Thursday, March 06, 2003

Jo but together this history of Vietnam which i thought i'd share:

Hi guys

I don’t know if you are interested, but I have been reading a lot
about Vietnamese history lately and I thought I might write something
about it. Before I ever started reading about Vietnam, my main
thoughts concerning the country were of the Vietnam war and I really
didn’t know a lot about that either. So in case you were wanting to
know more read on..

Vietnam has had one long struggle for independence. They were
dominated first by the Chinese for 10 centuries. They regained their
independence, but today still has a strong influence in Vietnamese
politics, as the Vietnamese fear future subjugation and invasions
from this massive neighbour. In the 18th century the French took
over. They lived wealthy lives and kept the Vietnamese in poverty –
sending patriots and insurgents into their jail (later became the POW
camp in Hanoi). However just as the Chinese have introduced new
ideas, concepts & technology, the French brought with them new
architectural styles and cuisine. So in the country today it looks a
bit like china with French buildings in places. You can get freshly
baked baguettes everywhere, and French is as widely spoken as is

The Vietnamese wanted independence from the French, and at that time
Ho Chi Minh was inspired by the Russian Revolution. Ho went on to
form the Indochinese communist party in 1930. Then WWII broke out and
Japan invaded. The French accepted their occupation and so were
allowed to continue governing, but there were ousted by the Japanese
in 1945, when the allied victory in Europe was becoming a certainty.
The Japanese forced farmers to move out of rice farming and start
producing industrial crops, but this combined with floods and
breaches in the lands irrigation system, caused a famine which killed
2 million people in north Vietnam.

Once Japan was defeated, Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, a group
formed by the Indochinese communist party for revolutions, started to
take control of as much territory as possible before the allies
arrived. But then they still had a decade long guerrilla war for
independence against the French. At the same time, the US became
concerned about the world-wide spread of communism and its ‘domino
affect’ through south east Asia. So the US supported the French by
giving them massive amounts of aid. The Vietnamese defeated the
French, but then broke into a civil war between north Vietnam, which
was mainly Buddhist and communist, and south Vietnam, which was
mainly catholic and anti-Communist. In the early 1960s the Viet Cong
(southern communist movement) joined forces with the Viet Minh (Ho
Chi Minh’s group from the north). They mounted several coup de etats
and overcame the southern Vietnamese government.

In 1961 JFK was elected president, and brought the issue of
containment of communism to the forefront of US Foreign Policy. 3.4m
Americans served in the Vietnam war, expending 15 m tonnes of
ammunition. The war cost America US$165 bn. By comparison, twice as
many lives were lost as in the Korean War, which cost US$18bn. The
Vietnam war killed approximately 4m/10% of the Vietnamese
population. Incidentally, China and the USSR, who supplied all the
weapons to north Vietnam and the Viet Cong never suffered a single

The USA also engaged in deliberate destruction of the environment in
order to stifle the operations of the Viet Cong hiding in the
forests. Aeroplanes sprayed 72m litres of the herbicide ‘Agent
Orange’ on inland forests and mangrove swamps. The deforestation
caused, is enough to supply Vietnam’s timber harvesters for 30
years. The chemical used in Agent Orange is dioxin, which is highly
carcinogenic and mutagenic. Even today this chemical is still found
in the food chain and breast milk. It is not proven, but suspected
that there is a strong link between the level of exposure to dioxin
and the number of birth defects and still births. Many who were
exposed have developed cancer, and as a result, many US soldiers are
now filing lawsuits for compensation. Since the war, a lot of
animals have been blown up by landmines, or were shot by the
Vietnamese who found ammunition and over hunted.

In 1968 Ho Chi Minh died of a heart attack and the Americans started
bombing the part of the Ho Chi Minh trail in Cambodia. The American
people lost faith in president Nixon and the US withdrew with the
1973 Paris Peace Agreement (which the Vietnamese broke and raided
Saigon). The next year the country became the Socialist Republic of
Vietnam. Despite reunification, there was still tension between
north and south Vietnam, and the communist party packed many unwanted
southerners off to ‘re-education camps’ (little more than forced
labour camps), and stripped the southerners of their wealth. Although
unified there is still a strong divide today.

In 1978, they began fighting in Cambodia against the Khmer Rouge
forces and Pol Pot’s genocidal regime. But then china supporting
Cambodia, decided to invade northern Vietnam. With china’s
encouragement Vietnam was ostracised internationally and the US
placed an embargo on Vietnam. Vietnam grew weak and its economic
support dried up as the USSR dissolved. It withdrew from Cambodia in

So the peace here is relatively new. Vietnam has had one long
struggle for independence. The Vietnam war was seen to change the
psyche of the Americans and the way they dealt with foreign affairs,
but to the Vietnamese it was just one more war in a long history of
wars. Hence the Vietnamese call it the ‘American War’. The
Vietnamese have a wonderful analogy about themselves: - They are like
a house with an open door located on each of its four walls. The wind
can blow from any direction, and when the wind is gone, the house
still stands but retains none of the wind. Invaders have come from
many directions, but through it all, Vietnam has retained its own
national characteristics. There is also an analogy about the
Americans based on the story of the good Samaritan from the bible. In
the original story there is someone in need of help and the good
Samaritan crosses the road to help. In the American version, the
Samaritan sees someone being bashed by a robber, so the American
Samaritan runs over to help, but by this time the robber has run away
and he ends up beating the victim. But seriously, in Vietnam today,
there is little open resentment towards foreigners, even Americans.
That is not to say, they haven’t suffered. But the people are really
friendly, helpful and willing to learn. We have had several chats
with people who have approached us because they want to practice
their English and are curious about us. As a closed communist
system, foreigners have only been allowed into the country since the
1980s, but they are now trying to incorporate laissez-faire ideas.
Most shops sell identical goods, but you can still haggle, and most
places operate freely. But as a foreigner you still get
charged ‘foreigner fares’ for train fares and entry to attractions
etc which are usually about 4 times the price a Vietnamese would pay.
Foreigners are also still prohibited to visit some areas of the
country and travel on some types of transport.

Well if you are still reading I hope it has been of some use. I hope
I didn’t offend anyone. I am certainly no historian, and I may well
have got my facts a bit muddled, but I tried!

Cheers, Jo.

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