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Book Review: Carter, James M.  Inventing Vietnam: The United States and State Building, 1954-1968.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008.  Print.
Future historians will relate it thusly: "Once upon a time, in the Golden Age of Capitalism, the premier core nation of the world (the US) decided that it was going to invent a nation of its own, and staff this nation with the technological marvels that only a core nation can offer.  After the failure of this project, the  core nation then threw a tantrum, and launched a full-scale military assault upon its invented nation.  That didn't work either."

And that will be the story of future generations as regards the "police action" in Vietnam.  Moreover, I would argue that the tantrum continues to this day -- that the Obama extension of the Bush/Cheney prescription for endless war is an extension of the US elite angst over the failure to establish "South Vietnam."  The resurgent post-Vietnam militarism of the US government was presaged by Ronald Reagan, who famously spoke in August of 1980 of overcoming a "Vietnam Syndrome."  Reagan:

For too long, we have lived with the "Vietnam Syndrome." Much of that syndrome has been created by the North Vietnamese aggressors who now threaten the peaceful people of Thailand. Over and over they told us for nearly 10 years that we were the aggressors bent on imperialistic conquests. They had a plan. It was to win in the field of propaganda here in America what they could not win on the field of battle in Vietnam. As the years dragged on, we were told that peace would come if we would simply stop interfering and go home.
And thus, at the beginning of the era of neoliberalism, the pretext for endless war was laid, as an attempt to continually overcome the US public and Congressional reluctance to fight wars which was so in evidence at the end of the "Vietnam war."

Today, much of Vietnam war historiography appears to conform to the outlines of the debate about the war as it occurred in the '60s and '70s.  Scholarship revolves around the question of whether or not the US could have won the war.  In the one corner you have John Prados' Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, which claims that the regime in South Vietnam never gained traction even in 1969 when the NVA was ostensibly at its low point, and in the other corner you have Mark Moyar's Triumph Forsaken, which claims that the Diem regime might have stabilized had the US not engineered his assassination.  The Carter book falls in the former camp.

I'm not really sure how much of this historians' debate is meaningful in the terms which they themselves have set.  The capitalists won anyway even after having lost on the battlefield, noticeably with Vietnam's admittance to the WTO in 2007, and so the whole US war effort might appear in hindsight as a great waste of resources, money and lives.  It fought valiantly for a failed regime to assure an outcome which came anyway, and ironically from the efforts of the regime it was fighting.  How does it matter that "South Vietnam" didn't work out, when the whole of Vietnam was in the last century seamlessly integrated into the capitalist system?  

We can say from the perspective of 2012 that the historians' debate is about development paths, about the meaning of 20th-century "Communism" as what historian Immanuel Wallerstein called the “mercantilist semiwithdrawal” of nations seeking to industrialize within the orbit of the developing capitalist system.  In this regard, I would argue that what's really interesting about the story of US involvement in Vietnam is the notion that, through capitalist development, the US thought it could create a nation to its liking (the Spanish phrase "a su gusto" comes to mind here) through industrial nation-building.

At any rate, the future history I have suggested above comes close to being told in James M. Carter's "Inventing Vietnam."  Inventing Vietnam tells the story of the US attempt to mold the southern portion of Vietnam into a modern, industrial state.  

Carter describes three aspects of the US "development" of Vietnam which hindered its intended goal: 1) the militarization of this effort, which facilitated a police-state approach to development over a commercial approach, 2) the creation of the Diem regime (and the regimes of its successors as well) as kleptocratic dictatorships, which meant that if the US government wished to continue the existence of "South Vietnam" it, and not private capital or Vietnamese initiative, had to fund its development and accept the fact that much of the material benefit of the development would accrue to the people at the top of the hierarchy, and 3) the invented nature of Diem's regime as (officially) a temporary expedient in light of the failure of the Geneva accords of 1954, according to which Vietnam was to be united through elections.  This denied public legitimacy to the whole effort.

Nonetheless, the US did indeed, and impressively, develop southern Vietnam.  The book states:

A war-torn, divided, and economically ruined place in 1954, the United States had, by 1957, helped to fund and train a national police force, educate tens of thousands of Vietnamese in the affairs of government, modernize elements of a national infrastructure, rebuild roads and bridges, schools, and hospitals, deliver a staggering amount of aid that spread across the whole of southern Vietnam, and create an artificial economy that sustained a much higher standard of living for a few than would have otherwise been possible.  Over fifteen hundred strong by the late 1950s, the Americans in southern Vietnam made up the largest state-building project anywhere in the world.  (79)
Inventing Vietnam discusses in detail the American university connection to the American project in southern Vietnam, begun in 1955 as the "Michigan State University Advisory Group" (MSUG) which had as its protagonist Wesley Fishel, Professor of Political Science at MSU.  In August of that year this program created the "National Institute of Administration (NIA) for the purpose of training civil servants to further develop a state and ensure that Vietnam could 'keep pace with global modernizing trends.'" (71) This was one of a number of programs started by the MSUG: also importantly, the MSUG begun the "Commodity Import Program" (CIP) through which material aid to Vietnam traveled.  Diem terminated his contract with the MSUG in 1962 because two of its associates reported that Diem presided over a failed police state.  

Much of this history occurs in "what officials (of the Kennedy administration) termed the 'decade of development' in the realm of foreign affairs." (116)  In this book, Carter goes into detail about the origins and outcomes of the "strategic hamlets" program beginning in 1962, meant to transform largely rural southern Vietnam into a modernized network of, well, Diem supporters:

In its initial phases, the overall process would involve setting up a government presence, as opposed to an overt military presence and show of force, to establish basic security.  Villages would be organized for protection, requiring military forces on a limited basis, and gradually, they would be cleared of all insurgents or revolutionaries.  A police force would remain in the area as part of a "clear and hold" strategy.  Outlying villages or communities wold thus have been brought into greater contact with an expanded and modernized Vietnam, with the Saigon regime at its center.  (125)
The program was begun in Binh Duong province, which in early 1962 had considerable insurgent support, and, as Carter reports, "six weeks into the operation, only 7 percent of the people had been resettled, either by force or voluntarily." (126)  A later report described the program as "mostly pure facade."  The "Strategic Hamlets" program died when Diem was assassinated in 1963.  "In the countryside, peasants either destroyed the strategic hamlets or simply abandoned them." (145)

The total war of the mid-1960s piled catastrophic dislocation on top of regime failure, such that with "Vietnamization" came the impending end of the whole project.  As the insurgency developed, the US continued to militarize the development effort in Vietnam while remaining oblivious to the flaws in the Diem concept of a dictatorial, kleptocratic, and invented government.  Carter:

American officials expressed an eagerness to "get on with the war" (in 1961) and demanding reforms which were unpalatable to Diem only held up the implementation of the counterinsurgency plan's military features that, as its advocates believed, could bring about the defeat of the insurgents. (119)
Eventually the plan for militarizing the Vietnamese countryside proved inappropriate to the sort of place southern Vietnam in fact was.  Carter:
While southern Vietnam's military-related infrastructure, roads and bridges, ports and airfields became more or less modernized, the war destroyed hamlets, villages, and farmland, turned millions of peasants out as refugees, and generally disrupted the countryside in an overwhelmingly agrarian society. (205)
There wasn't really any place in southern Vietnam for these people, as Carter points out.

Conclusion

In the end, as noted above, Vietnam became a developed, capitalist nation.  Its path to capitalism, however, appears to have taken it through the failure of an enormous developmental project intended to compete with "Communist" development and applied over only a portion of its total real estate.  For Noam Chomsky, the whole incident reveals an insidious desire on the part of Washington bureaucrats to create "development" in ways that could be controlled externally.  From the recent Alternet piece:

In the Vietnam case, the rational choice was to destroy any hope of successful independent development and to impose brutal dictatorships in the surrounding regions.  Those tasks were successfully carried out -- though history has its own cunning, and something similar to what was feared has since been developing in East Asia, much to Washington’s dismay.
After reading this history, however, I don't feel I can assign such monolithic intentions to US policy.  It appears to me, rather, that a case of hubris which I associate with the Golden Age of Capitalism morphed into a militaristic temper tantrum which appears to have continued indefinitely.  The invasion of Iraq was an invasion of a country which had already become fully industrialized, and the invasion of Afghanistan doesn't appear to be terribly concerned with industrialization at all.  Rather, militarism continues out of the general need of military corporations to continue with capital accumulation.  There is no longer any Cold War rush to develop planet Earth in a way that will make the Commies look bad, just as there is no longer any race to put a man on the Moon or to wipe out poverty.  What's left of the do-gooder impulse in the US government has become Rubinism, and its military equivalent, which became "humanitarian intervention" in association with the Clinton Doctrine.

The historians, then, appear to have picked the wrong debate.  Could the US have "won the war in Vietnam"?  It was all over before the shooting.  The shooting, in fact, was a distraction from the failure to build "South Vietnam," just as shooting today is a distraction from the failure to build capitalist utopia on Earth.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 03:01 PM PST.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I may tweak this review a bit later -- (35+ / 0-)

    in response to comments, or if I feel that it needs changes.

    "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

    by Cassiodorus on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 02:59:25 PM PST

  •  I just finished reading (9+ / 0-)

    The Cat from Hue by John Laurence who as a journalist saw this first hand:

    While southern Vietnam's military-related infrastructure, roads and bridges, ports and airfields became more or less modernized, the war destroyed hamlets, villages, and farmland, turned millions of peasants out as refugees, and generally disrupted the countryside in an overwhelmingly agrarian society.
    I recommend his book.  He starts out towing the line and then has to start speaking the truth no matter what.

    It is a tremendous and poignant story.

     http://search.barnesandnoble.com/...

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 03:30:14 PM PST

  •  I will republish this to Readers & Book Lovers (7+ / 0-)

    right now, and add tags so it will be seen in over 800 streams.

    Good review!  

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 03:31:38 PM PST

  •  I'd be very circumspect........ (15+ / 0-)

    .....in assigning any conspiratorial central type thrust to the Vietnam War and its runup, I think the road to hell was paved with good intentions. I think  the US's goals wer visible and obvious during the war, I just think they were really unrealistic goals and no none really knew how to obtain them or even if they were really obtainable.
    one thing for sure, we never bothered to ask the Vietnamese what they wanted by wway of a free and honest election.
    It wasn't a goal to promote capitalism as much as it was One Continuous Fuckup where evey party got a chance to make it right and every party fucked it up.
    We had an assumption that everybody in the world, really REALLY wanted to be like us and that assumption was not based in fact. What they wanted was to make their own choices
    In Vietnam we wanted them to be like us and what they wanted was us out so they could  make their own choices.
    It is truly ironic among those who fought the war, of which I am one, that we seem to have won the war by getting out of it. That was what I saw when I was in it---that the way to win was to get out and I'm glad my later protesting hopefully hastened that end, if all the protesting we did hastened the end by one day or one hour it was worth doing.
    Thats what I thought when I went back in 2003.
    the US could not have won that war for several reasons  but none more than because we were not the authentic saviours of Vietnam, that title belonged to the other side, Ho Chi Minh especially. we were truly fighting the George Washington of his country, who had united Vietnam throght the wars against the Japanese and the French. Even the Vietnamese on our side revered him.

    Ho Chi Minh, a very widely traveled, sophisticated man, picked Communism as his  model primarily because the Communists were the only ones who would give him aid for his revolution (against the French when he started.)
    he said very presciently that the US would never help a revolutionary movement if the colonizers were white and the revolutionaries weren't and he was dead right.

    You can't reference the early Vietnam war without talking about the McCArthy era which was simultaneous. The Anticommunism motive was MUCH greater than any economic goals. Vietnam was always perceived as having no natural resources to fight over and it still has not much.  It was as much about stopping the spread of communism as spreading capitalism.

    Whats also really ironic is how the  Vietnamese are natural capitalists, i.e. theyre really into selling things to each other and other people. Go there now and you see all kinds of well stocked stores, mostly cheap Chinese crap ala Walmart.
    The irony is that we cold have gotten all this without a war. Ho didn't want a war, he wanted to negotiate. After all, the UN (Canada, Poland and INdia) was suppposed to guarantee free supervised elections in 1956.  He was really only after that which had been guaranteed at the Geneva Convention of 1954---free supervised elections. What our government never told us is that Diem was the one who had canceled the elections.

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 03:46:45 PM PST

    •  This is a good comment. (7+ / 0-)

      Inventing Vietnam really got my interest going in the history of Vietnam between 1955 and 1965 -- I'll have to get back to you on that part of your comment in which you mention that.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

      by Cassiodorus on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 04:01:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Vietnam has beeen a lifelong study for me (8+ / 0-)

        Mainly trying to figure out exatly what I had been involved with.....and its REAL complex, especially in the early part.
        Basically Ho had won the war with the French by 1954 and it was supposed to be all over but the shouting, or, more precisely, the elections.
        Ho had reason to believe that we would go along with free elections, after all it was one of our stated goals in The Atlantic Charter. we were SUPPOSED to be anticolonial or at least thats what our high sounding rhetoric said.
        in the event, however, we propped up a dictator instead, allowing him to cancel the elections and start one of the most truly draconian regimes of the 20th century, and, considering what went on in the 20th century thats saying a LOT! we did this primarily because he was the one spouting anticommunist rhetoric---and we were in the middle of the MAcarthy Era. Truman could not let it be perceived that he had "lost" another nation to the Commies, as they said he "lost" China and Eisenhower continued the same line, basically just kicking the can down the road and hoping the revolution would peter out....as it apppeared to. But then it came back in spades.
        And every administration afterwards, 5 in all, fucked it up. they were all controlled by anitcommunism, promoting capitalism was a small goal compared to that. That was the primarry motive for almost all the war.
        Every administration from truman to Nixon had a chance and they all fucked it up, it was a bipartisan fuckup from start to finish..
        The REAL irony is to hear people say We could have won if we wanted to. I always say I really wanted to where the fuck were you?
        the real irony is to perceive the US as  victims---when we climbed on the cross and begged for the nails

        GOod diary, there's still lots of discussion room

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 04:17:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Natural capitalists (7+ / 0-)

      indeed they are but in rural rice growing cultures through much of SE Asia it is natural to utilize a common system of sharing agricultural work.

      Families and neighbors work together to plant and harvest rice. It's a fun time despite being bent over in the paddies all day with joking, laughter and gossip as the women do much of the work. I love to travel to the rural areas during these times. When planting time comes and when rice is ready to be harvested individualism, that is each person or family working his own land alone is not practical as there is much work to be done in a short period of time.

      In Thailand many villages have set aside a common area owned by no individual for the benefit of all. Sharing is normal, not forced.

      Viet Nam still has communes in rural areas.

      “Humankind can not bear very much reality.” - T.S. Eliot

      by truong son traveler on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 05:02:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Agree with most of this (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BOHICA, labwitchy, Clem Yeobright

      But I'm not so so enamored with Uncle Ho.  Ho lived in the USSR during the worst of the Stalinist purges and still managed to come out of there thinking communism was the best future for Vietnam.  How could anyone do that?  And he had to know that in the 50s embarking on a communist crusade was going to put him into direct conflict with the West.

      I'm not convinced he had no choice but to go to war.  Ghandi showed the way on how to get independence with non-violence, but Ho took the other route.  The French weren't the British, but I still can't agree with his decision to sacrifice millions of his countrymen for his ideology.

      And yes, there were supposed to be elections in 1956, but those would have been the last elections Vietnam would ever see.  Ho had the support to win an election, but saw no need to put himself up for any further political competition.  He literally buried what competition there had been.

      •  This country was born in revolution (4+ / 0-)

        This country has killed millions attempting to impose it's economic system on others. No one in this country has any business judging the actions of another country's nationalists.

        Ho didn't sacrifice millions any more than we "sacrificed" our soldiers fighting Hitler. The responsibility for the Vietnamese deaths lie with the French and American imperialists.

        As for elections, I again find it ironic that you condemn Ho because he may have done what the United States actually did ... prevent open and free elections.

        A proud member of the Professional Left since 1967.

        by slatsg on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 07:30:55 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sky net misinterprets (5+ / 0-)
          Ho had the support to win an election, but saw no need to put himself up for any further political competition.
          No, actually he really wanted the elections---guaranteed in the Geneva Accords--- because he knew he'd win.
          It was Diem who canceled the elections---to be supervised but Canada, India and Poland---because he hadn't signed them. Well of course  he hadn't , he'd hidden in France and the US while HO and the Viet Minh lads were fighting the war. Diem had no status in Vietnam at all but he talkd antiCommunism and looked good in a suit so after he grabbed power from Bao Dai the emperor we went with him.

          Ho really wanted the fair supervised elections because he knew he'd win any fair election. He kept pursuing the elections through every means he could.
          that was why Frace was at oddds with the US---because France was a signatory to the Geneva Accords (which the US had refused to sign) and as such was bou nd to enforce the provisions of it. And France (De Gaulle) kept demanding the US hold free elections.

          DOn't ever say Ho didn't want the free, fair supervised elections though, because  because he knew he'd win an fair election, as did Diem, Eisenhower and Dulles

          Happy just to be alive

          by exlrrp on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 07:46:57 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Must study Ho to understand Vietnam (11+ / 0-)

        Ho had really no choice but to be Communist.  The Communists were the only ones who would support his revolution. At the time, that meant Stalin. But Ho was never a STalinist like Kim Il Sung.
        he would have much preferred the West support him but they just wouldn't---not about ideology but because of race. As the comment above says, there was no chance in hell the US was going to support "gooks" over white people (the French)  
        Ho was a very sophisticated man, he had traveled widely, including living in the US, supposedly clearing snow in front of the New York Cotton Club. he was in the US for over  a year, spoke Engish well, was addicted to Camels.
        He was literally In The Room when The Communist Party was started in Paris in 1919. He took it as his model because it was the only system supportiong revolution.
        Its not like he didn't ask the US either. Hewrote to every president from Woodrow Wilson to LBJ laying out his goals and seeking support. And EVERY SINGLE US PRESIDENT HE WROTE IGNORED HIM ENTIRELY!!! It was our little way of saying Fuck you Commie Slope! We're going right over you!!

        And yes, there were supposed to be elections in 1956, but those would have been the last elections Vietnam would ever see.

        rhat we don't know but what we DO know for sure is that South Vietnam never saw a free election in all the 23 years of its existence. We don't know what Ho would have done but we know for sure that the people we supported in Vietnam NEVER held a fair election. The onlyu election that was held in those 23 years occcurred in 1968 and the only one who ran was Nguyen Van Thieu and SURPRISE!!! He won in a landslide.
        We certainly have no room to point fingers at Ho for not having any free honest elections, we didn't either, tho we did go on and on about S Vietnam being the "last bastion of democracy." On and on and on.

        No  can possibly begin to understand the Vietnam War who has not studied the life of Ho Chi Minh.
        Just saying.

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 07:33:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  FTR: Factually inaccurate (0+ / 0-)

          Presidential elections took place in 1960, 1967, and 1971. National legislative and province/district/village council elections took place frequently and consistently from 1967 to 1974.

          You may have your own opinions but not your own facts.

          Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

          by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:13:44 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The Soviets held elections too (nmi) (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Clem Yeobright

            "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

            by Cassiodorus on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:26:35 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Of course. (0+ / 0-)

              I don't contend here that those elections were fair or democratic, although my own experience on the ground at the time was that most of them in fact were significantly so.

              One still oughtn't say no elections took place when in fact they did.

              I left out the election of the Constitutional Convention delegates in 1966; those delegates from all parties and factions seem to have undertaken a good-faith effort to write a progressive democratic Constitution, which incidentally was largely adhered to over the life of the Republic.

              Finally, I can certainly say that the people of Viet Nam generally - rightly or wrongly - believed that their votes mattered and participated in the elections in large numbers.

              Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

              by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:39:09 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  From Prados' book, about the 1971 election: (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Clem Yeobright, Marie
                Officially, 87 percent of South Vietnamese participated, and Nguyen Van Thieu got 94 percent of the vote. (442)

                "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

                by Cassiodorus on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 01:47:11 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  He was the only candidate (0+ / 0-)

                  Does your source explain the machinations that reduced it to a one-man race? It was 'Constitutional maneuvering' - something you wouldn't have seen in the USSR. Corrupt? Bogus? Unfair? But not USSR-like.

                  But again, characterize them however you like, it is not accurate for the poster to say there was only one election (in a year in which there was no election).

                  I'm guessing you weren't there, right?

                  Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

                  by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 01:58:23 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  It does. (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Clem Yeobright, Marie

                    It also explains that "reports of ballot box tampering in the October 3 election were numerous."  This is, btw, not really all that far off from what happened in the Soviet Union.

                    "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

                    by Cassiodorus on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:06:53 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  That's after the fact, isn't it? (0+ / 0-)

                      By election day, the roster of candidates, i.e., a single name, was determined.

                      But you may have it your way, if you like. It don't matter to me....

                      Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

                      by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:12:59 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  I will point out (0+ / 0-)

                      that there are thousands of Vietnamese, in every state of the U.S., who voted in those elections, and many of them would be delighted to tell you their memories and their understanding of the elections.

                      It's well to read the analysis of highly degreed people who didn't happen to be there but you might find it interesting to temper (or reinforce?) that with the recollections of people who were. They're not hard to find; look in the phone book under Nguyen.

                      Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

                      by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:24:26 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  When I said elections I meant fair elections (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Marie

                        Sorry--- I thought that was so obvious it didn't need to be mentioned.
                        Every election you mention was under the complete and corrupt control of arguably the most currupt regime of the late 20th century. As such I didn't think them worth mentioning when talking about elections, they were a mockery of elections.
                        If you thin k that those elections were fair elections that represented the will of the people then I can only marvel at the depth of your delusion.

                        South Vietnam never held a FAIR election in its 23 years of existence, like I said at the top.

                        if thats the only thing you have to argue about out of all I said, I did all right

                        Happy just to be alive

                        by exlrrp on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 05:41:11 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Sure. (0+ / 0-)
                          The onlyu election that was held in those 23 years occcurred in 1968 and the only one who ran was Nguyen Van Thieu and SURPRISE!!! He won in a landslide.
                          There's not a word in that sentence that is true. If you're happy with that, I'm fine with it.

                          Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

                          by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 07:25:08 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

      •  "the last elections Vietnam would ever see" (9+ / 0-)

        One of the reasons the CIA was sent to Viet Nam was to subvert the 1954 Geneva Accords which called for nationwide elections and reunification of the two zones, temporarily separated by the accords, in no less than two years.

        Diem was hand-picked and delivered from the US. The consensus was that if elections were held Ho Chi Minh would win by a large margin. Diem cancelled the nationwide elections. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 but his followers were victorious.

        So why are they having elections now?

        Here are the latest parliamentary election results for 2011:

        500 MPs were elected. 333 are first-time MPs, four are self-nominated. Almost all of them have at least a bachelor's degree; 15.6% are from ethnic minorities, 24.4% are women, and 8.4% are not members of the Communist Party.

        “Humankind can not bear very much reality.” - T.S. Eliot

        by truong son traveler on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 07:43:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I always said this!! (7+ / 0-)

          I swear I have always felt like the Vietnamese were on the road to a democracy and that I would seee  some form of democracy there in my lifetime.

          We can talk about economic motives all day but what really ran the war on our side was racism and stubborn refusal to see the facts on the ground. We weren't going to let those little "gooks" push us around unquote Lindon Johnson. We learned to regret those words.

          I'd actually disagree on one minor item---the CIA was already in Vietnam when the Accords were signed, we were subverting them literally as the ink was drying. This was Lansdale running psy ops and "black boat" operations up the Red River. (the other side was subverting them too)
          We refused to eign the Geneva Accords because we thought thhat would be perceived as recognizing a Commuist regime and we were SO not about to do that or negotiate with Communists either. It was our refusal to negotiate, not Ho's that made the war go on so long.

          The consensus was that if elections were held Ho Chi Minh would win by a large margin. Diem cancelled the nationwide elections.
          This was what the Big Lie Was about. This was what they never told us---that we were fighting for the side hat had canceled the  free internationally supervised elections.
          And thats the truth, folks---Ho wanted the Free, fair, supervised elections because h knew he'd win. And we  didn't want them for that very same reason.
          So we didn't have any.

          Happy just to be alive

          by exlrrp on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 08:07:11 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Only two parties signed the Accords (8+ / 0-)

            That was the two warring parties, the French and the Viet Minh.

            There was no reason for any other parties to sign although several countries had representatives there as observers.

            I was ignorant as hell at the time. Had no idea where Viet Nam was, for all I knew it was part of China (French Indo-China) and so all I knew was basically from bootcamp indoctrination, that "we had to stop those commie bastards before they landed on the beaches of San Diego". I had never even heard of the 1954 Geneva Accords.

            When it all ended in 1975 I was extremely angered and promised myself that I would find out, on behalf of the many friends lost there, how this all came to be. I expect you might have had similar feelings at the time. I just wanted to get even some way.

            That all began to change after my first return to VN in 1989 and subsequent visits plus reading everything I could find on the topic.

            I'm still reading, but it became obvious long ago that it was an un-winable war and probably a criminal one too. People there and in Laos and in Cambodia are still dying from UXO from the war years and agent orange has left it's mark. But the people are very resilient and the land has recovered well. Better times lie ahead.

            “Humankind can not bear very much reality.” - T.S. Eliot

            by truong son traveler on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 09:33:14 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The War is Over. You can go home now. (5+ / 0-)
              When it all ended in 1975 I was extremely angered and promised myself that I would find out, on behalf of the many friends lost there, how this all came to be.
              that is exactly what I said to myself also. I cried the day the war was lost, I'd put a lot into it and saw a lot put into it. And then I got drunk.
              So you can imagine real well how I felt when I came to understand that it was a war that did not have to be fought and shouldn't have been fought.

              It was a bigger fuckup than Iraq and we should have learned enough from it not to have invaded Iraq. Iraq was really Son Of Vietnam only we were more stupid to get into it than Vietnam.

              Happy just to be alive

              by exlrrp on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 04:45:43 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I saw your subject line (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                exlrrp, labwitchy, Cassiodorus, hazey

                and thought of what my husband has said to me.  The day he boarded the airplane, he thought, I will never hear about Vietnam again.  This is how naive I was he would say.  I want to get to where I am going and just go home.  His mother had concerns when he was a wee one hoping the US would not send her sons to war.  She concerned herself in 1956 about Vietnam.  I never met her but she was a wise woman.  She was a very spiritual woman and very Indian.  She loved to sit by rivers and feel the earth beneath her feet.  Her Father was full blooded native american.  She pondered the troubles across the big sky and oceans and I have read her writings and poems along with some of her predicitions of the  coming Iraq war and this woman died in 1990 two weeks before my husband and me met.  She had it all nailed.  She was full of peace.  She not only concerned herself with Vietnam, but the Persian Gulf and Iraq.  She was a thinker.  She was not political but she was a registered democrat.  The whole family voted dem.  

                My husband who also was a an exlrrp, joined against their wishes in 69.  He believed in the propoganda and a neighbor came home in a box.  How familiar this story is today of 9-11 and how any young people went and joined the military feeling duty and honor.  I speak to many and often.    When he got there he had no clue what he was doing in such a place other than to obey orders and stay alive.   Towards the end of the tour, I am not sure how much obeying he did.  He had so many article 15's.  and busted from sgt to pvt in no time.  He had most of everything a youngster I guess dreams of.
                The CIB, two bronze stars,Vietnam cross of Gallantary, good conduct medal, expert marksman, good conduct, and more but he didn't come home the same.  He didn't come home with life in his eyes.  He basically didn't come home.  He threw his medals away and 30 years later got them replaced and then gave them away.  I think of how people say, "They should put this behind them and move on".  Yes that would be nice.  I think of those people and how some tour in a distant land changed a person's life forever.  I think of these things as I prepare to visit him in a hospital where Vietnam is still as real today as it was in 1970.  
                My hats off to Wayward Wind who works every day to try and help the people of IndoChina and the children who suffered beyond belief from the agent orange exposure.  I speak to Tom (Wayward Wind) throughout the year and my admiration for him and others like llbear and you and Bohica , DaNang, and too many to name is still reaching out to their brothers and sisters and still seeking some sort of resolve that gives peace a place to those who thought they would never hear about Vietnam again.  We have a whole new generation of returning souls suffering and looking for a peaceful place in their hearts and minds.   God Bless you all, who are constantly trying to find peaceful resolve and with pain and suffering.

                We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

                by Vetwife on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 05:42:51 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Brings tear to my eyes (4+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  labwitchy, Vetwife, hazey, slatsg

                  "the war is over. You can go home now."
                  What a beautiful thought. Thats what I went back to Vietnam in 2003 to hear and thats what I learned.
                  I wish the Vietnamese nothing but well. I hope your husband can find peace.
                  God Bless

                  Happy just to be alive

                  by exlrrp on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 06:03:32 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  He finds peace in increments I guess (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    exlrrp, hazey

                    as all combat soldiers who left the war but the war never left them.  Tom also told me that Vietnam is embedded and will be there until bones are buried and I believe that.   It comes back at such unexpected times and I too wish for all of the peace to retun but war not only changes places but people.  I am preaching to the choir here and know you have your own feelings of that place far away and long time ago.  Maybe a trip over there might do some healing.  My husband said it was a very beautiful land, had it been under friendler conditions.

                    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

                    by Vetwife on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 07:05:52 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

        •  Seriously now (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          exlrrp, Clem Yeobright

          Those aren't free elections and I know you know enough about Vietnam to know that.  Candidates for election have to be pre-approved by the Communist Party and don't campaign.  On election day you get to choose between communist party-approved candidate #1 or communist party approved candidate #2, with nothing to judge them on other than their bios.  It's compulsory so everyone just goes and checks a box.  Anyone caught trying to form a new political party and campaign for election is of course tossed in jail immediately.

          My wife is Vietnamese but hasn't lived in Vietnam for twelve years.  Yet she's voted in every single Vietnamese election!  Her father just goes in on election day and votes for the whole family.  Yup, that's democracy in action.

          •  But at least its a start (4+ / 0-)

            The Vietnamese have very little experience with democracy.  What they have extensive experience doing is subverting governments.
            It took the US a couple of hundred years to get our democracy "right." (work still in progress) I'm willing to give the Vietnamese a few generations to get their act together.  Its taking them a while to get over their resistance to us but we created that..
            One thing for sure, I'm not signing up to liberate them again

            Happy just to be alive

            by exlrrp on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 04:38:29 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You're very charitable (0+ / 0-)

              You're quite willing to give the Vietnamese a few more generations to get their act together since they don't have much experience with democracy, even though most other countries in Asia have managed to figure it out despite having about the same amount of experience.

              Yet a few comments above you weren't charitable at all about the South and the fact that they only had a few nationwide elections in their short history (though Clem lists quite a few), despite not having much experience with democracy.  That's hypocritical.

  •  I watched a doc on refugee camps recently (4+ / 0-)

    these were Vietnamese who fled to France after France bugged out of Indo-China. Yep, refugee camps are still servicing refugees from its adventures in VN, only very few original refugees are still alive; most camp relatives are children of those refugees now in their 50s.
    I was fascinated by one interviewee who complained about conditions in the camp who had recently returned to VN and toured his former family home.  He waxed nostalgic about how nice it was with all the servants while now its 38 rooms had been converted into a small hotel.  He compared that life to his present life in the squalor of the camps.
    As I said, it was fascinating  

  •  Vietnam is not a capitalist nation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    truong son traveler, BOHICA

    Neither is China.

    But the Frustrati, Permanent Disappointati, etc., who have bought, whole hog, into the western capitalist notion that there is no path to development other than capitalism, because "we" always lose, cannot possibly imagine a system succeeding that combines socialism with the market while maintaining socialist dominance of the means of production.

  •  Props for the Chomsky link (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, BOHICA, Funkygal, labwitchy

    That Alternet article could be a diary to itself!  Good read.

  •  September 2, 1945 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    truong son traveler, Vetwife

    Declaration of Independence,
    Democratic Republic of Vietnam

    Sound familiar?

    "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"

    This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America m 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.

    The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: "All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights." Those are undeniable truths.

    Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty.

    ~ more at the link above.

    "White-collar conservatives flashing down the street. Pointing their plastic finger at me."

    by BOHICA on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 07:45:58 PM PST

  •  we had a similar problem in cuba. (6+ / 0-)

    we set up a kleptomaniac dictator (batista), who stole anything that wasn't nailed down, along with his cronies. the only city that had any semblance of modernity was havana. between the american mafia taking control of the gambling/prostitution/drugs, and american gov't supporting batista, who stole everything else, there wasn't much left for the average cuban.

    to no one's (except the US Gov't's) surprise, castro & che' were able to secure the support of most of the cuban population, who wanted to be rid of batista/the american mafia/US Gov't. we've been having a hissy fit about it ever since, with an embargo that long outlived its usefullness (if it ever was useful). the stupidity of the bay of pigs operation was simply another overt manifistation of this. as well, it gave castro a legitimate right to claim that the US would attack the country, because it had done so once already.

    we also got stuck with the batista supporters who managed to escape, and yield political power in far greater proportion than their actual numbers would ordinarily favor.

    apparently, as a society, we are slow learners.

  •  Are there not similarities and precedents with (0+ / 0-)

    the American involvement in southern Vietnam and the
    European (or more specifically the Russian and the German involvements) in Imperial China.?

    Except that the Chinese empire was dying and the Vietnam nation was being born?

    Were these not in both cases in essence examples of colonialism in East Asia, colonialism which failed due to external "support" or pressure, in the earlier cases on the part of the Japanese, in the later cases in the parts of the Chinese and Russians? Of course the Japanese involvement in China turned into a colonialism of its own special kind, ended only by a world war.

    H'mm. I'm not terribly into this, anymore.

    by Knarfc on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 09:23:35 PM PST

    •  "Inventing Vietnam" interests me (0+ / 0-)

      in the hypothesis that the US, at a high level of technological development after World War II, decided to carve a nation out of Vietnam and attempt, through massive investment, to make that nation a reality.

      "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

      by Cassiodorus on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 09:49:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The key point to know is the US took over (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cassiodorus, slatsg

        a role after 1954 from the French. The US would not have been there so involved had the French not finallly collapsed and been forced out. What the US invented was South Vietnam, not Vietnam. Inventing is not the right word, though. South Vietnam was created, as the Belgian Congo was created, from afar, by non-residents.

        H'mm. I'm not terribly into this, anymore.

        by Knarfc on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 11:01:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's an interesting comparison. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          slatsg

          The states of Africa were (to be sure) invented, but since the colonial powers of Europe didn't put such vast energies into developing them, their failures don't stand out like that of "South Vietnam."

          "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

          by Cassiodorus on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 08:23:23 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Is Kenya a failure? Egypt? (0+ / 0-)

            Vietnam?

            What do you consider a 'failed' state? Outside of Cold War semantics, that is.

            I mean, there was no East Kenya that conquered West Kenya. No South Angola that conquered the rest of it. There were all sorts of civil wars in Africa during the Cold War, but they did not seem as intense or strategic as Korea or Vietnam, which were divided (before or during the Cold War) nations.

            South Vietnam was the propped up part of Vietnam. It was an anti-nationalist puppet state created by America. In the  end it had the 4th largest army in the world but not much popular support save the corrupt economy of the American military supply and "assistance" system, nor did it have a will to survive independent of the powers in the rest of Vietnam. It could never stand forever on its own. Once the US pulled out, in 1975, South Vietnam collapsed (in an accelerated fashion, with much help from the NVA, of course).

            H'mm. I'm not terribly into this, anymore.

            by Knarfc on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:25:34 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  As my friend Tidiane put it (0+ / 0-)

              (yeah, that Tidiane), the peoples of Senegal and Gambia are of roughly the same ethnic composition -- it's just that since Senegal was a French colony and Gambia was a British, the Senegalese speak French and the Gambians speak English.  Maybe that's why Tidiane is a pan-Africanist.

              The nations of Africa were carved out of colonial administrative divisions, not boundaries between ethnic groups.  Thus they are artificial, which keeps pan-Africanism alive to this day.

              Otherwise I agree with you.

              "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

              by Cassiodorus on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:46:20 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yeah, Africa was in a tribal state when (0+ / 0-)

                Imperialism happened. Actually I correct myself. Kenya was divided by civil war between tribes for a while. Just not divided almost evenly as Vietnan was divided geographically in almost exactly half, through the 1954 peace treaty.

                H'mm. I'm not terribly into this, anymore.

                by Knarfc on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 11:00:16 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  O/T: What if Korea had gone the way of Vietnam? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BOHICA, Cassiodorus

    Your review made me think that if the US hadn't gotten involved in a war with North Korea, or had lost that war instead of the war ending in a draw, there would be a united Korea today, and it would be in a Western orbit, just like Vietnam.

    Talk about historical irony.

    (Actually, given its proximity to China, Korea would probably have ended up in a Chinese orbit, but would still have entered the Western economic system, when China did. So that united Korea wouldn't have been a US client state the way South Korea is, but it wouldn't have been a thorn in Superpower's side either, the way North Korea is.)

  •  This pic sums it up (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus

    "White-collar conservatives flashing down the street. Pointing their plastic finger at me."

    by BOHICA on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 07:57:41 AM PST

  •  Will have to read. Many Viet Nam vets who I (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, Knarfc

    know will agree. Now my spouse contends that the whole war was really about testing new weapon systems with benefits of keeping the MIC roaring... He thinks that all these wars are because it consumes arms that then have to be bought again and allow promotions within the mil to continue with no more RIFs... How do you justify and keep a standing military with no actions?

    The warehouses are full and rotting so gotta find a way to burn them up to justify spending more.

    Isn't that one of  the major weakness of capitalism. To keep it working you have to find buyers who use the product up so you can make more. All the while it requires you to make profits by trimming your workers pay & benefits which means they can't afford to keep the hamster wheel going. The last weakness is finding enough raw materials and power to  feed the production line.

    Fear is the Mind Killer

    by boophus on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 09:55:02 AM PST

    •  I"m beginning to think -- (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      boophus

      that during the Golden Age of Capitalism (1948-1971) there might have been a meaningful purpose for war-fighting capabilities, at least from the perspective of the academic types in the MSUG.  War-prep was their Plan B in case peaceful development didn't work.  Oh, sure, it didn't turn out that way.  But at least the rationale made sense.  After all, "Communism" was a pretext for the authoritarian development of what Kees van der Pijl calls "contender regimes."  It couldn't have been much fun to be a Russian during the Stalin period, or a Chinese during the Great Leap Forward.

      But nowadays the US is uninterested in the ideological rationale behind development because there are no "Communists" to fight, and because corporate penetration has replaced US largesse as the promoting cause of capitalist industrial development.  So yeah, I think that everything you say about the military-industrial complex is true of the period after 1968, and possibly before then as well.

      "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

      by Cassiodorus on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:23:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The MIC was intented 'round 1946 to prevent (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      boophus

      a relapse to another Great Depression, another World War, and a 'Communist' takeover of Europe and America.

      This is my developing conclusion, anyway.

      For similar reasons the atomic weapons and nuclear power agencies were born, out of embarrasment over the largely still secret but monumental costs to the US taxpayer of the Manhattan Project, totals of which were hidden in the WWII budgets from almost everyone. Even Senator Harry Truman did not know about the Manhattan Project, and his ostensible claim to fame was cost control and oversight over war spending.

      Perpetual war expenditures keep the factories and the economy going and smooth out business cycles and 1929-31 style financial collapses. With wars, even so-called small ones (although more bombs were dropped in Vietnam than all other wars in history up to that time), there is always some infrastructure, not to mention armies, to be rebuilt, at cost.

      That's one reason so far the current financial collapse has not yet resulted in a global depression comparable quite to the 1930s.

      H'mm. I'm not terribly into this, anymore.

      by Knarfc on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:39:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Absolutely and I think that is why so much (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cassiodorus

        defense industry is in the south. And also why republicans are so pro war in any shape or form. It helps thier constituencies to find work either making bombs or applying them. Poverty in the southern states without oil was pretty bad. Now that we have rust states we are finding a failure of the manufacturing base is hard to overcome for full employment. WE either have to reduce the work week further and employ more of develop a trus safety net, not an illusion like MIC. Though cold bloodedly they may also calculate loss of people from the employment rolls an advantage. But none of these plans are good enough to sustain an economy nor to save our depredations of the environment to find resources to continue grow manufacturing and to power it.

        I also think this is why there is a push to increase births in order to increase consumers without regards to where will they find jobs. It is like some great pyramid scheme that will lead us further down a dead end. It is unsustainable and the longer it goes on the more severe the crash at the end. This is how species go extinct...and maybe misusing intelligence is how ours will do the same.

        I don't think communism is the answer because it really can only be driven by dictators. I think the answer is socialism.

        I just finished reading a really intersting Sci Fi series by John G Hemry, a retired navy guy. ( He is also Jack Campbell who wrote the Lost Fleet series) He has an interesting take on  corporations and military. I think in some ways it fits this theme. And its yet another military vet who sees the same things happening. I like these kinds of stories because they help visualize what is happening without the emotional buttons of the various wars many have been involved in.

        Fear is the Mind Killer

        by boophus on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 01:20:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Just for the record: (0+ / 0-)

    The war ended in 1975 with a conquest by arms by the North Vietnamese Army.

    There was no domestic insurgent movement in South Viet Nam and the population generally fled the invaders (out of prudence if nothing else).

    Anyone who does not realize how peaceful and pleasant was South Viet Nam in 1973 and 1974 following the Paris Accords is missing a significant element of the history.

    Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

    by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:31:34 AM PST

    •  Addendum, again for the record: (0+ / 0-)

      Had the NVA offensive failed, for instance, because of the weather, or because another 'superpower' stepped in to guarantee RVN independence, or because the movement of armored forces into the Highlands had been detected and neutralized ... what would these books be saying? What 'lessons' would we have learned? Would the motivations for U.S. involvement be seen differently?

      Ultimately, this is a story of six weeks in March and April 1975 when one party performed brilliantly and the other made awful mistakes.  It's like a last-second field goal or free throw....  It may not be dissimilar from this year's Superbowl where one side laid back to concede a touchdown while the other team was screaming at its runner "Don't score! Don't score!"

      A long time ago ...

      Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

      by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:09:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Phil Ochs: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus
    Well now old Diem is gone and dead
    All the new leaders are anti-Red.
    Yes they're pro-American, freedom sensations
    Against Red China in the United Nations.
    Now all the news commentators and the CIA
    Are saying, "Thank God for coincidence."

    When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

    by PhilJD on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 11:53:54 AM PST

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