Contents Wade's Vision Quest Journal Prev     Next 

The American War

"Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why."
Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson

I want to talk a bit about the war here, but don't want the whole narrative focused on it, so I decided to put everything I have to say in this separate page. If you don't want to read about it, just move on.

Fair warning: This page is not easy reading, or all that pleasant either. I debated with myself long and hard about whether I even wanted to include it. The war is long over, and it's high time to move on. Very little of my visit had anything other than a remote connection to the war, and most of the things that ultimately moved me were completely unrelated to it. Most of the Vietnamese people give it very little thought at all. In the end though, I believe I have learned a few things of some value through a lot of study and thought, and I feel an obligation to try to pass on a tiny bit of what I learned in the hopes that it may have a small effect the next time such an event comes up. It does not matter if you agree or disagree with me. What is important is that average people on the street think about what our leaders are saying and doing, and make an effort to keep them on the right track. If you're "right track" is different from mine, that's good. That's how democracy works.

In a nutshell, my opinion is that the war was 100% wrong from beginning to end. The U.S. had no moral, legal, or ethical right to be involved in Southeast Asia in the first place. Even if you are willing to concede that communism had to be stopped, and stopping it was worth any price; the execution of the war was done so poorly that there was never the slightest chance of winning. Not only that, the decision makers that got us into the war were warned in advance that they wouldn't win by people who had been there. I've studied it long enough to be convinced I understand what drove otherwise intelligent and capable men to make completely irrational decisions.

I don't want this to be taken as a blanket criticism of American, Australian and Korean Servicemen and women that served here. Most of them had no real choice in the matter, no idea what the war was about, and were systematically lied to for the entire process by the American Government, and the U.S. military.

I'd like to explain my conclusions and the lessons I believe I've learned from a study of history, because it is important to understand history's mistakes if you don't want to repeat them.

Effects of The War

Here is the net result of the war:


So how did America come to be involved in such a boondoggle?  It takes a while to get to the bottom of that question, but it is perfectly answerable and I'll attempt to do so. In my opinion, the reasons basically boil down to this:

  1. American doesn't really have any moral principles when it comes to foreign policy, other than trying to do what's best for America. This was readily demonstrated long before Vietnam in the Philippines, China, Cuba and lots of other places in the world. The French were in control of Vietnam for the last hundred years before World War II, and they were absolutely nasty and brutal colonial masters. After World War II, the French wanted their colony back, and the U.S. spent 8 years trying to help them before the American part of the war.
  2. The decision makers involved in all the steps leading up to the war were shaped by their generation. World War II was the biggest mass of destruction in human history, killing over 50 million people. It followed right on the heals of World War I, which had fewer people involved but was an even bigger bloodbath for those that were. The European part of World War II was almost entirely driven by a system of political thought called Fascism, along with a bunch of exceedingly stupid decisions made by the allies at the end of World War I. Fascism was correctly seen as a cancer of political thought. Most of the decision makers involved with Vietnam lived through World War II, and saw Communism as just another form of political cancer like Fascism, and thought it had to be stopped before it got out of hand.
  3. Americans in the 50s were obsessed with Communism. You can probably remember reading about the famous McCarthy "trials" and blacklists of the 50s. One little known result of the entire Communist purge fiasco of the time is that nearly every person in government service that actually knew anything about Asia was branded a communist and drummed out of the service. The policy makers ended up making lots of decisions with no advisors around them that knew squat about Asia or communism.
  4. Every American president from Truman through Nixon was presented with a set of unappealing choices in the region. Every president made a set of choices from among the list of what was politically available to them. Nearly every one of those choices limited the choices that could be made at the next decision point, and also limited the choices that the next president could make. Lyndon Johnson tends to get most of the blame for the escalation of the war. He deserves his fair share of it, but I think Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy should get their fair share of the blame, which is considerable.
  5. American policy makers had no idea to what lengths people would go to win. The basic strategy for all anti-communist wars of the time was that if you killed enough communists, they would eventually either give up or run out of supporters. That basic premise is what makes the whole conduct of the war seem so strange. The U.S. would fight a huge battle to take over hill 478, and then pull out the next day. This seems completely strange, until you understand that the U.S. was just trying to kill people in big numbers. Hill 478 wasn't important, but engaging the enemy and killing a bunch of them was. The problem with this idea is that the Vietnamese leaders were willing to pay a price that the Americans could not believe they would be willing to pay. Most of the Vietnamese didn't know how high the price was because the communists lied about it even more than the Americans did, but they kept coming back for more.

Let me expand on each of those points.

Moral Compass

I've made the assertion that America doesn't really have any moral principles in foreign policy, and I think I can stand by that. Let me give just a few examples. Some will demonstrate that things aren't any different now than they've ever been.

These are just a few examples, but I think you can get my drift. America likes to talk the talk, but when it comes right down to it, we don't like to walk the walk.

To add insult to injury, the definition of what's "best for America" frequently comes down to what's best for the political aspirations of the president. A lot of presidents decisions are frequently based on what's happening with the upcoming election, and most presidents have a big enough ego to justify nearly any action by saying it's more important for them to be in charge and do what's right, than to allow their political enemies to be in charge. Presidents will go to nearly any length to stay in power, and it's fairly easy to see how a lot of earth-shattering decisions are made purely on the basis of American electoral politics.


The one part of the war motivation that makes complete sense is the thinking that Communism was something that had to be stopped. Americans went crazy over anti-communism in the 50s, and most of the results were very bad. However, one thing that you can't argue with is the fact that communism sucks as a form of government, and from all outward signs it was every bit as bad as Fascism.

At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union promptly started swallowing up small countries in Eastern Europe at an alarming rate, and being swallowed up by the Soviet Union was a horrific experience for those countries. Russia was doing exactly what Nazi Germany had done before the war. At about the same time a different bunch of communists took control of China. The communists seemed to be swallowing up the globe at an alarming rate. Within a period of 15 years, an area more than four times the size of the U.S. (Russia alone is double the size of the U.S.), went over to communism. This included the first and third most populous countries in the world (China, India, Russia are the top 3). The size of the communist takeover was staggering, particularly since it seemed to be repeating what happened with Fascism, and Communism openly said one of it's principle aims was to make the entire world communist. Keep in mind, that Germany is about the size of Wisconsin, and it ultimately took the deaths of well over 20 million people to stop them.

The communists also proved to be every bit as mean, nasty and domineering as the Fascists were. Stalin has managed to escape being branded as one of history's worst villains only because he happened to live at the same time as Hitler. Stalin was directly responsible for millions of deaths. The Russian government of the World War II era was nearly indistinguishable from the Nazis. The rhetoric that they used to justify their actions was entirely different, and they picked entirely different groups of people to kill in large numbers, but if you step back and look at what really went on, one had lots of reasons to become alarmed. The same thing applied to the Chinese communists, and communism was catching on at an alarming rate in lots of other places. Belligerence and open hostility were in plentiful supply. During the Kennedy administration alone, we came within inches of a shooting war with a nuclear armed adversary at least twice. In addition to this, nuclear weapons had now been introduced to the world, and the communists had them. War doctrine in the 50s included the use of nuclear weapons, and in fact when president Kennedy appeared on the scene he found that most of Eisenhower's war plans included the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam.

Unfortunately, Americans wigged out completely over communism and started looking under every rock for a communist. They went from a period of complete indifference and isolationism before WWII, to a period where everyone that didn't look and think the way they thought one should look and think was branded a communist and a threat. They weren't worried just about external communists, but seemed to think communists could take over here as well. This hysteria was so widespread, that the very best way to win an election in the 50s was to be more anti-communist than your opponent. McCarthy was the worst example of political opportunism, but a lot of the congress owed their position to a rabid stance on anti-communism.

This fear of communism was one of the most misguided thought processes in American history, because it ignores one very basic but essential fact. The only thing about the western democracies that really separates us from the communists and other political systems of the world is our tolerance. The thing that makes us strongest is the thing that appears to make us weakest. The fact that we allow communists and other supposed enemies to live, work and put forth their opinions makes America stronger, not weaker. The attempts to stamp out other ways of thinking are in essence completely un-American. So the people that were zealously guarding the "American Way Of Life", were actually in effect tearing that way of life down  because they don't understand the key components of that way of life.

This is the most important lesson I have to convey in this little page, because the same thing happens as we speak. Any time you hear extreme rhetoric from either the right or the left, remember this lesson. Any time you hear a right wing Republican talking about "Family Values" or proposing "anti-flag burning" amendments; or any time you hear a left wing Democrat branding all republicans as "Nazis" or "Puppets of Big Business", keep this in mind. In most cases, anyone that takes an extreme position is almost certainly wrong. The world requires balance, and the only way to achieve balance is to let lots of different people with lots of different ways of thinking have their say. Out of the dialog, you generally get some kind of balance. Let anyone shut up some of the people, and things start down the path to intolerance, and that path always has a bad ending. Democracy is not easy. It takes calm and rational people, it takes tolerance, and it requires all of us to understand other people's point of view and learn something from it.

The Slippery Slope

A slippery slope is something that once you step on it you start sliding down, and the farther you slide, the faster you're going and the harder it is to get off, and the worse the consequences of getting off. The only way to get out of a slippery slope without injury is to not get on it in the first place, or once on it get off as soon as possible. This war was a classic example of a slippery slope.

At the end of WWII, America was obsessed with rebuilding Europe and the other areas that were destroyed by the war, as well as fighting communism. The rebuilding was key, because the leaders of the time had finally learned a very hard lesson. At the end of World War I, the allies forced Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty made Germany accept all of the blame for the war, and to take on a staggering debt to pay reparations to the U.S. and the rest of Europe. This seems hard to believe, since just about all historians agree that WWI was without question the fault of everyone involved. Whether the treaty was right or wrong though, the reparations requirements for a country that was a big pile of rubble created a lot of resentment. Imagine your whole country being nearly destroyed, a very sizable percentage of your population being dead, and being told you would be paying a large percentage of your meager income for the next 50 years to compensate the people that just beat you for their trouble. This treaty created the climate that allowed hate mongers like Hitler and Mussolini to take power, and could be considered one of the most compelling causes of WWII.

At the end of WWII, the allies finally understood that and came to the conclusion that the way to make Germany and Japan less of a threat was to rebuild them and turn them into trusted allies. In Europe, the biggest part of this was called the Marshall Plan, which called for the allies, and particularly the U.S. which got by relatively light in the war, to spend a huge amount of money rebuilding the destroyed areas. Note that I said relatively light in the war. We still lost half a million men in the war (ten times what we lost in Vietnam), and that was considered light. Ironically, it turns out that the best way to get a lot of help from the U.S. is to be beaten by them in a war. The U.S. is a very gracious winner, but an extremely sore loser.

During the war, the Vietnamese were one of the very few groups anywhere in the Pacific that put up any real resistance against the Japanese. The Japanese whipped the French in Vietnam without breaking a sweat. Early in the war, they took control of the country easily, but with the collaboration of the Vichy French left the French in charge of the administration. Just before the end of the war, the Japanese saw the writing on the wall, jailed or killed all of the French administrators they could find, and declared Vietnam independent. During all this time, the Vietnamese Communist Party under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh built up a very popular and well organized group throughout Vietnam called the Viet Minh. They worked with the OSS (precursor to the CIA) to fight the Japanese in the mountains of Southern China, and also rescued downed American airmen in the region. At the end of the war, the Viet Minh quickly took over the north, and declared independence using some verbiage borrowed from the American Declaration of Independence.

The French didn't think Vietnamese independence was such a good idea. They didn't like it partly because it was obviously going to be communist because the communists were the only ones that had any real political organization or popular support, and partly because they wanted their colony back. They still thought that they owned all the "French" properties in the country, despite the fact that most had actually been built by Vietnamese people.

So, the French went to war to try to take the country back, and this is the first place where the slippery slope really started for the Americans. The French wanted to take their colony back as a "Free State Within The French Union", whatever that means. At the time, the French were spinning their actions as "trying to teach the Vietnamese how to govern themselves", which I read "teach them how to not be communists". They managed to convince Harry Truman that it was important for them to take control to slow down communism's spread. Most leaders of the time put a lot of stock in Eisenhower's "Domino Theory", which said that if Vietnam fell, then Laos and Cambodia would be next, followed by Thailand and Burma, and on to the rest of the region. Truman agreed and pushed through an aid package that was used to finance the French military effort. Once that was done and the French were committed to trying to take the place back, the U.S. kept increasing aid until it covered over 80% of the French effort's costs, and a very sizable percentage of the weapons being delivered to the French troops were directly from the U.S. During this period, France was America's single biggest recipient of foreign aid, and it was all being used in Vietnam.

In 1954, after eight years of fighting, the Viet Minh soundly whipped the French in the battle of Dien Bien Phu, basically by doing several things that the French considered to be "impossible", such as moving heavy artillery into mountainous regions using bicycles, farm animals and muscle power. The French quickly collapsed, and the Viet Minh took effective control of the North and a sizable portion of the south. A peace conference in Geneva split the country at the 17th parallel, and that parallel was established as a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The north was officially named North Vietnam, under the temporary control of the communists. The south was officially named South Vietnam, and was to remain under the control of the French until 1956 when free elections would reunite the country under one popularly elected government. The Viet Minh more or less abided by the Geneva agreement, and in fact voluntarily gave up part of the country that they already controlled to make a framework for the elections. The Viet Minh ruled in the north of Vietnam, while the French maintained a puppet regime in the south, under Bao Dai, who was the last of the hereditary kings of Vietnam.

In South Vietnam, the Americans pressured Bao Dai, to abdicate and appoint Ngo Dien Diem as Prime Minister on his way out, and while they were at it crafted a treaty that allowed the French to bug out of their responsibility for maintaining order in the south and assuring free elections in 1956. Diem was an odd choice at best. He was a Catholic coming to rule a predominantly Buddhist country where religious tensions were already running high. He had been out of the country for over 20 years. He had no experience at government whatsoever, no political base, and was totally inept. He was supposed to remain in control until the elections of 1956.

Between 1954 and 56, it became readily apparent that the communists would easily win the election in 1956, since they were extremely popular and were in fact the only ones with any effective political organization. It's not too hard to see how they got converts. The communists engaged in a huge political campaign, including a literacy campaign that taught thousands to read and write. The communists had a political ideology that at least sounded like it made sense, and all the Vietnamese people had ever seen of the western democracies were the French and the Americans, both of whom treated them terribly and backed out on their word at every chance. The other big reason the communists had a strong political organization is that they were the only ones working at it. The Americans were arrogant enough to think they could make political stability by force. So right or wrong, the communists were picking up supporters left and right, and would probably easily have won an election in 1956. Even if they couldn't have won a true free and fair election, they controlled the north absolutely and could have easily won an overall election even if the south voted unanimously against them. On the other hand, the Diem regime in South Vietnam was becoming increasingly unpopular because he was a power-hungry wacko. He went out of his way to destroy basic freedoms and generally piss the population off. Nearly all power was concentrated in the hands of his Catholic cronies because they were the only people he trusted. Buddhists (the majority, remember), and other religious groups were completely excluded from the power structure, and in fact were systematically persecuted. In practice, the Diem regime wasn't much if any better than the French had been. Arbitrary arrests, torture, execution without trials and wiping out or relocating entire villages was common (as it would be throughout the war).

The Diem regime blocked the elections of 1956, and the U.S. supported this position. This means that the U.S. was a) backing a repressive and unpopular regime, b) stopping an election because it wouldn't like the results, and c) directly going contrary to an agreement that were involved in crafting. Once the U.S. had done this, they had to stick with Diem because they had bet so much of their credibility on his regime, and in the global superpower game credibility is everything. When his regime was unable to even bring stability to the area, the U.S. had to start increasing the aid in an effort to try to regain control. This went on and on, and established a pattern that lasted until the end of the war.

After installing Diem, at every single decision point nobody stopped to consider if what they were doing was right, or even likely to succeed. At ever point, every leader chose to escalate.

I've mostly ostracized American presidents and their administrations here, where I believe the vast majority of the blame lies, but let me say a bit about the congress as well. They basically either fueled the fire with inflamed anti-communist rhetoric, or rolled over and let the president do whatever he wants. Neither interpretation makes them look very good. Our constitution explicitly says that Congress has the power to declare war. With the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, congress gave Lyndon Johnson enough authority to deploy six million men to fight, and never did get around to declaring war. On top of that, they kept on authorizing the expenditures necessary to keep it going, but never lifted a finger to control it or to follow their constitutional responsibility. Congress is supposed to be the deliberative and slow moving body that keeps a bit of sanity on rashly acting executive branches. War is serious business, and the U.S. is supposed to think long and hard before engaging in it, and this is one of the mechanisms built into the constitution to help insure this. In this case, the congress completely dropped the ball, and continued to drop it for years and years. The best I can say about it is that it finally pulled the money plug and brought the whole show to a halt, but that was obviously too little too late.

While I'm at it, let me lay the proper amount of responsibility on the American Public. All of the leaders I mentioned above were elected in free and fair elections. In the 50s and 60s, the public bought the anti-communist rhetoric hook, line and sinker and being a fervent anti-communist was the one sure way to win an election. It was even working for Reagan as late as the 80s. The American public finally clued in and put pressure on to stop the war, but it took a long long time for them to come around to it, and a very large percentage never actually opposed the war on any grounds other than the fact that we obviously couldn't win. There's a good lesson to learn there.

Unrealistic Expectations & Bad Assumptions

I've said that the U.S. had no idea to what lengths the Vietnamese would go to win. I think the results speak for themselves, but there were a few baseline assumptions that were never seriously questioned that should be explored.

The other thing that bears mentioning is that there was never a coherant strategy for winning the war, and it turned into a huge turf battle for the agencies working there. The Army, Navy, Air Force, CIA, Marines and State Department all spent inordinate amounts of time working to cross purposes. The military made Vietnam the career vehicle of choice, and anyone that had to advance in the military had to have some active duty there. Most people only came into the country for a year, so they spent the first few months thrashing around looking for the coffee machine, and the next six months undoing whatever their predecessor had done to try to leave their own mark. All of this was counterproductive. It was pointed out to the administrations repeatedly, with no effect.

The Other Side Of The Story

After having said all that, you may feel like I'm a big communist supporter. You would be wrong. The current communist government in Vietnam is nothing but a dictatorship with a thin veneer of communist rhetoric and hypocrisy on top, and it's a distinctly unhealthy government for the Vietnamese people. It was no different during the war. Here are a few things worth thinking about.

These are just a few examples, to make my point. People like contests or wars to have a good guy and a bad guy. History rarely works out that way, because you frequently find out you have two or more bad guys. In World War I, you had over 10 bad guys, and no real good guys at all (sorry guys, the U.S. wasn't a good guy there either). Sometimes it's even difficult to tell who's the bad guy and who's the really bad guy. That's the case here. The communists are not a particularly good force for Vietnam, except for the fact that they got the foreigners out, which counts for a lot and I think ultimately will be good for the country.

A Contrary Viewpoint

This page has been a bit one sided, so let me say that there are serious people that have studied the war more than I have that would fervently disagree with me. I've given my perspective, so let me give you an overview of what the other groups believe. There are quite a number of books coming out these days that interpret the war much differently from the way I do. To be fair, I'm not going to refute these. I'll simply give you the contrary viewpoints and let you make up your own mind. At the bottom line the counter arguments come to this:

Common Myths About The War

The military knew how to win the war, but the civilian leaders wouldn't listen to them.

False. First off, "the military" did not have a consensus about how to prosecute the war. The Joint Chiefs Of Staff was a boiling hotbed of inter-service rivalries, personal vendettas, and struggles for power and budget. For those in the military that weren't caught up in this ego game, there were serious disagreements about how to go about prosecuting the war, or even if it was winnable at all.

On the other hand, there were no clearly defined objectives for the war. A 1974 survey of the generals involved found over 70% of them did not know what their real long term objective in Vietnam was. So there was never any clear global strategy form the civilian leaders, and the military never provided the civilian leadership with a military strategy.

In the end, it was a failure of both.

America could have won the war if the military hadn't had their hands tied behind their backs.

Again, false. The only three tools in the American Military Toolbox that were never used were 1) Nuclear Weapons, 2) Good Judgment and 3) Common Sense. For the most part, the military got everything it ever asked for form the administrations and the congress, and continually failed to deliver the promised results. The same can be said for the CIA, the State Department and all of the others trying to prosecute the war.

The 1968 Tet Offensive was a major communist victory:

This one only partially true. Militarily, the Tet Offensive was a major failure. The NVA invested a huge amount of resources in it, and expected great results. Within months though, the U.S. recaptured all the ground it lost, and nearly wiped out the Viet Cong. From that point forward the war became much less of a guerilla war against the Viet Cong, and more of a set piece war with the North Vietnamese Army. One can make a pretty good case that after the VC were wiped out at Tet, the war became the type of battle that the U.S. actually could have won.

On the other hand, the Tet Offensive seems to have been a wake-up call for both the administration and for American public opinion that these guys were serious. Every president from Johnson forward had been giving steady progress reports saying how the VC were nearly defeated, and having such a big event come out of the blue brought this to the public's perceptions.

The fighting was all done by Vietnamese troops, and other communist countries only supplied materiel:

Not true. At one time China had 170,000 troops in Vietnam, and Russian crews routinely shot down American planes. One little known aspect of HCM's leadership was that one of his main strengths was as a negotiator between the Chinese and Russian communists, both of whom didn't like each other all that much. He seems to have been quite good at playing them off against each other to get what he wanted.

The Media Lost the War

Vietnam was the first war where the media had good real-time access to what was going on. Censorship by the U.S. was pretty lax, and the media had a good chance to report just about anything that they wanted. Some conclude that the war was lost because the media was one-sided (anti-war) and that helped drive public opinion against the war, which ultimately ended it. There are so many things wrong with this theory it's hard to characterize them, and you probably know most of them by now. The one thing that bears mentioning though, is that the media then and today tends to follow public opinion, not lead it. The most you could possibly lay blame on the media for was telling it like it is, and for the most part they didn't even do that.

The average age of the American combat soldier was 19.

It appears to be closer to 23.

American soldiers were crazed, drug abusing, suicidal wackos.
They didn't fight as much as WWII soldiers
They committed suicide in large numbers after the war.

Drug use for soldiers appears to be about the same as it was for the general population in the same age group. Suicide rates were elevated for the first five years after the war, but decreased below the population average after that. Helicopters increased mobility considerably, so GIs spent a lot more days per year fighting than their WWII counterparts. They left sooner, but fought more while in country.

Vietnam and America Today

After all that history, I fully expected to run into a lot of Vietnamese that hated Americans. I was surprised to find that isn't the case at all as far as I could tell, and in fact most of the Vietnamese I met seemed to love Americans. I had any number of people that I ran into casually pull out a wallet and show me some old ID card from when they worked for the Americans, or tell me about how they worked for the Americans during the war. I ran into people that worked for the Americans and had to spend time in "reeducation camps", but still seem to like the U.S. I even had several conversations with people that were directly involved in the war, and suffered terribly because of it, but never did find anyone that would say anything bad to me about the American involvement. For example, I talked to a woman at a rest stop who's husband died a year or two after he came out of the "reeducation camp", apparently because he was denied treatment because of his involvement with the Americans. She still to this day doesn't really blame the Americans for that, and blames the Communists more.

Most of the Vietnamese people don't particularly like their government, and I ran into a few that actively hate it. Most seem to just hope that it will stay out of their way, or don't think much about it at all. They try to pay the appropriate bribes to stay out of trouble and make a living, and don't think too much about it beyond that. The standard of living is slowly going up, so they aren't in too much of a hurry to change things.

One other thing to keep in mind is this:  At the end of the war, the population of Vietnam was around 30 million. Now, it's around 80 million. That means that over 60 percent of the population wasn't even born before the end of the war.   Add in the years for growing up, and you would have to conclude that somewhere over 70 percent of the population have no memories of the war at all. To them, it's just one in a very long series of wars going back 2000 years, and it's not even the most recent. For most of the younger Vietnamese people that I talked to, it was more or less like talking to the average American about World War II, or today's high school kids about Vietnam. It was just something that their parents did, and not all that relevant to today's world.

Relations between the U.S. and Vietnam have been normalized, and Vietnam had an official visit from President Clinton last year. I take that as a good sign that the past is being put behind us where it belongs. I still think the U.S. was a whining crybaby sore loser for way too long, but at least it's over now. We need to learn the valuable lessons of the past, but not become so obsessed with them that we don't pay attention to the present. We can't undo the past, but we can change the future.

In the early 90s there was a lot of foreign investment going into Vietnam from America, Europe, Japan and other places. The Asian Economic Crisis of the late 90s chopped a lot of that off all over Asia, and particularly in Vietnam. A lot of companies also pulled out because the corruption level is just too high and unpredictable to stomach. Corporations generally don't mind corruption, but they hate unpredictability. However, no matter how you slice it Vietnam is still a country with a large, literate, well educated, dynamic, hard working and energetic workforce that has a lot of room for economic growth. Some see Vietnam and similar countries in Asia and Africa as kind of a "last frontier" of economic growth. They're the kind of places where big things can happen (good and bad), and both the Vietnamese people and foreign investors will tap that huge store of talent sooner or later.

Last Thoughts

Here is my last thought on the government of Vietnam. There's an old saying that I think applies, although I can't remember the author:

    "Every country has the government it deserves".

I think this applies to Vietnam, and to America as well. Whether you like the communists or not, there are 80 million Vietnamese, and only a few thousand communist party officials, and only a few hundred at the top. There are no foreign powers dictating how things are done, and there is absolutely nothing stopping the Vietnamese people from changing out their government if they want a new one. There are lots of examples they can see in history, and even some bloodless ones. The rules of historical dynamics are being rewritten as we speak. If you don't think so, read about the changes in South Africa over the last 15 years.

I see Vietnam as a dynamic place, where the people are really just starting to recover from nearly 50 years of almost continuous warfare, and they are starting to figure out what their place is going to be in the modern world. I really wish I'd come here five or ten years ago so I could see the changes. I've talked to people that did so, and the changes are huge and very noticeable in both big and small ways.

All in all, I personally think that 20 or 30 years down the road the Vietnamese people will have figured out their place in the world, and that place will be good.

Right after I finished this page, I ran across this comic in a newspaper in Australia. I think it says it all: