Saturday, May 2, 2015

"Vietnam War" "Lessons"

Thursday's 40th anniversary of April 30, 1975 "fall of Saigon," when "North Vietnamese" overtook the US puppet "South Vietnamese" government in the US puppet capital Saigon, symbolized with pictures of US helicopters taking off from the roof of the US embassy, the only visible sign of US presence in Vietnam at that point, has been the cause for a bit of reflection notably by the New York Times, which organized a downright reflection fest -- "Lessons: 40 Years After the Fall of Saigon" -- calling on all kinds of people it deemed to have some insight into the Vietnam War, on the left and right hand political sides of an issue that divided the United States, and even some Vietnamese people.

"Suspected communists" - Wikipedia
All of them rehashed arguments that left and right in the US have been putting forth since the "Vietnam War," which at the time was the longest war in US history, for why that "war" was so important. It was the first "defeat" for the US. It caused the "Vietnam Syndrome," a reluctance to get the US military involved in a protracted ground war, and pointed out the need for a different kind of military and tactics. The US withdrawal led to the "killing fields" of Cambodia. US involvement in the first place cased them. It led to a "Communist Vietnam", which, wait, has become a corrupt "Capitalist Vietnam." If you have a point of view about "Vietnam" you can find something here to reinforce it.

I've used a lot of quotation marks to point out that the way in which we talk about the "Vietnam war" shapes its meaning for us. To clarify:

There was no North and South Vietnam. There was Vietnam, and a make believe part of it controlled, more or less, by US proxies.

We talk about North Vietnamese Communists and their "allies" in South Vietnam, the "Viet Cong." That's all fairy dust. There was the Vietnamese people, with a legitimate socialist government. There were Vietnamese opportunists, used earlier by the French to run their colonial government and later by the US to try to overthrow the legitimate socialist government.

There was no war, really. There were imperial projects of Capitalists, led first by successive French governments and later by successive US governments, that sought to steal the resources of the Vietnamese people on behalf of western Capitalists. What we call the "War in Vietnam" was simply the Vietnamese people trying to get the Westerners to leave and to get rid of the opportunists.

The "Vietnam" War, As Opposed To?

The US government of course has gone on to wage many wars in the 40 years since. It's now starting them more and more often, so most of them are ongoing. We're not debating those wars, or the underlying crises in Capitalism causing them to be spouting up like weeds, or any of the other wars the US or anybody else has fought on behalf of the rich people who benefit from Capitalism or benefited from the systems that evolved into Capitalism.

All the arguments, the Vietnam syndrome, the ways politicians like Ronald Reagan and George W Bush overcame it, all the labels, all of it, simply serve to obscure what's really going on. This is what happens when you let the rich, and therefore powerful, get in charge of a government or an economy.

Note: The long Wikipedia article "Vietnam War" suffers from the same myopia, caused by rehashing conventional wisdom with an overwhelming Western bias. If you scroll down to the end section Aftermath it's like reading the New York Times articles I write about here, only worse. However, it does have a lot of photos, many of which I've never seen before, that, inadvertently or not, do a pretty good job of telling the other side of the story, the Vietnamese people's side.


  1. Hey there
    It becomes a different thing if you were there, on the ground, with the Vietnamese people. I was a corpsman with the marines there, two tours, 66 and 67-68.
    I agree with many things you say. When I first arrived and went out in the 'weeds', every hamlet, every of Ho were in buildings, they didn't know who the current premier of 'south' Viet Nam was. I was there at age 19, fresh from losing a athletic scholarship and thinking that a GI bill was the way to go. I joined the Navy, thinking it'd keep me off the ground in SE Asia.....they made me a medic and assigned me to the stop, Vietnam.
    It was a civil war, I saw that from the start. But it was a sideshow for me....I was going to do other things, if I lived. And I did.
    Don't coat this with fairy dust, like there was no 'south' and north': vc and nva. There was, and it was actual. The political issues and actions post '75 made that clear. Internal malfunctions are no different in socialist countries than in capitalist. They both happen, and Vietnam was one of those.
    It was a huge error, and a moral lapse for the US to be there, it's well known now.

    1. Hey, if we're going to quote Country Joe let's also quote the preceding lines too:

      It's one two three what are we fighting for
      Don't ask me I don't give a damn
      Next stop is Vietnam

      Seriously though, are there some particular reasons for why you believe as you do? And what "political issues and actions post 75 made that clear"? Being an enlisted man in the US Army in Germany in the mid 70s at the height of the Cold War didn't give me any particular insights into geopolitics or why Germany at that time was arbitrarily divided into an East and West Germany. I'd have had to know what I know now plus spoken fluent German, read the German press, not only the mainstream media, read scholarly works and histories and so forth, and talked to German people who knew what was going on, which most people don't. Yes, like you probably, I made some observations that make more sense now knowing what I know but they made little to no sense then.

      I think calling it a civil war is a bit of a stretch. It's sort of like calling the Korean War a civil war. It may have had elements of that, but I'd like to know why you believe that. Seeing Ho posters all over the South and the fact that the South Vietnamese didn't know who their president was seems to add more credence to the idea that the Vietnamese thought of themselves as one nation under Ho's government.

      For what it's worth, that conflict isn't listed under Vietnamese civil wars in Wikpedia

      I think someone who was there can lend a special insight but what specifically are you talking about, is what I'm getting at. It was one thing to protesters in the street, one thing to the soldiers involved, one thing to politicians, one thing to Capitalist Imperialism, and so on. It does become a different thing when you are on the ground, but what was it actually?

      And thanks for the comment and for opening up another window on it.

  2. ...and it's five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates...

    Hey, I'll give it a shot here in the late evening.

    What gives me the idea of in post war Vietnam that the VC and NVA were treated different post war....The VC, under the NLF were done in during Tet....they attempted too much and and lost....however, they won. After the war, post 75, the NVA were given pensions, gov't positions, etc, while the few VC people left were ignored.

    I call it a civil war because it's how it seemed to me....The south seemed intrenched, and had been there for more than a few years, the north had a longer linage, but I wasn't equipped to 'sus that out then. The fact that Uncle Ho's pic was in every 'ville and town I was in didn't go that deep, it just touched the thought in me that...'hey, something's going on here...what it is ain't exactly clear..

    The idea that it, the war, is something different by groups...classifications.....students, vets, resisters.
    is a possibility...dunno. I knew people in some more than one of those groups, and they were different across the spectrum.

    My feelings, and reflections and memories of the war in SE Asia are sometimes in contrast to my opinions about the whole issue. Like many I suspect.

    In my working life I 'saved' the life of a kid a few times, maybe 6 times. I know each time it was in partial payment for what happened once when I was a long way from there.

    Life shapes us, as does our experiences. We become something slightly different than we thought, expected.

    1. Fair enough.

      You know, it occurs to me there's probably some good material for a story there or more. If I may be so bold as to raise that issue. I think many people don't like to talk about those days or even think about them. If you haven't written about it already, that is.

      But I can't say I've ever read any short fiction based on that. There have been a couple of films, of which I've seen only The Deer Hunter, which was talked about a lot at the time, but I didn't see it until a couple of years ago and it seemed kind of corny -- maybe it was that styles have changed. But the field's wide open in some sense. It might still be a touchy subject. Not only for those involved, but I don't think the nation as a whole has really dealt with that.

      It's interesting to think about how you'd go about writing about it, too, from a practical matter. On the one hand it's old news, but on the other it, as I say, has never really been addressed, dealt with, absorbed, by Americans.

      I read a couple things William Faulkner said about the Civil War -- he said the South hasn't yet dealt with it, something to that effect. He also said, and I've always assumed he had the Civil War in mind when he said this, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

      I suppose writing about Vietnam would be controversial. There's plenty there for people to disagree about, still. But it does need to be dealt with.