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April 30, 2005 4:41 PM   Subscribe

"We are here to hand over to you the power in order to avoid bloodshed." Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the Fall of Saigon.

A secret plan to end the war. After the rewarding the Vietnam war's technocratic architect with the Presidency of the World Bank, after the twin failures of President Nixon's "madman plan", to scare the Soviet Union into concessions over Vietnam out of fear of Nixon's insanity, and of "Vietnamization", turning over responsibility for the war to the South Vietnamese, the North nevertheless won the war.

Disposable helicopters. Operation Frequent Wind, the chaotic evacuation of the American Embassy, brought to a close fifteen years of American hubris. Karl Marx, who got little else right, observed "History repeats itself, the first as tragedy, then as farce."
posted by orthogonality (50 comments total)

 

posted by orthogonality at 4:44 PM on April 30, 2005


That's not the embassy.
posted by keswick at 4:52 PM on April 30, 2005


From Salon.com: "Iraq is not Vietnam"

Iraq more like Chechnya than Vietnam

More differences...
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:05 PM on April 30, 2005


(and before somebody says "who said anything about implying that Vietnam and Iraq are the same", the "farce" link is Iraq.)
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:07 PM on April 30, 2005


Prosperous Southeast Asia proof U.S. didn't fight in vain
"Now, 30 years later, the new "Asian tigers" have standards of living and booming economies that would astonish an old Asia hand like Dulles. Asian prosperity is the wonder of the 21st century and particularly valuable to U.S. trade. In this brilliant company of Asian states, full partners in the global economy, the People's Republic of Vietnam remains mired in irrelevancy. America may have lost a tactical intervention in Vietnam, but the Middle East should be so lucky as to have Iraq turn out to be "another Vietnam."
posted by jenleigh at 5:10 PM on April 30, 2005


I can't think of the Vietcong's victory over the foreign invaders without being reminded of this verse from Kipling's A Pict Song:

Mistletoe killing an oak --
Rats gnawing cables in two --
Moths making holes in a cloak --
How they must love what they do!
Yes -- and we Little Folk too,
We are busy as they --
Working our works out of view --
Watch, and you'll see it some day!
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:21 PM on April 30, 2005


FWIW, my perspective while in Hanoi in the last couple of years was that the younger people (say <40 yrs) are relatively less interested in the war than people from America/Australia & wherever else that was involved. Personally, I avoided all war sites like the plague, just because they hold only minor interest for me. Although there is one neat spot, a little hard to find, where the tail of a B-52 sticks out of a small lake. There's a plaque of course. But the scene is a bit twilight zone-ish.
Vietnam is a very very old country. That war was but a blip. In fact, there 'feels' to be much more official rememberance of victories over the French -- every other week banners were up across the main roads.

The people are much more concerned these days with getting the new-fangled mobile phone and catering to tourists to dwell on the past. I think Americans are very very welcome by all observations.
Obviously the Vietnam war has a giant political perspective in the States that doesn't really resonate in Vietnam. (all IMHO of course)
posted by peacay at 5:23 PM on April 30, 2005


jenleigh-- they may have kicked our butts, and maintained their sovereignty, but their poor! Haw haw! What's dignity and self-determination if you don't have Swiffer and premium dogfood?
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:26 PM on April 30, 2005


and maintained their sovereignty

I think a fair number of South Vietnamese would argue that point. To them being invaded by the communist North was not exactly the heyday for sovreignity. I'm not going to make a huge deal out of it because that wasn't jenleigh's point.

if you don't have Swiffer and premium dogfood?

A good friend of mine (ethnic Vietnamese, born there, moved here when she was 2) was just over there and it's more than a question of Swiffers and dogfood. Indoor plumbing, heat, and even electricity in rural areas.

You can laugh all you want about swiffers and Alpo, but it's pretty easy to forget from your comfortable chair perched in front of a computer that there is still a lot of poverty in the world.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:33 PM on April 30, 2005


there are still around 16 million people, representing about 3.5 million households, without access to electricity
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:41 PM on April 30, 2005


Hanoi is abuzz with pride and excitement this weekend. As an American, I thought that this might be a time when I would be treated with distance or disrespect. Quite the contrary. The Vietnamese here are quite gracious in victory. The vast majority of average citizens never believed the hype about a communist revolution, nor did they believe in the American rhetoric about saving them from communism. They fended off an invasion by an imperial superpower with 10 times their technology. They rock. Let's hope the Iraqis do thee same. Viva la resistance.
posted by squirrel at 6:03 PM on April 30, 2005


Strange - it is the same day as the death of Hitler.
posted by caddis at 6:14 PM on April 30, 2005


This was one of our darkest, yet most uplifting days. No longer could we imagine that we would, had or could win this war. Yet, . . . it was over.

IT WAS OVER!!!!!!!!!

it was over
posted by caddis at 6:20 PM on April 30, 2005


I think most Americans, including those in charge, never understood that Vietnam was about nationalism, not some ideological problem with communism. And it appears many Americans still don't today.

The way we lost that war makes it apparent that a pretty big number of south Vietnamese sided with the north. America was seen as a foreign invader. You don't sacrifice a million people to the war machine, as the Vietnamese did, without having a strong belief in the cause. There wasn't enough of a reality between the north and south Vietnam schism, which was always one of our problems there.

Hence America's failure. The wealth or squalor of Vietnam is beside the point. Any colonialist American would have gladdly traded freedom from Britain for poverty and a chance to be independent. The Vietnamese probably see it no differently.
posted by teece at 6:22 PM on April 30, 2005 [1 favorite]


Thedevil: and of course the "generous" World Bank is offering $220 million in _credit_ to help them update their network ..but wait a minute, maybe the World Bank need not to invest money into Vietnam, let's the corporate world do it as it seems that Vietnam is friggin full of corporate entities (at least 300 according to American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam).

They're certainly there for humanitarian reasons among other reasons, so I have no doubt they could finance implementation of a better energy network..of course to benefit their own factories with consisten supply of energy.

But wait, there's a better way ! Let's put a nice $220 Million debt on the vietnam people ..we'll ask for interests someday somehow...or maybe even better just give them for free !!

(This is absolutely NOT like Iraq , indeed there's no oil or little oil there and the local Communists are as communists as your China ones, pro-forma.)

This way, corporate gets cheaper energy and more profit and the vietnames people gets more access to energy that will be sold to them for a price by companies like the european Hydro of Fortune 500 size. So basically we'll foot the bill of $220 million, corporate will do more profit abroad and the vietnamese will certainly be slightly better. What, you don't want to help the vietnames people, why do you hate them so much ?

Oh don't forget to buy $100 made in vietnam Nike either , it's not like they were in violation of labor law, it's them they're communists not used to good 'ol hard labor for a dime.
posted by elpapacito at 6:32 PM on April 30, 2005


If we all close our eyes and wish real hard Iraq can be a disaster too!
posted by Mick at 7:29 PM on April 30, 2005


sorta OT... the remains of 4 MIA soldiers were identified this week.
posted by pruner at 7:33 PM on April 30, 2005


How long after America lost the war on Vietnamese Communism did Vietnam effectively give up Communism?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:06 PM on April 30, 2005


and of course the "generous" World Bank is offering $220 million in _credit_ to help them update their network

My point was just that there exists poverty and squalor in Vietnam, the world bank link was just the first good cite I found for the electricity statistic. We can have a globalization debate some other time. Or a World Bank talk some other time. I was just challenging the assertion that wealth is all about Alpo and Swiffers.

This way, corporate gets cheaper energy

I think the World Bank link was for rural electricty to households, not urban electricity (which is entirely unrelated).

vietnames people

Vietnamese people.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 8:18 PM on April 30, 2005


jenleigh....

there's nothing like 15 years of war to destroy the institutions, capital, and human ability to maintain an economy for decades...
posted by stratastar at 8:40 PM on April 30, 2005


oh and re Nixon's secret plan to end the war, good ol Novak was floating the same sorts of stories before the election...
posted by stratastar at 8:41 PM on April 30, 2005


After the rewarding the Vietnam war's technocratic architect with the Presidency of the World Bank...

So THAT's where Bush got the idea of handing Wolfie the WB post. But of course we don't want to imply that Iraq is at all like Vietnam, right...
posted by clevershark at 8:57 PM on April 30, 2005


oh and re Nixon's secret plan to end the war, good ol Novak was floating the same sorts of stories before the election...

hehe... it's like they say, "there's no whore like an old whore".
posted by clevershark at 8:58 PM on April 30, 2005


Unrelated thoughts:

For those considering jenleigh's link, it should be noted that it was Vietnam that drove the Khmer Rouge from power, no thanks to that Asian Tiger Thailand, whic aided and abetted Pol Pot's insurgency against the new Cambodian government (rumor has it with help from the United States).

Economic success does not correlate well with the moral highground. See China, People's Republic of.

---------------------------

Hopefully, with Vietnam increasingly embracing globalism, it will be drawn to the twin lights of economic and political freedom.

---------------------------

Let's hope the Iraqis do thee same. Viva la resistance.
posted by squirrel at 9:03 PM EST on April 30


Go to hell.

---------------------------

It's interesting to see the conventional wisdom shift -- the same people saying that we didn't really win in the Gulf in 1991 are saying that we didn't really lose in Vietnam in 1974-5.
posted by Ptrin at 9:00 PM on April 30, 2005


the same people saying that we didn't really win in the Gulf in 1991 are saying that we didn't really lose in Vietnam in 1974-5.

I think it all depends on the context of the question for "did 'we' 'win' in 1991"? It is unquestioned that it was a military victory. Hence, in the context of the military it was a "win". As for political goals, it depends on how you define them. If you think the goal of 1991 was to remove Iraq from Kuwait then the coalition accomplished its goal ("won"). If you think the goal was to remove Saddam then that goal was not accomplished ("lost"). It's tough to use "win"/"lose" as the right frame since nobody wins in a warzone and it's trying to paint things as too black-and-white. If you measure Gulf I by Gulf II (remove Saddam, install peaceful government) then it was a failure. If you measure Gulf I by the stated aims of the UN resolution then it was a success.

Talk about objectives achieved or not.

For example, it's possible (I disagree) to say that Vietnam was a military loss but a political win since it showed the Soviet Union that the US was willing to waste millions of lives trying to stop the spread of communism. I disagree with that analysis, but it proves that there's more to it than "winning" and "losing." Baseball games have a team that wins - warzones have poltical objectives.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 9:30 PM on April 30, 2005


It's always nice to see a post without an agenda.
posted by Cyrano at 10:06 PM on April 30, 2005


Photographer got $100 for evacuation image. This article confirms that the building in question was a CIA apartment building. Famous photo mislabeled for decades.

thedevildancedlightly, it's also possible to discard black-and-white notions of "win" and "loss". In this case, I think it was a net loss -- US morale plummeted, US prestige suffered mightily -- but on the win side, as you note, the USSR shifted away from confrontational strategies for a time (then got dragged into Afghanistan anyway), and on the amoral side, leaving the region a shambles crippled it as a forward operating base for any "domino" games. It's also arguable that the outcome of the war made the rapprochement with China possible, even necessary for China; and it's arguable that that was a key element in the eventual decline and fall of the USSR. One could almost rephrase Brzezinski's infamous comment, although it would obviously be rather simplistic.

That's a bit of a devil's advocate position, though, and I tend toward a more pragmatic point of view that we would have been better off with better defined objectives from the get-go (meaning Indochina). We came very close to having Ho as a lefty ally, a kind of Asian Tito. That was a horribly missed opportunity.
posted by dhartung at 10:42 PM on April 30, 2005


Any colonialist American would have gladdly traded freedom from Britain for poverty and a chance to be independent.

At least 20% of free American colonists were Tories -- loyal to the Crown. Slaves made up a significant number of Tories since they were promised freedom for fighting for restoration of royal authority.
posted by forrest at 10:58 PM on April 30, 2005


it's also possible to discard black-and-white notions of "win" and "loss"

Totally in agreement with you. You phrased it far more eloquently than I could have.

I was just questioing the assertion that people are claiming that we "won" Vietnam and "lost" Gulf I. It's possible that people are making those statements, but it seems like they would be making them in different contexts. To portray a group as claming that we unquestionably won Vietnam and unquestionably lost Gulf I is an over-simplification of any rational position.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:14 PM on April 30, 2005


Karl Marx, who got little else right

even as a generic disclaimer or mccarthyite credo, this blab will not do. even if you sleep with a copy of the wealth of nations under your pillow, you ought to give a bit more credit to a man whose writings continue to send ripples through every field of discourse, from economics to art history.
posted by ori at 12:09 AM on May 1, 2005


You don't sacrifice a million people to the war machine, as the Vietnamese did, without having a strong belief in the cause.

Damn straight. And the actually number is 3 million. America killed 3 million people in Vietnam over a ten year period. Genocide much? In spite of this, they won; I admire them for that. I have friends and family who served in the war, and many vets feel the same way I do. It's not so much about my love or anger toward the men who fought the war, it's about my anger at the goverment who misused their service. legitimate armis can be misused. That last link in the FPP shows as much.
posted by squirrel at 12:12 AM on May 1, 2005


Spell check much?
posted by squirrel at 12:14 AM on May 1, 2005


Genocide much

It's only genocide if the goal is to wipe out a race. Given that Vietnam was not divided by ethnic group (like Iraq is), it can't be the case.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:38 AM on May 1, 2005


thedevildancedlightly writes " It's only genocide if the goal is to wipe out a race. Given that Vietnam was not divided by ethnic group (like Iraq is), it can't be the case."

thedevildancedlightly writes "Too bad the Geneva Conventions only apply to an enemy who fights by the rules. The Geneva Conventions specifically don't apply to non-conventional warfare"


Why are you being so narrowly legalistic tonight, devil? Channeling Abu Gonzales? ;)
posted by orthogonality at 1:44 AM on May 1, 2005


Yeah, devildanced, history is full of people who stand on piles of corpses and say, "well, technically, it's not a genocide." Three million dead people is nothing to quibble about. We slaughtered them with burning tar, butchered whole villages. My point wasn't so much to press the reader's face into the gore as to point out that it's amazing how they have rebounded, such as they have. Your face I don't mind pressing a little.
posted by squirrel at 1:46 AM on May 1, 2005


Metafilter: Your face I don't mind pressing a little.
posted by orthogonality at 1:58 AM on May 1, 2005


No, I don't think it was genocide either . . . you could call it a whole-sale slaughter, or a crime against humanity. (I might disagree) But the goal of the United States was not to try to wipe out or subjugate a race or ethnic group. (Which was much of a Soldier's or Marine's problem fighting the war . . . Vietnamese allies and Viet Cong looked and acted the exact same)

So, nah, I don't think the word genocide, with its connotations, is appropriate here.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:10 AM on May 1, 2005


Good post, good links, but editorializing a little too much in my opinion. That's what comments are for! I think the last part:

American hubris. Karl Marx, who got little else right, observed "History repeats itself, the first as tragedy, then as farce."

could have been left off.

Oh, and comparing the American intervention in Iraq to Vietnam is nearly as illuminating and as informative as comparing it to World War II or to the Mongol invasions. Not that it's not interesting. But may I suggest it merits more than a casual comment on a FPP? I'd like to commemorate and learn more about the Vietnam war, but the Iraq reference doesn't add much light.
posted by Turtle at 3:22 AM on May 1, 2005


Given that Vietnam was not divided by ethnic group

Minor quibble (in general I completely agree with what you've been saying, and to call what we did in Vietnam "genocide" is to demean the term -- it doesn't mean "lots of killing that I disagree with"), but this is not true. There are many minority groups in Vietnam; granted, there's not the dramatic large-scale division there is in Iraq, and nobody's going to challenge the ethnic Vietnamese for power, but some of them have had a disproportionate impact on recent history.

Karl Marx, who got little else right, observed...

That makes it sound as if it was Marx's line. Marx claimed to be quoting Hegel with the "first time as tragedy" bit, though as Alexander Cockburn said:
In his 1973 NLR/Penguin edition, David Fernbach claimed that it is doubtful whether Hegel ever said any such thing. On the other hand, Engels had recently written Marx a letter in which he observed, ‘It really seems as if old Hegel in his grave were acting as World Spirit and directing history, ordaining most conscientiously that it should all be unrolled twice over, once as a great tragedy and once as a wretched farce.’ Marx obviously thought it was a bit more dignified to cite Hegel than to say ‘Fred Engels was saying to me only the other day…’
posted by languagehat at 6:19 AM on May 1, 2005


squirrel: "Three million dead people is nothing to quibble about. We slaughtered them with burning tar, butchered whole villages."

As bad as all that was, it was worse after we left. And we didn't even have the guts to look back. We were only concerned with the "blood on our hands."

Such romantic notions about "our guilt" mean nothing when lives are on the line. We never should have left, not without making things better. This was the limitless cynicism of Richard Nixon: he knew that if he "brought our boys back home," the hippies wouldn't care, and Americans would be fine with it and move on, no matter how bad things still were in 'nam. Pity he was right.
posted by koeselitz at 7:32 AM on May 1, 2005


he knew that if he "brought our boys back home," the hippies wouldn't care, and Americans would be fine with it and move on, no matter how bad things still were in 'nam. Pity he was right.

But that couldn't possibly be the case now? I mean all those "bring the troops home now" rallies in San Francisco must have meant "bring the troops home after solving the problem", right? I'm sure they cared that an immediate pullout would have meant a bloody full-scale civil war inside Iraq. (And to pre-empt, what's going on now is not a full-scale civil war, compare it to Yugoslavia or similar.) I'm not sure that I understand...
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:20 AM on May 1, 2005




What the hell is this all about?
posted by delmoi at 10:21 AM on May 1, 2005


delmoi writes "What the hell is this all about?"

Helicopters evacuated US military, embassy, and CIA personnel, and some lucky Vietnamese clients, to the USS Midway. So many helicopters (and light planes) landed on the Midway that empty helicopters had to be pushed off the deck and into the sea so that more, full of evacuees, could land.

In one account, a US serviceman recalls, "Suddenly, we had disposable helicopters."
posted by orthogonality at 10:27 AM on May 1, 2005


Ah, thanks.
posted by delmoi at 10:29 AM on May 1, 2005


Why are you being so narrowly legalistic tonight, devil?

I shouldn't rise to the bait, but I think the definitions of both terms are important.

To say that any situation with "lots of really bad killing" is "genocide" is to demean the real victims of genocide (jews in WWII, hutus and tutsis, Darfur today, etc).

As for "violating the Geneva Conventions" it does seem important to distinguish between "a really bad idea" (abusing post-Saddam fighters) and a violation of international law (The Geneva Conventions). It was implied that the new Iraqi government was violating the Geneva Conventions. Given that the drafters of Geneva very intentionally excluded the current situation (guerilla warfare, suicide bombers, network command structure instead of a heirarchy) it's just plain false to accuse them of violating Geneva. We can argue all we want about whether it's a good idea, but Geneva isn't being violated.

If I were arguing that Geneva wasn't being vioalted because of some technicality that would be "narrowly legalistic". But the treaty was just not designed to cover the current situation at all.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:51 AM on May 1, 2005


heh.
posted by koeselitz at 12:04 PM on May 1, 2005


Thanks for pulling all these links on the topic together, orthogonality - good post.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:45 PM on May 1, 2005


On Air America, they occasionally do a This Day in History bit that I'm sure they get from Big Al's House of Radio Filler, I'm not saying they write them themselves. But yesterday it was "April 30, 1975: Fall of Saigon, South Vietnamese surrender ending 30 years of bloodshed, etc. etc." And right after it was "And the hit song of April 30, 1979 was" and the chorus starts playing to "Reunited and it feels so good...." I got a chuckle out of it and I just thought I'd share.
posted by pokeydonut at 8:24 PM on May 1, 2005 [1 favorite]


The legacy of Agent Orange
posted by homunculus at 11:28 PM on May 1, 2005


Thirty Years On, by a Vietnam-based blogger.
posted by Ljubljana at 12:24 AM on May 2, 2005


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