Realizing How Imperialism Is the Worst Enemy of Humanity
by Manuel L. Quezon III
The victory of North Vietnam in 1975 was a victory for nationalism and socialism; it was not a victory for human rights, equality, freedom or liberty beyond the political and ideological. When American helicopters airlifted the last remaining embassy and military officials of the United States, as well as any Vietnamese associates and friends lucky enough to be scooped up at the time, they departed from a Vietnam exiting the American sphere of influence, only to pave the way for a Vietnam existing within the ambit of the Soviet Union.
In Vietnam, the irony of existence in a bipolar, and now, unipolar world, has been thoroughly expressed. American military advisers were replaced with Soviet advisers; Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, and a country familiar with boozy GI’s gladly gave a naval base in Cam Ranh Bay to the Russians. Along the way, Vietnam, proudly Marxist, demonstrated it was preeminently nationalist by engaging in conflict with the People’s Republic of China, also Marxist, and nationalist, but not on the best of terms historically with either Vietnam or its Russian ally. Imperialism, it turned out, is less a matter of economics, than it is a question of political and military spheres of influence.
Under Marshal Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union repelled Nazi aggression, gained the admiration of the world, and sacrificed millions. After victory was achieved, a great purge took place: Soviets taken prisoners of war by the Germans were sent to concentration camps; in those camps, those of an insufficient ideological orthodoxy (that is, not fanatically pro-Stalin) joined them. Jews, Christians, and ethnic minorities, conveniently welcomed as allies during the war, but dangerously independent-minded after it, were sent there, too. Stalin died, another round of purges took place; for a time, the Soviet Union lived, then it passed away, replaced by a nation superficially democratic, thoroughly dominated for a decade by the Russian mafia, and now, inexorably, on the road to a dictatorship that finds capitalism conducive to absolute power.
So, too, did Vietnam turn a great victory into an even greater opportunity for purging: Its socialist leadership embarked on both ethnic cleansing, against the Chinese merchant class, religious cleansing against Catholics, and ideological cleansing by way of collectivizing land and forbidding all forms of entrepreneurship. The result, unlike Russia, was not millions sent off to die in Siberia, but rather, hundreds of thousands desperately leaving Vietnam’s shores in the boat people migrations that shocked the world in the 1970s and 1980s. It is these people — the former merchants, the discredited ruling class, fiercely anti-Communist Catholics, and dispossessed peasants and fishermen — who rallied around the world, waving the old South Vietnamese flag, a historical relic, in denunciation of a Vietnam that united a country but did so without regard to the unity of its people.
In the former Saigon, however, April 30, 2005, the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of that city, was a time for celebration. A patriotic festival in true Socialist style — goose-stepping soldiers, brass bands, a geriatric leadership waving from the steps of the mausoleum which contains Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed corpse — was held. Truly never, ever, has Vietnam been so prosperous, its coffee and rice exported around the world, even its oil a source of foreign exchange, and legions of tourists visiting Vietnam not only to buy handicrafts, admire scenery, and eat croissants and rice noodles, but also to inspect the underground tunnels and bunkers of its army of liberation. The greatest general of that army, Giap, victor over the French at Dien Bien Phu and of the longer struggle against the Americans, presided over that splendid national commemoration.
If one irony — exchanging American self-appointed “tutors” for Russian ones — wasn’t enough, how about the new irony of a Vietnam deliberately downplaying the “triumphalism” of the anniversary of its victory over America, so as not to antagonize American tourists and businessmen? At least this is what more than one Western news report suggested the ruling politburo in Hanoi had discreetly decided. Vietnam, much as it historically distrusts China, seems embarked on achieving socialism with “Vietnamese characteristics,” to borrow Deng Xiao Peng’s explanation of his country’s adopting its own form of capitalism under the supervision of a Communist elite.
In the end, did Vietnam celebrate a hollow victory? After all the sacrifices for socialism, is capitalism, including the all mighty dollar, triumphant? Picture this. Very few visitors to Vietnam get to see a museum in which photographs of American soldiers grinning over the decapitated corpse of a Viet Cong soldier, and bottles containing fetuses deformed by Agent Orange can be seen.
Fewer still visit the handicapped children who continue to be born as a consequence of the Agent Orange sprayed by American planes. If Vietnam is embracing capitalism now, one must ask: left to its own devices, without having been partitioned due to the Cold War, and subjected to American meddling resulting in a civil war, imagine where Vietnam could have been, by now. To reflect on this is to realize how imperialism, in all its forms, is the worst enemy of humanity.