My son is taking a history class that covers the time from after the Civil War to the present. When we’re headed to soccer games or such we talk about some of the events of the past 150 years. He was fascinated and horrified by various aspects of the Second World War – especially the holocaust. It’s kind of hard to reconcile the Germany of 1939 to the Germany of today, but nations, like the people who comprise them change.
Probably the most difficult to explain was the Viet Nam war. Some historians say that militarily we won while diplomatically we lost. I’m sure that will be resolved in the next century or so. In the meantime, it is kind of telling to look at one of the discussions we had.
He asked me, why we went to war in Viet Nam.
I told him that some of our leaders believed that it would be bad for Viet Nam to become a communist country; that neighboring countries would also turn to communism and they feared a “domino effect” of nations doing so.
He asked me what we wanted.
I replied that we thought a democracy would have been better for the Vietnamese.
Therein came the disconnect. Communism is an economic model. Our economic model is capitalism. Viet Nam “fell to communism” and after the war, hunkered down, dealt with dissidents and followed a centrally planned economic model similar to China.
They still are not a democracy, but they have exhibited more and more capitalistic tendencies. In 2000 they signed a bilateral trade agreement with the US. The US has become their largest trading partner, importing almost as much from Viet Nam as the next two (Japan and China) combined.
Viet Nam and the US Navy are currently concluding week long joint disaster and salvage exercises.
We fought the war. Viet Nam fell to communism anyway. They changed. They’ve emerged from communism through a central managed economy to a capitalistic socialism.
Makes you wonder if we hadn’t fought in Viet Nam if they’d be at about the same place.
History is funny that way. It seems to have an inertia in a certain direction regardless of how we try to influence it.