Huh? Morning Joe and BBC: Vietnam Is ‘Temple of Capitalism’ and American Values

On Friday's Morning Joe, Katty Kay, English anchor for BBC World News America, came to the baffling conclusion that Vietnam is “a temple of capitalism and commitment to all of the things that Americans hold dear,” and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns seemed to agree.

How did she come to this realization? Apparently, because she saw stores for Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Almaz in Hanoi a year ago. Kay therefore concluded that Vietnam has not only embraced American-style capitalism, but has become some sort of religious cult in thrall to American political values. 

This all came about as the result of a longer segment that Morning Joe was doing with Ken Burns promoting his new documentary The Vietnam War. Joe Scarborough presented an interesting clip from the film:

On September 2nd, 1945, the same day the Japanese formally surrendered, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese streamed into Ba Đình Square in Hanoi to see for the first time the mysterious leader of the Viet Minh and hear him proclaim Vietnam's independence. With an OSS officer standing nearby, Ho Chi Minh began with the words of Thomas Jefferson: “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

 

This was a real historical event, and while the background story for why Ho Chi Minh quoted the Declaration of Independence would indeed be quite interesting to tell, Katty Kay was instead inspired to make her bizarre equivocation:

Ken, I was in Vietnam a year ago and was standing in Hanoi, not very far from that square, and I was looking at these storefronts and there was Louis Vuitton and Gucci and Almaz and I was thinking: ‘Wow, what would those American GIs have thought if they had known that just a few decades later, North Vietnam would become a temple of capitalism and a commitment to all of the things that Americans hold dear?’ And it was, it's just the irony of it is so extraordinary.

Vietnam today is certainly a far cry from other modern Communist regimes such as North Korea or Cuba. The Vietnamese government is much less totalitarian and murderous than their cousin regimes and they do make genuine attempts to trade and be friendly with countries like the United States (not to mention that they did take out the genocidal, communist Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the late 1970s). 

However, to suggest that Vietnam has a religious devotion to capitalism or other American values is simply insane. As Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Index has pointed out in this year’s report on Vietnam:

Vietnam is a one-party state, dominated for decades by the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Although some independent candidates are technically allowed to run in legislative elections, most are banned in practice. Freedom of expression, religious freedom, and civil society activism are highly restricted. The authorities have increasingly cracked down on citizens’ use of social media and the internet in general to spread uncensored information and galvanize dissent.

Freedom House also took care to point out that the Vietnamese government continues to arrest “dissident bloggers, ordinary internet users who posted critical content, and members of religious groups that operate outside of [the Communist Party’s] control.”  This has been recently backed up by a Washington Post report that confirms that Vietnamese police are ramping up efforts to arrest, detain, and imprison independent journalists and activists who criticize the government. 

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With respect to capitalism, the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom rates Vietnam as mostly unfree economically at #147 out of 180 countries (whereas the United States is mostly free at #17).  Similarly, in 2016, the Fraser Institute rated Vietnam as being the 116th most free (tied with Colombia) out of 159 countries.

So, did Ken Burns rightfully bring up that a one-party Communist dictatorship that does not have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free elections, or basic private property rights is not a paradise of American virtues? Nope. He appeared to wholeheartedly agree with Kay:

It is exquisite and painful at the same time. I remember as a kid growing up hearing at age fifteen that if we'd given every Vietnamese $600,000, which would have been a good stake at becoming a junior capitalist, we would have spent less money than what we spent in Vietnam not succeeding and converting them to our brand of things.

It is a bit disturbing, but not surprising, that those on the left in both the U.S. and the U.K. have such an easy time falling back in love with communist countries.  It’s not the first time they’ve done so, and it probably won’t be the last.

The following is a full transcript of the segment:

8:40 AM EST

(...)

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Let's play a clip from the ten-part, 18-hour documentary on the Vietnam War.

PETER COYOTE [NARRATOR]: On September 2nd, 1945, the same day the Japanese formally surrendered, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese streamed into Ba Đình Square in Hanoi to see for the first time the mysterious leader of the Viet Minh and hear him proclaim Vietnam's independence. With an OSS officer standing nearby, Ho Chi Minh began with the words of Thomas Jefferson: “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

SCARBOROUGH: Extraordinary. Katty Kay is in D.C. and has a question, Katty?

KATTY KAY [BBC WORLD NEWS, ANCHOR]: Ken, I was in Vietnam a year ago and was standing in Hanoi, not very far from that square, and I was looking at these storefronts and there was Louis Vuitton-

KEN BURNS: Louis Vuitton [laughing].

KAY: -and Gucci and Almaz and I was thinking: ‘Wow, what would those American GIs have thought if they had known that just a few decades later, North Vietnam would become a temple of capitalism and a commitment to all of the things that Americans hold dear?’ And it was, it's just the irony of it is so extraordinary.

BURNS: It is exquisite and painful at the same time. I remember as a kid growing up hearing at age fifteen that if we'd given every Vietnamese $600,000, which would have been a good stake at becoming a junior capitalist, we would have spent less money than what we spent in Vietnam not succeeding and converting them to our brand of things. But you know what, we have great relations with them.  They're, they’re, they’re incredibly dedicated to us. We love to go back there. It's an amazing thing. But what's going on is that we're still conflicted about the war. It's unfinished business for us. Most of us are in our hardened silos with certain opinions, more or less arguments, that just don't, you know, work out. Gee, if we'd only taken our pitcher out in the sixth inning instead of the seventh we would have won that game. Maybe, but that's not the way you talk about this war. But they're conflicted too. They haven't reconciled with the people in the South as much. The losers of that war, the people who lost a country. And they're beginning to count, you know, wonder whether the cost of it was worth it.

(...)    


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