Vietnam, Now and Then

October 13, 2023

RFI President Eric Patterson wrote an article published in WORLD this week titled, “Vietnam, Now and Then.” In the piece, Patterson observes that countries that fell to Communism, like Vietnam, still suffer half a century later. He contrasts Vietnam with the “success of the countries out of Communist control that were able to mature into democratic, market-driven economies,” and presents different ways of thinking about America’s prolonged military involvement in Vietnam. Patterson writes:

Some people like to say that the United States lost the Vietnam War. What does that mean? Does it mean that the United States lost on the battlefield? Not really. For instance, the Tet Offensive of January 1968 was a massive invasion of the South by North Vietnamese troops and their Viet Cong (local insurgents) allies. Within a few weeks, they lost an estimated 50,000 troops. The loss of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops was just a fraction of that. Nevertheless, the destructiveness of these battles led many to conclude that a traditional victory, under the constraints imposed by Presidents Johnson and later Nixon, could not occur. Upon seeing the destruction, Walter Cronkite opined, “It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. … It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

Another way of thinking about “victory” is in terms of quality of life and the values that undergird a country’s economic system. Vietnam’s Communist economic theory is a laughable failure at providing for the populace. The GDP per capita of Vietnam is less than one-fifth that of South Korea and Japan. Moreover, Vietnam’s economy of nearly 100 million people is buttressed by remittances from the four million Vietnamese living outside the country. According to the Hanoi Times, Vietnam received $19 billion in remittances from friends and family overseas in 2022. It is the tenth largest recipient of remittances in the world.

A third way of thinking about victory and loss is in terms of moral victory, i.e. did one values system triumph over the other? The United States and its allies continue to live in representative governments, respecting civil liberties and civil rights. This is the aspiration of most people in most places around the world. In contrast, has anyone defected from the West to live in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam?

Read the full article: “Vietnam, Then and Now.”