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October 03, 2005



Maybe now that the people of Vietnam have actually experienced communism they won't be such great fans of it any more.

Kind of like if you really, really wanted to try garlic flavored ice-cream, since you were convinced it was going to be wonderful.. so you signed a contract to eat nothing but that for thirty years. Now you really feel like a nice, juicy, democratic steak...

Frank Warner

Interesting metaphors. But I don't think it takes anyone 30 years to figure out dictatorship tastes like crap. It's just that the dictator won't let you say so.


Well, please correct me if I am wrong, but at the time of the Viet Nam (Vietnam? Never sure how to spell it) war there was significant support amongst the residents (especially in the north, obviously, but also in the south it seems) for the communists. I believe this was tied in heavily to Ho Chi Minh who was something of a hero to the people.

I'm too young to remember it and I'm not sure of the accuracy of my information so maybe I'm over-emphasising the support that the communists had. I'm just not sure...

However, I suspect that this was an example of what usually happens with communism, that it sounds wonderful, but the reality turns out to be very different. However, by the time that's apparent (within a few years after the takeover I imagine) - when people realize that it isn't delivering what was promised - it's a bit hard to switch back because they no longer have a choice. Either that, or there's so much brain washing going on (lack of external media, etc.) that they don't realize how bad they have it.

So yes, the problem is, by the time they want to get out, they're not allowed to any more.

Communism has failed in the USSR, North Korea, China (who are definitely not communists any more, they're basically dictatorial capitalists). Why do people continue to think it's better than democracies? It seems to fly in the face of common sense...

Frank Warner


Very few South Vietnamese wanted a Communist government, and even these were misled to believe the Communists were committed to freedom.

The North Vietnamese only once had a choice in the matter of dictatorship versus democracy. In 1954 and 1955, when Vietnam was split, the North Vietnamese had a short period to vote with their feet. At that time, about 500,000 North Vietnamese (from a nation of 11 million) fled into South Vietnam. About 50,000 South Vietnamese moved North with the Viet Minh, South Vietnamese Communists.

Ho Chi Minh himself had some popularity throughout Vietnam for opposing the Japanese during World War II, but his totalitarian tendencies always were suspect. He was famous for quoting Jefferson's "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" phrase in 1945, but he never allowed a day of liberty in North Vietnam.

"Uncle Ho" died in 1969, six years before the war ended. He had never been elected leader of North Vietnam.

The Viet Cong, successors to the Viet Minh, were the South Vietnamese who religiously swallowed the Communist propaganda and battled the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government. But this group of guerillas was a small minority. And as fate would have it, when the North Vietnamese army finally defeated the South Vietnamese army in 1975, the North Vietnamese gave their Viet Cong "allies" almost no voice in the newly expanded dictatorship. The Viet Cong were among the first to taste the political diet of dung in the greater Vietnamese police state.

A little more background: South Vietnam was predominantly Buddhist, but the government for too long was predominantly Catholic. Buddhists and Catholics both hated Communism, but in the early 1960s, they made the mistake of bickering among themselves, dividing and weakening South Vietnamese resolve against a North Vietnamese police state that allowed no dissent.

Under American pressure, the South Vietnamese brought some Buddhists into the government. The South Vietnamese also twice held presidential elections, imperfect as they were, during the chaos of the U.S. phase of the Vietnam War.

The North Vietnamese Communists never held an election, before, during or after the U.S. Vietnam War. So after 1955, the North Vietnamese people never had a choice of rulers. They were trapped. Once the totalitarian institutions were in place, they had no escape.

In the U.S. phase of the Vietnam War (most active from 1964 to 1973), the North Vietnamese repeatedly denied they had any troops in South Vietnam. They told the world that South Vietnam’s home-grown Viet Cong were the ones doing all the killings of South Vietnamese and U.S. troops for the Communist dream.

In the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the Hanoi government in North Vietnam promised in writing to stop the fighting and to allow internationally supervised free elections in South Vietnam if the U.S. withdrew its forces. The U.S. withdrew and, two years later, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon. Thirty-two years later: still no elections.

South Vietnam didn’t join the police state voluntarily. South Vietnam joined the police state because the North Vietnamese Communists lied, cheated and murdered until the South Vietnamese surrendered.


Wow, the behaviour of the North Vietnamese regime sounds very familiar. Kind of like that guy. You know the one, who's really fond of Doritos? I seem to remember he invaded his neighbour to the south and then went on to break ceasefire agreements.

Thanks for the info. This seems reasonable. It's not quite compatible with the "hollywood" image of Vietnam but I'm not terribly surprised, considering how much they get wrong.

I looked up Vietnam's GDP in 2004, 160/232. Below Cuba and just above Bolivia and Pakistan. I suspect they were doing a lot better than that circa 1960.

Frank Warner

Vietnam will come around, I think. We're trying the gentle nudging now. We tell them nice things (how lovely that you like education) and softly mix in the criticisms (could you let Pham out of prison, please?).

I hope the strategy works. If it does, it would bring all of Vietnam the peace, prosperity and freedom it has long deserved.


I think you may be right. Let's hope so for their sake.

jj mollo

If we had supported our ally Ho Chi Minh after WWII, rather than letting the French loose on Vietnam, if we had done some nation-building, encouraged elections and the rule of law, could Vietnam have been a different place? Could we have coopted the communist impulse toward totalitarianism by killing them with kindness? A mini-Marshall plan for the east?

Frank Warner

I don't know if the U.S. let the French loose on Vietnam. We certainly discouraged the French from re-establishing Indochina as a colony, but we didn't mind if they opposed the Communists.

Keep in mind that, even in France, the U.S. made a conscious decision after World War II to bypass the Communists and hand all power to clearly democratic forces. We didn't want to have to liberate France all over again.

There really was a Communist Party with no interest in democracy. Ho Chi Minh was in it.

You can make an argument that the mini-Marshall Plan for South Vietnam did happen, basically between 1959 and 1963, when South Vietnam was fairly calm and North Vietnam had a chance to show its democratic spirit simply by holding an election.

Unfortunately, as we started sending aid to the South, the North started infiltrating the South with troops, guns and an ideology of repression.

Then the Buddhist monks started setting themselves on fire in South Vietnam, and President Diem's Catholic sister-in-law Madame Ngu made fun of these dying Buddhists in ways that offended everyone.

This is when the U.S. intervened or interfered (take your pick). JFK said, OK, time to remove Diem. JFK had a point. But the shakeup only shook up South Vietnam, and North Vietnam saw a wounded prey.


You should probably post the information you have put above as a seperate entry, if you haven't already done so in the past. I'm sure people would be interested to read it. Thanks for clarifying.

Frank Warner

Good idea, Nicholas. I will move much of this stuff out, and make it a separate post.

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