VIETNAM IS A COMMUNIST NATION—ONE OF THE FEW REMAINING, AND OF COURSE not anything like the communism that gave birth to the cold war, but nonetheless, it is a sovereign nation that still links its identity to Marx and Lenin (through Chairman Ho).
The United States is not a Communist nation. Defeated by Vietnam yet a victor in the cold war, we are a nation that in large part defines itself in opposition to the ideology of Marx and Lenin. 1 Vietnam sets as its ideal the state in service of the withering of the state; the United States sets as its ideal the withered state in the service of liberty. Control is the model of communism; freedom is the model of the United States.
Or so we are to think.
I confess a certain fascination with Communist states. In the early 1980s I wandered through every European Communist state that would let me in. I spent much of the summer of 1996 wandering through Vietnam. Alone and e-mail-free, I tried to understand this place that in my childhood fell victim to my nation's exported struggle with the cold war.
I've been to many places—traveling is a hobby of mine—but never to a place more spectacular. One is always overwhelmed by forgiveness, and an American can't help being overwhelmed by this nation's warmth and welcome. Perhaps had we "won" the war forgiveness would not be so forthcoming. But it apparently comes easily to those who did win.
I was not there to understand forgiveness, however, but to learn something about how the place ran. I wanted to understand how this state exercises control over its citizens; how it continues to regulate; how it qualifies as one of the last remaining Communist states. So I spent time talking to lawyers, businessmen, and managers of the emerging Net in Vietnam ("NetNam"). Very quickly, a surprising picture emerged.