Retorts: Warring symbols recall Cold War

STREET LIFE in Saigon (officially Ho Chi Minh City) today. Vietnam is a blend of a capitalist economy with a Communist dictatorship, much like China (Wikipedia photo).

Communism in theory is one of the dumbest ideas ever advanced by man, and in practice, one of the most vicious. History tends to point to Adolph Hitler and the Nazis as the ultimate in murderous evil, but it’s as least as likely that Josef Stalin in the Communist Soviet Union of a similar era killed as many or more innocent people.

Communism is such a bad idea – running as it does against human nature, in my opinion – that it’s basically been abandoned worldwide, even by communist countries. The old Soviet Union is now the expansionist kleptocratic Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China is poised to become the world’s biggest capitalist economy.

It won’t be long before there are casinos and maybe even a major league baseball franchise in Havana. And guess who is America’s newest ally in Asia, as a bulwark against China? The “Democratic Republic of Vietnam.”

Vietnam, long an agrarian nation, has become an economic powerhouse under – ironically – a nominally communist regime. The folks who run the country have embraced capitalism and kept only the brutality and dictatorship parts. I wonder if perhaps they are just as interested in making money as Warren Buffett is.

It’s against this background that the Garden Grove City Council will at its May 23 meeting consider a resolution opposing a state Assembly bill – passed this week – which would remove an existing ban on California employees from being communists.

The bill was approved on a 41-30 vote, with Democrats generally in favor of it and Republicans opposed. The measure next goes to the state Senate and then (probably) the governor’s desk. Democrats said the ban was a constitutionally questionable vestige of the McCarthy era, and Republicans spoke of America’s long – and sometimes bloody – battle against communism in Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War.

I suspect that both that the bill will become law and the resolution will pass, changing exactly nothing, being basically symbolic actions. Who really thinks there are Marxist infiltrators working at the DMV? Is there a problem with communists interfering with California’s drought recovery programs?

But I am not insensitive to the emotional aspects of both the bill and the resolution. How can you deny employment to someone because they hold an unpopular political view? If you can ban one party, perhaps one day you can ban another.

On the other hand, the pain of the fall of South Vietnam to the Hanoi regime led to much suffering, and the impact of that tragedy is something that many of our Vietnamese residents still feel daily.

But that doesn’t keep people from sending money to that same communist country. In 2016, America imported $42 million worth of goods from Vietnam, and we sent them about $10.1 million. That’s a trade deficit of almost $32 million.

Some of that trade is in manufacturing of apparel; Nike is a big employer there. But a fair amount of what comes here from Vietnam is consumer products – food and other items – which are sold in markets and other stores catering to a Vietnamese clientele here in Orange County and other areas.

I once asked the manager of a supermarket catering to that demographic how he could reconcile his anti-Communism with sending money to a communist nation. “That’s politics,” he said, “and this is business,” he replied. “It’s what people want.”

Indeed. I guess symbolism is a business, too, and it seems to be doing fine.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears on Wednesdays.



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