The word “Vietnam” immediately conjures images of guerrilla warfare, the 1960s peace movements and the flight from Saigon from the top of the American embassy. For South Vietnamese, their memories would be quite different. Theirs would be more local and specific since they not only lived through it, as Americans had, but the South Vietnamese also had to live in it. The idea of Vietnam also gives the impression that the region today known as Vietnam has often been a solid and unified nation when this was rarely true. By studying the aftermath of the Vietnam War from 1975 – 1980 from the South Vietnamese perspective, we can better understand peace processes, how wars sometimes continue into peace and how the losing side is often subjugated especially when territory is exchanged. We can claim that territory was exchanged specifically because it will firstly be observed that Vietnam had often been fractured and how a conquered people were subjugated after an extended war which spanned decades.
Vietnam has a long and ancient history. Often it relates back to its own origin story. In The Birth of Vietnam, Taylor wrote about Vietnam’s historical era when the Vietnamese people were first identified as a group (7). Within the text he mentioned about an aquatic spirit which brought legitimacy to a northern region of Vietnam and gave the people who lived there the first moments of an identity. From this spawned other ideas native and unique to the land such as bronze drums and seaside boats.
Advancing through the centuries, China often considered Vietnam a region to be conquered. Roughly two thousand years ago much of it had been invaded and colonized by the Chinese; the Chinese held a firm grip over much of the territory for one thousand years. This, undoubtedly, had a lot of influence over north Vietnam. What we know as South Vietnam today, at that time, was still largely settled by tribes and those who weren’t considered Vietnamese, such as Cambodians, Champ polities, and others, to name a few.
There were flashes of rebellion and the act of fighting for independence, even when many failed, became not only a national but also a cultural trait of the Vietnamese. If the Western nations had understood this ancient philosophy, it may have saved a lot of future treasure and blood and while the vainglory of the 1800s may have still encouraged colonization inroads, perhaps the clutches of colonialism may not have been so strong after World War II.
Much of Vietnam had consolidated by the time the French arrived in the 1800’s. The Vietnamese had conquered and controlled the Champa region and Cambodia was often bullied and abused as a buffer state between Vietnam and modern-day Thailand. This isn’t to claim that Vietnam was a mighty empire; in fact, they had only recently thrown off the yoke of the Chinese grip across their country. As stated by Penniman as well, “When the French took control, more than 90 percent of the Vietnamese were peasants who lived in the villages” (15). It is interesting to note that even before the arrival of the French, not only had the southern portion of Vietnam been managed mostly by Champa or other minorities, they were also separated into small villages with smaller populations which, as Penniman added in the same point, that the peasants often had virtually no contact with government outside of a nominated person.
The distinct differences between the south and the north were clearly laid. The Vietnamese were moving into the south but they weren’t able to dominate it enough in time to truly call the former Champa holding as a core Vietnamese claim. Whereas China had also dominated the north for centuries, the south was left alone due to its distance. The differences, if we look at the entire history of Vietnam, isn’t one of unification.
The Vietnamese would once again be united during World War II when they largely fought against the Japanese. It wasn’t simply because the Japanese were part of the Axis powers, but rather because the Japanese had taken control of the former French colony and the Japanese were new invaders. While there were a number of political parties vying for power in the 1930s and 1940s, Ho Chi Minh’s Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) gained the most traction in part because, as Porter states, it “…connected them with a worldwide revolutionary movement…” (7). The other political parties, especially those in the north, were weak in comparison and the ICP adopted the philosophy of independence. This resulted in followers that joined who didn’t even know what Socialism or Communism was; many joined simply because they wanted independence.
The Vietnam War, after it involved the United States and eventually came to an abrupt end, the entirety of Vietnam was united again as the North invaded the South. Richard Nixon noted one of the reasons in his memoirs, “After I had met the French officers, one of them took me to the edge of the field and introduced me to their Vietnamese counterparts. I saw immediately a basic problem of the war. The French did nothing to hide the disdain they felt toward the Vietnamese. During the rest of my brief stay, without unnecessarily offending the French or embarrassing the Vietnamese, I made a point of trying to spend equal time with both groups” (123). While this doesn’t directly impact the story of the two Vietnams, it does show one of the reasons why it was easier for the North to win. The southern troops had been demoralized and would continue to be demoralized through 1975. This is important particularly because the South would carry this low-moral mindset with them through the invasion and even decades after the peace treaty in 1975.
It is suitable to study the years 1975 through 1980 since the peace was signed in 1975 and a new constitution was created in 1980. It could still be argued that the South Vietnamese were subjugated beyond this date, however, we can use 1980 as a turning point not only because of the creation of the constitution but because the first five years in the aftermath of the war were the most severe. As was written by reporter David Lamb, he recorded Trung Minh Nhai stating that he felt the South Vietnamese were just puppets and those South Vietnamese puppets didn’t understand who or what they were fighting. While he claimed that the Vietnamese people suffered equally, Trung added, “But it is natural to pay more attention to those who died for their country” (102). With his final sentence, Trung essentially admitted that there were not only two armies, but two peoples. The patriots and the puppets.
As was mentioned, the northern and southern halves of modern Vietnam have been distinctly different. This became even more true after the introduction of the French and later the Americans. As one side had a heavy Chinese and then Communist or Socialist influence, the southern half, of which France had occupied for over one hundred years, was introduced to ideas of liberty and capitalism. This was reinforced by preexisting ideas of group identity. Bersford mentions, “The tradition of ancestor worship in Vietnamese culture means that most people are naturally reluctant to leave the village of their patrimony. Villages have also been bound together by the system of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ which made it difficult for individuals to acquire land or exercise political rights in villages not their own” (71). Perhaps of more importance, there was an established connection for all Vietnamese to their native plot of land. This made post-war Vietnam’s attempts at moving people around and redistributing land even more difficult and in a way, sacrilegious.
The difference was compounded by the economics. The north had barely subsisted on what they were able to farm primarily because the region was mountainous and, after the war, the Vietnamese government had pushed out the Chinese in the north who were some of the best fishermen. If the North Vietnamese had ended with a surplus at all, it was usually meager while at the same time, the South was able to provide for itself considering its agricultural-friendly land. The involvement of Western influences aided in this productivity but it still wasn’t perfect. However, through the war South Vietnam had been introduced quite heavily to the idea of what capitalism could provide, even if they weren’t always free.
While peace treaties are meant as a finality to war, this isn’t often the case. While it was true in instances in the past, wars of annexation or more modern forms of war continue long after the peace has ended. The occupier, or victor, must display their power over a defeated people otherwise revolt is possible, especially after an incredibly long war has been fought. Retribution is common and can be severe in peoples who share similarities such as in the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution and as we’d note later, the Vietnam War. Therefore, the war hadn’t truly ended after 1975. The North had to show their power and prove that they were the new governors of all of Vietnam.
In this case, it will be helpful to look at the peace process from the South Vietnamese perspective. If we simply look at it from the North Vietnamese view, it would be very limited as the changes which occurred in North Vietnam in the immediate post-war years hadn’t been too different than the past. There were certainly some differences, but none so great as were felt in the radical changes in the South. By studying South Vietnam in this time-frame, we’re better able to reinforce and understand that the continuation of war does occur long after peace has been signed. Furthermore, we can see how those types of post-war wars are fought and that it isn’t always with guns, but often with butter, or more properly, the lack of it.
As stated, the South Vietnamese were a conquered people who feared retaliation from the North. Aside from their cultural or ideological differences, they also had religious differences. In 1954 there was an agreement between the sides to permit civilians to travel across the border depending on their ideologies, to connect with their relatives or religion. With the arrival of the French, so too had Catholicism arrived. It had spread mostly throughout South Vietnam but there were also many who had been trapped in the North at the outset of the war. This permissible exchange meant that there were very few Catholics who remained in North Vietnam which made the differences even starker than they had been.
The westward thinking is an important part if we consider the separation. Even in 1954, when the Vietnamese nationals were permitted to cross the border, ideology and religion played a part in their moves. From Shallow Graves, one of the writers mentions a note her father wrote in 1954 about why he went to South Vietnam in that year,
“If Buddha is good,
“Pray for him to unify us.
“One day we will be together again
“in one country” (270). It is interesting to note the invocation of the belief system of Buddhism but also his daughter’s thoughts, the author’s, on the following page, “Mother. Your one hundred days are past.
“We invite your spirit
“to go to the pagoda in Washington
“where Buddha will take care of your soul” (271). The beliefs of the father easily passed to those of the daughter. The author wrote her book, Shallow Graves, from the United States after escaping Vietnam after the fall of the South Vietnamese government. It is interesting to note as well that the father wanted to “…be together again in one country” and it is in this statement where we can read that he didn’t mention Vietnam specifically. Like most people, he was likely someone who wanted the war to end and that his main concern was for the safety of his family, wherever that may have been.
But the Americans had definitely brought a much stronger presence to the South Vietnamese than the French ever had. While there is an obvious influence of architecture and art which can still be seen today, the ideas passed down from Washington are one of the few things which have sustained through the modern Vietnamese state. Porter cites the effects the Americans specifically had on South Vietnam, “Capitalist ideology had sunk relatively deep roots in the cities and towns of the South not only among wealthy merchants and French-trained intellectuals but within a new middle class based on the war economy. That class included those who worked directly for the U.S. Government or contractors, those who provided services of various kinds to Americans, and those who sold goods diverted from the U.S. military” (27). This was aided in part by the farming subsidies the United States sent to South Vietnam but the United States presence and the war economy in Vietnam had created a middle class which soon appreciated their sudden wealth and more liberal lifestyles.
Due to some of these differences, surrender was a scary term. The Americans were pulling out and the French had already departed which left the South Vietnamese military and government on their own for the first time since the war began. Repercussions were expected, as Lamb retold his associate’s story, “Esper approached to ask a question and the man unholstered his revolver. ‘I thought, “Oh, my God, he’s going to shoot me. I survived ten years in Vietnam and now I’m going to die the day the war ends.'” … The officer put the gun to his own head, saluted a nearby statue of a South Vietnamese soldier, and killed himself. His body fell at Esper’s feet” (86). Uncertainty was on everyone’s mind but those who were armed, wore police or military uniforms, they knew they were going to be specifically targeted when the front lines broke.
While the South wasn’t really free and had lived under various dictatorships or autocratic leaders, the culture grew further apart from the North during the war. The South had established discos, adopted western clothing and formed the ideas of freedom and liberty, the last which is quite ironic due to their own leadership.
Economically, the differences continued. The north was known for having many black markets whereas in comparison, it wasn’t as severe in the south. Likewise the influx of a military economy of the French and American soldiers had helped to buoy the economy much in the way that certain foreign economies in foreign cities are aided by U.S. military bases around the world today. The core ideas of economics were at odds.
In this instance, we can see the demonstration of a continued war. As Duiker states in Vietnam Since the Fall of Saigon, “In the North, the density of population per square kilometer had increased from 488 in 1955 to 868 twenty years later. By contrast, population density in the Mekong Delta ranged from 150 to 500 per square kilometer, and in the mountainous regions, from 27 to 34. The two delta areas possessed only 23 percent of the total land in the country, but contained nearly 60 percent of the population. Heavy industry was concentrated in the major cities of Hanoi, Haiphong, Saigon, and a few of the smaller provincial capitals” (29). While outwardly this isn’t a direct event that the Vietnamese government impacted, however, their forceful relocation of families was definitely part of their plan.
There was an extended issue in the north where the tribal peoples who had aided the North Vietnamese were suddenly expendable after 1975. While the rights of the tribal people were supposedly protected, according to Bersford, during a meeting in 1935 in Macao, and the tribal people were also given the option of seceding from a future unified Vietnam, these rights were stripped, as was their ownership of their land, and it was given to the state as millions of natural Vietnamese took over the once tribal territories. Beresford wrote, “…over 1.5 million mountain tribesmen would be resettled and persuaded to abandon their way of life” (30). It wasn’t simply the South Vietnamese who were targeted after the war, rather it was anyone who got in the way of the state and wasn’t working at peak efficiency.
We must understand in looking at the peace process that war doesn’t always end with a peace treaty. People are often subjugated even after a Civil War where they’re supposed to share the same values. While we can argue that Vietnam was neither a Civil War due to the many foreign powers which were involved, the way the South Vietnamese had been treated after the war was exceptional. The South Vietnamese were not only orphaned, but they were neglected and left in the home of what was considered to be an abusive household.
Integration and annexation is often difficult between two warring sides. It can be incredibly problematic and traumatic for the population; while some governments may have moral goals and aims, the actual results can be quite different if the people aren’t managed on the ground level. As Duiker adds, “With nearly 50 percent more arable land and a more salubrious climate than the North, the Southern provinces were targeted to become the rice bowl of the unified Vietnam. … Between 1969 and the signing of the Paris Agreement in January 1973, the United States had provided the Saigon regime with an average of 650,000 million tons of food annually” (18). While the north and Unified Vietnam had had this information as well, it still seemed to be their intention to feed the hungry north with the food from the hungry south. As it was mentioned before, there was much more land available for agriculture in the south, however, much of this foliage and land had been bombed away or it was infected with chemicals such as Agent Orange which devastated the farmland.
Additionally, the length of the war must also be considered when we look at the difficulties nations have either in unifying or annexing territories. The Vietnam War had gone on for decades and it could be argued that it began during World War II against the Japanese, then onto the French and finally the Americans, along with the South Vietnamese. After more than thirty-five years, there would naturally be some desire for revenge. As noted earlier, while Trung himself hadn’t felt any animosity toward the South Vietnamese, neither did he think they were in the right frame of mind nor should their memories be as respected as the troops from the north.
Relocation was an important aspect of this continuation of war. While the Southern farms had been decimated, the Vietnamese government took it upon itself to open up the South to migration. Duiker adds that the Vietnamese government had planned to move a total of ten million people which was estimated to take about twenty years from the time it was initiated in 1975 (29). It can safely be argued that some of this was enacted in part for economic and food recovery, but the people were moved in large blocks of tens of thousands of people. It was a resettlement of an independent province which would disrupt the coalition and communal attitude and connections that may have developed over the previous one hundred and fifty years of French and American intervention.
With ARVN dissolving at the end of the war, the South Vietnamese military, the North transferred many of their troops throughout South Vietnam. It was in these cases that the reprisals were noticed. When the military takes control, then power is established. Porter explains in Vietnam: The Politics of Bureaucratic Socialism, “Massive use of incarceration for ‘reeducation’ was again used to deal with those associated with the defeated Saigon government. As many as 300,000 military officers, civilian officials, and political party members were kept in twenty-one reeducation camps for periods ranging from a few months to many years” (174). Initially, the government had intended to peaceable reeducate the people however, sensing threats due to the invasion of Cambodia which resulted in military conflict with China along with starving people and a failing economy, the Vietnamese government feared a counter-revolution. It was for this reason that the camps became harsher prisons and often, tombs. At least 300,000 people are assumed to have been sent to “reeducation camps” in South Vietnam for a few months or a few years; these people didn’t even have to be in the military. They could’ve been abducted and sent to the camps simply for publishing a differing point of view in a publication many years prior.
The South Vietnamese point of view was also seen as a threat and the Vietnamese government attempted to shackle it. Porter expands on the point, “Upon taking power in South Vietnam in 1975, the revolutionary government suspended almost all private publications and compiled a list of banned books including the complete works of fifty-six Southern authors” (165). In addition, foreign capitalist radio broadcasts were illegal and neighbors were told to snitch on neighbors. The government created “Cultural Army Units” on the neighborhood level to wipe out “neo-colonial culture” which would destroy anything remotely associated with the Western powers. South Vietnam was stripped of art, music and independent thought. They were stripped of anything that made them unique.
The Church had also been immediately targeted. Not only did the government of South Vietnam lose, but so too did religion. It was the intention of the Vietnamese government to “‘…transform the Church… into a religion at the service of the State…” (Porter, 178). But this wasn’t only directly aimed at the Catholic church, but to all religions. The government had established for itself wide-ranging powers to strip the power of religion and give that power to the government. Specific teachers who were approved by the State would be allowed to teach and a priest, before being ordained, had to also be approved by the state. The latter resulted, according to Porter, of the closing of almost all Church seminaries in the South (178). The Vietnamese government had sought to dismantle the power and individualism of the south and it was succeeding step by step.
But immediately after the war, the south had been defeated. Their moral had been low for years and they were despondent. As with most people, they simply wanted the war to end, to live their lives and to be with their families.
Just as the south wanted to get on with their daily lives, the north also wanted to forget as much about the separation as possible by removing every bit of South Vietnamese independence that they could. David Lamb, when he returned to Vietnam after 2000, wrote, “I made a naive assumption. I assumed that since Vietnam was unified and Ho Chi Minh had long advocated reconciliation between the two Vietnams, all mothers received the same respect and all former soldiers were entitled to the same dignity. So I never said, ‘We’re talking about all Vietnamese, right, whether from the North or the South?’ Had I asked that, I would have been told, no, just the ones from the North. The Southerners grieved silently. They received nothing, not even a burial place for their sons and husbands. The North had their liet sy (martyrs), the South had nguy (puppets)” (97-8). The idea reverberates here with Trung’s statement earlier. The south wasn’t anything except mindless puppets of foreign adversaries.
The Vietnamese government had continued their excellent job of distancing themselves from 1975 and kept the South from ever thinking about separation. Lamb added that cemeteries were deserted, pagodas were empty and vacant while weeds ran wherever they could grow. Lamb recorded, “In a country whose pride and dignity and sense of nationalism I had come to greatly admire, the cemetery stood as a symbol of national shame. …
“I asked Trung why the cemetery had been forsaken, and he replied: ‘Who cares about this place? It belongs to the time before 1975′” (100-01). While the United States had its own Civil War over 150 years ago, many rebel burial sites are still maintained and respected for the deceased soldiers, some of whom may have marched in gray. However, the view is very different in a different civil war in Vietnam where everything before 1975 is being wiped clean.
Since the two sides had very different views on how government ought to be run, the Communist North needed to establish their form of government throughout the south. Ultimately, this would result in a complete radical change throughout South Vietnam aside from the cultural and political changes. Part of the problem, as Duiker mentioned in Vietnam: Revolution in Transition, was that, “Virtually all Politburo members were in their late sixties or older, and by 1981 the average age of the twelve most senior members of the organization was over 70. Top party officials had been aware of the need to introduce younger figures into responsible positions but, as in China and the U.S.S.R., generational change that the senior level was always complicated by the fears of veteran leaders that younger colleagues lacked the toughness and the conviction to carry out the sacred duties of the revolution. At the Fifth Party Congress in 1982, several party veterans, including Vo Nguyen Giap and Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh, were dropped from the Politburo and replaced by younger men” (112-13). South Vietnam was a different country and, as Duiker highlighted, the northern revolutionaries were old. They had older ways of thinking, they had lived and fought through much of the war and, perhaps due to that reason, they were more rigid in their thinking. It wasn’t until beyond the date of 1980 did changes begin to show within the changes of leadership but that didn’t alter the severe acts carried out upon the South Vietnamese people in the intervening time.
Also, the health problems had persisted and were ravaging the country. Both sides had incredible amount of orphans, invalids and the spread of disease became a common problem, especially in the overrun south. As Vietnamese Doctor Duong Quynh Hoa explained in Land of the Nine Dragons, “The government and the Ministry of Health are unable to produce enough medicines. For example, we are dependent on antibiotics from abroad. We lack everything in terms of medical equipment. And we have a lack of diagnosis and a lack of therapeutic medicine. One of the big problems is lack of hygiene. The most important thing is running water, but that is a very big problem in Vietnam” (188). In post-war societies, often the most basic necessities can be the most difficult to obtain. However, as the doctor continued, she added that these problems were enhanced by “…political decisions and poor economic planning contribute[d] to social afflictions, which in turn foster health problems” (188). The aged leadership was so focused to implant their older beliefs onto a very different society and, as history has shown, such upheavals are rarely peaceful or easy.
The doctor went on to complain about the Communist system as well. She claimed that Vietnam stated that it was a “classless society” however, as in all Communist countries, this idea is often selective and isn’t necessarily true for the connected and the powerful. She laid out the differences as she spoke, “But in reality, there are two distinct groups: party members and the non-party members. The cadres have a monopoly on powerful and well-paid jobs; their children are privy to the finer schools. ‘I think it is normal, it is human, but it is not right,’ she says of party privileges. ‘You must give all children a chance to succeed in this country, to become a citizen'” (188). And again, aside from Trung, we meet yet another person, this one from South Vietnam, who has recognized the distinct difference that the North Vietnamese had never truly accepted the South Vietnamese into the fold.
Additionally, we can also look at the work force. As Vietnam invaded Cambodia and China moved against Vietnam in 1979, Vietnam worked to maintain its troop levels up to 1.2 million by 1980. According to statistics cited by Porter, she stated that in 1979 there were between twelve million males and fourteen million females between the ages of sixteen and sixty-four. This move was more incidental as it also began to transform the society. Porter explains, “As a result [of the large military], the agricultural labor force was 65 to 70 percent female. Women also constituted 64 percent of the workers in light industry and more than 80 percent in handicrafts. Male workers are the majority only in heavy industry and construction” (36). As has been discussed earlier, North Vietnam had carried the bulk of heavy industry while the South was much more agriculturally focused. This was yet another societal shift based on the policies of the new Vietnamese government.
The economy of Vietnam had been geared for war for decades. This isn’t necessarily true of the South. North Vietnam was less affected in post-war in a similar way that West Virginia had been less affected by the Great Depression compared to the other American states. It was an area that was already underdeveloped compared to its contemporaries and so, it didn’t have as far to fall economically and because of this, it could better adapt to the new impoverished situation.
After the Americans had left and it was clear that the South Vietnamese would not be able to hold back the North Vietnamese military, the world powers had lost interest. Vietnam was no longer a flash point. The supposed dominoes had been kept from falling and the Communist powers lacked the interest to fund further. American aid essentially halted, as likewise, the aid from the Soviets dwindled to a trickle while the Chinese had their own direct problems with Vietnam. The Vietnamese government was heavily depending upon the Soviet Union for similar and future aid. Since they not only didn’t receive the similar amount of aid, and it was cut dramatically, this affected the entirety of Vietnam.
Economic assistance was expected to make Vietnam’s various famous five-year plans possible. Huynh Ki Khanh wrote in 1977, and updated in a later version that, “The Soviet Union’s military assistance enables Vietnam to augment its military forces from 600,000 in 1975 to 1.1 million in 1978-1979 and to keep up military presence of about 160,000 troops in Cambodia and 40,000 to 50,000 in Laos. The costs of maintaining the fourth largest army in the world would have been impossible for Vietnam but for Soviet assistance, which was estimated at between $1 billion and $1.5 billion annually from 1979 to 1983” (189). We can argue as well, some of this is the fault of the Vietnamese government due to their invasion of Cambodia and Laos where, according to Khanh, 160,000 troops were stationed in eastern Cambodia and somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 were in Laos. The military numbers had also ramped up from 600,000 in 1975 to almost double at 1.1 million between 1978 and 1979. While this is technically a way for a government to provide jobs and income to the people, it perhaps wasn’t the best way for the revolutionary government to act while so many other economic, agricultural, medical and many other issues were plaguing Vietnam, principally in the South.
We should note as well that aid from China stopped in 1976, almost immediately after the war. Khahn adds that all aid, primarily, “…three hundred thousand tons of petroleum products as well as consumer goods, [were] cut off in 1976” (137). Therefore, we can see that the Vietnamese government shouldn’t have been surprised by the eventual decline of Soviet aid a few years later. At the same time, they should’ve also realized that almost doubling the military and going into the territories of their neighbors was going to have a negative affect, particularly after losing three hundred thousand tons of petroleum products. Naturally, this wouldn’t all be oil nor military in nature, but it is still a substantial amount of supplies which had been lost.
While the South was able to retain some of its freedoms, as the socialist system hasn’t taken as much control as it had in the North, repeated attempts were still made. Porter notes that, “During the 1978 campaign for the socialist transformation of capitalist industry and commerce in the South, the state nationalized 412 large commercial establishments in Ho Chi Minh City, transformed 70,000 private traders into other occupations and brought another 8,000 small merchants into the state commercial network” (47). It was added that many South Vietnamese saw the writing on the wall and had hid their inventory during the first seizures in 1975 and they’d given it away to trusted friends and relatives which spawned a deep black market outside of the control of the state. This would naturally affect the economics, but the South was able to subvert the direct activities of the Vietnamese government and their own black market began to expand. It is interesting to note that the South Vietnamese were able to control some of the prices of the market through this underground black market which they were able to maintain rather well. It’s estimated by Porter that only 30 to 40 percent of consumer goods and small industry was produced by the state in South Vietnam, the rest fell into private hands and the underground markets. Thirty to forty percent is still a substantial number if we consider the size of the region, but it is equally substantial that the South Vietnamese were able to retain some grasp of their economics, primarily since the Vietnamese State had controlled 90-94 percent of trade in North Vietnam by 1960.
The Vietnamese’s government encouraged poor economic practices, in particularly, damaging the South. Between 1975-1980, income grew at only 0.4 percent. According to Porter, “The average annual increase in industrial output was estimated between 0.2 and 0.6 percent, and output in state-controlled industries actually decreased by 6.5 percent during the same period” (50). Porter blames much of this on the large military buildup within Vietnam in the late 1970s. Materials were taken away from the civilian sector and were handed to the military in order to enhance their numbers and project their power. In fact, so much material had been given to the military that the Vietnamese government had entirely removed their plans for a second five-year plan in 1979. This second five year plan was intended to heavily focus on the agriculture center.
Funding didn’t completely stop in spite of the limitations of the economy from the growing military. While the south grew their agriculture at a rate of about 4.1 percent between 1976 to 1980 (Porter, 50), she cites that much of this gain came from simply farming land that had been abandoned during the war. The Vietnamese government had also failed to replace the fertilizers or other materials which would aid in boosting food production, opting instead to fund a larger military. As a result, Vietnam had to import roughly 5.6 million tons of food. Showing their power over South Vietnam, the Vietnamese government, as Porter states, “…set the obligatory sale of grain to the state at prices 15 to 20 percent below free market prices were disincentives for increased grain production” (51). In this way, the Vietnamese government destroyed its own food production market. Due to its narrow-mindedness and lack of focus on the South, it, it is hoped, inadvertently created starvation and poverty throughout the south.
Aside from the south, as was mentioned, northern minorities were also targeted. Using the excuse of national defense, the Vietnamese government convinced, “About 1.3 million minority farmers out of an estimated 2.4 million have adopted settled agriculture at lower altitudes, but many have returned to their traditional ways of life because of economic difficulties” (Porter, 35). In part because of this, deforestation became a major problem in the North and, as Porter highlighted, created deeper problems over tribal lands.
It is notable to look at the long term effects of Communist and Capitalist ideas by comparing the north against the south. David Lamb noted this importance in his updated book, Vietnam, Now, “When the communist leadership decided in the mid-1980s to put Karl Marx and Adam Smith into an economic blender and see what came out, Southerners, exposed to capitalism for decades, were far more comfortable than their northern brethren in adapting to the demands of the free markets” (63). Part of the reason he mentioned this was because of the Western influences but that is also in connection with the airports, roads, and other infrastructure that was left behind after the Americans had left. This is the sort of quality infrastructure that the north hadn’t developed through the war.
It should be mentioned as well that the north wasn’t continuously pouring gasoline on the fire when it came to South Vietnam. South Vietnam, after the war, had a number of problems particularly with a resurgence of malaria, the rise of malnutrition, drug addiction and wide-spread prostitution. Beresford mentions that while the government seemed to do a good job of treating drug abuses and limiting the prostitution market, she added “The socialist regime saw all these people as victims of war and neo-colonialism and adopted an approach based on rehabilitation, job training and integration into the productive work-force as soon as possible” (182). While the government had made an attempt to improve South Vietnam, the South Vietnamese were still seen as puppets, or in this case, victims of colonialism.
Separating people in these ways, in a sense, dehumanizes them. Or at the very least, it separates people into a ‘them’ class. They’re not ‘us’, instead, they’re something else. And when someone is something else, it is easier to forget them, manhandle them or otherwise control them. The area of South Vietnam and the people within it, even to the point of today, can still be considered outsiders to the old revolutionary government.
It is interesting to note, however, that we can see these traits weren’t always incidental. The government knew that they needed agricultural production yet spent much of their efforts trying to increase their heavy industry in the north while fertilizers and pesticides lagged behind in the south. Beresford stated it simply as she studied the politics, economy and society of all of Vietnam when she wrote, “The self-reinforcing nature of a continuing ‘goods famine’ and low marketed agricultural surpluses in the North has lessened the impact of economic reforms on the rate of growth of the region” (169). The government, as mentioned earlier, had lowered the sale cost of agricultural products and because of this reason, what they were able to import was incredibly limited, which caused slow economic growth in the north. In a sense, while trying to convert the south, they also recklessly harmed the north.
The lack of growth within the agricultural center also, then, reinforced the black market which was established after the government had attempted to exert its control. Duiker mentions in Revolution in Transition, “Although the public sector made modest progress in output, unemployment remained high as the program to resettle refugees in the new economic zones stagnated” (145). It seemed that the Vietnamese government was doubling down on the planned economy, forced relocation and narrow-mindedness. Some of the issues also stem from the fact that the south was now living in two worlds. There was a constant tug and pull between capitalism and communism and sometimes the Vietnamese government seemed as though it were winning the battles but ironically, it was ultimately losing the war. Perhaps if the Vietnamese government had instead instituted a gradual change rather than one that was sudden and traumatic to the South Vietnamese, the northern government would’ve had more long-term success rather than the short-term and long-term disaster that sat on their doorstep in 1975.
The government made a second grab for power in the South on March 23, 1978. This time, there wasn’t a warning for the southerners who owned or operated their businesses. Only small business owners or family operators were left alone, every other industry had been nationalized. This suddenness occurred primarily because the Vietnamese government had learned its lesson from its attempted collectivization from 1975. As a result, so many materials had failed to succumb to the black market.
Refugees fled Vietnam with this most recent attempt at takeover. The mid to late 1970s began a series of major exoduses from Vietnam. Duiker notes, “Press reports contended that the first stage had been a success, resulting in the abolition of some 30,000 private firms throughout the South, but discontent led to turmoil in the urban sector of the economy and, by midsummer, to a growing flood of refugees attempting to escape Vietnam to other countries in the region” (146). There are sources which claim that this sudden act in 1978 was taken to destroy the Chinese community in Vietnam and encourage them to take flight.
A refugee crisis was imminent and it isn’t surprising that the Vietnamese government did relatively little to prevent it from happening. Much of this was because they were having so many issues obtaining enough food for all the people. Often in Communist countries, as we’ve seen in the Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea and so on, those nations attempt to lock in their population. Vietnam was an exception and was willing to trade its future productivity to be able to immediately feed more of its population. Some of this also had to do with the matter that a hungry population is rarely a population that sits quietly and starves.
A large portion of these refugees were the Hoa, a type of Han Chinese people who were living in South Vietnam. According to some, up to two-thirds of initial refugees were of the Hoa type (Duiker, Revolution, 148). In subsequent flights, more natural South Vietnamese would also flee Vietnam. These were often called “Boat People” as they escaped and traveled anywhere as close to China and Thailand up to the Philippines and other regions of Southeast Asia. One could even consider these departures as delayed flights from Saigon; a finality to the people who wanted to flee the north Vietnamese invasion but couldn’t get out in time. However, this time, they took advantage of the situation and hoped for a better future wherever the trade winds would take them.
The flights were continuous in large part due to the mismanagement of the economy. As Kolko explains, “In certain ways, the data we have shown that the economy in the decade after 1975 might have been much worse, and later official accounts of it exaggerated by its failures to justify the new economic strategy” (24). In 1980 there were also a series of natural disasters, such as typhoons, which significantly impacted the agriculture but this had no bearing between the years of 1975-1979. But we can note in this instance the difficulties in discovering true and accurate sources, especially when it comes from the official Vietnamese state. They had an inherent interest in downplaying the failures of their exercises and the activities of their actions. It is in these cases that we must better understand that much of the old, official data that comes from certain sources has been tainted. Vietnam did not want the world to know what it was doing which makes some of these activities, while some may sound benign or incidental, at least seem much more nefarious and dangerous.
These flights, coupled with relocated peoples and a mismanaged economy and military resulted in southern poverty. While opponents of the south, such as D.R. SarDesai note, “The vast array of imported consumer goods, including shiny automobiles, stereo systems, and electrical appliances, was subsidized by the United States. The large amounts of external funds pumped into the economy resulted in galloping inflation, impoverishing the middle class and people with fixed incomes. The only people who seemed to prosper in the US-sponsored ‘free enterprise’ system were smugglers, black markets, building contractors, and intermediaries of all sorts, not to mention pimps and prostitutes” (124-5). Certainly, some of these notations are true. Often around overseas bases from the United States, local towns become inflated and discover wealth but it is presumptuous and a bit dishonest to make the claim that that brought the negative aspects of runaway inflation.
While D.R. SarDesai is an interesting writer and does come to Vietnam with a different perspective, his view is perhaps a bit too opinionated and biased. This is most notable in this book and his more modern texts. Certainly the jab at the United States about bringing about “pimps and prostitutes” is unjustified as those markets rise up in virtually any border regions suffering through war. And there will most certainly be a black market, as there is virtually everywhere but affluence on its own does not create these systems. In fact, while studying socialist and communist takeovers, at least those in severe areas such as Vietnam and North Korea, black markets often become the only way to difficult to obtain items to continue to survive.
It is impossible to notice, as many modern historians have, the rise of a South Vietnamese middle class and this wasn’t only because of the arrival of the Americans. As mentioned, if we look even further back in time, we can observe that South Vietnam was often more prosperous than the congested north which often struggled just to feed itself. If we observe the events of the disappearance of American troops and the subsequent fall, coming from SarDesai’s angle, it’s overly simplistic to give the North Vietnamese government a pass on the crumbling of the south after occupation began. As mentioned, it is without doubt that a middle class existed, and as SarDesai flippantly examines, building contractors were hired and they added to the capitalist society which lifted the largely peasant population before World War II into sudden wealth. Since wealth often promotes better health, literacy and freedom, this is hardly a bad thing for a region which had been impoverished just a few decades before.
To make a final comment on SarDesai, the flight of the Americans was naturally going to create an economic dent. However, it should be noted, Americans weren’t in every place at every time. If they had so many troops and bases along with influence stationed across the South Vietnamese landscape, American troops would still be standing there today and new ones would’ve been built all the way up to Hanoi. Every part of South Vietnam was not affected by the French or the United States, however, every part of South Vietnam was affected by the north’s invasion and their plans after the war. The North Vietnamese filled in land gaps where not enough people lived, they moved people around, they incarcerated those who seemed rebellious even if they came from small villages, such villages that Americans may not have even visited.
It is important to note authors such as SarDesia because it’s necessary to show this other side. However, the impact on such black markets and poverty was much greater because of the Vietnamese’s actions rather than the lack of American money. These same issues rose up after the Soviets and the Chinese ended their grants and gifts to Vietnam. To look at the disaster of what occurred in South Vietnam from only one angle is inherently and academically dishonest. While he does mention the food troubles immediately after the war, he also claimed the South Vietnam’s economy had “…created a false sense of prosperous economy…” (124). But, as has been written about in detail earlier, the South Vietnamese had been distinct and better off in their individualism and economy for centuries. To claim that South Vietnam was only successful, and only fell so far because the Americans had left, is simply not true.
Under the new Vietnamese government, the people of South Vietnam had discovered a new level of what was possibly, intentionally inflicted poverty. An author of Shadow Graves mentions a letter that left Vietnam and was hand-carried to France before being mailed to the United States, “The government controls everything, food, clothes and housing. They put many people to live in your sister’s house. Each family (not a comrade family) is allowed each month to buy at the official rate
“1 dozen eggs
“1 kilo of meat
“10 kilos of rice
“1 kilo of sugar
“and 5 meters of material. The food lasts our family only a few days and then we must buy at the black market rate which is 5 or 6 times higher.” It is difficult to believe that it is the fault of the faux inflated capitalist economy that crushed South Vietnam when we consider in this letter the level of control the Vietnamese government established over its neo-colonial puppet citizens.
To further add to the argument that the fault of the southern economy was largely, although not completely, the fault of the North Vietnamese government, we’ll momentarily step beyond 1980. In the paper Vietnam: Transition to a Market Economy, “With the liberalization of the trade and exchange regimes and the adoption of an appropriate exchange rate policy, exports and imports began to expand rapidly in the late 1980s, and there was a significant shift in the trading partners from former CMEA countries to those in the convertible currency area” (33). Essentially, this states that the economics of Vietnam didn’t change until đổi mớ (reform, to revolutionize), which is when the Vietnamese government first began to liberalize their national economics. Imports and exports rose, fewer people became hungry and because of these changes, the United States under Bill Clinton and with General Westmoreland’s blessing, opened trading with Vietnam. It is hardly a coincidence that the entirety of Vietnam improved once it relaxed its hold over its people, especially of those in the south.
The previous notes and events that have been cited could be considered circumstantial if that’s all that existed. The social structures in moving entire populations could be excused as a way to fill empty plots of land now that the entirety of Vietnam had been unified, the weak economy could be blamed on the war, weather, or SarDesai’s take on the economy. What truly solidifies the argument of continued war after peace are the many Soviet-styled gulag camps that littered the south, enthusiastically and euphemistically phrased as reeducation camps. This is the part where we can demonstrate that all of the previous incidents weren’t merely consecutive coincidences. With these reeducation camps, these prisons, we can observe a systematic destruction of South Vietnamese identity, individualism and the attempts to destroy any type of Western ideals.
Aside from their prison-like nature, the gulags were meant to torture and to deprive the people who were imprisoned of their humanity and to punish them for, essentially, being on the wrong side of the war. Nguyen Van Canh mentions the lack of medicine within these “reeducation” camps, “No camps, not even the largest, have hospitals. At the Suoi Mau Camp in Dong Nai Province, which has 6,000 prisoners, there is a dispensary located in Subcamp K-5; ex-prisoners note that it was little to dispense. Most general camps have only one such dispensary; the only readily available treatment is at so-called first-aid stations. Accordingly, prisoners often die of diseases, especially malaria, that go untreated. At Gia Ray Z-30, twenty deaths are reported to have occurred due to lack of medication” (212). Canh went on to add that there weren’t any doctors in these camps, only nurses, however if prisoners were doctors, then they could be allowed to work under supervision of the communist nurses. One could argue that the prisoners shouldn’t deserve better or equal treatment compared to other Vietnamese citizens, but at the same time, one could also argue that most of those people shouldn’t have been imprisoned at all.
The people of South Vietnam were also threatened by the government of Vietnam. Nguyen Van Canh went on to explain, “Food rationing is another means employed by the VCP [the Communist Party of Vietnam] to keep the general population under control. Without being adequately fed, people are not able to revolt. Rationing is based on the household management system. Citizens of all ages must have their names registered in a ‘family book.’ They are then registered members of that household. Each registered member is allowed to purchase a prescribed amount of food at the official price. Accordingly, if a person voluntarily moves to another place, that person will automatically lose the right to an official food quota. Noncompliance with an order from the secretary of the local party chapter or any activities contrary to the secretary’s decision may result in a person being sent to a re-education camp, in which case that person’s food quota is also cut off” (151). The people of South Vietnam were stalked while the government waited for any moment to pounce upon them. They were monitored closely as the paranoia swept through the region. If the Vietnamese were a unified people, and if the people of South Vietnam were simply puppets, the Vietnamese government had a strange way of showing it.
Food inside the camps were even more tightly restricted. Robert Templer mentions in Shadows and Wind of a quote by camp laborer Cao Ngoc Phuong, “In my forced labour camp in the highlands, the event that dominates everything is the experience of hunger. We are hungry permanently. All we can think about day or night is eating. Many of us catch lizards to eat, knowing that they provide protein. Very soon the lizards in the whole area were exterminated… Such foods as mice, rats, birds, snakes and grasshoppers must be caught and eaten secretly. It is forbidden and if the camp guards find out about it, the prisoners will be punished…. What little food is eaten is chewed very slowly. Still it makes no difference. We feel even more hungry after eating” (53-4). It is without a doubt that food was sparse in these years throughout Vietnam. The Vietnamese government can yet again exclaim that food should first go to the civilian population before it is sent to the prison population. But again the same refrain must be repeated: Most of those people shouldn’t have been imprisoned at all.
The prisoners in these gulags were abused not simply for their beliefs. But also because they were South Vietnamese.
To drive this to a finer point, we can observe a loyal Communist who aided the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. Doan Van Toai was a man from South Vietnam which in the eyes of the Vietnamese government, was enough of a crime to imprison him. Luckily he was ultimately able to escape to France where he published his memoir in the mid 1980s where he was freshly able to tell the world, who was no longer listening, about what was going on in Vietnam in the aftermath of the supposed peace.
To prove that people were often political prisoners or even complete innocents and not hardened criminals, we can look directly at Doan Van Toai. He admitted that he aided North Vietnam during the war at great risk to himself yet he was also caught up within the camps for something he had written long before North Vietnam declared victory. To say the least, he was shocked. But his reporting goes deeper, “That’s my first surprise about prison. During the war the NLF [National Liberation Front or commonly known in the West as the Viet Cong] often declared it would eliminate prisons. After victory, Le Duan, the Communist party general secretary, personally visited Thieu’s famous tiger cage cells in the Con Son Island jail. Looking at the symbols of the southern regime’s represensiveness [sic], Le Duan declared: ‘We will transform the jails into schools!’ Yet this place seems full. The prisoners here must be some of the thieves and traffickers who operated so blatantly during the last weeks before the old regime died – the dregs of a Vietnamese society corrupted by war. I feel humiliated at being here with such people, ashamed to be associated them in any way. I’m relieved when the bo dois [italics in the original] shove me into an individual cell that boasts a bare cement bench to sleep on, a toilet hole, and a faucet” (16). He was still in disbelief, that someone made a mistake and that he would soon be released due to his connections. But reality would set in after time.
Adding testimony to the use of food as a way to wage war against South Vietnam, Toai also mentions this feature. “…but there’s sand in [the rice], or some kind of grit. This rice meant for pigs seems to have been picked up from the ground” (18) lends further credibility that food was used as a weapon of the supposed post-war. Even a supporter of the National Liberation Front had recognized this as a fact.
He also soon discovered that talking wasn’t allowed and through hushed tones, he learned that almost the entire law school faculty where he attended had been arrested and that the school had been shut down. It is interesting, however, that Toai didn’t feel bad for the wealthy, or even the middle class who didn’t escape in time. Even by the time he had reached France to write his memoir, he wrote plainly, “As far as I am concerned, these people are not much better than my immediate neighbor in cell three, Nam Theo. Just a few months ago, he was king of Cholon, Saigon’s Chinese quarter, where he controlled many of the brothels. This immensely powerful man has now become meek as a lamb, cringing obsequiously before the least of the bo dois [italics in the original]. Him I’m not surprised to see in prison. Nor does it surprise me that this woman is here.
“But what am I [italics in the original] doing here?” (66). While Toai seemed to have clarity at times, at others, such as when he heard wailing or saw his neighbors cowering in fear, he was still blind and couldn’t believe that the revolution had failed him.
Over time, Toai learned that everything was a facade. He was told by other cell mates from those who came to his prison that his prison was almost like a luxury. There was food, even if it did have sand in it, and there wasn’t any hard work. It also wasn’t in the jungle where prisoners would suffer and likely die without medical supplies due to being infected with malaria, beriberi, dysentery or other diseases. Neither were the prisoners allowed to write their families as Toai directly recorded, “Before Tet in 1976 we were allowed to write a letter, ostensibly for delivery to our families. Thao wrote: ‘Forget me. Consider that I’ve died in combat.’ It went straight into his dossier” (165). Thought crimes seemed to be the worst crime a person could commit. And they would be arrested before they had even had a thought.
Toai recognized the severity when he noticed the death of an inmate. A man had been dragged and was turned onto his stomach. At that point he was repeatedly whipped, the guards shouting that they’d start over from the first whipping if the man continued to cry out. At some point while being whipped, the man went silent. Toai wrote, “Tu Cao has now turned the body over in the dust. He pries Tai’s mouth open and stares into it, ‘Sir,’ he exclaims to the can bo [italicized in the original]. ‘He committed suicide! He bit his tongue and swallowed it. That’s why his mouth is bloody!'” (260). The man had so feared continued whippings and the pain had been so great that he found a way to escape the pain. Toai commented that the guards marked it as a suicide; even if the man had lived, Toai commented, the man likely would have died from his wounds.
Toai and his connections eventually went in his favor and he was released. He was told by the guards and the party to say positive things about the prison systems and the country while he was in France. However, as The Vietnamese Gulag detailed, Toai did not do this. He told the truth. Toai did get the blessings from his father and sister before he left Vietnam, as often the family would be threatened, imprisoned or would simply disappear if overseas Vietnamese spoke ill of the party. Toai’s family understood the risks but felt that he had to tell the truth. Once he did, Toai lost contact with his family.
Additionally, the camps were also used as execution chambers with circus courts. Canh wrote, “…in Bac Lieu Province the following victims were executed after two days of trials in late May 1975 (the trials were held at the Bac Lieu soccer field).
“1. Le Van Si, chief of the Gia Ray District. After the court pronounced the death sentence, guerrillas tied him to a pole and shot him. To make sure, they crushed his skull with a rock. His corpse was buried face downwards with the hands still tied.
“2. Village Chief Nguyen Van Diem, an Ahach Village, Gia Ray District. After being sentenced to death, he was sent back to his village for execution. However, on the way back home, he was stabbed in the side. On the village outskirts a Viet Cong guerrilla blew his head off with a burst of automatic rifle fire” (125). And these are just a few of the cases of which he cited. These executions were systematically targeting those of South Vietnam. They targeted anyone who could rise up against the newly established Vietnamese government. They targeted the learned, they targeted those who had any wealth, they targeted the neo-colonialists, the puppets, they targeted the South Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese government was paranoid, seeming to believe that enemies hid behind every corner. Dr. Duong Quynh Hoa spoke in Land of the Nine Dragons, “For me, we are still at war. You don’t see the war. But we still have an economy of war and a landscape of war. We also have the social problems of a country at war” (187). This quote was taken during the early 1990s which would hint at a terrible tale to tell through the 1970s and the 1980s.
The reeducation camps became known. Just like in the Russian Revolution and the revolution in China which followed it, so too did the Vietnamese Communists seek out and implant spies throughout the opposed population. To protect themselves, Lamb notes, “Most of her [southern] neighbors burned letters from their husbands and scrapbooks that held pictures of smiling, cocky young men headed off for war, fearing they somehow could be used by Hanoi’s cadre as incriminating evidence. Le kept hers, hidden at the back of a kitchen cabinet and secured in a plastic bag. She did not know where Hai fell, or how he died, or if he received a proper Buddhist burial. She would like to have searched for his remains, she said, but that would require money for travel and food, so she had put the thought out of her mind” (103). This was very reminiscent of the Cold War, especially the stories of neighbors telling on neighbors and then receiving rewards. The war was continuing. After all, the northern soldiers and families didn’t have to worry as much about such retribution; northern families could proudly display pictures of their families while southern families were forced to burn their memories.
Wars, and peace treaties, hardly end with peace. Vietnam, in this sense, is a template for similar wars and we can see similar “peace” treaties that have been signed around the world that sounded great for politicians, but left the local population in a state of fear and victimhood. As Dr. Duong Quynh Hoa mentioned, she still felt that the war had continued all the way up to the time she was asked in the early 1990s. Canh expands on this point specifically, “Foreign observers, even some who formerly favored an NLF victory, have been appalled by the extent of the northerners’ takeover. Thus Nariko Sugano, a procommunist Japanese journalist who had often visited Vietnam, including the ‘liberated’ (NLF-occupied) zone during the war, reported in quite unfavorable terms after a postwar visit in April 1979.
Though unification has been completed, South Vietnam bears the characteristics of a country dominated by North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese people are so strictly controlled and so oppressed that they cannot rise up against the Hanoi regime… I have witnessed [next] the excessive impoverishment of the South Vietnamese people. I saw North Vietnamese cadres take bribes and then let innocent people flee the regime… (14).
Many sources have been used, many of which were also favorable to the north Vietnamese yet the atrocities that the north had committed specifically against the south were noted numerous times. To assume everything had been coincidental or that it was simply rebuilding a nation after a long, protracted war is either intellectually dishonest or hasn’t been researched.
At the same time, we must also understand that one government must be recognized. In this way, we can understand why the north Vietnamese were so harsh so suddenly against the South Vietnamese. The south had been conquered. The south was and would’ve been considered a distinctly different nation with some cultural ties to North Vietnam had the nation been split in two as on the Korean peninsula. But in the case of Vietnam, there would’ve been a deeper cultural divide.
There is a sad tale of the day the Americans left as there were some South Vietnamese who understood the ramifications. While the war hadn’t been directly lost yet, there wasn’t a great chance South Vietnam could win the war, let alone hold off the advances of the North without outside help. Reporter Keyes Beech wrote, A Reporter Flees Saigon: April 1975, which was collected in Reporting Vietnam, “‘I [a South Vietnamese woman] have worked for the United States government for 10 years,’ she said, ‘but you do not trust me and I do not trust you. Even if we do get to Tan Son Nhut, they wouldn’t let me on the plane.’ She was right, of course.
“‘I am going home and poison myself,’ she said. I didn’t say anything because there was nothing to say” (742). The morale among the South Vietnamese had been low for decades. They had been mistreated by the French and they were ignored by the Americans. At the same time, they were no longer fighting for liberty, they weren’t fighting for freedom, and they weren’t fighting for any distinct reason aside from preventing the communists from overrunning their region. But after years of fighting, this wasn’t enough to encourage the south to muster itself into a proper military. Part of this is because South Vietnam was managed by corruption and dictators who paid lip service to the United States, autocrats who were installed simply because they were anti-communist.
This isn’t South Vietnam’s personal story. It is a story that has been replicated repeatedly throughout history. This is especially noticeable in modern history as more reporting and more words are spent on the blood of others. Honest or dishonest, we can parse them and fit them together in order to discover the truth. After the Vietnam War, everyone had wanted to forget Vietnam: the Soviets, the Chinese, the Americans and even the South Vietnamese. All were willing to abandon it for the next flash point such as Afghanistan (the Soviets), Iran and Iraq, and China’s attack on democratic protesters (Tiananmen Square). South Vietnam was on its own and would be for decades. It would be forgotten. It would be destroyed. Why should puppets of another regime, neo-colonialists by any other name, why should they be remembered at all? It is little wonder the Vietnamese woman went home to poison herself. After all we’ve learned throughout this document, what sort of future lied ahead for her?
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