Sunday, 1 May 2005

Vietnam, thirty years on

Thirty years ago Saigon fell to advancing communist Vietcong troops, and the Vietnam War was over. America, and the South Vietnamese, had lost.

Unlike the situation in Lebanon and Iraq today, the South Vietnamese were neither free to succeed nor to make their own mistakes - the mistakes were forced upon them by their own regime. The 'liberation' of Vietnam was to leave a trail of corpses and the stultification of life for those remaining alive. As a piece in a recent LA Times explains,
The first postwar decade was marked by a continuation of the wartime subsidy system, the regimentation of daily living and the same hard-line ideology that had reigned during the war. In the South, people were imprisoned, property was seized, intellectuals were purged. Careers — and lives — were ended. This period was also marked by military conflict on the western border with Cambodia and on the northern border with China. Our newly achieved national independence turned into international isolation and transformed our recently unified country into a territory riddled with poverty, backwardness and repression.
That situation is only now beginning to lift, explains the Vietnamese author:
Thirty years after the war, all of our foundational cultural values have lost their validity, and the noblest ideas of communist ideology have become a joke. No space has emerged for basic Western democratic values or for the positive dimensions of modern globalization. Instead, we face corruption, violation of the rule of law, perversion of morality and dignity, the collapse of our medical and educational systems, dizzyingly rapid increases in social inequality, the time bomb of ethnic and religious conflict, a destroyed and polluted environment, the impoverishment of spiritual life, a crisis of belief and of hope. Vietnam's totalitarian system long ago showed that it does not have the authority to solve these problems.
Thirty years of catastrophe are the price of Ho Chi Minh's victory. Are those clouds now beginning to lift?

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