• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


    from Twitter


    Saturday, February 05, 2005

    The Morality of the Vietnam War

    Sorry, Matt's post and my response has got me thinking.

    I am currently writing my thesis on the image of Ho Chi Minh in the American media and how it changed from 1945-1975. It's safe to say I've read a lot about the war, the man, and all the debate that's gone on ever since.

    It is interesting that Roger L. Simon was anti-war and now is not. Over the course of reading possibly hundreds of books and articles on the war, I find myself feeling stronger and stronger that America was in the wrong. The more I read, the more American sins I see. My wife, from Saigon, who came to America five years ago, feels strongly that if Ho Chi Minh would have lived through the war, he would have forgotten communism in return for saving his country from economic ruin.

    I agree. Ho Chi Minh was far and away a nationalist. He admired the American government (even by admissions of government published biographies of the leader during the 1960s) during the 1940s as he fought the Japanese (with CIA help). After declaring independence in 1945, help from America dried up as American leaders started to see him in league with Moscow. Although Ho Chi Minh never advocated requesting Soviet or Chinese help, the political arena became increasingly cold.

    The snubbing of Ho was only the first of many mistakes. Next, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. This should have marked the end of European colonialism in Southeast Asia, but America decided to jump in and support the French. Third, America backed out of the treaty that partitioned Vietnam into North and South entities at the 17th parallel. This basically forced Ho to go to war to unify the country, because when elections were supposed to be held, the US didn't ratify them saying that they could not be fair. It was then and is now generally believed that Ho Chi Minh would have won the elections by a landslide in both North and South Vietnam.

    Once war started, the US backed Ngo Dinh Diem, a former French provincial governor whom the french called "insane" and advised us against backing him. That was mistake four. This split the south into two groups never to be repaired. Ho was now communist, and many brave ARVN and USA soldiers were dying for freedom. Another large portion of the south backed Ho and a unified Vietnam over the atrocities that Diem committed. By the time he was dead, political turmoil was the state of affairs, and Viet Cong resistance in the south was powerful.

    There are numerous more instances where the US bungled things. For this reason, I say we were in the wrong. Not the soldiers, US or ARVN, for they fought for freedom and democracy--just the American government. We had too many chances to get it right and we failed. Looking at the state of affairs after 1975, hyperinflation, reeducation camps, etc., and comparing them to the state of South Korea today, it is easy to see the consequences of our failings. Simon could have a point that we were right in going in to Vietnam. My point is that we could have had a unified democratic Vietnam in 1945, or at least a free South Vietnam in 1975, if we hadn't made so many unexcusable errors.

    It is also worth pointing out, that for most people in the North and South, they just wanted the war to end. Whichever side won was great, if it meant no more death and agent orange. The heartache I have seen in people's eyes as they retell stories of the monstrocities of war is burned into my memory. The children of rice farmers, now grown and begging on the streets because of horrific physical deformities from agent orange and other defoliants are everywhere in Vietnam--visual signs of why we must never let it happen again.

    Truthfully, the debate over culpability in the Vietnam war is irrelevant. What we need to talk about now is how can we take the beautiful country of Vietnam and its great people and heal, rebuild, and envelop in the arms of brotherhood and the international family. We need to talk about the great strides Vietnam has made already--70% of GDP is now from private enterprise since opening the economy in 1997. Vietnam has all the raw materials to be the jewel of Southeast Asia. I hope it does so, for the Viets there and those all around the world.

    Nota Bene: I am currently reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. I highly recommend it. It tells the story of a Hmong family in Merced, CA who had an epileptic daughter and the colission of two medical cultures. The Hmong live in the mountains of Lao and Vietnam (I have some good Hmong friends in Sapa, Vietnam), and came to America as refugees like the Vietnamese. Fadiman does a great job at explaining the history of the war, Hmong involvement, the ordeal of trekking from Laos to Thailand to America, and the struggle to adapt once here.

    No comments: