In any war, the idea is to not just take over territory and hold it, but to brutalize the enemy mind, body and soul. Demoralize them. For the United States, the best example of exercising that mentality was actually the U.S. Civil War, and most certainly not Vietnam.
Vietnam is considered to be a loss, at least militarily. It was a war that the politicians fought not to lose, not really one with the teeth to get the job done of containing the spread of communism. When American troops left Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, in the mid 1970s it was to surrender Vietnam to what amounted to Chinese overlords.
Fast forward forty years, and the Vietnamese themselves have surrendered to America after a fashion without any shots fired. Far from being a silent partner to China, after diplomatic efforts from the Obama Administration by Hillary Clinton (no mention of how this profited HER in the glowing news reports) Vietnam is awash in American products, and is conducting joint military exercises with the US with an eye on protecting themselves from Chinese dominance of the South China Sea.
China … now claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, all the way to Borneo, amid international protests. This vast stretch of water provides shipping lanes for more than half of world trade. And for the U.S. alone in 2012, an estimated $1.2 trillion worth of goods transited through it. Under that sea, too, lie untold oil pockets and natural gas, the stuff that could make or break an empire for the next 100 years. But by claiming control over this international body of water, Beijing is spurring a warming of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.
In addition to the military implications, apparently, the Vienamese cannot live without American imports. Everything Apple is coveted. The franchises that gave us “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” replicated their success in Vietnam with, you guessed it, “Vietnam Idol” and “Vietnam’s Got Talent.” These are the most popular television offerings in the country. Starbucks, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and other American franchise brands dot the place.
The reason this is the case may well be an unintended outcome of the war: Vietnamese refugees who became American citizens and succeeded in American life went back to Vietnam to spread their wealth.
The largest, wealthiest and most educated Vietnamese overseas population now resides in North America, and in the post–Cold War period, they began to exert powerful influences in Vietnam’s economic and cultural life….
What this means on the ground is that a sizable population of Viet Kieu — Vietnamese expats, former boat people and their children — now wield considerable leverage in their homeland. From opening wine shops to creating startups, from running high-tech companies to working as executives for major foreign companies in Vietnam, from starting art centers to making movies or teaching at universities, expats have become active agents in changing Vietnam’s destiny.
Mind, body and soul. The military can take care of the body, but the mind and the soul are cultural. This transformation is not exactly celebrated as opposed to accepted in all quarters, though.
Epitomizing the trend is Henry Nguyen, 41, who fled Vietnam as a child with his parents and spent months in a refugee camp in Thailand. Eventually he became a Goldman Sachs associate in Virginia. Now he is back in Vietnam, famous for bringing McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and venture capital to his homeland. To top it off, the former boat person who became an U.S. entrepreneur married the daughter of Vietnam’s prime minister in 2006.
The war “forced people who share common values and culture to pick sides,” Nguyen told Reuters recently. “It’s kind of like a tragicomedy.”
But one with an unexpected outcome. Maybe America won the Vietnam War after all. It just took a different sort of battleground, and allowing Vietnamese boat people to succeed. Now they are doing the fighting for us.