Tag Archives: peace

40 Years After – How Did They Fare?

Col. Andrew Finlayson, VVFH Founding Member

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, there were seven ongoing communist insurgencies in SE Asia – Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all had active communist insurgencies. Three of those insurgencies were successful in 1975 (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). When one considers the question of whether or not the successful communist insurgencies lived up to the promises they made to their respective populations to provide peace, social justice and economic well-being, it is instructive to look at the records of those seven countries with communist insurgencies and see how they fared over the past 40 years.

Peace: Many in the West thought that once the communists came to power and all of the US and allied forces left Vietnam, a new era of peace and harmony would exist. At least that is what the communists promised. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The communist government of the united Vietnam fought two wars with their neighbors, China and Cambodia, and tensions still persist with China over the East China Sea. A little known fact that is often overlooked by some in the West is more SE Asians died in war and the results of war in the 14 years after the last American left Vietnam than during the years when US forces were in South Vietnam. Although exact figures for the number of SE Asians who died after the communist victories in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia vary, even the conservative estimates are mind-boggling. There were 65,000 executions in Vietnam between 1975 and 1982 (Desbarats and Jackson, “The Cruel Peace,” Washington Quarterly, Fall 1985: also US Dept. of State Bulletin, Sept. 1985). The UN High Commissioner on Refugees estimated that 250,000 people fleeing Vietnam by boat died at sea. Another 165,000 died in Vietnam’s infamous “re-education camps” (Desbarats, Jacqueline. “Repression in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: Executions and Population Relocation,” The Vietnam Debate, 1990).

According to Lt. Gen. Le Kha Phieu, the commander of Vietnamese forces in Cambodia, the Vietnamese military suffered 55,000 deaths between 1978 and when the Vietnamese ended their occupation of Cambodia (Reaves, Joseph. “Vietnam Reveals Cambodian Death Toll,” Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1988). There are no accurate figures for the number of Cambodian deaths suffered in the war, but it is safe to assume they suffered heavier casualties than the Vietnamese.

Although the claims of the Vietnamese and Chinese differ widely on the casualties produced by their 1979 war, a conservative estimate provides a range of Chinese military deaths at 7,000 to 26,000 and approximately 30,000 Vietnamese military deaths, with an additional 100,000 Vietnamese civilian deaths (Zhang Xiaoming, “China’s 1979 War with Vietnam,” China Quarterly, No. 184, December 2005, pp. 851-874). The Communist Lao government continues to this day to inflict casualties on the Hmong minority in that country with the figure of 100,000 killed since 1975 (Rummel, Rudolph. Statistics of Democide, University of Hawaii; also, “Forced and Forgotten” Lawyers’ Committee on Human Rights, 1989, p. 8). And, according to the Yale Genocide Program, the communist party in Cambodia killed approximately 1.7 million of that country’s citizens when it came to power, one of the most horrific genocidal crimes ever committed.

Social Justice: By just about any objective standard, the communist governments that came to power after 1975 have had a truly dismal record on human rights. All three have been identified by numerous impartial human rights organizations as among the worst countries in the world for human rights abuses. Vietnam, in particular, has been singled out consistently for denying its citizens basic human rights. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Vietnam as “one of the worst countries in the world” for censoring the press, noting that during the Vietnam War over 100 newspapers were printed in South Vietnam but only a handful exist today and all of them are tightly under government control. Freedom House noted as recently as 2014 that Vietnam was, “among the countries with the worst scores for political rights and civil liberties,” and they have reported that “Vietnam is among the ten worst abusers of internet freedom” (“If a Tee Falls,” The Economist, April 18-24, 2015. p.34). The Worker Rights Consortium reported in 2013 that Vietnam had a dismal record on such things as “forced and child labor.” The Pew Research Center has consistently ranked Vietnam among the thirty worst countries in the world for religious oppression, noting that Vietnam had, “very high government restrictions on religion.” Human Rights Watch wrote a withering appraisal of the sorry state of human rights in current day Vietnam in their 2013 “World Report,” and John Sifton of that non-partisan human rights watchdog wrote, “Vietnam is a non-democratic, one-party state, with an abysmal human rights record.”

Economic Freedom: When the communists came to power in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, they all promised a new era of economic prosperity free from the shackles of capitalism. Let’s see how that turned out 40 years later and compare the economic performance of the communist and non-communist governments of SE Asia (Sources: Pocket World in Figures, 2015 Edition, The Economist: and The World Bank).

Country GDP per head Economic Freedom Index Avg. Annual Inflation
Vietnam $1,760 50.8 10%
Laos $751 51.4 21.31%
Cambodia $709 57.5 5.26%
Thailand $5,480 63.3 2.3%
Malaysia $10,430 69.6 1.8%
Indonesia $3,560 58.5 5.2%
Philippines $2,590 60.1 3.8%

As the economic statistics above show, the countries that had successful communist insurgencies lag behind their capitalist neighbors in GDP per person, economic freedom, and inflation rates. One would think that a communist government would have solved the problem of income inequality, but the facts prove otherwise. The GINI index which the UN and the World Bank assign to countries based upon their income distribution within households shows that Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are ranked far below such capitalist countries as Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Canada, and Norway. When one considers the endemic corruption, one party rule, income inequality, political repression, and poor management of their economies, it is difficult to make a convincing argument that communism has benefitted the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

EXCERPT FROM TURNER REMARKS IN DIJON, FRANCE

ON OCCASION OF 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PEACE (Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, France, on September 21, 2012)
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As I suspect many of you know, Jefferson served from 1784-1789 as America’s Minister to France—and until his death he remained a great friend and admirer of this country. Jefferson was renown for many things. He was a man of the Enlightenment: a scholar in numerous diverse fields, a farmer, scientist, inventor, political theorist, linguist, meteorologist, musician, horseman, and generally a polymath extraordinaire.

Jefferson was also a great lover of peace. Writing to William Short (the man he called his “adopted son” and his successor as U.S. Minister to France) in 1801, President Jefferson declared that “If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is, that we should have nothing to do with conquest.”1 I believe that statement is as true today as it was more than two centuries ago. Two years later, he declared in another letter that “Peace is our passion . . . .”2

But Thomas Jefferson was not a “pacifist,” despite his intense hatred for war and love for peace. He reasoned that there were two requirements for America to maintain peaceful relations with the external world. Writing to John Jay (at the time Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Second Continental Congress in New York) from his post in Paris, Jefferson explained:

Justice . . . on our part will save us from those wars which would have been produced by a contrary disposition. But how can we prevent those produced by the wrongs of other nations? By putting ourselves in a condition to punish them. Weakness provokes insult and injury, while a condition to punish, often prevents them.3

He added: “I think it to our interest to punish the first insult; because an insult unpunished is the parent of many others.”4

Indeed, while serving in Paris, Jefferson learned in some detail of the predations of the Barbary Pirates and concluded that only the use of naval force could protect the United States and its seafaring citizens from this scourge. Jefferson proposed that America join forces with the powers of Europe to establish a mutual security arrangement to deal with this threat—either by taking turns patrolling the Mediterranean or each contributing ships to what in today’s parlance might be termed an international joint task force. He explained that the “object of the convention shall be to compel the piratical States to perpetual peace, without price [i.e., without paying tribute or ransom] and to guarantee that peace to each other.”5

The organization Jefferson proposed was to be based in Versailles, with decisions made by majority vote of the members. He suggested that they first direct their joint actions against Algiers, explaining: “When Algiers shall be reduced to peace, the other piratical States, if they refuse to discontinue their piracies, shall become the objects of this convention either successively or together, as shall seem best.”6 The Europeans were interested, but the American Continental Congress lacked the power to raise either money or a navy without the approval of the states, and was unwilling to bind the nation to treaty obligations it might not be able to fulfill.7

Indeed, this weakness in foreign affairs was one of the factors that led to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 that wrote the American Constitution. Alexander Hamilton observed in Federalist essay number 15:

We may indeed with propriety be said to have reached almost the last stage of national humiliation. There is scarcely any thing that can wound the pride, or degrade the character of an independent nation, which we do not experience. Are there engagements to the performance of which we are held by every tie respectable among men? These are the subjects of constant and unblushing violation. Do we owe debts to foreigners and to our own citizens contracted in a time of imminent peril, for the preservation of our political existence? These remain without any proper or satisfactory provision for their discharge. . . . Is respectability in the eyes of foreign powers a safeguard against foreign encroachments? The imbecility of our government even forbids them to treat with us. Our ambassadors abroad are the mere pageants of mimic sovereignty.8

Later, when Jefferson became President in March 1801, the first decision of his first cabinet meeting was to send two-thirds of the new American Navy half-way around the known world to protect our commerce and the lives and freedom of our citizens from Barbary brutality. This decision ultimately paved the way for an end to Barbary piracy and an extended peace.
Years earlier, writing in 1793 to James Monroe (who later became America’s fifth president), Jefferson explained:

I believe that throughout all America there has been but a single sentiment on the subject of peace and war, which was in favor of the former. The Executive here has cherished it with equal and unanimous desire. We have differed, perhaps, as to the tone of conduct exactly adapted to the securing it.9

This is in my view a point of tremendous importance, as too often the public debate over use-of-force issues is viewed as a struggle between those who love peace and those who love war. I voluntarily went twice to war in Southeast Asia, and I saw evidence of its horrors as well while traveling through Europe in the decade following World War II and in Central America during the 1980s. I hate it with the passion that only those who have personally witnessed its horror can feel. And while I understand and respect the views of those who view things differently, I personally believe that Jefferson was correct in his belief that peace is best kept by behaving honorably in our relations with others, remaining strong enough so as not to be seen as easy prey by those contemplating aggression, and being willing to contribute to keeping the peace by defending victims of such aggression—as my father and only uncle did in France during World War II.

Jefferson’s vision that peace might be best maintained by uniting peace-loving nations was—like so much of his thinking—ahead of his time. He read French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek, and English—and there is some evidence he had some knowledge of German as well—and he also had studied several Native American dialects. But he did not read Chinese, and I am unaware of any evidence that he was familiar with the writings of Sun Tzu. But surely he would have agreed with Sun Tzu’s maxim that “. . . to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”10 And that goal is well served when potential aggressors realize that the world community is prepared to act effectively in response to acts of international aggression.
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