Editor’s Note: Ignorance is never a positive and ignorance blended with racial superiority convictions can lead to disaster. This is why America usually makes disastrous mistakes in Asia while always winning in Europe. That, to us, is the untold story of America’s disaster in Vietnam.
The worst disaster of American foreign policy has been Vietnam. The US war in Vietnam proved to be the end of America’s innocence and it has left a deep wound that fosters to this day. The savior of freedom in World War II became the symbol of oppression and the rest of the world never looked at America the way they did before Vietnam.
America went into Vietnam because it bought the story about Ho Chi Minh that was weaved by the French. That was an America focused 100% on the global threat posed by the Soviet Union. That was also an America that had fought a nasty war with China in Korea. That America had decided to categorize the world into for America & freedom and for USSR-China & Communism.
This single-minded focus & the influence of the French were enough to convince American policy makers to jump into Vietnam against Ho Chi Minh. No one in the American establishment paused to ask whether Ho Chi Minh was a patriot of Vietnam who was so determined to unite his country that he would never become a vassal of neighbor China. No one in the American establishment paused to see that Vietnamese have, for over thousand years, defined themselves as defenders of their land against Chinese invasions.
Just imagine if that America had understood what Robert Kaplan includes in his new book “Asia’s Cauldron”:
- “Nguyen Duc Hung, a former ambassador of Vietnam told me ““just as Vietnamese spread south over the centuries to define themselves as a nation, the Americans spread westward – and it wasn’t for gold in California, it was for freedom”,
- “Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping “never lost his visceral hatred of the Vietnamese” writes Robert Templar”,
- “it was the unified Vietnam that emerged under communist control with America’s defeat that would prove a far greater threat to China than it would be to the United States”
Had that America understood these basic historical facts about Vietnam, America could have helped Ho Chi Minh unite Vietnam and created an adversary for China back in the 1960s.
Instead, America finds itself today in the weird situation of trying to help Vietnam stave off today’s expansionist China, a China that is already the second largest economy on earth, a China that is building military capacity to deny American access into South China Sea, its own 21st century Caribbean.
And how serious is today’s Vietnam to America’s attempts to keep South China Sea a free zone for South East Asia? Read the conclusion of Kaplan’s chapter on Vietnam in his book “Asia’s Cauldron”:
- “If China can break off Vietnam, they have won the South China Sea“, a top U.S. official told me. “It’s all up to Vietnam, in other words””.
- “In any case, the fate of Vietnam, and its ability not be Finlandized by China will say as much about the American capacity to project power in the Pacific in the 21st century as Vietnam’s fate did in the 20th.”
This cold hard reality is why we try to imagine what U.S. position in Asia would look like had the 1960s America understood the ancient struggle between China & Vietnam and helped that Vietnam become a strong independent nation with the ability to stand up to China today.
Send your feedback to [email protected] Or @MacroViewpoints on Twitter