Originally seen as a marginal innovation on existing shipping, containerization ended up revolutionizing the global economy and destroying many local economies. This resulted directly from (and enabled) the US war in Vietnam. (Bill and Rachel.)
Idle speculations on lost opportunities in US-Vietnam relations.
I suspect, from all that I’ve read over the years (particularly books like “The Last Valley”), that Vietnam is and likely always was probably the least communist of all the “communist countries,” past and present. (Today it certainly isn’t. Even China doesn’t hold a candle to the mass capitalism of modern Vietnam.)
Communism for Vietnam was, in essence, a successful political and material organizing mechanism for national liberation and an ideology for poverty reduction and social modernization. If you look at the World Bank’s inaugural (1977) report on the unified Vietnam, it’s clear that the Communist Party began dismantling communism — particularly the necessary wartime central planning — and began reorganizing the entire economy of both halves of the country within about a year of the war’s end. There’s also a lot of emphasis in the United States – because of who we backed in the war and our many South Vietnam military and political refugees – about the postwar reprisals, but there’s far less acknowledgment of how fast the postwar Vietnamese government reintegrated and reconstructed southern Vietnam’s economy after the war. And all that transformation was happening in 1975 and 1976, before even the sweeping liberalizations of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Politically and governmentally, communism was a good model for supervising the war effort in Vietnam’s wars of independence and unification from 1945-1975. It proved itself in battle for decades. Once they won, it went away because its utility was past.
For Vietnam, even economically, communism was never an interim state before utopian socialism. It was an interim state before broad-based, social, and artisanal capitalism – a capitalism that cares about the little people and gives them a real shot in life.
It was the dictatorship for the proletariat to get the West out of Vietnam and itself out of extreme poverty. Read more
A British journalist recounts and reflects upon his experiences in Saigon at the end — May 30, 1975 — and after:
Through all the years of conflict, war had not often touched Saigon, with the exceptions of the occasional rocket attack, some restaurant bombings and the dramatic but limited incursion into the city – indeed, into the grounds of the US embassy itself – during the Tet offensive in 1968. Saigon shuddered, but felt it had escaped the worst. And in fact, as the liberation music echoed down the streets, it had just escaped again. Although few knew it, the North Vietnamese had been prepared to batter the city with heavy artillery and to fight their way in, block by block, if the defence they met had been stronger. Had the last South Vietnamese president, General Duong Van Minh, not ordered the army to lay down its arms, Saigon would have fared very badly indeed. Vietnamese joked that the communists took Saigon “without breaking a light bulb”. That was not true either: casualties were heavy on both sides, but the fighting stopped just short of the city limits. In the centre, there was potentially more to fear from lawlessness and looters.
The power that succeeded the French, the United States, has now been reduced to impotence after its vast expenditure of $150,000 millions [i.e. $150 billion] and 50,000 American lives.
Helicopters settle on top of its fort-like Embassy to take out remaining staff, and the water sprinklers that have whirled on the plush lawns throughout the dry season are finally silent.
The diplomats inside have spent the last week evacuating American and Vietnamese – tidying up after 20 years of American policy in Indo-China. “I feel like someone with a dustpan and broom,” one said, “but at least we’re trying to fulfil our last obligations.”
Whatever happens now, an era is finally over. Journalists, like the Vietnamese themselves, have been simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of what is happening, an event of the utmost significance both for Vietnam and the world. Attempts to encompass it inevitably fail. The only thing to do now is to wait.
As we approach another American bombardment, expanding from Iraq into Syria — the latest in a history spanning more than two centuries — it’s important to remember and reflect upon the continuing casualties of past cross-border bombardments by United States forces.
As the Laotian Civil War (1953-1975) spiraled out of control by the late 1960s and came to involve everyone in the region and the United States, the government and military of Laos attempted to drop out of involvement in the Vietnam War and wider Indochina struggle. But the North Vietnamese Army, opposed by the United States, continued to maintain a presence there and was using the country as a supply line to communist rebels in South Vietnam.
In response, from about 1969 to 1973, the United States military dropped 260 million cluster bomblets on the country a little over forty years ago. As many as 80 million of these munitions remain unexploded and potentially live, across the Laotian countryside, which is one reason why Laos has lagged so far behind the region in economic development. (It’s hard to expand or upgrade farms, let alone build infrastructure and communities when there are armed bombs everywhere, going off unexpectedly all the time). 20,000 people have been killed or injured in Laos by unexploded cluster bomblets since the end of the cluster bombing campaign in the early 1970s. Al-Jazeera recently reported on some of the local teams trying to clear areas of bombs.
Caption: Unexploded cluster sub-munition, probably a BLU-26 type. Plain of Jars, Laos. | Credit: Seabifar – Wikimedia