Peace matters by Christopher Goscha in Mekong Review, n° 7
Review of Sophie Quinn-Judge, The Third Force in the Vietnam War: The Elusive Search for Peace, 1954-75, I. B. Tauris, 2017.
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Sophie Quinn-Judge landed in central Vietnam in 1973 as a member of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). She served in the AFSC-run Rehabilitation Centre in Quang Ngai province until the end of the war in 1975, providing prosthetics and relief help to war-injured civilians coming from all sides of the conflict ripping Vietnam apart. Quinn-Judge grew up in Quaker country in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Although she was not initially a member of this breakaway Protestant faith, she took part in their youth camps as a youngster and felt at home working in the AFSC in France and Vietnam.
The Quakers established the AFSC upon the United States’ entry into the First World War in 1917. The Quakers refused to take part in war as an article of faith. So instead of sending their sons into the trenches of the Western Front, the AFSC mobilised their young people to help civilians hurt and displaced by the conflagration. The AFSC did more than provide humanitarian aid, however. Drawing on centuries of Quaker pacifism, the organisation actively promoted “lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action”. Educational programs, youth camps and exchanges helped nurture “the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social relations and systems”. In 1947, the AFSC received the Nobel Prize for Peace for its humanitarian relief efforts during and after the Second World War and its promotion of world peace. The Quakers continued their work during the Cold War, dispatching people to work in war-torn areas of the Afro-Asian world, including Vietnam.
“We were very sure at that time that there was one side that should win: the National Liberation Front. But in the spirit of the Paris Peace Agreement, signed in 1973 not long before we arrived in Vietnam, we hoped that peace would be established by means of a coalition government. Unfortunately, the provisions of the agreement were ignored in Saigon, so the war ended in 1975 with the communists’ military victory. Looking back, I believe more strongly than ever that [the] AFSC and the Quakers played an important role in trying to bring about a peaceful solution to the war. The war ended in tragedy for many people and a peaceful resolution would surely have been better for all of the Vietnamese”.
Quinn-Judge makes this case forcefully and poignantly in The Third Force in the Vietnam War: The Elusive Search for Peace, 1954-75. Hers is not an autobiography, but her activism for peace in Vietnam influenced how she wrote this book on that subject. From start to finish, she argues that things could have been different had the main belligerents just given peace a chance. A third way existed during the period between 1954 and 1973. A different outcome than the communist takeover of the south and exclusion of the peace-minded “third force” could have emerged in 1975 had neutralist, human-rights respecting and democratically committed Vietnamese been allowed to form the promised coalition government and negotiate with the communist north.
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