July 23rd, 2015

Vietnam then and now: the turning

Michael Totten has an excellent article on Vietnam today. The country is a capitalist (or at least mostly-capitalist or semi-capitalist) success story and Ho Chi Minh’s worst nightmare:

Hanoi’s economy looks and feels entirely unregulated; the city bursts with activity. Though luxury boutiques, technology stores selling Apple products, high-fashion clothing outlets, and international food chains are easy to find, individual street-front proprietorships predominate. The state still owns or controls some of the largest companies, but the vast majority of businesses are too small to be centrally managed. On a single block, I saw the following for sale: Vietnamese flags, Ho Chi Minh T-shirts, candles, incense, bolts of cloth, used clothing from the U.S., fake money to burn in offerings to ancestors, Angry Birds toys, exotic fruit, meat skewers, iPhones, tea, jewelry, Italian shoes, French pastries, spices, herbs, motorcycle helmets, bootleg CDs, bootleg cigarettes, Japanese BBQ, carpets, funeral boxes, silk, paintings, and bootleg paperbacks with misspelled blurbs on the back.

The city is extremely business-friendly…

But there were many years of suffering after the war:

After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, Hanoi, capital of a now-unified, Communist Vietnam, was a bombed-out disasterscape. Residents lived under an egalitarian reign of terror. The grim ideologues who ran the country forbade citizens to socialize with or even speak to the few foreign visitors. People queued up in long lines past government stores with bare shelves to exchange ration coupons for meager handfuls of rice. The only traffic on the street was the occasional bicycle…

Saigon, the South’s former capital, suffered when the North took over. “All the schools were shut down,” says Tuong Vi Lam, who vividly remembers when her side lost the war. “My aunts and uncles were in college and they had to quit. They just couldn’t get there. Property was confiscated and given to northerners. Communist propaganda was even put in our math books. We had questions like this: ‘Yesterday a soldier killed three Americans and today he killed five. How many Americans did he kill total?’ The books don’t have those kinds of questions anymore, but they did for five or ten years.”

Vietnam was finally independent and unified, but it fared no better than the Soviet Union, North Korea, or Cuba—and almost everyone knew it, including many in the Communist leadership.

At some point it became clear even to the Communist leaders of the mid-80s—who were not as doctrinaire as their Soviet or Chinese counterparts, according to Totten (a point I think is key to the transformation to come)—that something had to lighten up. And that’s how the thaw began.

Now let’s go to the man who is our present Secretary of State, John Kerry, when he was addressing the Senate Council on Foreign Relations in 1971 on the subject of Vietnam:

We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace,..

…if you read carefully the president’s last speech to the people of this country, you can see that he says, and says clearly: “But the issue, gentlemen, the issue is communism, and the question is whether or not we will leave that country to the communists or whether or not we will try to give it hope to be a free people.” But the point is they are not a free people now under us. They are not a free people, and we cannot fight communism all over the world, and I think we should have learned that lesson by now…

We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us. But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more. And so when, in 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say, “Vietnam” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.

Well, Vietnam has had a turning, but not the one that Kerry envisioned. It has turned back to capitalism for the most part, and seems very very happy to do so. Apparently those peasants weren’t so content just to work in the rice paddies, and seem to have somehow divined the difference between Communism and, if not democracy exactly, then at least capitalism. Turns out that they cared.

And they really, really like Americans. From Totten:

Vietnamese anti-Americanism scarcely exists. What we call the Vietnam War, and what they call the American War, casts no shadow—especially not in the South, which fought on the American side, but not even in Hanoi, a city heavily bombed by the United States. I saw no evidence that the U.S. (or anyone else) ever bombed Hanoi. All the damage has apparently been repaired, and most Vietnamese are under the age of 30—too young to remember it, anyway…

Today, both the Vietnamese people and government—in the north as well as the south—view Americans as allies.

Capitalist allies.

17 Responses to “Vietnam then and now: the turning”

  1. Cornhead Says:

    Kerry. Wrong on Vietnam. Wrong on Iran.
    Good at marrying rich women and dodging taxes.

  2. chuckie Says:

    It took a little longer than expected but – YAY! – we won the war.

  3. Ymarsakar Says:

    Capitalism used to fund tyrants and corrupt bureaucrats is a win? A mighty convenient way to turn people’s sacrifices into money.

  4. Mr. Frank Says:

    The expansionist China has concentrated the mind of the Vietnamese.

  5. Ray Says:

    I still remember Chris Dodd telling the congress that the Cambodians would be better off under Pol Pot as the Democrats voted to cut off funding to our allies in SE Asia in 1975. The Democrats are some of the most dishonorable people around. I am convinced the Democrats sold out our allies because they hated Nixon and didn’t want him to receive credit for a successful ending of the Vietnam war.

  6. junior Says:

    I still remember Chris Dodd telling the congress that the Cambodians would be better off under Pol Pot as the Democrats voted to cut off funding to our allies in SE Asia in 1975.
    ——————–

    There’s an excellent documentary called “Last Days in Vietnam”. One of the guys that is interviewed makes the point that Gerald Ford didn’t use profanity. It apparently just wasn’t something that he did.

    But he used it when Congress voted not to provide any assistance to South Vietnam when the North invaded.

  7. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Vietnam has every reason to feel friendly toward Americans.

    After all, Americans like Kerry and Fonda enabled the Vietnamese to send the most powerful nation on earth packing. Later, America never exhibited the animosity toward the Vietnamese Communists that we did toward the Castro regime. And, as Mr Frank points out, an expansionist and historically hostile China is a far more existential threat.

  8. Oldflyer Says:

    Hmm! I respect Totten, but wonder if he is a little too enamored.

    Maybe the regime is changing, but they had a very long way to go.

    During a couple of fairly recent hospitalizations, I have had the opportunity to visit with several Vietnamese (Americans) who are in the health field. The stories of the suffering inflicted on families by the Communist regime; and in many cases their escape are stark.

    As for Totten’s description of Hanoi as “bombed out”, I am just a bit skeptical. Never has a bombing campaign so assiduously avoided doing real damage to an opponent. “Gentlemen, the target for today is a suspected underground sawmill”.

    As China looms, I hope that the united Vietnam does not make the same mistake as the South did, by relying on America for security.

  9. Jimmy J. Says:

    I revisited Vietnam a few years ago. I saw everything that Totten talks about. It was pretty amazing.

    There are hardly any Vietnamese who remember the war – those people are very old or dead. I did have a conversation with a man who was a child of 5 when the war ended. His father was an ARVN soldier who was sent to a re-education camp for two years. He and his mother lived with her parents in Cam Ranh Bay. They were given a monthly ration of a small bag of rice and some cooking oil. Had they not been able to fish and find edible plants in the jungle, they would have starved. Those eleven years after the war were years of hunger for most of the people. What seemed to turn the leaders around was their recognition that they could not feed the people. They needed to try something else. And, not surprisingly, opening up markets and deregulating things was like putting water and fertilizer on a plant. Growth – it’s wonderful! 🙂

    I did not visit Hanoi, but the change in Saigon (Now Ho Chi Minh City) was breathtaking for me. In 1965 when I was there, the city was very French colonial with wide streets and low buildings. There was mostly foot and bicycle traffic or military vehicles in the streets. Today, the streets are jammed with mopeds. It’s an amazing sight to see the battalions of mopeds scurrying here and there. The place is filled with modern, high-rise buildings and the feeling of bustling energy is uplifting.

    At China Beach near Danang they are building fancy beach resorts with an aim to become the Waikiki of SE Asia. It’s a beautiful place and those resorts will undoubtedly attract people from Japan, China, and Australia.

    The one problem I saw was their method of transmitting electricity in the cities. The transmission lines run on poles and along the fronts of buildings in a great tangle of spaghetti-like electrical wires. How they can trouble shoot those masses of wire I have no idea. It appears that when they have an outage they just run a new line. Eventually they will have to rationalize that issue, but with the energy and hard work I saw, they’ll git ‘er dun.

    Michael Totten was amazed at the quality of the food. I wasn’t. In 1965 I had the pleasure of eating in a Vietnamese restaurant that served French cuisine. I remember that as one of the finest meals I have ever eaten. The Vietnamese learned cooking from the French and they haven’t forgotten it.

    I’m happy that Vietnam has become a success story. You would think that economists and politicians would take note of the transformation. The progs like Kerry and Obama would rather die than admit that free markets and sensible regulation create good things. 🙁

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    Oldflyer:

    Oh, I don’t think he thinks it’s a wonderful place—the article goes into the fact that it’s still a one-party system. But in terms of capitalism vs. Communism, it’s very much on the entrepreneurial side with many small businesses, and that’s because Communism failed as an economic system there, and the people (and even their leaders, by that time) wanted something better.

    And I don’t see how Vietnam—in the South, anyway—could rely on the US for military protection ever again.

  11. Ymarsakar Says:

    I am convinced the Democrats sold out our allies because they hated Nixon and didn’t want him to receive credit for a successful ending of the Vietnam war.

    The Demons raided the funding that was routed for the Vietnamese allies. Want to know what they used that funding for? Vote buying and Planned parenthood fund distributions.

    Also Chris Dodd’s current job, would be useful to check what it is. It is relevant to the tyrannical regime atm.

    Totten is a better source average, however, I don’t trust things that come in foreign languages that have to be translated by an “interpreter”. It’s very difficult to get cross reference sources and independent verification sources, on a foreign country that uses a different verbal and written language form.

    Also, Totten’s view of Vietnam is from the ground up, the people he interacts with. That is better than the MSM enemy writing stories from a hotel using stringers, but that has a problem when it comes to Vietnamese upper strategic planning. After all, could an average person meet with patriotic Americans and realize what the government of America was doing? If one judged the behavior of the entire country based upon what patriots are, there is a problem. The entire country could be deceiving patriots or oppressing them, ala Iraq under Saddam Hussein. There’s another Hussein btw.

  12. Ymarsakar Says:

    As for economic prosperity, Silicon Valley and Marin California is economically prosperous on the outside. But could you see the political corruption and vice in the cities yet?

    The Left offers their loyalists great wealth and security. Such a caste based society is the norm. Even if Vietnamese normals have some good opportunities, that probably does not tell us the entire story just yet.

  13. miklos000rosza Says:

    I was good friends with Michael Totten until he first went to Beirut and we fell out of touch but his career has proceeded as we hoped. Some of his travels verge on the madcap (like driving across Turkey from Istanbul to Kurdistan with no idea whether he’d be able to get in or not) but this is how his mind works. He’s an old-fashioned adventurer.

    The conclusions he draws about what he sees are generally down-to-earth. He has common sense.

  14. rickl Says:

    We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy.

    To be fair, I don’t know the difference between communism and democracy either. Democracy is mob rule, and Communism is rule by the mob, or at least their self-appointed spokesmen.

    Now, a Constitutional Republic, on the other hand…

    Alas, that’s a thing of the past in America.

  15. Richard Saunders Says:

    Come on, Cornhead, don’t knock Kerry — didn’t your mother tell you it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich girl as it is a poor one? Kerry is the only guy I know of who took that advice — not once, but twice!

  16. Ymarsakar Says:

    Kerry’s successes are built upon the corpses of American patriots and foreign allies.

    That’s why his success cannot be forgiven or allowed.

  17. Ymarsakar Says:

    As for leaving people alone, did Democrats leave AQ alone in Libya? Did they leave the Tea Party alone with the IRS?

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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