Thursday, September 3, 2015

Capitalism in Vietnam: War as Overrated

Going to war might seem like the most expedited course to achieving geopolitical aims, even when they in actuality predominately economic in nature. To the extent that the Cold War was from the American standpoint a means of keeping capitalism from succumbing to socialism (i.e., the state rather than private industry owning the means of production), the American involvement in the civil war in Vietnam was a waste of effort, not to mention lives lost. For the feared “loss” of Vietnam to communism turned out only to be temporary.

“In the early years of a united Vietnam, the government pursued disastrous experiments with collectivized farms and bans on private enterprise. The country’s leaders changed course around the time the Soviet Union collapsed, embracing the market economy, a pillar of the very system they had fought to defeat.”[1] The Soviet command-economy, based on quotas of goods rather than supply and demand, was quite inefficient, and thus weak. It didn’t take long after the Soviet Union’s collapse for the Vietnamese government to the Communist ethos of conformity and the shunning of ostentatiousness that came with it.” Saigon, “a free-wheeling bastion of capitalism before 1975, . . . returned to its roots with vigor.”[2] Like water flowing downhill, business interests resurfaced and came out on top.

In retrospect, was the Vietnam War worth it for anyone? (source: CNN)

The Vietnam-war policies of the Johnson and Nixon administrations appear in contrast to have been efforts going upstream, against the current, with Saigon ending up falling to the North Vietnamese after Nixon’s resignation.   Roughly 58,000 Americans and as many as three million Vietnamese died in the “conflict,” which “on some level,” according to the New York Times, was “about keeping Vietnam safe for capitalism.”[3] As it turns out, the angst was for naught. All the swimming upstream was for naught. With a bit of patience and faith in free enterprise (as well as the power of money, given human nature), the Americans could have obviated war. The interests of American business would have had the last laugh even without the cashing-in by the defense-contractors during the “conflict.” War itself—the urge to force an issue rather than let it play out with facilitating foreign policies—may be over-rated, and thus over-relied on by clutching hands that are impatient and trigger-happy.

[1] Thomas Fuller, “Capitalist Soul Rises as a City Sheds Its Past,” The New York Times, July 21, 2015.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.