A regular reader of this blog and a friend, Trinh Binh An, was born in Vietnam. She was twelve when Saigon fell. Some years later, she escaped from Vietnam and came to this country. Cô An responded to my blog post on the Naval Institute Conference on Military and Politics. She quoted the statement about the views expressed by conference panelists that the U.S. saw the enemy as communists when they were first and foremost nationalists, striving for independence:
“I am tottaly disagree this view ! Hồ Chí Minh and his group had killed many natiolists of other pasties such as Quốc Dân Đảng, Đại Việt . Before US got involved in VN, people in the South Viet Nam had been fighting over French and communists (they still nowadays) such as Cao Đài and Hòa Hảo . In the North Viet Nam, catholics and budists had teamed up together to fight against Hồ in Phát Diệm province .
“Hồ and his party is successful in brainwashing people, rules them in iron fists. They use all terrorized methods to achieve their goals. They follow Lenin and Mao ‘s communism not Max and Egel’s communism .”
I agree with Cô An’s characterization of the Viet Minh as ruthless dictators, and she is right that over the years they murdered members of other nationalist groups. But that doesn’t make them communists. When Hồ Chí Minh repeatedly approached the U.S. in the mid-1940s asking for help to free Vietnam from the French colonialists (we ignored his pleas), he was more nationalist than communist. When he got no help from us, he turned to China and the USSR, who continued to assist him with weapons and money long after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam and ceased its support of the South Vietnamese government and people. Communism became the dominant doctrine of the Viet Minh, and they became more despotic as the struggle continued.
Late in the twentieth century, the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, as it now calls itself, abandoned a principal tenet of communism and adopted a capitalist economic philosophy. The result has been an economic boom, especially in tourism. So Vietnam is no longer a truly communist country. That doesn’t mean it is in any sense democratic; it is as much a police state today as it was during the Vietnam war.
The thrust of my original argument in this blog is that if the U.S. had assisted Hồ from the start, the nationalist character of the Viet Minh might have prevailed and democratic tendencies might have caused them to cooperate with other nationalist groups to achieve independence. The U.S. could have used its influence to thwart the growing autocracy as the regime was formed and insisted that the government include all nationalist groups and proceed with democratic principles dominant. It could also have pressured its ally, France, to grant Vietnam independence. Such actions would have been in keeping with the anti-colonialist philosophy inherent in American political thinking.
My sense is that history would have been very different and much better had we taken that route.