Playing with his big kite, Marquel, the TPV Times Colorful Section Correspondent, read In Chinas Shadow, U.S. Courts Old Foe Vietnam. Increasingly at loggerheads with China, the United States now envisions Vietnam as a new partner that will acquire American weapons and help offset Chinas power. It seemed to Marquel that history was repeating itself in a bad way. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we fought America’s longest and most expensive war using Vietnam as a proxy for China. Now we’re going to do it again? Vietnam is going to do our work for us against China?
There was also a small footnote to that little dispute. Didn’t we lose that war disgracefully retreating like dogs and leaving half our friends behind for prison time?
Now Marquel had to hold his head in his hands and wonder what this all meant at its most profound. Sure, it could just be that Americans are ahistorical ignoramuses. But that doesn’t mean very much except that we are ahistorical ignoramuses. Why did we choose this moment to buddy up to Vietnam in order to put a little scare in China? Do we really believe that this or anything could scare China? Does somebody have a big investment in Vietnam and this is just a masquerade?
Could that possibly outweigh the value of continued trade with China?
Marquel’s head hurt. He kept his hands on his head but he wasn’t making observable progress. Perhaps a talk with the State Department would do.
Marquel went to his contact at State. They went inside and talked about Vietnam.
“You’ve heard about the Vietnam war?” I asked.
“Of course. That’s insulting.” He asserted.
“I didn’t mean you personally. I meant the people here in charge of this policy to arm Vietnam.” I explained.
“They couldn’t possibly not know. Look we’re right across from the Vietnam Memorial.” He said.
“And they know we got whipped there. We used every known weapon, strategy, half a million conscripted troops, and they still crushed us like ants.” I said.
“They might look at it differently.” He said.
“That would be unfortunate because it would mean they were hiding from the truth.” I said.
“That would be disaster.” He said.
“You can’t imagine. We did that once with our best and brightest as they called themselves.” I said. “But the amazing thing is they are clearly smarter than us! We are dummies to them! And we were using our best and brightest! “
“Yeah, so?” He was obviously too patriotic to take much of this. That’s our problem of course. Patriotism gets in the way of reality. Nothing should do that in war.
“So,” I said, “Vietnam is not stupid enough to do our bidding against China. Why are we doing this?”
“They’re in the market for weapons.” He said.
“And?” I wondered.
“Can you imagine us selling our very best weapons to the only enemy who ever beat us? Would it go far in Congress?”
“I’m beginning to see your point.” I said.
“If so you’re doing better than the State Department. They couldn’t figure out any way to pull this sale off.” He said.
“So who came up with this story that they would help us counteract China, as absurd a story as I can imagine.” I asked.
“Who do you think?” He asked. I was silent. “The arms industry! They came up with this cock and bull story and State ran with it!”
“So State didn’t make this up. They just thought what the arms merchants said would be a good way to get the sales through congress.” I summarized.
“That’s it.” He said.
“But don’t we have this huge state department to make policies, exactly these kind of policies?” I asked.
“That’s what they pay us for.” He said.
“But instead you schlog into this pr piece by the arms people.” I said.
“Everybody thought it was inspired genius. Plus you know there’s more people in the arms industry than the State Department, and a lot more money, and maybe more talent.” He said.
“In all sincerity you should be mortally ashamed to say that. There’s not one person in the arms industry who cares about the U.S. They care only about profits. I fail to see any genius there. The State Department represents the people and makes foreign policy for our benefit, not arms people.” I said.
“Isn’t it possible that both could converge once in awhile?” He pleaded.
“Frankly,” I said, “No. Never. Impossible. Think about what they’ve done. Viet Nam is going to be armed to the teeth with the latest weapons. Of course they’re paying top dollar. Has anyone thought about the next step? Isn’t a war possible? A mistake? An alliance we missed between China and Viet Nam perhaps? All we’ve done is filled the international arms dealers coffers–they’re not even uniformly American anymore–and if disaster strikes no one blames them. We’ll blame you! For good reason.”
He was almost crying. There’s nothing more disgusting than a state department person near tears except perhaps an African army in full retreat. They are not pretty sights. The only strategy is put plenty of distance between you and it.
On the Acela, as we waited for the normal Amtrak trains to pass us, I thought about general Eisenhower’s advice to be on guard against the military industrial complex. What a genius for a dumb man. We’ve got to be really really dumb.
I called Mufi to see if he’d have any noodles ready.