I spent last week in Vietnam and Cambodia. Visiting these two long-suffering countries made me revisit some of the basic beliefs that have shaped my life.
The most important of these is communism. Nothing has shaped my political and social outlook as communism has: its mind-boggling evil — more than 125 million civilians killed, countless others tortured and enslaved — and the amoral reactions to it among so many in the West. Unfortunately, this reaction also has a lot to do with 20th century Jewish life, which I will address shortly.
I was smitten by the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese people struck me as particularly strong, dignified, intelligent and hard working.
That was one of the reasons I walked around with such anger at the Communist party of Vietnam, which ruled it during the Vietnam War and which rules it today. I regard every Vietnamese killed in that war as a wasted life, another victim of communism, the greatest devourer of innocent life since man first walked upright.
Now, of course, I am sure that some readers will be astounded by, if not morally outraged at, such sentiments. The prevailing explanation for the Vietnam War is that the Vietnamese people were fighting for their national freedom against the United States, just as they had fought against the French and Japanese.
But in order to buy that interpretation of the Vietnam War, one has to buy the following three suppositions:
a) That a Vietnamese fighting for the North Vietnamese communist government or for the Viet Cong was fighting for freedom and independence.
b) That a Vietnamese fighting for South Vietnam was not fighting for freedom and independence.
c) That the United States was not fighting in Vietnam to secure the freedom and independence of the Vietnamese people — or at least the freedom and independence of those living in South Vietnam — but for some other, nefarious, reasons.
But what if those three suppositions are all false?
a) A Vietnamese fighting for North Vietnam and its communist leaders was fighting for North Vietnam and its communist leaders, not for freedom or for independence. That some or many Vietnamese believed the lie told them by the North Vietnamese communists — that they were fighting for their freedom and independence — was no different from the many Russians who believed Stalin’s lies, the many Chinese who believed Mao’s lies or the many Germans who believed Hitler’s lies.
b) The Vietnamese who were truly fighting for freedom and independence were the Vietnamese who fought for the American-supported government in South Vietnam, something many Vietnamese bitterly learned after the communist tyrants took over the south. That is why so many Vietnamese — the “Boat People” — later fled Vietnam despite knowing that many of them would die by drowning or by being eaten by sharks, and that many women would be gang-raped by pirates. All of those risks were worth taking in order to escape communist Vietnam.
c) America fought in Vietnam for the same reason it fought in Korea — in hopes of enabling at least the southern half of the population to live in freedom. Like their counterparts in North Vietnam, the tyrants of the North Korean Communist party told their people that by fighting against America they were fighting for their freedom and independence. And just like in Vietnam, it was a lie. The Koreans who fought for Korea’s freedom and independence were the Koreans who fought on the American side, not the ones who fought for the communist side.
Why have I written this in a Jewish newspaper?
Because too many Jews did not, and many still do not, regard communism as the monstrous evil it was.
If any people should recognize great evil, it is the Jewish people. How could we have suffered the Holocaust and deem ourselves a people with an elevated moral conscience and not have been among the leaders in identifying and condemning communism as evil? How could most American Jews have agreed with those who condemned President Ronald Reagan for calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire”? And how could any of us Jews, of all people, live in America, the country that has spilled more blood for the liberation of other peoples, and accept, let alone make, the charge that America fights abroad — from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq — for “imperialist” reasons or for economic gain?
Today, the Communist party in Vietnam has embraced capitalism and private enterprise and the country has begun its long trek from communism to freedom, from poverty to prosperity. So what, exactly, did all those Vietnamese die for? The answer today is the same as it was in the 1960s and ’70s — for the megalomaniacs and fanatics of the Communist party of Vietnam. Any Jew who chanted “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh” might want to consider doing teshuvah. For the truth is that those who hated Nazism but did not also hate communism did not hate evil. And hating evil is a mitzvah.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.