In a desperate attempt to justify the criminal and disastrous US war of occupation in Iraq, President George Bush has chosen to wrestle the ghost of the US defeat in the Vietnam War.
In his August 22 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Kansas City, Bush fielded this revisionist view:
"The tragedy of Vietnam is too large to be contained in one speech. So I'm going to limit myself to one argument that has particular significance today. Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end ...
"Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left ... Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people' , 're-education camps', and 'killing fields'.
"There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle — those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that 'the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today."
It has been estimated that some 4 million Vietnamese civilians were killed in the war. Some 1.1 million Vietnamese soldiers and guerillas were killed and 600,000 wounded. Most people you meet in Vietnam today have a close relative who was in some way a casualty of war. How many more would have been killed if Bush's sick fantasy had been implemented? Would Vietnam today still be a nation at war? It was estimated last year that some 650,000 had been killed in just three and a half years in the war in Iraq, so we can only imagine the monstrous casualties that would have resulted from a prolongation of the Vietnam war.
In early August, I was in Vietnam with my partner and our ten-year-old daughter. We met 18-year-old Chung Thi Thanh Binh in a village established by the Vietnamese government — with the help of a US Vietnam War veteran — to treat the victims of Agent Orange and other deadly dioxins used by the US military in the war. Seriously disabled, she's one of many second and third generation victims of the war. Binh has travelled abroad to remind the world that for her, and the estimated 4.8 million Vietnamese people affected by dioxin use, the war is still yielding casualties.
Vietnam today is a country at peace. It is a country in the midst of tremendous economic and social development but it is still recovering from that criminal 35-year war and from the years of economic isolation that were imposed on it following that war.
Tran Van Hang, a deputy to the National Assembly (which was in session during our visit), stressed to me the severity of the social and economic crisis that followed the war. In a way, this was the US waging war by economic means, even though the war ended in 1975 and Vietnam was reunified. It was during this crisis that most of the 1 million refugees from Vietnam fled, some for political but most for economic reasons.
This crisis was the direct result of the US war. The war encouraged divisions among the Vietnamese people by propping up puppet regimes in the South — just as the US is encouraging sectarian divisions in Iraq today to bolster its puppet regime there.
Bush cites the "killing fields" of Cambodia as a consequence of US withdrawal, when in fact the rise of Pol Pot's murderous regime was a direct result of US bombing and its support for the puppet military regime of Lon Nol, which deposed the neutral Sihanouk government in 1970. The murderous Pol Pot regime was removed with the aid of the Vietnamese army in 1979, but for years after it was the US that continued to recognise the Pol Pot regime in the UN.
The long war imposed by the world's wealthiest country on one of the world's poorest forced Vietnam into a war economy. Agricultural production has quadrupled since 1986, after the collectivisation in agriculture forced by the war effort. Per capita annual income has nearly doubled from a low of US$200 and severe poverty (measured by UNDP) has declined from 66% to 19% of the population. This is progress by any measure, which addresses the main underlying cause of the post-war refugee wave.
"Vietnam could not feed its people at that time", said Hang, who will soon be the head of the External Relations Commission of the Communist Party of Vietnam and who was elected to the National Assembly from a province in less developed Central Vietnam. "But today Vietnam is the world's second largest exporter of rice."
Hang explained that the Vietnamese government is encouraging the Vietnamese abroad to return home and witness the dramatic transformations that are taking place and to participate in the process. Vietnam is dropping the visa requirement for Vietnamese abroad.
Developments like these will inevitably undermine the we're-still-waging-the-Vietnam-war attitude displayed by Bush and the small right-wing Vietnamese political groups in countries like the US and Australia. The US and its allies lost that war. That was a good thing, but clearly a fact that some political dinosaurs still have difficulty accepting today.
Game over, Bush. Your side lost in Vietnam decades ago and will soon lose in Iraq!