value to provide additional support to the military ofSouth Vietnam in it s endeavor to gain an advantage over the North. The CatholicChurch supported the American involvement of troops in Vietnam because they felt itwas justified, and necessary in order to retain peace and suppress the growth of thecommunists in the north (Drinan 72). The American Catholics, through the CRS, and influenced by the U.S. politicalforces, were gradually increasing their influencing in a military confrontation halfwayaround the world. The money that was being offered in collection baskets on Sundaywas not being directed to the humanitarian assistance that it was intended for. TheCatholic Relief Services distributed over half of its food and rations in Vietnam to theSouth Vietnamese Militia. CRS chose to increase pay by means of food to SouthVietnamese soldiers before feeding refugees, orphans, and school children (Quigley102). Even as the American Catholics through the CRS were providing assistance to themilitary of South Vietnam under the guise of humanitarian aid, other Catholic Reliefagencies opposed the position of attempting to influence the war s outcome, or choosingto help only one side in the conflict. Within the Catholic Church many felt that the aidbeing collected for Vietnam should be directed toward a more neutral recipient, such asthe peasant population in both the North and South. The CRS maintained that aid couldonly be delivered safely to the South. As the bishop who is the executive director ofCRS has said with regard to helping suffering civilians in North Vietnam, It would be aholy and just thing to do. But it is simply impossible. (Quigley 102) . Perhaps the onlyimpossible, or missing, component was the resolve of the involved parties, as is evidenceby the fact that other Catholic relief agencies were successful in providing aid to NorthVietnam. The action of the relief agency of the American Church stands in contrast toCaritas Internationalists, the Vatican based relief body, which has sent medical suppliesto North Vietnam(Quigley 102). Because of the long history of unrest in the country, the limited educationalopportunities, and limited available resources, the people of Vietnam were dependent onthe aid provided by the Catholic Church. The CRS took advantage of the starvingpeasants in Vietnam by only aiding, through food and medicine, those who becamebaptized and aligned with the Catholic Church. Thus the church was recruiting ricebowl Catholics to help it strengthen it s influence in, and the outcome of, politics inVietnam. The Catholic Church of America, through the CRS, crossed a boundary whenthey chose to pick sides in the Vietnam War, and deny any assistance to the North. Itwasn t their place to decide who was deserving of humanitarian aid. Pope Paul quotedSt. Ambrose in his encyclical on the development of nations, referring to the attitude ofthe early Church fathers regarding the duties of those with superfluous goods in thesewords: You are not making a gift of your possessions tothe poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.For what has been given in common for the use of all, youhave arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, andnot to the rich (Drinan 103). The importance, power and potential influence of the Catholic Church is biggerthan the changing politics of nations. The reason that the Church has survived to providethe many good works that exist today is because it has historically looked beyondchoosing sides in nationalist political issues. The humanitarian works of the church havesupported the oppressed and needy of the world, and the holy work of the past have beentainted by the actions of the CRS in choosing to withhold assistance from innocentvictims of war in order to influence the outcome of the war. The CRS and other Catholic relief services intended to comfort and aid the Vietnamesewho were being adversely effected by the war. Gradually their assistance was directed tothe soldiers to bolster the efforts of one side in the conflict. This assistance allowed theSouth to continue fighting longer than it otherwise might have been able to do. It isironic that the initial intentions to provide humanitarian assistance to a struggling peasantpeople backfired against them. Thus the overall effect of the diverted assistance was toprolong the fighting, and cause more death to the Vietnamese people, both North andSouth, and to the U. S. soldiers that were



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