3 Hard Truths in Ho Chi Minh

--According to Viet legend, the Vietnamese are children of a fairy and a dragon.

There’s something we bet you didn’t know. And it’s only one thing we learned during our time in Saigon.

Our favorite souvenir from the city is this creepy picture we found in our camera’s memory card.

Which, to be completely honest, the details of this snapshot are a little fuzzy. (We went to a jazz club, had a few cocktails, and somewhere on the walk home came across this guy.)

Character

Aaaannnd, we’re back in action.

--OK. So, the Vietnamese.

Here’s the quick-and-dirty story of Viet legend, adapted from what a local woman told us in Saigon…

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a dragon man, probably away from the mountains on holiday, spotted a demon bird chasing and nipping at the heels of a beautiful swan.

In an attempt to save the swan, the dragon man attacked the demon bird.

To the dragon man’s dismay, the now-seething demon bird transformed into a ferocious demon tiger with fire in its eyes and murder in its breath.

The dragon man fought and killed the tiger. The swan, in an unexpected twist, ended up being a beautiful fairy. The dragon man and the fairy fell in love and got really busy and had 100 dragon-fairy children.

The children, the legend goes, carried the blood of the dragon and the charm of the fairy.

Unfortunately, after some time had passed, the couple grew restless. The dragon, we must assume, was too coarse for the graceful fairy. And the fairy, we suppose, was far too docile for the warrior dragon.

It became, as you can imagine, a very dysfunctional household.

The dragon had begun to miss his home mountains, and the fairy missed her life near the sea (or was it the other way around?). Unwilling to make it work, the two split up. Dragon man took fifty children to the mountains. And fairy woman took the remaining fifty to live near the sea.

The children, seeds of the dragons, descendants of the fairies, inhabited the vast mountains and rivers of southern Asia.

The children’s successors bred and spread and would later be known as the Vietnamese.

The story, as the Saigonese woman told it, is far more beautiful than my truncated dumpster dive.

But, hey, we learned a lot in Saigon (officially known as Ho Chi Minh, but, really, nothing but the paperwork calls it that there). So there’s lots else to cover.

And in a moment, we’re going to reveal to you the three most important lessons we learned in Nam.

--Before we get to our three most important lessons, though, let us just say…

Wherever the Viets come from, be it dragon-fairies or otherwise, they are an astonishingly resilient bunch.

Vietnamese history is littered with men and women (mostly named Nguyen) duking it out against invaders, haters and scalawags in the fight for independence and freedom.

Prior to the Vietnam War, for example, the Viets scrapped with the Chinese (for over a century), the Khmers (who we’ll talk about in the near future), the Chams (of the now nonexistent Champa) and the Mongols (and beat the crap out of them when the brutes tried to invade).

And then, of course, the French.

The U.S. came around later in an effort, so goes the story, to “stop the spread of Communism.”

You already know how the Vietnam War story began, so we’ll fast-forward a bit to the action.

--In May of 1959, the U.S. implanted Ngo Dinh Diem, leader of South Vietnam (who Eisenhower called “Miracle Man”), had just hit a new low.

Under the orders of the American White Knights of Democracy, Diem enacted Law 10/59 — a draconian measure to repress, punish and expel the growing dissent.

The results were catastrophic.

In four years, nine out of ten of all party members in the South were killed or jailed. In all, nearly 500,000 people had been arrested, 400,000 put in prison and 68,000 killed.

Democracy!

To add to the tension, Diem’s regime put in place a whole host of anti-Buddhist (and anti-French, but we’ll get to that in a moment) policies. Later, he even barred the Buddhists from flying their flags.

Many people (namely Americans) think that America’s presence in Vietnam is what caused Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc to set himself aflame in the streets of Saigon.

Really, he did it because of Buddhist persecution by Diem in the South. (Which, I suppose, thinking about it now, makes them half right.)

American troops wouldn’t land in Saigon for another two years after Duc doused himself in gasoline and lit that historic match.

Car

Which leads us to what happened next…

--As usual, implanting an artificial leader to spread an agenda does more harm than good. And history always rhymes when the West pops in “their guy.”

It usually ends up putting the target country — and often, the world — in a worse situation than it was prior to the intervention. And this time was no different.

So, of course, when plans fail miserably, central planners end up doing the predictably irrational: they try harder.

When the indirect methods of “spreading democracy” failed in Vietnam, the warmongers enacted the “local war.”

And that’s when things, as you know, got really messy.

Over half a million U.S. and 72,000 allied soldiers were brought into the South. The U.S. planned its bombing attacks. U.S. naval ships started to attack the North. But despite the massive amounts of manpower, metal and gunpowder the raids proved fruitless.

The U.S. then enlisted the “brainpower” of Monsanto and painted Vietnam with Agent Orange, poisoning, killing and disfiguring millions of Vietnamese.

The end result of all of this nonsense? Over 300,000 U.S. and allied soldiers and millions of mostly innocent Vietnamese were killed. And over 50,000 were severely disabled.

Our visit to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon

The numbers are staggering.

After nearly 8 million tons of bombs… nearly 500 tons of toxic poison… 338,000 tons of napalm… 3,777,000 land mines (some are still active in the jungles)…

The war against Communism proved… wait for it… idiotic. And caused even more destruction than the Commies did on their own…

Out of 5,788 communities in North Vietnam, 4,000 of them were struck by foreign bombs. Industrial zones were nearly all wiped out. Not a single power plant was left untouched. All the railroads, bridges, ports and store houses were blasted to irreparable bits. Irrigation works were crippled. An estimated 3,000 schools, 350 hospitals, and 5 million hectares (12,355,269 acres) of forest were destroyed.

We can’t help but see the parallels to today’s clash with Syria — a battle waged, apparently, to protect the world from despotic regimes.

Just as in Syria, the sheer amount of factions and infighting involved in Vietnam makes the mind boggle.

South Koreans had 300,000 troops in the fight. North Korea sent fighter pilots to fight for the Commies. Australia sent 60,000 Aussies. New Zealand sent a bunch too. At one point, the CIA began fighting a proxy war with the French through the anti-French Diem and the French started paying off Asian mafias and Saigon’s police force to try to recapture power from the U.S.

It became such a drunken, bare-fisted, harebrained brawl that CIA agent Edward Lansdale floated the idea of of orchestrating a coup against the French. The goal, said Lansdale, would be to “make a lady out of a slut.”

Officials, of course, actually considered it.

So in the end, here’s the breakdown: America fought North Vietnam, who were also fighting the Aussies. Australia was also fighting the Pathet Lao. While the Pathet Lao was beating back the Montagnard. The Montagnard fought the rabid nationalist militia. The nationalist militia fought the Catholic militias. The Catholics fought the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong were doing battle with South Korea. South Korean troops were bombed by their neighbors up North. Because the North Koreans were helping the Khmer Rouge and fighting the French. The French bribed the sects. The sects pulled a fast one on the gangsters and fought Americans.

And for what?

Only for Vietnam, later, to eventually come to the realization on its own that Communism isn’t a great idea. Since 1975, Vietnam has had one of the fastest growing economies in SE Asia.

Even though Communism won the war, capitalism won Vietnam. After the Vietnam War, the country entered into a generation of peace, which helped it to open up and ushered in prosperity. Today, two-thirds of the population, for perspective, haven’t experienced war.

And the youth in Vietnam today, overall, couldn’t care one bit about Communism. In fact, according to a Pew survey conducted last year, over 90% of Vietnamese are supporters of free-market capitalism.

That’s more than The Land of the Free — the so-called free-market bastion of the world. (Hmmm…)

There’s a clear reason that Vietnam has embraced capitalism. But we’re going to have to talk about that tomorrow. (It’s pretty obvious, but not, apparently, to everyone.)

Let’s conclude today’s episode with three lessons we’ve learned during our time in Saigon.

One, if you leave people alone they, normally, out of self interest, discover what’s best for them and make the right choice. Just as Communism, eventually, ran its course and rotted from the inside (as it always does) and fizzled out in Vietnam.

Two, if you try to force people to change, they resist, people die, and nobody wins. I don’t think this one needs much more explanation than what has been already covered above.

And the third and potentially most important…

No matter what you do…

Don’t [expletive deleted] with the fairy-dragon people.


“We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.”
-Robert Strange McNamara, former Secretary of Defense

Until tomorrow,

Chris Campbell
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today

P.S. Have something to say? Say it! Chris@lfb.org.

Chris Campbell

Written By Chris Campbell

Chris Campbell is the Managing editor of Laissez Faire Today. Before joining Agora Financial, he was a researcher and contributor to SilverDoctors.com.