Thanks, Teat. Yes, long after we all thought the final whistle had blown, plucky Team USA pulled out a last-second miracle to clinch victory in the hard-fought Vietnam War. As our viewers will recall – or maybe not, since it was such a long time ago and it's been years since they made one of those Rambo movies to explain it all to us – but anyway, the North Vietnamese army and their insurgent allies in South Vietnam, the King Kongs, fought for decades to, as they might put it, liberate Vietnam's workers from the oppressive hand of the running dog capitalists of foreign imperialism. Or something like that; I can't get wireless at my hotel here for some reason, so I couldn't Google it to be absolutely sure. Anyway, the idea, Teat, was that ordinary people would no longer have to live in crushing poverty just to make money for a few rich folks and foreign corporations. I think quite a few Vietnamesers actually gave their lives fighting for this ideal. And as you've probably seen on the History Channel, Teat, these little guys did a pretty good job at it; they pretty much kicked Uncle Sam's butt right outta here.
Or so it seemed. But it turns out now that what looked like a full-scale, FUBAR bug-out in 1975 was simply a strategic redeployment in depth. The war was fought, of course, on behalf of American big business interests, who bought out the US government and spent the entire Cold War trying to quash, usually by force, the notion that there was any alternative whatsoever – socialist, indigenous, nationalist, democratic, religious – to their own brand of rapacious, unrestrained, unregulated crony kleptocracy, or what President Bush now calls "the single sustainable model of national success." The military option they tried in Vietnam didn't work out too well, but heck, the military was only one tool in the toolbox of these big boys. They could well afford to burn 50,000 or so American lives – along with some 2 million Southeast Asians – while playing the long game.
'Cause here's the thing, Teat. To the Big Biz boys behind America's intervention in Vietnam's anti-colonial insurgency and subsequent civil war, victory was never defined as military success or as freedom, democracy, peace and prosperity for the Vietnamese people. Lord, no! Victory in Vietnam meant only one thing: moolah. If they can make money out of Vietnam, then they win. And they sure made a good pile for a long while there in the old days, through Pentagon contracts – weapons, construction, "military servicing," you name it – and sweetheart deals with the corrupt militarist regimes in South Vietnam. Now, after a long period of retrenchment, they are back in there again, squeezing that cheap gook labor to bring home the bacon to Main Street USA! Or Wall Street USA, anyway. They're still using political connections, baksheesh and grease, and a military option to back it all up – but they've outsourced the whole shebang, including any use of force, to the Vietnamese government itself, which breaks up strikes, keeps wages low and generally makes sure that huge swathes of ordinary people live in crushing poverty to make money for a few rich folks and foreign corporations.
There's this site on the Internet that I saw in Bangkok before I came here – hey, it was five-star all the way there, Teat, my laptop was firing on all cylinders – anyway, there's this CorpWatch site on the net where our viewers can go and get the story: Happy Meals, Unhappy Workers. It's all about these wildcat strikes by workers who toil at coolie wages in big factory complexes in old Saigon to churn out cheap tat for Disney, Hallmark, Starbuck and McDonald's Happy Meals.
Here's how the Corpwatch guys put it: "To remain attractive to foreign investment, government officials argue, Vietnam must provide the kind of cheap, docile labor force that foreign investors demand. But on paper, at least, Vietnam’s workers are supported by has some of the strongest labor laws in the world. 'When foreign investors enter Vietnam, they must follow the country's labor rules,' says security manager Long Nguyen. 'If they don't, the Vietnamese government has the responsibility to enforce the law or expel the company. The government has to protect the worker. The unions that represent workers in factories of foreign and joint-stock companies are weak. They don't have the strength to stand up to the management.' Since the influx of private companies started a few years ago, however, enforcement of policy has been lax. According to the International Labor Organization, only 10 percent of workers in the export sector are represented by a trade union and observers can’t remember a single case when a company has been forced out for breaking the law. So, most expect continued low wages and increasing numbers of wildcat strikes."
Here's more from Corpwatch: "For example, 10,000 workers staged an illegal strike at Hong Kong-owned KeyHinge toys in the Central Vietnamese city, Danang. The workers, who manufactured plastic toys given away in McDonalds Happy Meals, told Lao Dong newspaper that unless they worked 12 hours a day without overtime they would be fired. The workers also complained they were only allowed two bathroom breaks a day and that the factory only had one cup for drinking water. They told Lao Dong they were treated like animals, not allowed sick days, and fined for any mistakes."
Now, I wonder what your ordinary Joe Ricepaddy thinks about all this, Teat. He might have seen his village destroyed, his mother burned to death with napalm, his father tortured and executed by the CIA's Operation Phoenix, his daughter born deformed from Agent Orange – and here he is schlepping off to slave 12 hours a day for Ronald McDonald. He might just wonder sometimes, "What was the point of all that death and sacrifice and struggle, just to end up here? Ho might as well have run up the white flag back in '62 and sold the place to Chase Manhattan."
So there you have it, Teat: We got McDonald's, Walt Disney and Starbucks banking big profits from exploited, unprotected, politically repressed cheap labor in the dark, satanic mills of Saigon. And you're gonna tell me that America lost the Vietnam War? No way, baby. We're the Comeback Kids! I just wish you were here to drink in the rich aroma spreading from all these factories behind me, the sewage, the smoke, the garbage, the indelible odor of human poverty. It smells like….victory.