©The Japan Times
May 17, 1998
Painting Ho Chi Minh red
I wish to respond to Don MacLaren’s assertion that “Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist.”
Somewhere in my book collection is a small book written by Ho Chi Minh’s right-hand man, Gen Vo Nguyen Giap. Part of a “Vietnamese Studies” series, it was published in English and distributed worldwide by the North Vietnamese government.
In this book, Giap states clearly that one of North Vietnam’s main war aims was to tip the worldwide balance of power between communism and democracy (or maybe it was “capitalism”) in favor of communism.
The fight to save Indochina itself was ultimately lost, but not until the prolonged resistance to communist aggression provided a shield for the remarkable stabilization of the rest of Southeast Asia, most notable, though not only, in highly populated Indonesia where a very potent communist movement was virtually wiped out. A rapid, unopposed communist conquest of Indochina would have precipitated a stampede to join the communist bandwagon. The most vocal critics of resistance to communist aggression, who argued that “Ho Chi Minh is merely a nationalist,” would in that case have been the first to proclaim loudly that communism was the wave of the future, that resistance to further communist expansion was futile, and to start inventing reasons why communism is a superior system that we should all want to live under.
The Vietnam War was certainly a painful experience. Some aspects of the way it was conducted were questionable, not least of which was the political restraint against the U.S.-led forces blocking the Ho Chi Minh trail on the ground and winning the war (at least on the major unit level) in a straightforward manner. Doing that would have made all the daily body count announcements and the use of Agent Orange unnecessary. Standing up to a bully is always a messy business, but that is why we need police and armies in the first place.
Certainly Hitler’s (initially at least) bloodless takeover of Czechoslovakia was much more gratifying to those who seek peace at any price than the U.S stand against aggression in Vietnam. But from a longer perspective, we now see that it was Vietnam, not Munich, that brought us “peace in our time.”