Thanks to our relative purchasing power, Ross and I can enjoy some luxuries in Asia. For a few dollars, we can arrange for a driver to pick us up at the airport to take us to our hotel in Hanoi. It was a nice car, too, though I forget what make and model. As I settled into the backseat, I immediately recognized the song playing -- an instrumental muzak version of The Sounds of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel. When that song was a hit, American soldiers were crawling though the jungle in Vietnam, and possibly the father of our driver belonged to the guerrilla forces they were trying to subdue. Now, in the blink of an eye, we Westerners and our tourist dollars are more than welcome. And our soundtrack is an anthem to youthful alienation, with a pretentious little slap on capitalism thrown in: "and the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made."
Ross and I have spent a week in Hanoi and a week in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. We are both old enough to remember the Vietnam War -- and in my case, my parents were very active on the anti-war front. It's been amazing just to be in the country whose place names I heard so much during my childhood -- Hanoi, Dien Bien Phu, the Mekong Delta. And we are here during Tet, the Chinese New Year, the time when the Communist North launched the Tet Offensive.
Right now, a lot of Facebook friends, and Hollywood celebrities, are tweeting and posting that they are feeling "terrified" of the Trump administration. Yeah, I get it -- extreme dismay, foreboding, chagrin, embarrassment, disbelief -- but "terror"? I've got some pictures that show what "terror" of an incoming government really looks like.
History records that the Viet Cong won the Vietnam War. They systematically culled the bourgeoisie and sent over a million people to re-education camps. They tortured and stole everything people had. Life was particularly horrible for the ethnic Chinese of Vietnam.
Many refugees were taken in by the United States (over the strenuous objections of many politicians, including Joe Biden.)
"I have been a communist all my life, but now I've seen the realities of Communism, and it is a failure — mismanagement, corruption, privilege, repression. My ideals are gone." -- Dương Quỳnh Hoa, a founding member of the Viet Cong
An unknown number of Vietnamese people risked their lives rather than endure life under the Communists. An unknown number perished at sea. Others languished for years in refugee camps. They became known as the "boat people." We actually bought our first property in Kelowna from boat people. They were moving to Edmonton so their son could go to medical school.
Ross and I went to the Ho Chi Minh City museum. It's housed in a beautiful French colonial building and it hosts a few relics from the war. There is a big painted mural showing the residents of Saigon welcoming their liberators (What? No photos?)
There are some incredibly pathetic-looking displays of the industrial manufactures of the collectivist era, prior to the reforms of the mid-eighties. This little display, seriously, is all that the museum can muster to show the glories of the years following liberation. For all the effort, and blood and toil and horror and misery.....
It's some comfort that capitalism won in the end, and I hope democracy will follow. The communist experiment in Vietnam lasted only about ten years -- Saigon fell in 1975, and the government opened the economy up in 1986 -- and for that, so much blood and treasure was wasted, and the capital and effort of so many people was thrown away.
Just because a small cadre of believers had the overwhelming urge to enforce Communism on their fellow Vietnamese.
"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the [American] Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters."
-- Daniel Webster, US diplomat, lawyer, orator, & politician (1782 - 1852)