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The Crime and Punishment of Jeff LeTourneau

The greater offense was that LeTourneau referred, in his Facebook post, to the United States as an imperialist nation.

What the Los Angeles Times Still Does Not Understand about Vietnam

HO CHI MINH

After reading Stephanie Lai’s LA Times article regarding Jeff LeTourneau’s apology and resignation from his Orange County Democratic Party post as Vice-Chair because he praised Ho Chi Minh, I wondered if the spirit of former Agent 19 of the U.S. WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was laughing at the hypocritical character of American politics from his resting place in a mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi.

After all, OSS Agent 19 (Ho Chi Minh) received assistance from the United States for leading the Viet Minh forces against the Japanese occupying Vietnam. In return Ho Chi Minh provided the Americans with important intelligence and assisted in the recovery of downed allied aircrews. And when Ho proclaimed the independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945, in Hanoi, U.S. military officers attended the ceremonies. Soon after, the emerging Cold War led the U.S. to break its ties with Ho and the Viet Minh while providing France with aid in its doomed effort to regain Vietnam as a colony.

The greater offense was that LeTourneau referred, in his Facebook post, to the United States as an imperialist nation.

With the 1954 postwar partition of Vietnam into two separate but temporary administrative zones, one communist, the other anti-communist, the U.S. saw its chance to install a protégé in the Southern zone and make the partition of Vietnam permanent. The resulting “independent” country of South Vietnam was bankrolled and defended by Americans for twenty years. When the U.S. withdrew funds and forces, South Vietnam – a society without any internal cohesion beyond that resting on corruption and repression - crumbled and the communists took power over the entire country.

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So why might the spirit of Ho Chi Minh be laughing? Because not only is the communist party still in power but, under Republican President Donald Trump and in spite of the complaints of Janet Nguyen about Jeff LeTourneau’s statement, the United States and Vietnam affirmed their mutual commitment to increase defense cooperation through a three year plan of action from 2018 to 2020. In political terms this military cooperation, like corporate investments in Vietnam, raises the question of just how “communist” the Vietnamese communists really are. In practical terms this has meant the export of more than $52 million in US military equipment to Vietnam from 2015 through 2019. It has also meant that the U.S., through the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing program, has provided Vietnam with two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters and 24 Metal Shark fast patrol boats.

The present road of security cooperation is a road that some day may lead to Americans fighting and dying in defense of Ho Chi Minh’s legacy in Vietnam. What will LeTourneau’s critics – or the Los Angeles Times -- say then? Beyond these contradictions, the Los Angeles Times misrepresents LeTourneau’s offense. Yes, praising Ho Chi Minh in Orange County will cause some to take umbrage, but the greater offense was that LeTourneau referred, in his Facebook post, to the United States as an imperialist nation. Referring to the American armed forces in Vietnam as “the most powerful imperial military forces in the world” violates the Democrats interpretation of the war as a “mistake” based on honorable intentions but flawed analysis - a “we meant well” version of history that washes out factors of political economy, cultural racism, and the corrupt, repressive, and dependent character of the South Vietnamese regime.

The sordid history of a war that provoked recurring dissent, resistance, and rebellion even within the U.S. military exposes the lie that the war was a “noble endeavor.” And, if Vietnam was an imperialist war, a war of aggression, then might other American wars - past, present, and future - be judged the same? This was LeTourneau’s crime.

LeTourneau

His resignation under pressure was not simply a public relations action to soothe and placate the anti-communists; it was also a warning to those aspiring to active roles within the Democratic Party that obeisance to capital and the ideological conformity that goes with it is required.

Chuck O'Connell