Bryan Caplan  

Be Careful What You Wish For - You May Already Have It

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A People's History of American Empire mentions that former South Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Cao Ky was an open admirer of Hitler.  Intrigued, I decided to investigate.  The charge checks out.  Exact quote:
"People ask me who my heroes are. I admire Hitler because he pulled his country together when it was in a terrible state in the early thirties. But the situation here [Vietnam] is so desperate now that one man would not be enough. We need four or five Hitlers in Vietnam."
                 - July, 1965 interview with the Daily Mirror
The irony was that by 1965 Vietnam already had its Hitler: Ho Chi Minh.  This may sound like mere rhetoric, but the shoe fits.  Both Hitler and Ho led totalitarian national socialist movements.  Both found their countries divided and unified them with blood and iron.  And both were vicious warmongers and mass murderers.  If all Ky wanted was a leader to "pull his country together," he could have just surrendered.  With enemies like Ky, Communism needed no friends.

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COMMENTS (13 to date)
RPLong writes:

Some Americans would be very surprised if they knew how many admirers of Hitler there are in Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. I know I was a bit shocked myself when I started hearing about it.

But it's not necessarily their fault. Many people from Pakistan, for example, have no idea that their government attempted genocide against the people of Bangladesh. The education system doesn't teach accurate history, especially not in rural areas.

It is remarkable.

John Roccia writes:

@RPLong: WHAT?!? You mean that governments sometimes intentionally mis-educate their own populace to cover up past atrocities? That's horrible! Thank goodness that never happens in America! ;)

Jon writes:

So JFK orders massive aerial bombardment of South Vietnam in 1962, complete with chemical weaponry and other ordinance, and Ho Chi Minh "divided and unified with blood and iron?" What the heck does "totalitarian" mean in your world? Ho Chi Minh was so popular that the CIA was compelled to turn to terrorism and violence to prevent free elections. The war was really conducted against the south because the Communist government in the north had so much popular support. The support they had was incredible.

Was Ho Chi Minh sending bombers into neighboring countries and indiscriminately leveling entire villages? The north wasn't operating in the south until years after JFK's bombardment began. The pretext offered by the US for our invasion into the north has collapsed now as everyone knows the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a fraud. As if the north didn't have justification for repelling the invading US military.

And of course the US decided to carpet bomb neighboring countries as well, once again invading and killing astonishing numbers of people that had done nothing to us and weren't a threat to us. Like I said in the prior post Bryan offered on Vietnam we dropped the equivalent of an entire B-52 payload on Laos every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. More than all the bombs that were dropped during WWII by both sides, including both nuclear blasts. A tiny peasant society with no means of protecting itself and having done nothing that could remotely be regarded as a threat to the US. They were compelled to live in caves in huge numbers, starving and dying. A similar story in Cambodia, which led directly to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and their murderous regime.

My Lai type massacres of entire villages, including all the women and children, were routine. And Ho Chi Minh is Hitler? Give me a break. Why don't you look at the beam in your own eye before talking about the speck in your neighbor's eye.

Jon writes:

Bryan, explain to us how Ho Chi Minh is Hitler. Ho Chi Minh watched as the US ordered aerial bombardment of S Vietnam. Maybe 165,000 people were killed by 1965 (see Raskin and Fall, Vietnam Reader, p261). The US government had led incursions to the North and then based on fabrications (Gulf of Tonkin incident), falsely claiming they had been attacked by the North, escalated the war and invaded the North. Ho Chi Minh finally dared to resist. Hitler wasn't resisting an invading army. Hitler invaded neighboring countries. Is Ho Chi Minh Hitler because he dared to resist an invading army?

collin writes:

Bryan, What is the original sin here? As an anti-Communist and pacificist, was the French occupation or US involvement here? Unfortunately, communist seemed to be able to get support against the evil colonist here. That is how Lenin modified Marxist theory.

Actually, I do think Obama does have your option with Syria. Let in the Syrian refugees into our country (or Turkey or Brazil etc.) and let the civil war play out because the war is not going to end well.


sourcreamus writes:

What happened after the US left? The North invaded the South and conguered it. Then it rounding up its political enemies and put them in camps. It collectived farms and factories. Literally millions of South Vietnamese fled rather than live under the communists.
None of this can be blamed on Americans. It was all because of Ho Chi Minh and the communist ideology.

collin writes:

Yes, it is because Ho Chi Minh and the communist ideology but how was Ho Chi Minh able to get view support for these policies? My view is the French trying to keep the power in Vietnam as the original issue and the US just blunder into the war. In the long run, we need to combine free market capitalism with relative pacifism to long term keep countries from falling into totalitarian communism. If a few fall into this trap, then we let them fail first before any military action. We should be confident in our position that the number of relatively free democrasies has grown a lot since Woodrow Wilson claim of democrasy is the future in WWI.

Jon writes:

Sourcremus, what happened in Vietnam and the rest of Indochina is the US invaded and killed millions of people. And they had collaborators in Vietnam. I suppose when the US left, leaving destruction that perhaps is the most extensive a peasant population has been subjected to in the history of humanity, I suppose many of the collaborators would leave. I suppose they were uncomfortable with their murderous masters leaving them. So what? Let's also notice that the massive purges that were predicted if the US left did not materialize. These predictions were the justification for staying and murdering many more people.

What I'd like to understand is, should we call Ho Chi Minh Hitler simply because collaborators that helped kill about 4 million people apparently decided to leave with the invading army? Is Ho Chi Minh to blame for them feeling uncomfortable? Should he reward them instead? What is he supposed to do?

It is not North Vietnam that sent an army half way around the world to carpet bomb a foreign country, including targeting civilian population centers. To paint them as if they are the bad guys is to really just expose yourself as a most fully indoctrinated state propagandist.

Greg writes:

I know about the european theatre because i've read a great deal about it, so i feel i have at least some information to begin to understand and evaluate hitler. i also greatly dislike communism but not all communist leaders are necessarily on the level of hitler (e.g. clement attlee).

i HIGHLY doubt that Caplan knows anything about ho chi minh. i highly doubt that Ho Chi Minh would be considered a good in anyway (no politician is a good person) if one were to research him properly either. but still, Caplan has made a great mistake jumping to the conclusion that just because Ho Chi Minh beat Caplan's favourite side (USA) that Ho Chi Minh is automatically on the level of hitler.

Harrison Nguyen writes:

Nguyen Cao Ky is a laughing stock for our South Vietnamese. I've never seen in my life a general who abandoned his country to save his ass.

Harrison Nguyen writes:

"I suppose when the US left, leaving destruction that perhaps is the most extensive a peasant population has been subjected to in the history of humanity"
Before the war ended, Sai Gon was one of the most advanced and richest city in the whole Asia. People in Saigon had access to free speech (demonstrations were common in Sai Gon then, but it's forbidden now), TV, international news (BBC, CNN, The Times ...) ...
After the war, Sai Gon stagnated, and now it's even worse than Bangkok or Hong Kong.

"Let's also notice that the massive purges that were predicted if the US left did not materialize."
False. Right after the Vietnamese War, the North opened a lot of "re-education camps". My uncles and grandfathers were in there. Some of them returned. Some of them didn't.

Shane L writes:

Was going to say what RPLong said. I've encountered Indians in online discussion forums who saw Hitler as a very great man who brought Germany to greatness and power. Some said that India needed such a figure too.

There seemed to be a mixture of reasons for this, however. Some just liked that WWII weakened the British Empire, liberating India. Others liked Hitler's apparent strength and assertiveness. But a few genuinely supported his racial and authoritarian policies; one argued to me that India needed a Hitler to expel or exterminate the communists, Christians and Muslims, leaving behind a pure Hindu India. These were a minority, of course.

So I don't know which kind of Hitler-supporter Nguyen Cao Ky was. Did he just like the assertive charisma of Hitler? Or was he keen on the genocide and racism?

Krishnan writes:

This reminds me of Thomas Friedman of the NYTimes who said that if the US was like China, we could get more done - No more debates, discussions - an all knowing, benevolent authority can go all good things (something like that)

Amazing what perfectly sensible people can come up with rubbish like this. Friedman actually wishes for authoritarian control so we can "get things done" - Yea, right.

I am willing to pay Friedman to move (PERMANENTLY) to China - and give up his US Citizenship.

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