With the winning of the second war by the North, the scene was set for a continuing non-military conflict between the peoples of the North—now overlords of their compatriots in the South—and the people of the South, embittered by the failure of both their government leaders and the United States to win the war.
The bitterness and social upheaval this caused was especially sharp, as a result of what the common people of the South felt was an abandonment of them by their ally, the United States. The result was a postwar Vietnam characterized by overwhelming political, social, cultural and economic struggles… i.e. sociological trauma resulting from the forced transformation of the lifestyle of the people of the South.
Contributing to this was the revenge the leaders of the North took on those in the South who, during the war, were known to side with the U.S. This caused the introduction of political struggle, which in turn led to a transformation in society that in turn was based on ideological conflict. In other words, post-war Vietnamese society became catalyzed as a new form for the continuation of the war that supposedly had just ended. In the movie below one can see this come to the fore, as the family struggles to escape the coming calamity of a society soon to transition from capitalism and freedom of expression and independence to a world ruled by a communist dictatorship. Yet while for the people of the South this would have been traumatic, rattling their feelings of security to the core, for those new rulers from the North, making this transformation seemed like the right thing to do. That is, their efforts to impose a new way of thinking on the South was meant to be a positive one, not one that brought sociological upheaval to their now fellow citizens.
How can we say this? We know this to be true as the new “ruling efforts” imposed on the South by the North stemmed from what the North thought was a well thought out plan to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people of the South, now that the war was over. Thus, their efforts did not stem from a desire to punish the people of the South, but from one intended to win them over to the way of thinking of the North. This they felt was necessary—rightfully so—in order to be able to achieve control and influence over the people of the South to the point of being able to create a harmonious unification of the country as a whole.
When viewed from the perspective of the rest of the world however, what the world saw was that the communists did not outfight the people of the South and thereby win the war, they out-politicked their enemy, the United States. Remember, the North thought that they would win the second Vietnam War not via success on the battlefield, but by causing a revolution amongst the people of the South, one that would gradually bring the old political establishment down. This, after all, was what the Tet Offensive was all about: causing the people of the South to rise up against their own government. As we all know, that didn’t happen. Instead, when Uncle Sam packed his bags and went home, the governing elements of the society of the South collapsed. With no governing entity, the soldiers of the South refused to fight, and with no fighting soldiers it was a simple matter for the North to step in and take over. And when that happened, the first order of business for the North was to ‘embark on a program of rapid unification and socialist transformation.’
As to how all of this relates to the pain and suffering that ensued with the people of the South, just as in our movie, families found themselves scrambling to establish some semblance of order to the upheaval taking place in their life. Jobs had to be found, money had to be made, a safe place to live had to be found, family members had to be protected, neighbors reappraised as to whether they represented a covert communist threat or not, and on, and on.
Put simply, while the North acted with alacrity to centralize power and control in the South, its ability to create “communist order” out of the chaos formed by the end of the war was complicated by the necessity to redefine and remake the South, as it relates to the South’s ‘nature, history, geography, and human psychology.’ Worse, since the only people available to reeducate the South and impose this new discipline were the remnants of the army of the North—that is, there was no Northern civilian bureaucracy available to take on the task of reeducating and reforming the South—the task quite naturally was structured as a military campaign.
For the people of the South, this was akin to existing in a living hell. Gone were the assurances by the government of the North that the people of the South, post-war, would be provided with kindliness and comfort, would be welcomed into the arms of their brethrens of the North, and that their assets, finances and safety would remain secure.
When it comes to the causes of the trauma of war for a country’s civilian population, these then are the items that work to take humanity away from humans. They cause the kind of sociological pain that is depicted in the documentary movie we present here. This is what ruins people’s lives.
More then than in the case of Vietnam only, America has seen these same factors at work in Iraq and Afghanistan. In engaging in social, cultural and economic transformations post-war—in order to enact a new form of rule—winning governments will quite naturally encounter significant social, political, and economic struggles, and therein experience a mixture of failures and success. One would think then that America would have learned this lesson… if not post-Korea then at least post-Vietnam. And if not in those two cases, some time along the way during the past 16 years we spent in Afghanistan. Or—God forbid—if not during any of these wars, then certainly during the past 14 years we spent in Iraq.
But we have not. We say this with confidence, because while our government has every form of agency that exists from military ones to book binding and distribution ones, we have no government agency responsible for the post-war reconstruction and transformation of the countries we fight in. We have no central authority responsible for helping the peoples that we fight for get their country back on its feet, protecting them in the process.
Without this kind of help, war torn nations are prone to their peoples suffering all forms of social disruption.
In the aftermath of war, social and cultural transformation will force itself on a people, whether they like it or not. Without the focused help of a positive force intending to rebuild a post-war country, the people of that country will suffer and die. In Vietnam’s case the effort to create a socialist state caused the pain, not because the communist governing body wanted to incite pain, but because they knew not how to prevent it. Demographic imbalances due to the number of men killed, children orphaned, the creation of widows and disabled peoples unable to fend for themselves... these kinds of things are what brought pain to the people of Vietnam. Add to this the rural–to–urban and urban–to–rural movement of people, as well as the exodus of millions of refugees from the country itself, and one had the makings of a catastrophe of massive proportion.
But it didn't end there. There was also the extensive devastation of the country as a whole; manufacturing, farming, roads, bridges, infrastructure, and on, and on. This coupled with the impoverishment and fragmentation of societal regions (i.e. city and province areas), which in many cases lead to poorly enacted land reforms, unfairly applied to a now cowering population, added to societal stress.
Further to this, the winning government’s natural inclination to remove the legacy of influence of the defeated government helped too to sow seeds of both psychological and sociological stress. And finally, a non-functional education system, which in more cases than not was reconstituted with the purpose of indoctrinating the nation’s youth in thinking of their new masters as the source of all good, only ended up building resentment across the defeated nation as a whole.
In all wars, these and other post-war realities are what cause people on the losing side of a war to break. They go to the heart of the stress that losers in war feel. It is what is portrayed in the attached movie.
While the causes of stress are natural—economics, failed familial relations, impoverished conditions, lack of housing and a job—these causes are in turn caused by the failure of the victors in war to address the issues the internal population of a war torn nation face. Still, in the end, stress is what it is all about, and stress is what disrupts a person’s life. If the U.S. military is to work to reduce the stress that disrupts a post-war society, then it must take on the responsibility of addressing the stress it created. After all, why go to war if the people left behind when the war ends are to be abandoned to their own devices? That isn’t what we did in the case of Germany, Japan and South Korea, and it isn’t what we should be doing in Afghanistan, Iraq and likely soon to be North Korea.
To address these issues however, one must first understand that today stressful events tend to fall into one of three key categories:
• Acute – Short-term events which do not last long but in a post-war environment tend to be traumatic. These kinds of acute events usually have a lasting impact on a person or family, often causing them to strike out and/or rearrange their life.
• Episodic Stress – Situations which are also short-term but which tend to happen more regularly. Such events in a post-war environment include things like being unable to find reliable food on a daily basis, ideological or political post-war differences with one’s neighbors, lack of transportation to and from work, or other recurring stressful experiences in the new post-war workplace.
• Chronic – Ongoing stresses which last over the long-term. These may include the stress of war caused illness, the friction of a war caused fractious relationship, loss of housing due to the war, etc.
An important element in these three are those factors that relate to a person’s pressure to conform and be seen to succeed in everyday life. It’s not that this kind of pressure is of any consequence in a post-war environment, it’s that since for most of a person’s adult life attaining a level of success helps define a good portion of one’s own feelings of security, the inability to achieve this measurement of success for a person and his family, in a post-war environment, becomes the source of a post-war family leader’s feeling of insecurity, inadequacy and failure. It’s because of this then that families flee their country when a war ends.
This, when combined with the earlier discussed reeducation efforts the North Vietnamese imposed on the people of the South, is one of the reasons Vietnam had so many boat people. It goes to the heart of why the family in our documentary movie fled the country too.
Factors like this encourage, enable and build stress. They cause family breakdowns and more, because while we may want to turn our back on the need to succeed, a lifetime of cultivated aspirations towards ideals and success, nurtured since we were children by our former everyday media and culture, quickly prove to be unrealistic and unhelpful when a person tries to deal with life in a post-war world. Ideas of what constitutes a successful husband in the culture of pre-war South Vietnam, for example, can easily be linked to both negative self images and psychological disorders in the post-war South.
Stresses such as these, i.e. those created by a post-war environment, have lasting consequences. For one, they create social pressures that have a lasting effect on one’s health, both mental and otherwise. Studying the stress experienced by social minority groups who are commonly subjected to various forms of prejudice, such as being excluded by the wider community, bullied or encouraged to internalize discrimination—all of which is what happened when the victors from North Vietnam looked down upon and discriminated against the losers from the South—develops something called “minority stress.” This is what happened to the people of South Vietnam, as the communists took control of the country and promptly excluded from the future it was planning all of those who may have had an affinity towards the South’s former leaders. In these cases, the experience that followed lead to severe mental health problems. For an ex-Officer of the South Vietnamese Air Force, the pressure to leave the country and flee what was certain to be a life off pain, would define that family’s future… and this is exactly what one sees portrayed in our film here.
Add to this miasma stress caused by competition to live; health worries; life changes associated with the post-war world one finds oneself within; financial worries; failing relationships due to cultural as well as ideological causes; bereavement; the impact of past events during war time, now come home to roost; an inability to control one’s destiny; and more, and one has the setting for a complete physiological, sociological and psychological breakdown. Consider these then the effects of war.. They are what is portrayed in the backstory to our movie.
Watch it, enjoy it… and learn from it. Learn that if America is going to keep fighting as many wars as it does, it must develop a government focused agency as capable of bringing a country back from the devastation of the war America just fought and finished, as it is in winning that war.
In our opinion, likely as not, this should not be the task of the U.S. military. Yes, the U.S. military may have to stay involved in a country for decades to come once a war's fighting stops, but some other agency must be charged with the responsibility of nation re-building. For the truth is, as much as America might hate the notion of nation building as a task, it must be taken on if America is going to keep fighting wars in every corner of the world. This is so simply because America is going to have to take responsibility for rebuilding the china shops it breaks.
– The above film Oh, Saigon, is by Nuoac Pictures, produced and directed by Ms. Doan Hoang. Our special thanks to Nuoc Pictures and ITV (Independent Television Service, an organization funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people), for allowing us to stream the film here, in support of our thesis regarding the impact of war on civilians and the need for more U.S. involvement in reducing the post-war social chaos and upheaval war causes.
– Pictures displayed in this article from the film Oh, Saigon. The banner below is from the film's website, OhSaigon.com. You are encouraged to donate to the fund being built by the producer, to support the building of schools for the impoverished in Vietnam.
– Ager, A. (1993). em>Mental Health Issues in Refugee Populations: A Review. Boston: Harvard Centre for the Study of Culture and Medicine.
– Boothby, N. (1992). Displaced Children: Psychological Theory and Practice from the Field. Journal of Refugee Studies.
– William J. Duiker, Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in a Divided Vietnam (USA: McGraw Hill, 1995); see quotations re. Pham Van Dong.
– Matthew Hall, Vietnam: The Two Wars. (Banyo, QLD: Flat Earth Films and Magna Pacific, 2004).
– James Olson ad Randy Roberts, Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam 1945-1995 (USA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008).
– Young; Hy Luong, “Introduction: Post-war Vietnamese Society: An Overview of Transformational Dynamics,” in Post-war Vietnam:
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This page originally posted 1 December 2017