The Vietnam Solution: How a Former Enemy Became a Crucial U.S. Ally in Balancing China’s Rise
THE EFFECT OF Hanoi is cerebral. What the Vietnamese capital catches in freeze-frame is the process of history itself—not merely as some fatalistic, geographically determined drumroll of dynasties and depredations but as the summation of brave individual acts and nerve-racking calculations. In the city’s History Museum, maps, dioramas, and massive gray stelae commemorate anxious Vietnamese resistances against the Chinese Song, Ming, and Qing empires in the 11th, 15th, and 18th centuries. Although Vietnam was integrated into China until the 10th century, its political identity separate from the Middle Kingdom ever since has been something of a miracle—one that no theory of the past can adequately explain.
In fact, the Vietnamese historical imagination has a particular intensity about it. The depth and clutter of the Ngoc Son Temple (which commemorates the 13th-century defeat of the Yuan Chinese), its copper-faced Buddha embraced by incense, gold leaf, and crimson wood and surrounded by the pea soup-green Hoan Kiem Lake and its leafy shores, constitute spiritual preparation for the more austere mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh himself. Ho, one of the great minor men of the 20th century, fused Marxism, Confucianism, and nationalism into a weapon against the Chinese, the French, and the Americans, laying the groundwork for Vietnam’s successful resistances against three world empires. His mausoleum gives onto distempered, century-old European buildings and churches in what was once the nerve center of French Indochina—an iffy enterprise that Paris tenaciously tried to prolong after World War II, forcing a war with the Vietnamese that culminated in France’s signal humiliation at the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu.