The most costly and shameful war the U.S. had engaged in was the Vietnam War. It was a war against a tiny country that eventually became a proxy war between Communist China and the Soviet Union (USSR) on one side and the U.S. on the other. The legacy of broken lives, not to mention the economic toll on both sides, lingered for years after.
What went wrong? The American justification for the war was to stem the tide of communism in Southeast Asia. It was based on the “Domino Effect Doctrine,” the belief that once Indochina (Vietnam) fell to the communists, communism would cascade to the rest of Southeast Asia (which, by the way, never happened). To prevent such a scenario from happening, divided Vietnam, with the North under the influence of Communist China and the USSR and the South under the French. Later, the U.S. was resolute in keeping the South a democratic country. However, the strategy stood on shaky ground.
There were several missteps the U.S. war planners committed. The intelligence assessments were flawed and racially biased against the enemy, particularly the North Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh. He first fought the French in his quest to reunite divided Vietnam. Foremost, he was a patriot who hated the French for dividing his country. His ultimate goal was to make Vietnam whole again by any means. Early in his nationalist struggle, he was not anti-American. In fact, in his efforts to expel the French, he sought help from American paratroopers, which he got in one of his campaigns. He would have embraced American assistance rather than Chinese or Soviet help had the Americans understood his thinking. Eventually, Ho Chi Minh entered a marriage of convenience with China and the Soviet Union for his larger goal of a unified Vietnam. Meanwhile, the corrupt and tenuous South Vietnamese government could only survive with the Americans waging war for them.
To provide a geopolitical and historical context, Vietnam was once a Chinese colony spanning over a thousand years. They revolted several times but failed until 938 A.D. when they finally expelled the Chinese. Since then, Vietnam has had serious mistrust toward its giant neighbor. The old Vietnamese language used Chinese characters, but they tossed out even this in favor of the Roman script developed by Portuguese and Italian Jesuit Missionaries when Vietnam was under the French in the 17th century. The old enmity flared up again immediately following the Vietnam War when Vietnam and China had a military confrontation over Chinese encroachments on Vietnamese territory. Vietnam has been the staunchest opponent of China’s hegemonic claims over a vast body of water shared by several Southeast Asian countries.
Fast forward to today. Enter Vladimir Putin, who can’t wait to flex his tired muscles to wage an expansionist territorial war against Ukraine. Here are some uncanny parallels between the Vietnam War and Putin’s War in Ukraine. For hundreds of years, China had considered Vietnam an integral part of Imperial China as a colony in the same way Russia considers Ukraine as part of Russia, albeit treating their people as second-class citizens. Putin and his capos went to war based on flawed intelligence, dominated by racial bias against Ukrainians. Like the Americans in Vietnam, Putin miscalculated the resolve and courage of Ukrainians for being a smaller country and a people he considered inferior to Russians.
Like the Americans’ flawed and paranoid perception of the events in Vietnam at the time, Putin’s equally paranoid and delusional view of NATO and Ukraine’s desire to join the European Community shaped his military strategy and rationale for invading Ukraine. Putin failed to understand Volodymyr Zelensky and acted out his bias against the man he considered a lesser leader than himself. So did the Americans toward Ho Chi Minh.
Again, Putin’s Ukraine War has morphed into a proxy war between the West and Russia. More than the geopolitical considerations as factors for going to war in Vietnam and now Ukraine, the racial bias that war leaders held about their opponents played a crucial role in the prosecution and outcome of the war. Putin’s isolationist mentality and autocratic rule have deprived him of critical feedback and understanding of the world we live in. He is waging war taken from the old Soviet playbook, which is anachronistic and bereft of any sense of morality in treating its own fighting force and enemies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at email@example.com.