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Sunday, February 28, 2010

With a Free Enterprise Vietnam, Who Really Won the War?

By William Thompson

Mr. Thompson, Professor of Public Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the author of Legalized Gambling: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara and Denver: ABC-Clio, 1994 and 1997-2nd ed.).

Over the year-end, I visited Vietnam, and I revised some thinking. I now conclude that we won the Vietnam War. We just weren’t there for the victory party.

I was in Vietnam to visit my son, a school teacher at the South Saigon (yes! SAIGON) International School. I rode on a “cyclo” from the Ho Chi Minh Post Office, filled with merchants hawking goods, to the Ben Thanh Market—from one hot spot of capitalism to another. I took a train trip to the ocean beach at Mui Ne, staying at a Western-style resort. I rode on a bus through incredible motorcycle traffic to Cat Tien National Park. There I asked our German guide (he was from the Deutschland equivalent of our Peace Corps) to tell me just what inside Vietnam was “communist.” Upon reflection he said, “Well, I guess about the only thing is this park. It is owned by the government. I can’t think of anything else.

I’ve come to the conclusion that he might be right. About the only thing communist I found in the country was the national park, along with city parks and a few museums.

The American-Vietnam War was fought with multiple goals—although they were ill-explained and very murky. One rationale for the war was the “domino theory.” Concomitant with containment (as expressed first by George F. Kennan in 1947), the domino theory held that if communist forces could be victorious in one country, then those forces would seek to conquer the next adjacent non-communist country, until all countries had fallen like dominos. The whole world was the target of domino thinking, as expressed in the manifesto of Marx and Engels. If South Vietnam fell to communists supported by the Soviet Union and China, we expected Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines to fall as well, then Asia as a whole—and then the world.

President Lyndon B. Johnson stated in a speech on April 7, 1965, “Over this war…is another reality: the deepening shadow of Communist China. The rulers in Hanoi are urged on by Peking. This is a regime which has destroyed freedom in Tibet, attacked India, and been condemned by the United Nations for aggression in Korea. It is a nation which is helping the forces of violence in almost every continent. The contest in Vietnam is part of a wider pattern of aggressive purpose.”

There were also ideological reasons for being in this war. We wanted to demonstrate the viability of free enterprise capitalism in competition with state ownership of commerce.

President Johnson continued his speech with the hope that even our adversary could see the wisdom of working together for more commerce. “I would hope that the Secretary General of the United Nations could use the prestige of his great office…to initiate, as soon as possible, with the countries of the area, a plan for cooperation in increased development. For our part I will ask the Congress to join in a billion dollar American investment in this effort as soon as it is underway….The task is nothing less than to enrich the hopes and existence of more than a hundred million people.”

There was a humanitarian goal in the war. Johnson spoke of terror and violence in South Vietnam. “It is a war of unparalleled brutality. Simple farmers are the targets of assassination and kidnapping. Women and children are strangled in the night because their men are loyal to their government. Small and helpless villages are ravaged by sneak attacks. Large scale raids are conducted on towns, and terror strikes in the heart of cities.”

Whatever our goals, we abandoned notions that our forces would overturn the existing communist regime of North Vietnam, but would be used to defend the survival of the free enterprise regime of South Vietnam. We did so thinking we were preserving the “independent nation of South Vietnam.” “We want nothing for ourselves, only that the people of South Vietnam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way.” No notice was given to the fact that there was only one nation of Vietnam until the French left in 1954. Our efforts were to support a divided Vietnam—not to promote a united, independent nation. There had been one Vietnam for over a thousand years. There were two Vietnams only for a decade.

In 1973, the U.S. participated in peace talks that promised that a South Vietnamese regime could be preserved. We agreed to disengage and remove our troops and forces, and the North agreed that they would not take over the South. Political realities led to different results. Our withdrawal was accompanied by a withdrawal of funding for our military effort by Congress. In turn, North Vietnam took over the South. In 1975, North Vietnamese troops captured Saigon.

For thirty-five years, I have heard that we had “lost” the war. However, what I saw over the recent holiday leads me to reject that conclusion. The war was “won.” The trouble is that we were not around long enough to see the victory. Ironically, “our” victory was won, not by American troops, but rather by the Vietnamese armies and the Vietnamese people.

The communist takeover did originally, as Washington feared, result in the loss of liberty, property, and life – an almost inevitable consequence of war, as the North Vietnamese Army punished many in the South. It was also a result of the imposition of communist ideology. Private property was seized and free enterprise activities were forcibly restrained.

But more was happening. The U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam guaranteed the collapse of the already fragile Cambodian government, which was deposed and replaced by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. The massive wave of violence we feared would be set into motion in southern Vietnam came to Cambodia. Pol Pot’s imposition of peasant communism led to the evacuation of Cambodia’s cities, forced labor in the countryside, and mass murder in the “killing fields.” The killing focused on political rivals—such as Buddhist monks and entrepreneurs—and on those of foreign heritage, including Chinese and Vietnamese. Over two million were murdered in the Cambodian genocide.

With no American forces left in Vietnam, we were hardly in a position to stop the killing. Still, the U.S. did little in using diplomatic pressure to stop Pol Pot. Instead, the Carter administration gave support to Pol Pot by backing the United Nation’s recognition of his government.

But the killing in Cambodia did come to a stop. How? The Khmer Rouge conducted border raids into Vietnam, and Vietnam reacted. On December 25, 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia. Pol Pot was deposed, a new government put into place, and the killing ceased. The new communist government of a united Vietnam ended the genocide.

The new puppet government in Cambodia was also communist, but did this mean that dominos were falling? Hardly. While pursuing the goals of Kennan’s containment policy, our efforts were based on an assumption that by being brother communists-in-arms, the Chinese and Vietnamese loved each other. Not so! They enjoyed a millennium of animosities that were only temporarily held in check by the American conflict (and in the previous wars with the French and Japanese). China and Vietnam were traditional enemies.

When Vietnam achieved its unity, the country expelled people of Chinese heritage. China took umbrage. In February 1979, China quit playing dominos, sending 120,000 troops into Vietnam. Vietnam fought back, stopping the Chinese before they could reach Hanoi, and counterattacking across the Chinese border. Within a month, China withdrew from Vietnam. The only thing defeated was the domino theory.

As the killing stopped, and the game of dominos ended, there was an end to communist ideology. The imposition of communist economics led to conditions that the United States had predicted. There was a lack of productivity, a shortage of goods, and starvation. Rice, the country’s leading agricultural crop, had to be imported from India. The Vietnamese are natural hustlers with boundless energy, witnessed in their determination to stand up to the Americans, the French, the Chinese and the Cambodians. Yet, they were now told to stand in line and bow to the edicts of ideological government bureaucrats. Their energy was capped.

Their leaders were not entirely blind. One common story is that a leading general took the podium at the 6th National Congress in 1986. He said, in effect, that he had not asked the people and his troops to shed their sweat, tears, and blood “for this!” They had fought for a better life. Things were only worse. He called for the party to “let the people be free to use their intrinsic energy to produce goods for their own benefit.”

The leaders could not quarrel with the general, and an era of doi moi (renovation, renewal and reform) was initiated by that year’s party congress.

The Vietnamese regime is still led by the Communist Party of Vietnam, but what they have, economically, is what the American military fought to defend. Free market businesses, capital investment, manufacturing, and export development have been part of doi moi. Poverty was cut in half, income doubled, economic growth became rampant, and food is now exported. The people are not hungry. Changes in the economic structure led the U.S. to drop an embargo in 1994, and Vietnam is now part of the World Trade Organization.

Saigon is still “Saigon” to the people, although the government calls it Ho Chi Minh City. In the south of the city, a Taiwanese company reclaimed thousands of acres of swampland and developed a major suburban-like community called

Phu My Hung. There shopping centers and commercial streets are found with restaurants, hotels, single family houses and apartment complexes. The neighborhood houses the South Saigon International School, owned by Taiwanese, but giving instruction in English to children from Vietnam and 30 other nationalities.

Around the corner is the Phu My Hung Bookstore. Most books are in Vietnamese, but I ventured to look around. They had American news and travel magazines. There was also an English language book which I purchased: “Viet Nam Vision 2020: The 10th National Congress of the Communist Party of Viet Nam.” The book explained that the country was enjoying the twenty-fifth year in a row with economic growth, average growth was 5.5% a year, second worldwide only to the Chinese. Agriculture output doubled in fifteen years. Vietnam was second to Brazil in exports of coffee, fourth in rubber exports, and fourth in timber and wooden furniture. There are thirteen automobile assembly plants in the country.

State owned enterprises are being replaced by private concerns. “The overall number of private enterprises had increased from 132 in 1991, 80,000 in 2003, and 170,000 in 2006.” There are 9.7 million “individual businesses,” and half of the families in Vietnam are involved in owning businesses. Seventy-three countries had made investments in the country.

There is concern with corruption in the bureaucracy. The 2020 “Vision” Report decried bribery and corruption among party officials, indicating that the “party had disciplined 40,000 party members in the form of being blamed, warned, expelled, dismissed or sent to jail.”

The notion of the victory of American values is reflected in goals of the party expressed in the report:

To strongly liberate the production force, promote all potential as well as human resources.…To strongly move to a market economy, comply with market principles…To encourage all people to raise their incomes through lawful means….To make significant changes in administrative reform, and reduce red tape, corruption, and wastefulness….To implement a system of distribution basically according to work results, economic efficiency, the level of contributions of capital and other resources.…To create a favorable legal environment, mechanisms and policies to tap all social resources for development….To effectively manage the operations of basic markets in line with a healthy competition pattern….To steadily develop the financial market….To develop the real estate market, including the market of land use rights…To make land a real source of capital for investment….To swiftly draw investment capital...for carrying out important projects on oil and gas exploitation…

The report further urged that “there must be help for the development of enterprises, with no direct interference in their production and business….Efforts must be made to ensure that all citizens have free rights to invest and do their business without limitation in all fields…”

Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee don’t need the Republicans to hire Newt Gingrich to write another “Contract with America.” The Republicans need only look to Vision 2020 Report of the Communist Party of Vietnam for their 2010 platform. The war was won!
Read more!

Northeastern states stage a cultural festival

Agartala, Feb 27: To promote closer ties among the Northeast states and with their neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, a month-long cultural festival 'Inter-Cultural Dialogue' is being staged and the second leg of it concluded in Agartala on Friday.

New Delhi-based the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) in association with North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC) and the state governments
is organizing the first ever-international cultural festival across the northeast region.

The festival began on February 21 in Guwahati, Assam and will wind up on March 12 covering Meghaylaya, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland, followed by a four-day symposium-cum-cultural show in New Delhi from March 17 to March 20.

Around 150 artists and performers from Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and northeastern states are performing various traditional dances to showcase their area's traditional art and culture.

Other than traditional Thai dance and Indonesian dance depicting scenes from Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, the mask dance of Sikkim and traditional Indonesian Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet) were enjoyed very much by the audience, as they were totally new to them.

Audience, who were mesmerized by the programme, felt that academics and artists of these regions should collectively revisit their history, culture and economy and look at the commonalities, which still persist to a significant extent. "

I feel our culture, that is to say, ancient Indian culture specially the Aryan culture has been beautifully mixed in their chorography. They are also trying to expose their dance items, their choreography through Ramayana, Mahabharata. This is beautiful mixture of Indian culture and neighbouring countries," said Swapan Nandi, audience and renowned painter.

Participants from the Southeast Asian countries said they were happy participating in the event.
"We are happy to join this festival because here we can show our culture and learn other cultures like of India, Thailand, Cambodia and Java," said Chum Chanveasna, an artist from Cambodia.

The organisers said that the unique relationship in cultural-historical experiences of the people of Southeast Asian countries and northeast India has become a subject of genuine importance in the background of the overall drive for cultural, economic, political understanding and unity, and such cultural events help to bridge the gap and rediscover old ties between them. Read more!