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Not all Americans are happy or peacably discontent. But some students were thrilled.

* Cats have crappy livers.
* Another Chinese philosopher you probably haven't heard of. Zhuangzi, relativist and anarchist.
* The Wire -- best show I'm not watching?
* Iceland economics and sagas.
* Hazards of nuclear waste.
* Michael Pollan to the President.
* [ETA: Clarke's "A Walk in the Dark". Spoileriferous.]

Current reading in my SE Asia history book is the 1920s and 1930s, and growing nationalism. I get the impression that 1960s concerns about Vietnam causing a general domino effect of Communism were profoundly ignorant and uncomprehending of what had been going on in Asia. What was going on was nationalism, around various seed philosophies, and in the case of Vietnam, with the collapse of Confucianism, extreme repression by the French, and Ho Chi Minh's personal life, the successful seed was Communism. In Burma it was Buddhism, in Indonesia it was Islam and "unity in diversity", in Malaysia Islam and Malayness. Thailand was always nominally independent but had its own evolution of a constitutional monarchy. None of these would be ripe for Communism. The places it did spread to, Laos and Cambodia, were coincidentally enough also part of the French sphere. From what little I know, I get the impression that the disruptions of the anti-independence struggle helped Communism take hold in those places. So perhaps a limited domino effect, limited to places adjacent to Vietnam and part of its colonial history, which were something of an ideological vacuum (especially Laos), and further socially disrupted by the Vietnam wars.

ETA: forgot a bit, the question of the role of colonialism in the prosperity of the West. I've generally been of the opinion that the wealth of knowledge, tools, and social capital are more important than the plundered resources, and I'm still of that opinion. Pepper doesn't breed wealth. Still, reading about the extensive tin mining and rubber plantations, such things seem more important. That explosion of automobiles in the 1920s? Running on tires from rubber plantations created by colonial command and harvested by forced labor.

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( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
jordan179
Nov. 16th, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
The places it did spread to, Laos and Cambodia, were coincidentally enough also part of the French sphere.

And, "coincidentally enough," also countries that had been invaded by North Vietnam. What a coincidence.
mindstalk
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
Not a coincidence, but not separable from regional history and the history of anti-French nationalism, either. Or the history of being invaded and/or bombed by the US.
jordan179
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:11 am (UTC)
Or the history of being invaded and/or bombed by the US.

Logic would strongly suggest that an invasion by Communist forces would be more likely to make a country go Communist than an invasion by Free World forces.
mindstalk
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
But details tell us that initial involvement was Vietnamese using territory as based to, hmm, fight the Americans, plus some backing of rebels. Whether leaving that situation alone, or reacting by cautiously backing the existing governments, would have been more likely to result in Communist victory than heavy-handed violent interventions by clueless Americans, is not a question that to me obviously favors what we did.
heron61
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:18 am (UTC)
OTOH, being subject to massive & unprovoked bombing raids seem likely to turn a nation & its leaders against the nation performing this bombing.
jordan179
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)
Indeed, "unprovoked" bombing raids would do so. Now, what does that have to do with our bombing raids against the NVA bases in Laos and Cambodia, which were amply provoked by the use of those bases against our allies and forces in South Vietnam?
mindstalk
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:27 am (UTC)
Provocation is irrelevant; what matters for our purposes here is the effects of bombing and invasion on the stability and sympathies of the countries and their peoples. It is quite possible for both "there were real NVA bases to bomb" and "our bombing directly made Communist takeover more likely" to be true.
heron61
Nov. 16th, 2008 11:44 pm (UTC)
Ultimately, much of what happened in Vietnam was the fault of the US, to a small degree because of the war, to a far larger degree because they asked the US (and more specifically Truman) for help against the French, and was ignored. As is so often the case, the US supported both the side that eventually lost and that was the most corrupt and vile, and so Minh turned to Stalin in 1950.

As for Michael Pollan, I find him impressively frustrating. His arguing against "nutritionism" is dead on. However, many of his arguments about improving the US diet ignore one central problem - cheap processed food is what is keeping the poor in the US fed. Many of the plans, proposals, and dreams of Pollan and other (universally wealthy) people in the slow food & etc... movement would result in starvation for a non-trivial portion of the US population. The US food production system clearly needs reform, but I'd vastly prefer it to occur in ways that avoided an increase in hunger.
jordan179
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:12 am (UTC)
As is so often the case, the US supported both the side that eventually lost and that was the most corrupt and vile, and so Minh turned to Stalin in 1950.

How do you explain that Ho Chi Minh joined the Communist Party in the 1920's and adhered to Stalin all during the Interwar Era, then? How was this caused by anything the US did 1945-50, unless you assume that Ho Chi Minh was a precognitive, or possessed of a time machine?
heron61
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
And yet, Minh asked the Truman for aid before he approached Stalin, and only asked the USSR for aid once the US ignored his requests. It seems rather likely that Vietnam would have ended up very different indeed if Truman had agreed to aid Minh.
jordan179
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:21 am (UTC)
You didn't answer the question. So here it is again:

How do you explain that Ho Chi Minh joined the Communist Party in the 1920's and adhered to Stalin all during the Interwar Era, then? How was this caused by anything the US did 1945-50, unless you assume that Ho Chi Minh was a precognitive, or possessed of a time machine?

Should I take your response to mean that you are going back on your claim that Ho Chi Minh only allied with Stalin because of America's refusal?
heron61
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:28 am (UTC)
Should I take your response to mean that you are going back on your claim that Ho Chi Minh only allied with Stalin because of America's refusal?

Yes, all communists are not interchangeable. Clearly Minh thought the US would prove a better ally than the USSR in his fight for Vietnamese independence (which from what little I've read about Minh, seemed initially far more important to him than any ideology). This decision indicates he was at this point rather far from a being a hardline communist ideologue. It also seems not at all unreasonable to assume that an alliance with the USSR, especially under Stalin & Khrushchev, would seem likely to strongly influence Minh's ideas.
mindstalk
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:24 am (UTC)
There's being a true-blue Communist, fervently believing in the cause, and then there's being a Communist because they were the only ones who'd support independence at all.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ho_Chi_Minh

Following World War I, under the name of Nguyễn Ái Quốc (Nguyen the Patriot), he petitioned for recognition of the civil rights of the Vietnamese people in French Indochina to the Western powers at the Versailles peace talks, but was ignored. Citing the language and the spirit of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Ho petitioned U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for help to remove the French from Vietnam and replace it with a new, nationalist government. His request was ignored.

...

He repeatedly petitioned American President Harry Truman for support for Vietnamese independence,[7] citing the Atlantic Charter, but Truman never responded.


http://www.time.com/time/time100/leaders/profile/hochiminh2.html

So, yeah, Communist, but if we'd lived up to noises about self-determination and offered support, possibly not permanently or enthusiastically Communist.
jordan179
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:26 am (UTC)
You've got a good point about Ho Chi Minh's reasons for going Communist, but it refers to our actions after World War One. By the 1940's, Ho was already a confirmed Communist, and a Stalinist to boot.
mindstalk
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:33 am (UTC)
Truman was after WW2, of course. Yeah, Minh was Communist then, but he might have stopped or compromised given reason. As things stood, who did he have to look to besides Stalin, or later Mao?

Now, I can see arguing that the Americans were reluctant to support nationalist movements where those were connected with or backed by Communism, but I think that gets back to how we misunderstood the history and motivations, and basically missed opportunities to be both pragmatic and morally right.
jordan179
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:38 am (UTC)
Now, I can see arguing that the Americans were reluctant to support nationalist movements where those were connected with or backed by Communism, but I think that gets back to how we misunderstood the history and motivations, and basically missed opportunities to be both pragmatic and morally right.

"Pragmatic," sure. "Morally right?" Ok, if you find no problem with supporting a dictator who happens to be "our S.O.B." It's difficult to see why it was immoral to support the Shah or Somoza, but would have somehow been moral to support Ho Chi Minh.
mindstalk
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:42 am (UTC)
Well, our opposition to Minh's dictatorship involved supporting Diem's dictatorship and general corruption, so we're dirty either way. But 'morally right' referred to the oppotunity to not be supporting the colonialists.
jordan179
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:49 am (UTC)
But 'morally right' referred to the oppotunity to not be supporting the colonialists.

What "colonialists?" The French left in 1954; Diem was dictator of an independent Republic of Viet Nam.
rfmcdpei
Nov. 17th, 2008 05:08 am (UTC)
As things stood, who did he have to look to besides Stalin, or later Mao?

Another of his contemporaries was Tito.
jordan179
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:28 am (UTC)
By the way, Wilson's failure to pay attention to native independence rights in general after World War One was a direct consequence of Wilson's extreme racism. Wilson also pushed back black civil rights in America.
mindstalk
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:39 am (UTC)
Why'd John say 1950? I didn't know, but it looks like Stalin recognized Minh's government then, followed by them meeting in Moscow, and agreement to Chinese backing. So yeah, existing Communist history, but also real reasons for "turning to" Stalin right then.
jordan179
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:48 am (UTC)
Ho Chi Minh had "turned to" Stalin in the 1920's, clearly not because of anything Truman did in the 1940's.
fanw
Nov. 17th, 2008 02:56 am (UTC)
Good thing I read past the title. I was trying to work out if "dominos" was a new word for half-white/half-black people, and why they were in SE Asia!
aiwritingfic
Nov. 17th, 2008 03:36 am (UTC)
Let me know if you have Q's re: M'sian history.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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