So the Vietnamese authorities agreed; they could not afford to resist. And there is the heart of what has happened to Vietnam since the war ended 40 years ago, on 30 April A month spent travelling there at the beginning of this year — talking to farmers, intellectuals, academic specialists and veteran fighters from both sides of the line — revealed numerous falsehoods and compromises that have been forced on the Vietnamese people by the powerful in pursuit of profit.
The US has succeeded in promoting a false account of the cause and conduct of its war. In spite of losing the military conflict, the Americans and their allies have returned with the even more powerful weapons of finance, forcing the Vietnamese down a road they did not choose. Now, it is their leaders who are telling the biggest lie of all. Nguyen Hao Thu, aged 90, lives in a bright and beautiful flat in Hanoi.
She chatters like a bird in fluent French and broken English, describing how, as a young woman, she saw her country crushed between two powerful enemies. First, it was the French who refused to let go of their colony at the end of the second world war. With the powder in the bomb, you can — pop! And that dream was not simply nationalist, to expel the foreign invader. It was specifically communist and revolutionary. Thu recalled a childhood during which the French took away her father, a kindergarten teacher; she used to bring food to him in jail when she was just seven years old.
She remembered reading Marx and Lenin and how, when she was 16, the French executed one of her friends. Le Nam Phong is nearly as old as Thu. He was 17 when he signed up as a common soldier to fight the French in He spent the next 30 years at war, rising to become a lieutenant general in the army of North Vietnam and a key figure in the eventual destruction of the US military machine. Yes, of course. The purpose of all the fighting was to build a socialist society, to gain freedom and independence and happiness.
During the first days against France and against the US, we already had in mind the society we wanted to create — a society where men would not exploit other men; fair, independent, equal. The American version of events has it that when the French were defeated in , the US army became involved in order to protect the nation of South Vietnam from the threat of a takeover by communists from North Vietnam.
And, more important, there were no two separate nations. In , in spite of the victory of the Vietnamese army, France and its western allies hung on to power in their southern stronghold. At an international convention in Geneva, all sides then agreed that the country should be divided — temporarily — into South Vietnam and North Vietnam, until July , when an election would deliver a new government for the nation as a whole. But the US would not allow it. Instead, they turned to a notorious CIA officer, Edward Lansdale, who proceeded to use a dexterous combination of bribes and violence to install a new government in Saigon, headed by the Catholic politician Ngo Dinh Diem.
He was autocratic and nepotistic, but anti-communist and pro-American. In October , Lansdale rigged an election in the South to make Diem president. The national elections were cancelled. By March , it was sending its own men into combat. By the time the war was over, the number of dead was beyond counting, possibly as high as 3. Step by step, the west blundered and floundered into a dilemma they never completely comprehended and never in fact sought: from the very beginning, they argued in cliches.
The violence of those years still lives with those who suffered its grand assault. If you drink it, it would bring tears to your eyes. It stopped us being frightened. The US dropped more high explosives on Vietnam than the allies used on Germany and Japan together in the second world war. It also dropped napalm jelly, which stuck to its victims while it roasted their skin; white phosphorous, which burned down to the bone; fragmentation bombs, which hurled ball bearings and steel shards in all directions; and 73m litres of toxic chemicals, including 43m litres of Agent Orange, which killed vegetation and inflicted illness on those who were exposed to it.
Infamously, the US also bombed Hanoi — a city full of civilians with no air force to defend it. A woman who was eight at the time remembered wearing a leafy branch on her back as flimsy camouflage against F bombers flying at twice the speed of sound. On the ground, the US assault was just as powerful. In a village in the Mekong delta, a peasant farmer in her late 60s sat peacefully in her home, with its floor of baked mud.
She remembered the day her mother in law, who was working in the fields nearby, made the mistake of running when a US helicopter thundered down towards her: a missile caught up with her and smashed her to pieces against a coconut tree. We had to pick up her teeth. All these years later, she added, she still has trouble sleeping, and is full of fear if she hears any sound that could possibly be a helicopter.
Many Americans now believe that the notorious massacre of villagers at My Lai was a unique or rare event, but the journalist Nick Turse found a different picture in the US National Archives in June They showed that the army had substantiated more than claims of massacre, murder, rape and torture by American soldiers. Turse then visited Vietnam. In his book, Kill Anything That Moves , he describes trying to find the site of an incident from the files in which 20 women and children were said to have been killed in a hamlet in the central highlands. Those who survived were sometimes taken prisoner and subjected to harsh abuse.
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In , a group of US congressmen visited the notorious Con Dao prison. In spite of the uproar when this was reported, the prison stayed open. Until a couple of years ago, journalists from one of the big newspaper groups in Saigon used to stop to buy their coffee from an amiable woman who spent each day on the pavement in front of their office. Few of them knew her name. They used to call her the Coffee Lady. She has her own small story about the war, but mostly she has a story about what has happened since peace came.
This is the context in which the Vietnamese Communist party now tells its lies. She remembers Liberation Day: the wild rejoicing because the war was over; the sheer pride that communist forces had beaten what everyone said was the biggest army in the history of the world; the hopes for a better life. There was fear, too. There were rumours of violent retribution and looting. The Coffee Lady was worried about crazy people picking up the guns she could see lying in the street. And she was sad, for a very personal reason. A few years earlier, she had worked as a waitress on a US base at Vung Tau, on the coast near Saigon, and there she had met a soldier called Ronald.
He came from New York and he flew surveillance missions over Vietnam and Cambodia. They fell in love. At short notice, he was sent back to the US, but for a while he carried on writing, and he told her that he would sponsor her to join him. Then he went quiet, and she came to understand that there was no chance he would come back for her. Years later, now aged 64, grey-haired and calm, sitting quietly outside a Buddhist pagoda, she can still feel the sadness. The Coffee Lady belonged to neither side in the conflict.
She was simply a Vietnamese woman, in love with an American man and in search of a decent life. Liberation Day did not bring easier times. At first, she found work in one of the new cooperative factories. There, she sat bowed over a sewing machine for 11 hours a day, earning nothing more than a ration card that entitled her to small amounts of low-quality rice and even smaller amounts of meat. For years, she shared a tiny house with her brother, who spent his days in another textile workshop. The economy ran into a decade of depression. The US left Vietnam in a state of physical ruin.
Roads, rail lines, bridges and canals were devastated by bombing. Unexploded shells and landmines littered the countryside, often underwater in the paddy fields where peasants waded. Five million hectares of forest had been stripped of life by high explosives and Agent Orange.
The new government reckoned that two-thirds of the villages in the south had been destroyed. In Saigon, the American legacy included packs of orphans roaming the streets and a heroin epidemic. Nationally, the new government estimated it was dealing with 10 million refugees; 1 million war widows; , orphans; , war invalids; and 3 million unemployed people.
The economy was in chaos. It never paid a cent. Adding insult to penury, the US went on to demand that the communist government repay millions of dollars borrowed by its enemy, the old Saigon regime. Vietnam desperately needed the world to provide the trade and aid that could turnits economy around. The US did its best to make sure it got neither.
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As soon as it had lost the war, the US imposed a trade embargo, cutting off the war-wrecked country not only from US exports and imports, but also from those of other nations that bowed to American pressure. The Vietnamese victims — more than 2 million of them — got nothing.
It is not clear how any economic model could have survived this hostile encirclement. It adopted a crude Soviet policy that forced peasant farmers to hand over their crops in exchange for ration cards. With no incentive to produce, output crashed, inflation climbed back towards wartime levels, and the country once again had to import rice. In the early s, the leadership was forced to allow the peasants to start selling surplus produce, and so capitalism began its return.
It was this shift that allowed the Coffee Lady in to leave the textile factory to become a trader. On his trip west he said he'd walked along the freeway and through the neighborhoods seven miles or so from the Charlotte Greyhound station to the Charlotte airport at a. On our arrival in Charlotte, we gave him a ride back from the airport to the Greyhound terminal in downtown Charlotte to catch the bus back to his base. True story. I don't want to overplay this, but think about it.
I have. And I question the authors' predisposition, evident in their search for and characterization of scandal, to distrust for-profit corporations for, of all things, earning a profit. Their writing style also is infused with a bias that americans-in-uniform are more capable and more efficient problem solvers than americans formerly in uniform and now working as professionals.
The authors pose a false dichotomy: use troops or betray them. The reality is that, having downsized its military, the US has bigger policy questions: re-institute the draft, betray reserve forces by using them beyond their call-up periods, or not work overseas. The privatization of the US military began decades ago and was not invented by the Iraq conflict. The largest decrease in size of the US armed forces occured during the early s, mostly during the Clinton administration, with American voters and Congress watching. Tremendous reporting From Amazon I know from first-hand experience that it can be shockingly difficult to nail down the facts behind stories that took place in a war zone, even when the documentation is readily available and the participants are happy to discuss events.
That Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman have been able to assemble the stories they have for "Betraying Our Troops" is almost amazing, considering the current environment surrounding the Iraq war. In an environment where government and corporate secrecy prevails, and where people resist speaking out for fear ruining their careers or becoming the targets of corporate, legal or government retaliation, just getting the stories on the record is an impressive feat.
Were the stories included here simply unique anecdotes about scattered problems - contaminated water made worse by contractors, troops whose worn boots are duct-taped together because replacements are nowhere to be found, troops in the field living in squalor while others in the green zone enjoy flat-panel TVs and Xbox s, safe houses abandoned because contractors won't venture out to repair their generators - they would be infuriating.
When these are put in the context of an armed forces supply framework that has no fiscal controls, and apparently no concern for the well-being of the troops it is supposed to serve, it is downright criminal. The book has a few flaws; tighter copy editing and a greater emphasis on the writing could have given the presentation more finesse. But the rough edges are more than made up for by the first-hand accounts of the effects of this disastrous logistics system. The whistleblowers who go on the record here have little more to gain than helping out those still stuck in Iraq suffering at the mercy of this hopelessly mangled supply system.
This is the kind of book that usually comes out only after a war's end, when it is too late to do anything about the injustices described inside. The authors do a huge service by providing a nearly "real-time" look at a tragic situation exacerbated by greed, cronyism and simple callousness when there is still opportunity to address it. If we truly believe we are in a war, then let the whole country fight it. Just keep shopping is not my idea of sacrifice. A child in WWII, I was proud to participate in all the drives, use the stamps, buy war stamps; all the things even children did.
- Forty years on from the fall of Saigon: witnessing the end of the Vietnam war.
- Review: Betraying Our Troops–The Destructive Results of Privatizing War – Public Intelligence Blog.
- Contractor Surge | HuffPost.
- The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena (Chöying Dzöd).?
- Vietnam 40 years on: how a communist victory gave way to capitalist corruption?
- About the Book?