Viet-Nam: The First Five Years: An International Symposium

By Richard W. Lindholm | Go to book overview

XXV. General Consideration of American Programs

DAVID HOTHAM

IT IS WORTH putting Free Viet-Nam under a microscope, not only to examine the chances of winning the battle against communism in this part of Southeast Asia, but also to try to deduce something useful about Western aid to so-called "underdeveloped" countries. An average of two hundred and fifty million dollars a year of American aid alone flows into Free Viet-Nam, a nation about the same size as the state of Washington, and which has a population of twelve million. It is interesting to observe, from a purely scientific point of view, the impact of so vast an influx of money on this country which only recently ceased to be a colony of France.

The picture that has gone out almost unchallenged to the world is that Free Viet-Nam is the sure and solid point among the shifting sands of communism and neutralism in Southeast Asia. The phrase constantly repeated by those whose business it is to purvey this story is that VietNam is "the bastion of the Free World against communism in Southeast Asia." In so far as this description causes uninformed people to believe that Viet-Nam is the one point in Asia that they need NOT worry about, the "bastion" concept is completely false.

When the Viet-Minh defeated the French army at Dien Bien Phu in May, 1954, the West made the best of a bad situation, by partitioning Viet-Nam and keeping the southern half of the country out of Communist clutches. At that time most people in Saigon and elsewhere pessimistically felt that it was only a matter of months, or even weeks, before Free Viet-Nam would fall to communism.

But it did not; and it still has not today. Hence, the idea of the "bastion" has held. A reasonable concept, one might say. So why worry?

The mere fact that a bastion exists, of course, is not sufficient in itself. There is no way of telling whether it will continue to hold except by examining the situation inside the bastion and weighing its chances. It is always rash to prognosticate political events, especially in Asia, but one must be realistic. In trying to be so, one should scrutinize the facts in Free Viet-Nam to see whether they fully accord with the complacent assumption that the bastion is solid and will continue to remain so indefinitely.

The history of the last three years in this country has been, broadly speaking, the consolidation of Ngo Dinh Diem's power. In 1955 Diem challenged and defeated the "sects" and then proceeded to eliminate his other enemies from the political scene. In 1955 Saigon was the scene of chaos and bloodshed, but for the next three years it was as calm and orderly as any city of the Western world.

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