Since Ho Chi Minh mass-murdered in 1956 --how unethical was it really for the US to stop him?

Stop him from taking South Vietnam that is. In 1956 Ho committed a brutal North Vietnam land reform where many thousands of landlords were brutally killed. Then a huge revolt caused by this land reform and Ho forces squashed the revolt without any mercy. (In his new book on Vietnam Ken Burns himself talks of this violent land reform/revolt incident.) If he had gotten South Vietnam seems much like they would have been in for more of his tragic mass-murder. He never did win the southern country and he died in 1969.

Can you establish that taking revenge on Ho Chi Minh was the primary reason we were over there?

To be honest this is my problem with the whole US attitude to opposition to the soviet bloc during the cold war. As someone who grew up in cold war era Europe, the US gave the impression that they were opposing the communist bloc as the communist economic system ran counter to their capitalist principles. NOT that they opposed communism as it was an brutal autocratic form of government that was responsible for murder on a huge scale.

That said the principle of self-determination is a very important one (that the US themselves gave lip service to). And the Vietnamese people left to themselves, without outside intervention by the US would have decided, democratically, on unification under Ho Chi Minh. I don’t think that is disputable. The US might have thought (possibly rightly) that it was a bad idea (it certainly would not have led to a democratic Vietnam no matter how democratic the process of unification was). But by intervening to stop that happening militarily, was a mistake.

Seems to me that South Vietnam should have had a say in all this.

And let’s be honest. If our primary motivation was some sort of ethical duty to humankind to take down mass murderers, there are plenty of others we’ve either done very little about or been on the wrong side of, like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, the Rwandan genocide, Darfur, and more recently, the Rohingya. Note, that’s a non-inclusive list, i.e. just off the top of my head.

Exactly. Why would Ho be our problem? Sounds like an internal affair of North Vietnam to me.

We didn’t intervene (primarily) to stop such atrocities. If we felt that way, we’d have intervened in China which was a much more egregious human rights violator down the line and categorically than uncle Ho et al. We basically intervened because of the French and the domino theory that was prevalent then…i.e. a fear that the obvious communist aggression world wide would lead to countries falling like dominoes, one after the other, and that we needed to stop that process everywhere we could.

BTW, despite the ‘brutal North Vietnam land reform’, you do realize that the Vietnam people as a whole voted for uncle Ho and his government, right? And, ironically, Ho was a US ally during WWII. Basically, it was French colonialism (well, the failure of said colonialism) and the fact that the US decided to side with the French that essentially drew us into an expanding war in the region. Had we told the French to fuck off with their colonialism and supported Ho Chi Minh it would have gone a hell of a lot better for all concerned…even the French.

Those godless commies were bad, mkay? Can’t let them get a foothold or the whole place will turn into godless commies, one after the other. What’s this now about mass murders? Fire up Operations Lineback and Rolling Thunder! That’ll show em how to mass murder.

We are pikers in comparison, even if you count every war death as towards the mass murder stat. Sorry, I know you were trying to be funny and edgy, but the gist is bullshit.

The gist is (or was supposed to be) that we didn’t care about mass murder as much as stopping communism. Are you saying that’s bullshit?

The problem you have with your proposition is that, in the first part of the 20th century, those two things went hand-in-hand (emphasis added). Not that other systems were innocent of their own atrocities, but you are offering a false dichotomy. It needn’t be just one or the other.

“We” (as in your average American during the cold war, from the NSC down to the average grunt in a foxhole) cared about stopping communism BECAUSE communism was a brutal authoritarian system that was responsible for widespread mass murder and oppression. That is pretty good characterization of why Americans opposed communism, yes some people opposed it because of an ideological belief in the superiority of capitalism, or to build an American hegemony. But the mass murder thing was a bigee!

Of course that didn’t mean everything the US did during the cold war was ethical or justified (supporting authoritarian governments who commited mass murder for example). And the case in OP is a good example of an awful unethical mistake (trying to override the will of the Vietnamese people).

We could make a good argument for supporting the French in Vietnam. France was a major power in Europe, which was a more important region than Southeast Asia. So when we had to make a choice between supporting France or supporting an independent Vietnam, it made sense for us to choose France.

The dumb decision, for us, was in 1954. That’s when the French gave up on Vietnam. At that point, we no longer had a reason to stay there. We should have left with the French (as the British wisely did). But we decided to stay and take over the war.

Yes, but you have to look at the numbers. A good estimate is that the Vietnamese communist government killed around 200,000 people for political reasons. It’s estimated that 2,000,000 Vietnamese were killed in the war we fought to prevent that government from taking over the south. So even if we had succeeded, we killed ten times more people than we would have saved.

You must be talking about war deaths in South Vietnam verse North Vietnam, because if we are talking about the deaths due to the communist regime we are talking a lot more than 200K. Assuming this is what you are referring too, you are correct…but then, this is why it’s called asymmetric warfare after all. There was no comparison between the number of people (civilian and military) the US et al killed, since we were doing formal bombing strikes into North Vietnam (and adjoining nations that either supported North Vietnam or didn’t do anything to stop them from using their territory to resupply forces in the south) and the North Vietnamese were mainly relying on irregular forces harassing in the south until after Tet. Even after that, when regular North Vietnamese forces were increasingly used, they weren’t doing bombings and air strikes into the south.

I disagree, but am willing to concede that this was another point we could have turned aside. However, by 1954 we had plenty of examples of spreading communism both in Europe and in the region. Hell, the Korean War was probably enough to push us to want to ensure that Vietnam wouldn’t unify under a communist regime. I think had we not supported French colonialism at all post WWII (as our stance was supposed to be…that went for all the colonial European powers, including the UK) we could have stayed out of it entirely. Certainly in hindsight we should have pulled out when France tucked tail after being defeated in the field…hell, we SHOULD have supported the democratic election results if we were really going to be true to our ideals, even if that meant a communist regime in Vietnam. Hindsight is 20/20, sadly.

We had to destroy the country in order to save it.

Actually, no. We supported numerous brutal authoritarian rulers during the Cold War whose only selling point was that they were anti-communist. A classic example was when Nixon and Kissinger enabled the fall of Salvador Allende, a socialist but not part of the communist bloc in any meaningful sense, with the brutal Pinochet.

Reagan’s foreign policy advisor Jeane Kirkpatrick was quite explicit about this: that somehow brutal ‘authoritarian’ strongmen were preferable to brutal communist strongmen. It was strictly a matter of communists being bad because they were communists, and everybody else being good if they weren’t.

Does anyone, in this day and age, actually think the Vietnam War was a good idea?

Vietnam and Iraq. Neither are exactly our “crowning achievements”.

No argument there from me. I wasn’t saying the intervention in Vietnam was either correct or ethical.

I was saying that Americans, on the whole, opposed communism during the cold war because of the mass murder, oppression and authoritarian rule that resulted from communism, not from wanting to impose capitalism on the world or any other motive.

Awful unethical things were done because of that, including the Vietnam war (once you start on the “end justify the means” slippery slope it is easy to do awful things).