Why Were We in Vietnam?

Harold Myerson – The Washington Post

An excerpt:
Copyright The Washington Post
…Now, far be it from me to begrudge the Vietnamese their moment in the sun before global capital finds them too costly and moves on to Bangladesh and Somalia. But didn’t we fight a war to keep Vietnam from going communist? Something like 58,000 American deaths, right? And now American business actually prefers investing in communist Vietnam over, say, the more or less democratic Philippines? In all likelihood, it would prefer investing in communist Vietnam to investing in a more chaotic, less disciplined democratic Vietnam, if such existed.
Let’s imagine, just as an exercise, that we’re trying to explain this to those 58,000 Americans and their loved ones. We could argue that by investing in communist countries, we’re pushing them toward democracy. But everything we know about China suggests that, in reality, such investments merely make authoritarian regimes stronger. We could argue that what we’re really doing is bringing communist nations into the world capitalist system. Then again, the effect of bringing into the global labor pool hundreds of millions of low-wage workers — people whose wages are held in check by both capital mobility and communist repression — is to hold down wages in democratic nations with advanced economies and with no national strategy to preserve and expand good jobs at home (i.e., in the United States).
Or we could argue that our onetime opposition to communism was noble and all that but that, unburdened by the illusions of the past, American business, backed by the American government, has realized that the problem with communism wasn’t that it was undemocratic but that it was anti-capitalist. And that once communism was integrated into a world capitalist system, its antipathy toward democracy not only wouldn’t be a bad thing but would actually be good. That is clearly the political logic that underpins our involvement with China. It’s a little dicier to say this about our growing involvement with Vietnam, since all those Americans whose names are on that wall on the Mall probably didn’t realize how compatible with global American enterprise Vietnamese communism would turn out to be or how the cause of democracy would turn out to have been of no real importance at all.
I guess a note from the American establishment to those men and women with their names on the Wall would be in order. Something like: Say, guys — sorry ’bout that!
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