Communism in places like Russia, China and North Korea came with dystopian death and deprivation yet after South Vietnam was merged with North Vietnam, that largely failed to occur.
“In the aftermath of the war, under Lê Duẩn’s administration, there were no mass executions of South Vietnamese who had collaborated with the US and the defunct South Vietnamese government, confounding Western fears. However, up to 300,000 South Vietnamese were sent to re-education camps, where many endured torture, starvation and disease while being forced to perform hard labour.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam#Reunification_and_reforms
which is bad but not anywhere near as grave as the war that was supposed to prevent it.
A decade later, Vietnam switched to “socialist-oriented market economy” (which sounds like dirigist capitalism) with private ownership of farms, factories and foreign investment.
Why the different trajectory?
How oppressive was North Vietnam from 1954 to reunification? Obviously, it was a dictatorship during a time of war but did it resemble Stalin or Mao?
“R. J. Rummel’s mid-range estimate in 1997 was that the total deaths due to the Vietnam conflict totaled 2,450,000 from 1954–75. Rummel calculated PAVN/VC deaths at 1,062,000 and ARVN and allied war deaths of 741,000,with both totals include civilians inadvertently killed. He estimated that victims of democide (deliberate killing of civilians) included 214,000 by North Vietnam/VC and 98,000 by South Vietnam and its allies. Deaths in Cambodia and Laos were estimated at 273,000 and 62,000 respectively.”
Maybe that (in addition to the 300,000 south Vietnamese who were ‘re-educated’) is “mild” by Communist standards. :dubious:
Of course, had the French and later the U.S. avoided getting involved in the war(s) altogether, casualties as a result of the conflict would have been far less.
They probably would as the conflict spilling over into Cambodia caused instability which probably made the Khmer Rouge succeed. If Cambodia would have fallen anyway, American intervention in Vietnam may have saved lives in Cambodia as it provided the Vietnamese with the training and materiel they needed to overthrow the Khmer Rouge.
Two different countries and two different people but a similar time, place and circumstance. The weak country that constantly got bullied and toyed with. They focused on internal shortcomings. If they could just cut away the weakness they would be strong. They cut away 2 million of their best and brightest.
The strong country that just went toe to toe with a powerhouse. They were confident. They sent 300,000 to reeducation camps and called it a day.
So in answer to the OP’s question. My guess would be that the confidence in the continued survival of the ruling power determined the amount of death.
Cambodia had a fairly moderate socialist monarchy. The war in Vietnam resulted in Cambodian territory being used as a supply line from North Vietnam to the South. So the United States invaded Cambodia and installed a right wing government. This regime had no popular support and opposition groups united against it. The strongest of these was the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot and they ended up taking over Cambodia. When they did, it was a literal horror show. The Khmer Rouge regime killed over twenty percent of its own people. The Khmer Rouge was then overthrown by the Vietnamese Communists.
If we hadn’t intervened in Vietnam, Cambodia would probably still be under its old socialist monarchy. Or perhaps Vietnam would have invaded and installed a relatively moderate communist regime. Either one would have been a lot better than the Khmer Rouge.
Hundreds of thousands may have died in the refugee movement to escape Indochina.
Jackmannii also hints at one of the other reasons, on top of the initial deaths, that so many started leaving before the North could consolidate the conquest. They had been targets during the war. They had seen things like the Massacre at Hue during the Tet Offensive. There the VC intentionally targeted their revolutionary enemies like religious leaders and school teachers. Those targeted were rounded up, killed, and dumped in mass graves. There was a reason why the pictures of the last US helicopters leaving show desperate South Vietnamese trying to get on board.
The people most likely to die in purges knew it. They did their best to get out in advance of being shot. Sometimes that meant trying to cross open ocean in small boats because at least the odds were better.
In addition to the 300,000 in the re-education camps there were also 1 million south Vietnamese who were relocated to the jungles. The government also persecuted the Hoa and 250,000 of them ended up emigrating to China. The government profited off of this by selling exit permits. About two million of the population ended up becoming boat people and fleeing the country by boat. About 300,000 of these people died. About 12% of the south Vietnamese population ended up leaving Vietnam after the war. An estimated 300,000 of those people died trying to escape.
After Gorbachev took power in the USSR foreign aid was cut and the Vietnamese economy was in shambles. The party leader died in 1986 opening the way for the Renovation movement which opened the Vietnamese economy. In most communist countries the opportunity for reform comes after the death of a leader, China was able to reform after Mao’s death, USSR reformed after Stalin and Brezhnev’s death.
Well, as several posters have pointed out, that number is pretty low. You might also want to consider that the population of Vietnam was and is smaller than China or Russia, so you have to scale things up differently. That said, I’d guess the real difference is that the Vietnamese had to fight longer and harder than either the Russian revolution or even the CCP (which, while losing badly early on caught a huge break when the Japanese invaded China and essentially played the KMT off against the Japanese and allowed the nationalists to take the brunt of the casualties defending China, then basically mopped up after the war when the nationalists were exhausted and the country was in a shambles). Contrast that with what the Vietnamese had to endure for their revolution, first against the French then against America. Also, by the time they actually had consolidated power communism itself had changed. The really horrific slaughters of Mao and Stalin were in the past by then (Mao was still about initially, but he’d lost most of the killing frenzy by this point…Stalin was still dead, thankfully). And you have the fact that relatively shortly after Vietnam was consolidated they actually were threatened externally by their neighbors as well as fundamental shifts in the power balance of communism (USSR was starting to run out of gas, China was opposed to the USSR and looking to make a deal with the US, etc).
The biggest take away is that the situation was different by the time Vietnam consolidated…and ‘comparatively mild’ is only ‘mild’ compared to two of the most vicious regimes in history.
Possibly it was because Ho Chi Minh died before the conquest of the south was complete. That meant the Hanoi government had already dealt with the question of succession and didn’t have an egomaniac Great Leader acting out his power fantasies anymore. So perhaps by war’s end the PRV had matured into a comparatively benign party oligarchy.
My simplistic understanding is that what the Vietnamese, both North and South really wanted was their independence as a country. Russia, China and the U.S. made it into a proxy war and the Vietnamese people were caught in the middle as pawns in the battles.
Because Vietnam never produced strong party, political, and military leaders like the Soviet union, China, and north Korea.
ho chi minh was unable to suppress Vo Nguyen Giap while he was alive, and worse, he died prematurely. From Lê Duẩn to Truong Chinh, Vietnam never produce a strong leader.
Yeah, not like they were able to beat two major powers without having another major power directly join them (one of those ‘major powers’ being one of the two superpowers on the globe) and essentially a stalemate with another major power all on their own, all while facing serious economic embargos.
North Korea, on the other hand, managed to barely hold on by their fingernails and, after the direct intervention of a major power basically ‘win’ a stalemate in a war they started. China (well, the CCP presumably) managed to win their revolution after the US basically stopped most major support for the Chinese Nationalists and after the Soviet Union poured in massive aid to them…and, of course, after the Japanese pounded the crap out of the Republic (and the CCP stabbed them in the back every chance they had). So, those two examples are fairly bad for your assertion. The USSR certainly managed to take on a major power and win, but they did so only with massive support of two other major powers, and nearly lost it all because of their ‘strong’ leader being an idiot as well as a blood thirsty maniac.
It’s telling that, of the 4, Vietnam seems the most sane…not that this isn’t a relative term when talking about communist dictatorships. All of them are fucked up in one way or another, even Russia today after they finally kicked their idiotic communist dictatorship to the curb for…well, another dictator…but Vietnam actually seems the most sane of the bunch. Whether they will finally be able to throw off their own communist idiots and transition to a real democracy, and, more importantly, build on the economic success that has been hard won by them, only time will tell.
Vietnam was a country which was essentially ruled by the Chinese for nine hundred years until the French colonized it. Ho Chi Minh trained in Paris as a chef and after becoming a military leader did much to help the Allies in WW2. He expected to win independence for his efforts. After the war, the Allies considered Vietnam low priority and reflexively favoured France and its continued colonialism of Indochina. The Vietnamese were more interested in independence than ideology, and when they embraced communism as a method for achieving this, the Cold War was underway and the Americans did not understand that Vietnamese, Chinese and Russian communism differed; they just feared a domino effect. America gradually became more involved after the French fell in 1954.
For Vietnam, Communism was the only viable alternative to Colonialism. Speaking from first hand experience they are an energetic and excited young nation with dreams of capitalism and joining the international community. The people tolerate the regime as long as they keep their distance, and they do with the understanding their rule isn’t challenged.
Over the past 20 years the standard of life has improved significantly in the country, it will be interesting when that is no longer enough to silence the majority.
The Quiet American by Graham Greene was published in 1955 and is a perfect synopsis of the country and it’s views on international powers. It predicts the Vietnam War and already tells us we’re going to lose and why. It’s also a great story.
ETA: The 2002 movie misses some of the finer points, but isn’t bad.
Vietnam is indeed ranked higher than Russia in the Democracy Index which I am not sure whether to believe or not because China is ranked moderately but firmly higher than both of them. Other countries of note that are ranked higher than Russia: Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.