COMMENT: by Dr C.T. Bui OAMNews Weekly
Iraq is not Vietnam
, May 8, 2004
Almost 30 years after the fall of Saigon, myths about the Vietnam War still persist. Vietnamese-Australian community leader, Dr C.T. Bui OAM, sets the record straight. The accompanying article (opposite page) describes the grim reality of today's communist Vietnam.On April 8, Federal Opposition leader Mark Latham compared the current Iraq imbroglio with Vietnam.
Speaking on ABC radio, he said: "We got into the Vietnam War to prevent communism spreading, but it turned out to be a civil war involving nationalists who wanted reunification."
Mr Latham's statement was astonishing. Since the end of the war nearly 30 years ago, abundant evidence has emerged to confirm that the Vietnam War was neither a civil war nor about reunification - as the old communist propaganda line would have it - but was first and foremost about communism.Domino Theory
In 1947, at the start of the Cold War, US policy-makers developed the so-called Domino Theory. This doctrine held that, if one country fell to communism, its neighbours could be engulfed by a chain reaction of communist takeovers themselves.
In the 1960s and '70s, anti-war protesters always dismissed these fears as baseless.
Nevertheless, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had called the Vietnam War a "holy war", and Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh, according to his official biography, saw his task as "spreading communist doctrine in Asia and in Indochina particularly".
It was obvious, then, that this was being used as a battlefield between two ideologies, communism and democracy.
Ho's first program on coming to power was a so-called "land reform", based on Maoist doctrine. It was supposed to bring about a massive land redistribution to poor and mid-level peasants. In reality, however, an estimated 30,000-100,000 died in the turmoil before the program was ended in 1956.
Mr Latham, from his childhood knowledge of the Vietnam War, might have heard only about South Vietnam getting help from America and Australia.
But the North received aid from the communist camp, i.e., Russia, Eastern Europe, China and North Korea. The well-known Ho Chi Minh Trail was built with the help of advisors from these countries.
Chinese military, political and economic aid was substantial and dated back to 1950.
From 1964-1971 China dispatched 300,000 technical personnel and troops to Vietnam to help in air defence, engineering work, railway construction, road repairs and logistics supplies. From 1950 to 1978, Chinese economic aid totalled somewhere between US$15-20 billion.
The Soviet Union also poured billions of rubles into Vietnam. By the 1970s, the aid amounted to one billion rubles or more annually. In 2001, when Moscow sought to continue renting Cam Ranh Bay, Hanoi's asking price was war-time debt forgiveness.
Anti-war activists should be aware that, after the 1975 communist victory, more than half a million people perished on the high seas as they tried to flee to freedom. In addition, more than a million people were incarcerated in so-called "re-education camps", as Vietnamese communist leader Pham Van Dong himself admitted in a 1978 interview.
Before the communists took over the South, there was at least some freedom of the press, some opposition political parties and some hope for a better life. Now there is none. Before the end of the war, the South Vietnamese annual per capita income was only $500. Now, after nearly 30 years of "liberation", it has declined to $470.
Despite an economic recovery from the low base of near-starvation in the mid-'80s, when ruinous communist policies wrecked the livelihoods of the people, still there is no light at the end of the tunnel of authoritarianism.
Hanoi continues to cry poor and to request foreign aid, such as $70 million worth of Australian taxpayers' money each year to train nurses and purify water in rural areas. But Hanoi can still afford to send two military divisions to Laos to help crush anti-communist uprisings.
That's the Vietnam which resulted from America's and Australia's exit strategies in the '70s. These strategies simply concentrated on pulling out troops and reducing military aid, but neglected the long term consequences on the Vietnamese people of their country falling to the communists.
Concerning Iraq, Australia should have an exit strategy, not just a troop pull-out deadline. We are concurrently involved in putting in place measures to help Iraq not only to develop its nascent democracy but also to strengthen its own security forces.
If Mr Latham is formulating our Iraq policy based on the story of Vietnam, he should undertake a proper study of it, not rely on his childhood memory or false war-time propaganda.
A fundamentalist Iraq is bad for the region, for its people and it is certainly not in our long term national interest.
- Dr C.T. Bui OAM is a former federal president of the Vietnamese Community in Australia