To change history, you could tell a bunch of lies to a bunch of ignorant people and promote a few pandering, pathetic academics. Otherwise, you would need a time machine.
In our dreams, Rambo seems to have such a machine, but he could not have changed the outcome of the Vietnam War even if he could singlehandedly gun down an entire enemy battalion.
In fact, all Rambo had to do to change the course of Vietnamese history, was to assassinate this man, Ngo Dinh Diem before he became the first president of the Republic of Vietnam. Ironically, Diem was an anti-communist ally of the US.
Diem’s brutal regime of arrests, torture, persecution and execution earned him the hatred of south Vietnamese of diverse backgrounds; mainly communist sympathisers and Buddhists.
If Diem had been replaced by a more enlightened leader the moment the DMZ was drawn up at the 17th parallel by the UN in 1954, there could have been no NLF and Buddhist uprising. Everyone except the hardcore communists would have fled Hanoi for Saigon, leaving the north to go the way of North Korea. Sadly, things didn’t turn out the same way in Vietnam.
The insurgent group, National Liberation Front was actually a diverse group of individuals. Only some were communists, but they had one thing in common – they hated Diem and America. And the more Diem tried to suppress them, the harder they fought back. By the time Diem was assassinated in 1963 (with US approval) it was already too late. The NLF had grown to be a formidable guerilla army.
The bulk of the Vietnam War was not a war between north and south but rather a war against a local insurgency in the south that began as early as 1955. With support from their communist allies in the north, the insurgency grew from strength to strength. Allied ground troops comprising the US, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea started arriving only after 1965. Again, they were late. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam was so bogged down by guerilla attacks that they would be easy game for the People’s Army of Vietnam.
What if the allied forces didn’t arrive? The north would have invaded and Saigon would have fallen in the 1950s.
Recognizing the threat of communism in the region, Singapore’s S Rajaratnam gathered his counterparts in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines to form ASEAN in 1967. Though it was nothing like NATO, two strategically critical members, Thailand and the Philippines were US treaty allies. It was a way to show support for the war against communism without appearing pro-US. Malaysian PM Tun Razak was a strong supporter of the alliance. Appallingly, some Malaysians today see the US as a threat to the region, ignoring the sinister moves to enforce 九段线。
The PAVN in the north only started attacking in full force after the Watergate embattled Nixon handed over US bases to the ARVN. A peace accord was signed in 1973. US POWs were returned but the PAVN continued to gain ground over the ARVN, closing in on south Vietnam from Laos and Cambodia until Saigon finally fell in 1975.
Later that year, the Pathet Lao came to power. Then the Khmer Rouge in 1976. Burma was already a socialist union since 1962. Eisenhower’s domino effect was rearing its ugly head and Thailand was glaringly the last domino. If Thailand fell, the rest of Southeast Asia would have turned red. And it was indeed a narrow escape for us. Now imagine that the “evil, meddlesome” US, as some folks call it, never got involved.
Immediately after the fall of Saigon, the US evacuated 1.4 million Vietnamese allies. Some were left out but they risked their lives to escape as refugees commonly known as the boat people. This would be the greatest contribution from the West – the resettlement of millions of Vietnamese to realise their full potential in developed countries.
But among the 1.6 million boat people, there were definitely some who used to fight for the communists but changed their minds after a few years of communist rule. They should have been repatriated. As for those who complain about meddling Americans and the decadent West, they too should get a taste of life behind the iron curtain.
So why didn’t Thailand fall? The main reason is the strong military cooperation the kingdom had with the US. If people back then had seen the US as the threat like so many unthinking people now, the lives of our parents and grandparents would have been very, very different.