I'm only continuing this chat about Vietnam because you are presenting a lot of intelligent and well informed points and because Hitchens is so absurd we might as well discuss something with more substance, however these politics might get us both warned, but my reputation could sustain it, people have found me quite useful lately.
It's not really politics, it's history...though the country still has several shortcomings, it's a different country than it was prior to the Đổi mới
You fundamentally misunderstand Vietnam. First, today it is one of the rising tigers in Asia, a region always on the rise, and remains a developing country still as a result of the war, there are tens of thousands of kids with crazy diseases, there are millions of unexploded ordinances which still kill and maim people, and of course Vietnam had that terrible war to clean up the US mess in Cambodia. These things were expensive to a country that was poor and had to spend all its resources in a 25 year was of attrition against the world's wealthiest superpower! You truly underestimate the Vietnamese (not in America, but at home).
No, I don't think I do. From the analyses I've read Vietnam is on track to become one of the world's 20 largest economies in the next 15 years; this is dependent, of course, on the government keeping up the pace of privatization and substantial reductions to the public sector of the economy. But they're making good progress, they've privatized the majority of the financial sector and even opened the economy to multinational banks, something that was previously slowing down growth in several sectors of the economy (most notably, heavy industry).
Of course, the problem is that this economic development should have begun in the 60's, not the late 80's. The imposition of a planned economy on Vietnam from 1975 to 1986 was, in and of itself, a crime against humanity. Despite the war perpetrated against the country by the communists and despite the deliberate economic devastation imposed by them, the Vietnamese people have done well for themselves, they are a remarkable, resourceful, and hard working people...well, at least the ones in the South are; I've always been told how the northerners are lazy.
But had Vietnam been given the chance for peace and a market economy in the 60's, I have little doubt that their economy would be second only to Japan's in Asia (China might have been able to catch up in the last few years, but considering their size and population, they should be doing much better than they are).
The South Vietnamese government was always a fraud, and entirely by exploitative, murderous gangsters who were call affiliated with the CIA and the US military. They relied on terror and totalitarianism to control the supposed "South Vietnam" The truth is there never was a South Vietnam. Aside from a few cities, the "South Vietnamese" government nor the US never controlled much of anything. The vast majority of Vietnamese people supported unification and were fundamentally against the South Vietnamese regime of thugs and generals, that is why the "Vietcong" found so much popular support? How else did you suppose that the guerrillas defeated one of the most powerful military campaigns in the history of the world? This is precisely why the US had to pull out of Vietnam after being there since 1945..
Everyone eventually wanted unification, just not under communist rule, there's a reason that during the 300 days following the Geneva Accords over a million Vietnamese fled to the South, despite independent observers reporting that many were forced to stay in the north against their will, with only a nominal number moving north. While there were local areas of malcontents in the south, the communists did not have the support you suggest...and they most certainly didn't have it amongst the intellectual and professional classes in Vietnam.
You said that the US should have dealt a decisive death blow, no such thing could have existed. The US dropped more tonnage of bombs on Vietnam (North and South), Laos and Cambodia then in World War II and Korea combined. There is literally nothing else we could have done but retreat and why? Because we simply never should have been there.
Ummm...there's a lot more we could have done. War's are won by control of logistics and we failed miserably in that account. Yes, we dropped a lot of bombs and won battles with front line troops, but none of that matters if you don't take control of supply lines. Traditionally, supply lines were pretty straightforward, in asymmetrical warfare, they're a bit more complicated. We should have invaded North Vietnam early on, secured Hanoi, and moved to secure the border crossings with China. This in combination with our naval blockade would have denied the communists arms, food, and other supplies, effectively crushing the resistance. Of course, there's a good chance we would have had to engage in at least a localized conflict with China...same set up as Korea...
Of course, had we sent troops into China in '49 to support Chiang Kai-shek...everything would have been a lot easier. Our failure to do that was probably the greatest foreign policy mistake the US made in the 20th century and, perhaps, even in the history of our country.
The vast majority of people supported the "North", those 2 million folks who fled were all affiliated with the South Vietnamese military government and an overwhelming amount of those were conscripted by force (ie, they really didn't want to fight in the war, they were forced by the brutally thuggish regime in the South). The "North" and the "Vietcong" guerrillas in the South did rely upon assassinations, bombings, and other dirty tactics but no more than the South thug regime used against its own people to coerce them to fight. Diem used the military to force migrate millions of people in the Villagification programs that resulted in famine, disaster.. Diem and his successors used hit squads and US air strikes to intimidate southerns to follow the plan and forced them at gun point to abandon their ancestral homes including cemeteries which were the rural Vietnamese reliquaries. It was all by force.
And the communists eliminated resistance by murdering the members of all other parties, murdering other communists who may not agree with them (e.g. Trotskyists), and outlawing any other political party in 1945-1947. And you can add to that the mass murder of the land owners in the north in the mid '50's (and by land owner, what they really meant was, in addition to the productive people, any intellectual, professional, or otherwise educated individual who wasn't a member of the communist party).
The government in the South may not have been perfect, Diem certainly wasn't. It's most unfortunate that unification couldn't have occurred under Bảo Đại. But they were no more thugs than the communists and at least they were thugs that allowed market based economics. Under the south the Vietnamese economy could have begun to grow and the people prosper in the 60's...instead of being forced to stagnate until the late 80's on account of communist military aggression followed by more than a decade of deliberate sabotage of the Vietnamese economy.
The retaliation by the North after the "Fall" has been completely overblown, it was not a large scale persecution, most people went to jail for a bit (not saying this was right) but in reality no more oppressive than the previous "South Vietnam" government had been.. The folks who fled to the US were afraid, had been intimidated, and also were refuges from the subsequent war with Cambodia. You have to remember the the supposed boogie men of the North are the only ones who stepped in and stopped insane Pol Pot when the US had only been content to bomb Cambodia and then give Pol Pot billions in armaments to fight the Vietnamese..
I think we know different people from Vietnam. They weren't all just thrown in jail for a few months, a friend of mine's grandfather who served as a Colonel in the ARVN and murdered by a communist death squad...no trial, not accused of any thing, simply murdered because he was an enemy soldier in direct violation of the Geneva convention. Any field or flag grade officer, medium to high ranking member of the government of the Republic of Vietnam, or medium to large scale landowner had to get out or risk summary execution.
Just because a few peasants who served as enlisted personnel in the ARVN got off with a couple months in labour camps doesn't mean there was a civilized transition of power.
Like I said, its complicated. I do not support the bad things that North Vietnam did, but it must be understood in the context of war, and must always understand that both the US and the puppet thug regime in South Vietnam were actually the worse evil. If the North Vietnamese were so terrible, how do so many hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese expatriates who live in the US travel back and forth to Vietnam with no trouble or fear? I told you, the war with Cambodia did more to create the boat people crises than the "Fall of Saigon", the US just pumped up the propaganda machine to continue to make the villain of the North. But no more of this, lets get back to Orthodox.
I would say the opposite, while the government in the South had problems, it cannot compare to the atrocities committed by the north who were the cause of the war. In 1945 the US had supported an international trusteeship of Indochina, this would have allowed Vietnam to be united under Bảo Đại and almost certainly gain independence within a decade. But Ho Chi Minh and the communists had gotten a little bit of power and refused to compromise. Their militant lust for power threw Vietnam into 30 years of war, followed by another decade of oppression due to ideological stupidity.
But, yes, after 4 decades of communist imposed hardship in Vietnam, things have improved and I'm happy they have. People can now go back and visit family again, foreign countries can once again invest in Vietnam, and there is hope for the future. But this has not happened thanks to Ho Chi Minh...it happened in spite of him.