The Columbus Enterprise Prevails in Vietnam: The U.S. Finally Enjoys a Long Eluded Victory

March 1, 1994

On Friday, February 4, 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton lifted the 30-year trade embargo on Vietnam. News reports revealed excited, jubilant Vietnamese, and eager, salivating U.S. businesses. Pepsi Cola was being served on the streets of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi cities within hours. News analysts smugly talked about the U.S. considering forgiving the Vietnamese.

Some U.S. veteran’s groups bitterly opposed lifting the embargo, using the old argument that the Vietnamese need to be continually punished until they fully cooperate in revealing the fate of the 2200 plus U.S. military whose bodies remain unaccounted for due to the violent activities of the 1965 U.S. invasion and the 10 years of subsequent war waged against the various countrysides. The number of U.S. missing represents about one percent or less of the 200,000 to 400,000 still missing Vietnamese bodies rotting in their own war-torn jungles, mountains, and rice paddies. The number of U.S. killed during the invasion and marauding of Vietnam represents about one percent of all Southeast Asians directly murdered on their own soil from U.S. military firepower.

While so many are jubilant, and a few remain bitter, I note that I am feeling depressed. The U.S. has finally achieved virtual total victory in a small country with about 1.3% of the world’s population. This victory, with money and market expansion, had previously eluded us through years and years of incredible military battles, firepower and bombings in this small country 9,000 miles west of my rural home town farming village in upstate New York.

Continually lost in this hoopla is the fact that the U.S. diabolically invaded and assaulted Vietnam, Loas, and Cambodia, in clear violation of international laws, basic human rights, and moral conscience for over 10 years, causing incomprehensible destruction, suffering, and deaths that continue to this day.

Also lost is the fact that the U.S. promised, instead of a trade embargo against Vietnam, between $4.25 and $4.75 billion in postwar reconstruction aid. This promise was explicitly communicated in the Paris Peace Accords, “Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam,” Article 21, signed by the U.S. government and the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) on January 27, 1973, and U.S. President Richard Nixion’s subsequent February 1 letter addressed to DRV Prime Minister Pham Van Dong. The U.S. soon claimed that such promises were not binding. Hmm! The Native American people have continually reminded us, if we would take the time to listen, that the U.S. government has breached each of the more than 400 treaties signed with the various indigenous nations that led to the violent theft of virtually all the land area that today comprises the United States of America.

During the early years of the post-Cold War era, “New World Order,” I find myself more an observer than activist. I am discerning the changes, both in the larger world of political economics, ecological and sociological phenomena, and within the solidarity movement, as well as in my more personal, local life and spiritual reflections. I have been amused, but anguished from observing the language and passions of the politics of this “New World Order.” Some of the headlines I have noted: “Hunting For Riches In Ex-Soviet Lands; Capitalism’s New Frontier,” (NYT, 12/27/91); “A New Rush Into Latin America…A Fountain of Stability South of the Border,” (NYT, 4/11/93); “U.S. Businesses Eager For South Africa Trade:…Some Companies See A Big Market When Sanctions End,” (NYT, 9/9/93); “Ho Chi Minh City Journal: The Boat People Fly Back, With Riches To Invest,” (NYT, 11/3/93); “Commerce Dept. In ’91 Urged Moves To Caribbean For Low Wages,” (NYT, 11/10/93); “Gold Adds Glitter To Remote Russian Region,” (NYT, 11/11/93); “Thinking Long Term In Latin America…Trade Pact Jitters Aside, Economic Growth Looks Promising,” (NYT11/13/93); “Mexico: Business Leaders Like Deal; Others See Rich Getting Richer,” regarding House vote on NFTA, (Boston Globe, 11/18/93); “Publishers Tap The Potential Of Latin American Markets,” (NYT, 11/29/93); and “Czech Out This KMart: American Retailing Giant Finds A Market In Czech Republic,” (Boston Globe, 1/13/94).

In 1992, many either celebrated or bemoaned the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ INVASION of the “New World.” Columbus himself referred to his efforts as “La Empresa de las Indias,” or, the “Enterprise of the Indies.” His motivation to search for profits and gold is captured crassly in his log where he describes his initial exposure to people of the Arawak nation on Hispaniola (not India as he believed): “They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” In the 1840s, the term, “Manifest Destiny,” was popularized in the United States which declared our destiny “to over spread the continent allotted by Providence for the development of our yearly multiplying millions.” Manifest Destiny has now encircled the entire globe. A model of arrogant self righteousness and greed has its tentacles everywhere–almost.

In the post-Cold War era, the U.S. asserted its global hegemony, Pax Americana, with the unprecedented 43 days of consecutive bombing of Iraq in 1991, one of the few nations bold enough to continue to resist the western edict to “Cry Uncle!” The unipolar, Pax Americana-imposed world order will use any force or device to force compliance with the global supermarket, “free” market economy, or to assure obedience to U.S. perceived “national security” interests, the latter defined by free access to world markets and commodities. Pax Americana knows no limits!

The merciless use of world supermarket economics has become the west’s most potent weapon for assuring conformity with a capitalist market (heavily subsidized and protected by nation state governments). From imposed embargoes (such as against Cuba, Iraq and North Korea), and enforcing the concept of the external “debt,” holding hostage most “Third” World nations, “First” World political and economic institutions now assert their hegemony with little resistance. The U.S. obsession with destroying the Nicaraguan revolution through overt and covert military terrorism, and economic strangulation, reveals just how much evil it is willing to inflict on peoples and nations to assure that they “Cry Uncle.”

This U.S. victory in Vietnam, or more accurately, the victory of a Western economic paradigm promoting accumulation of endless commodities, threatens a serious degradation of the Vietnamese culture, and demise of their ancient ways and wisdom, all because their socialist revolution was never tolerated by the West. This makes me feel sick because, as I have come to understand since my own Vietnam experiences, our Western model, our greed-driven, blinding obsession with profits, destroys culture, ecology, community, spirituality, local self-reliance, emotional health, ancient wisdom, and the essence of life itself. Perhaps I was hoping that Vietnam would hold out and say NO to Uncle Sam, YES to Uncle Ho, just as I had hoped the Nicaraguans would spurn all U.S. efforts to overthrow Sandino’s inspired affront to historical Yankee imperialism. But as people’s lives are made more miserable by military, political and economic interventions, I cannot blame them for wanting relief from the misery that has been inflicted upon them against their will by Western values and interests. But I weep as I witness this seemingly uncontrollable, limitless greed taking over life’s ancient wisdoms. It depletes our finite resources, creates voluminous unabsorbable toxic wastes, and destroys every component of the ecological infrastructure necessary to sustain human life on the earth. Thus, this model is destined, if left unchecked, to cause the extinction of human
and much other life on the planet.

Even if the ecological imperatives are ignored, numerous socioeconomic signs understood by increasing numbers of people reveal that the gap between the haves and have nots is increasing at an alarming rate as the global supermarket economy expands. Thus the misery index is increasing. Of course ecological health and human well being go hand in hand. What is redeemable about this western, “free” market model? What is redeemable? Please tell me!

I believe the Zapatista Army, that group of mostly Mayan peasants in southern Mexico who rose up on January 1, 1994, the day NAFTA went into effect, are speaking truth for all to hear. During this “New World Order” period, lies and denial are thicker than ever, rationalizing with vigor this absolutely unsustainable market model. The Zapatistas have articulated one central point: the Mexican government, and now NAFTA, are expected to bring massive new wealth to the rich and upper middle class, while the plight of the poor, an ever increasing number of people, has experienced new levels of misery and hopelessness. Jorge Castaneda, a professor of international relations at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, has indicated that only 25% of the Mexican population represents what the Mexican government has described as a modern, forward-looking, business-oriented, free trade loving people. The remaining 75%, according to Castaneda, are relegated to unbelievable misery and kept in that condition by corrupt and repressive political and economic structures. The population of the world in 1994 was about 5.5 billion people. Three quarters of them live in the impoverished “Third World.” Thus, the Zapatista position represents the plight of over four billion human beings.

As many social scientists are aware, there is an increasing dramatic polarization within the United States and the Western world in general. As world unregulated capital increases, we experience expansion of the globalization of the economy, i.e., the gobal supermarket economy discussed above. One significant consequence of this globalization is that it extends the “Third” World model internally to industrial, “First” World societies. We are witnessing this phenomenon now. Though I do not personally fit the criterion as a “Third” World person, I find myself more and more identifying with those “Third” World peoples, within the United States and without, as my alienation from the American Way Of Life (AWOL) dramatically increases. I seek to participate in an uprising: I would hope a mindful and visionary one, as well as militant, and nonviolent. An uprising of unprecedented depth and vision becomes our hope.

My dream is to join many people within the U.S., with the Zapatistas, Nicaraguans, and the Vietnamese, among many, to forge a radical, revolutionary nonviolent transformation of our consciences, our communities, our way of life, our manner of interconnecting with all of nature on this globe and in this cosmos.

The lessons of Vietnam, just as the lessons of the original sins of racism and genocide upon which all of the Americas have been built, have not been addressed, and are not understood yet. Perhaps as we continue to sink into our selfish, dysfunctional model, and as we witness the westernization of Vietnam, and as the Vietnamese experience it themselves, together we will come to an awareness of our sickness. Then we can proceed with the motivation to seek health, i.e. revolutionary justice for all life, a sharing paradigm, one opposite of our market, greed driven paradigm that benefits but a few.

I believe that only in decentralized, locally self-reliant, face-to-face communities within a bioregional model, can we hope to survive with dignity. This model seeks sustainability. Then we will understand and appreciate the nature of all our interrelationships, moving slowly, and living and working in small enough units, to actually feel and actually see. I weep for us and the Vietnamese as “normalization” occurs with the lifting of the embargo. I pray that in this continued pursuit of limitless materialism we come to our knees in humility and recover the ancient wisdom possessed by the indigenous peoples who we slaughtered, as they, the “savages,” stood in the way of our plundering.

As Chief Sitting Bull once said about the white settlers, “The love of possessions is a disease with them.” The them is us. You and me!

One Comment

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