Posts Tagged ‘Kissinger’

Mindlessness in Vietnam

February 20, 2019

This post is based primarily on an excellent book by Max Hastings, or, more formally, Sir Max Hastings, titled “Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945 to 1975.” France effectively colonized Vietnam in 1883. Beginning in 1940 the Japanese effectively controlled Vietnam. Initially, the Vietnamese were pleased to see an asian country drive the French out of Vietnam. Unfortunately, the Japanese were just as brutal as the French, perhaps even more so, in controlling the area. With the defeat of Japan, the Vietnamese were looking forward to becoming an independent country, but the French were hell bent on keeping control of the country.

The Wikipedia entry lists the Vietnam war as lasting from 1 November 1955 to 30 April 1975. As will become apparent, the preceding ten years are key to understanding a possible solution to the Vietnam problem. American involvement ran until 27 January 1973. American involvement ended with a sham peace treaty that left the North Vietnamese in place to just wait a decent interval so that the United States could claim that there had been peace with honor. It should be noted that Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the peace treaty. His North Vietnamese counterpart recognizing the peace treaty as being a sham, although offered, refused to except the prize. After the presumed decent interval, North Vietnam concluded its conquest on 30 April 1975. In fact, the United States was defeated by North Vietnam, but maintained this sham of “peace with honor.”

Walt Boomer, a Marine captain in the infantry who weighted 185 entering the war and 155 getting out of the war later remarked, “It bothers me that we didn’t learn a lot. If we had, we would not have invaded Iraq.”

Hastings does a masterful job, not just of covering the Vietnam War, but covering it down not only to the level of individual combatants, but also to the civilians’ suffering during the war. Vietnam and its culture were effectively destroyed. Only a distinct minority were Communists, and being a Communist did not provide security from the Communists, because Communists killed other communists. It was apparent the North Vietnamese tended to be better soldiers as they did have an ideology and a desire for independence from western countries. But many Vietnamese were loyal to the Americans and very much wanted to live in a free country. This loyalty put these Vietnamese at risk. What is especially bad is that when Americans hastily exited the country, they left behind their records indicating which Vietnamese had been helpful. The Communists found these people and either executed them or sent them to re-education camps.

So the only victors in the war were the Communists who were a minority. The United States was not the only loser, but also the French and a majority of the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese culture was effectively destroyed.

So what does the title of this post, “Mindlessness in Vietnam” Imply?
Remember what mindfulness means. Unfortunately, many dictionaries define mindfulness as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. Mindfulness also means being aware of the minds of others, and being respectful of their thoughts and feelings. So the title implies that the interests of the Vietnamese themselves, and their culture were ignored. HM contends that it was this lack of mindfulness of the Vietnamese that made the loss of Vietnam inevitable. Kinetic effects can accomplish only so much. And there was no shortage of kinetic effects in Vietnam. Even the ultimate kinetic effects, nuclear bombs would not have worked.

So, was it possible that Vietnam could have been saved? Hastings writes, “It seems narrowly possible that Vietnam’s subjection to communism could have been averted if France in 1945 had announced its intention to quit the country and embarked upon a crash transition process to identify credibly indigenous leaders and prepare them to govern, as did the British before quitting Malaya. Instead, however, the French decided to draft a long suicide note, declaring their ironclad opposition to independence. The colonialists’ intransigence conceded to Ho Chi Min the moral high ground in the struggle that now began to unfold.”

The following is from HM and not Sir Hastings. Remember that by this time Great Britain recognized that colonialism had ended and had given independence to India. The United States a former British colony, had fought for its independence from England. Rather than providing support to France’s effort to maintain its colony, the United States should have informed the French that the age of colonialism was over and that they should give Vietnam its freedom. And it should have informed the Vietnamese, that they too had been a colony of a European country and that we were on the their side in advocating for their freedom.

Actually U.S. members of the Office of Strategic Services—US sponsor of guerrilla war, in July of 1945 dispatched to China a team of paramilitary agents led by Maj. Archimedes Patti, who pitched camp with Ho Chi Min. Although a staunch communist, Ho Chi Min was foremost interested in independence for his country. Although, the possibility of getting Ho Chi Min to flip was remote, it would have provided a solution to the Vietnamese problem.

Even sans Ho Chi Min, the United States could have aligned itself with the Vietnamese in their quest for independence. Although the Communists would present a considerable obstacle, they still represented a minority of the Vietnamese. Getting on the right side of this conflict was essential to achieving victory.

Not to be overlooked is the blatant racism of the French and in America’s support of the French. The Vietnamese were regarded as gooks, dinks. They were not white people, and it was the right of white people to govern.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Trump and Behavioral Economics

June 2, 2016

On the June 6 & 13, 2016 “New Yorker” Financial Page there is an article by James Surowiecki.  He is the regular “New Yorker” correspondent for economics, business, and finance.  He has also written a book that Healthymemory would highly recommend, “The Wisdom of Crowds.”  His article is titled “Losers” and it is about how behavioral economics explains the attitude of Trump supporters.  The field of behavioral economics was founded by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. There have been many, many healthy memory blog posts on this topic and about these authors.   Prospect Theory is key to behavioral economics and resulted in a Nobel Prize being awarded to Kahneman.  Unfortunately Tversky had already passed away when the award was made.

Surowiecki notes that Trump plays to one of the most powerful emotions in economic life, which is what behavioral economics call loss aversion.  The basic idea is that people feel the pain of loses much more than they feel the pleasure of gains.  Empirical studies estimate that, in general, losing is twice as painful as winning is enjoyable. Consequently, people will go to great lengths to avoid losses, and to recover what they’ve lost.

Suroweicki notes that Trump’s emphasis on losing is unusual  even in bleak times.  But he believes that it has worked for him, because it resonates with what many Republican voters already feel.  A study by the Pew Research Center last fall found that 79% of those who lean Republican believe that their side is losing politically.  A RAND survey in January found that voters who believed that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5% more likely to prefer Trump.  Trump supporters feel that they, and the country, are losing economically, too.  In the RAND survey, Trump did better  with the people who were the most dissatisfied with their economic situation, and exit polls from the Republican primaries show that almost 70% of those who voted for Trump were “very worried” about the state of the economy as compared to only forty-five % of all voters in Democratic primaries.

Surowiki notes some surprising things about all this.  The first is that, in objective terms, plenty of Trump supporters haven’t lost that much.  We’re familiar with Trump’s appeal among white working class voters, many of whom truly have seen wages stagnate and jobs dry up.  But Nate Silver has recently pointed out that the median Trump voter is actually better educated and richer than the average American.  But an important point of Kahneman and Tversky’s work is that people don’t look at their status objectively, they measure it relative to a reference point, and for many Republicans that reference point is a past time when they had more status and more economic security.  Kahneman argues that even people who simply aren’t doing as well as they expected to be doing feel a loss.  And people don’t adapt their expectations to new circumstances.  A study of loss aversion by Jack Levy concluded that, after losses, an individual will “continue” to use the status quo ex ante as her reference point.”  Suroweicki notes that Trump’s promise is precisely that he’s going to return America to the status quo ex ante.  He tells his supporters that he will will help recoup their losses and safeguard what they have.

Suroweicki goes on to say that the other surprising thing is that you might expect loss-averse voters to be leery of taking a risk on an unpredictable outsider like Trump, since loss aversion often makes people cautious:  offered the choice between five hundred dollars and a 50 % chance at a thousand dollars or nothing, most people take the sure thing.  However, loss aversion promotes caution only when people are considering gains; once people have sustained losses, impulses change dramatically.  Offered the choice between losing five hundred dollars and a 50% chance of losing a thousand dollars or nothing, most people prefer to gamble—opposite of what they did when presented with the chance to win a thousand dollars.  People are willing to run huge risks to avert or recover loses.  In the real world , this is why people hold falling stocks, hoping for a rebound rather than cutting their losses, and it’s why they double down after losing a bet.  For Trump’s voters, the Obama years have felt like a disaster.  Taking a flyer on Trump actually starts to feel sensible.

Suroweicki continues, noting that historical parallels are always tendentious, that loss aversion has been instrumental in the success of authoritarian movements around the world.   The political scientist Kurt Weyland has argued that it played a crucial role in the rise of such regimes in Latin American, where the fear of Communism drove putatively democratic societies toward the radical solution of strongman rule.  Suroweicki notes that Trump may not quite be an American Peron, but, to his his supporters, his unpredictability is a selling point rather than a flaw.

It is important to remember that the basis thesis of behavioral economics, a thesis that has ben consistently supported, is that humans do not behave or think rationally.  Rather they are driven by emotions.

Healthy memory feels compelled to note other facets of human cognition that contribute to flawed political decisions.  One is the success of the big lie and the continued persistence of these lies.  It is extremely difficult to correct these lies.

Another problem is  the fallibility of memory and how selective memory makes it difficult to correct erroneous beliefs.  Consider the Iraq war that the younger Bush took us into.  The weapons of mass destruction, on which the invasion was predicated, were never found.  France and Germany were urging Bush to delay an invasion until the inspection were completed and the existence of these weapons could have been ascertained.

It was also the case that the King of Jordan and Henry Kissinger warned Bush that an invasion would result in a broken country that would serve as a base for radical Islamist groups..  This is exactly what has happened.  So the costs of this war not just monetary, which added to the national debt, but more importantly human, produced a situation that is worse, not better, than what prevailed, before the beginning of the war.

People also seem to have forgotten the financial crisis left by the Bush administration that resulted in the very real possibility of a depression.  In spite of recalcitrant Republicans, Obama managed to prevent the depression and aid in an important economic recovery.  By most objective standards, the U.S. economy is in good shape, and the American economy is one of the best performing economies.

Healtymemory still wonders about Trump.  It is difficult for him to imagine Trump curling up with a copy of Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  It is also difficult imagining Trump taking consul with an expert informing him how to exploit human information processing shortcomings for political gain.  Using the word “instinct” is inappropriate here, but Trump has a flair for exploiting human information processing shortcomings so that System 2 processing is avoided and System 1 prevails resulting in emotions rather than reasoning governing their voting.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.