Indochina got the worst of two worlds

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

Bryan Caplan often feels the need to save pacifism from (other) pacifists:

Though the argument for pacifism is surprisingly solid, flesh-and-blood pacifists often make me cringe with their naive and even intellectually dishonest claims. Some even shamefully glide from pacifism to identification with heinous totalitarian regimes.

One striking example: the following panel from historian Howard Zinn‘s non-fiction graphic novel, A People’s History of American Empire.* After a history of the Vietnam War that barely mentions North Vietnam’s record of mass murder and oppression, Zinn claims complete vindication by events.

Zinn People's History of American Empire Vietnam Memorial

Everything that radical critics had predicted”?! Did they predict a mass exodus of desperate boat people? Communist Vietnam’s imprisonment of millions in re-education camps? The untimely deaths of over 100,000 in those camps? The execution of another hundred thousand? The Khmer Rouge’s takeover and murder of 25% of the population of Cambodia? Defenders of the war who claimed that only America’s presence could prevent a bloodbath have a far stronger claim to vindication by the facts than its “radical critics.”

Zinn deserves credit for pointing out the crimes of the American and South Vietnamese governments. But the intellectually honest pacifist should be the first to admit that the North Vietnamese government’s crimes were far worse — and that Indochinese Communists’ post-war intentions were truly macabre.

If these are my views, why on earth would I have opposed the Vietnam War? The same reasons as usual: even the less-evil side engaged in mass murder of civilians and other human rights violations without any strong reason to believe these moral transgressions would lead to sharply better consequences. The American government did great evil in the name of a greater good that never materialized. In the end, Indochina got the worst of two worlds: all the horrors of war plus all the horrors of Communism.

What’s especially tragic is that the U.S. could have peacefully saved many millions of the intended victims of Indochinese Communism. How? By allowing their immigration. During a brief period of open borders between North and South Vietnam, a million intended victims of Communism escaped to the modestly freer, richer South. Imagine how many Indochinese would have gladly emigrated to the far freer, far richer United States if we’d only given them the option.

A crazy idea? Perhaps. But far less crazy than trying to save Vietnam by bombing it into the stone age.


  1. Lu An Li says:

    In the aftermath of 9/11 I did ask my self: “how would a pacifist react to the WTC attacks.” And the pacifists did have answers.

    1. Do nothing.
    2. Provide them jobs.
    3. Open dialog with respect and deference.

    You take if from there.

    Howard Zinn was life-long secret member of the Communist Party USA. Hard a disinterested party to the Vietnam War.

  2. Jeff R. says:

    We should have allowed the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge to emigrate to the US, also, because not having open borders to all is unethical. And if they had wanted to send you to a re-education camp, it’d be unethical to violently resist.

  3. Hoyos says:

    For goodness sake, this guy seems simple. If you’re a pacifist and the rat bastard terrorist brothers of the good Vietnamese wanted to “immigrate” fully armed, what would you do to stop them?

  4. Isolationist says:

    Stop with retarded Caplan already, with his fake dualism. The one and only option for the USA regarding Vietnam was never engaging in a war. The USA must be non-interventionist, non-globalist. The USA become the greatest nation in the world by focusing on itself and being isolationist (claims of otherwise are pure jack shit lack of historical and economical knowledge).

    The USA shouldn’t have been in Vietnam. Shouldn’t have fought a war. Shouldn’t have allowed immigration into the USA.

    Bryan Caplan is either a complete imbecile who reads tons of books (low quality) to claim a title of intellectual (IYI). Or he’s really an ideologue pushing his agenda to impressionable minds who can’t see past his sophistry, his very judaic Pilpul.

  5. Sam J. says:

    “…The one and only option for the USA regarding Vietnam was never engaging in a war….

    …The USA shouldn’t have been in Vietnam. Shouldn’t have fought a war…”

    This sort of thought is directly related to the rewriting of history to a bunch of misconceptions based on lies. Anyone with half a brain and a map could see the strategic value of Vietnam considering that the Commies had publicly declared they were going to bury us, had 30,000 or so nuclear weapons pointed at us and were sponsoring Commie take overs all over Asia. The Vietnam Vets have been sorely misused by the evil Democrats and other leftist. They say that they did nothing in Vietnam and that their sacrifice was for nothing. This is a God Damn lie. The vets while fighting in Vietnam gave all the other countries in the region time to fight off their Commie insurgencies. The ones that were not able too ended up in really bad shape. Cambodia being an worst case example. The Democrat party always said that we could never win in Vietnam and when they got in power they made damn sure they were right. They cut off all funding to the South Vietnamese while the biggest tank invasion, and of course Kirk will tell you how masterful tanks are, invaded the South since the battle of Kusk in WWII. They voted them a couple mags of ammo and a couple grenades for each Man in the South and then nothing else. They told Ford they would impeach him if he gave any support to the South. They literally ran out of ammunition. No air power, no bombing the invading North from ships. Back in the day we had actual ships with big ass guns that could have pounded the Northern invaders all the way down the country but…nothing. The Democrat party and the Liberals are “directly” responsible for the fall of South Vietnam.

  6. Dave says:

    The Paris Peace Accords were a hollow victory for the USA because the Democrats soon reversed it by prying Nixon out of office and cutting off aid to South Vietnam.

    The subsequent fall of Saigon was a hollow victory for Communism, because only nine years later the Communists realized that central planning does not work, and reverted to a mostly-free market.

    A Communist victory can only lead to Brezhnevian stagnation, Dengian “market socialism” (a.k.a. capitalism), or Trotskian “permanent revolution”. Most Communists favor the latter because they all think they’ll be in the faction doing the shooting, not the faction tumbling into the pit.

  7. Bob Sykes says:

    The debate on the Viet Nam war will never end. A good argument could have been made that we should not have done it. Our recent defeat in Korea was a harbinger. But that was the height of the Cold War, and the Soviet Union (not just Russia of today) was at its peak power and influence.

    Eventually we had over 500,000 troops on the ground, and ARVN supplied another 1,500,000. ARVN actually did most of the fighting. We had absolute naval and air supremacy and firepower supremacy on the ground. Yet in the end, North Viet Nam prevailed. The Communists had superior morale.

    As to Caplan’s other point regarding pacifism, there is no good argument for pacifism. Pacifism is immorality, because the pacifist abandons his moral duty to protect the weak. There is certainly no warrant for pacifism in the Old Testament, and the Gospels do not support it either, despite generations of tendentious readings. Jesus does turn the other cheek, sometimes, in order to fulfill the prophecies, but He also brings the sword. And at the Second Coming He will damn many to Hell. Not quite pacific.

  8. Harry Jones says:

    The Paris Peace Accords were weak beer. Too little, too late. What was needed was an armistice no more than four years after the start of US involvement. No substitute for timely victory.

    Nixon was a half-assed warrior, fighting weakly on multiple fronts. I blame his Quaker upbringing – no preparation for leadership.

    Of course he had enemies. Everybody who matters has enemies. But his worst enemy was himself.

  9. McChuck says:

    He lost me at “historian Howard Zinn‘s non-fiction graphic novel, A People’s History of American Empire.”

    Nothing Zinn ever wrote was non-fiction.

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