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23 May 2016


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Enlightening. And your comment on alawites in Syria is very helpful. It was the impression I came to but I am not well briefed. Since the Israelis know all this well, it is disturbing how little they value their neighbors lives - assuming their lobbying was a significant factor. It was also short sighted. When this is over they may find they share borders with an exceptionally efficient Arab military in the SAA not too mention the battle hardened Hezbollah.

You would think their nukes would calm their nerves.



The Israelis care not at all for their neighbors whether Palestinian or outside what they feel is Eretz Israel. pl



"Despise" is exactly the right word with regard to the Vietnamese attitude toward the tribals. "Hate" was used by me with regard to the Vietnamese/Chinese attitudes toward each other, not with regard to the Vietnamese attitude toward the Montagnards, tribal Khmer, etc. Get it straight if you are going to quote me. pl



The tribal peoples in VN may have VN passports but if you think that the ethnic Vietnamese think of themselves and the tribals as the same you are living in cloud cuckoo land. The French created what is now the state of VN when they combined the disparate regions of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China into one governable entity. To think that they would have seen their purpose in VN as being to create a "nation," i.e., ONE PEOPLE from the various ethnic Vietnamese groups plus the tribal non-ethnic inhabitants of VN is an interesting but unrealistic notion. The drive to acquire colonial possessions in the 19th Century had a number of facets but creating "nations" was not among them. pl


I liked to joke that Vietnamese-Chinese relations share the same characteristics of mutual fraternal love as do Russian-Polish ones, only more so.

While the Chinese found that joke kind of funny (the pretty small sub segment of Chinese that have an understanding of Russian-Polish relations that is), nationalist Vietnamese did not. "Fraternal? They are completely different, our languages are not related at all! Russia sometimes did good things for Poland, China was always the enemy! What eternal shame that we proud sons of the South never sacked a Chinese capital, the brave Poles actually managed to invade Russia on occassion".

Something else worth keeping in mind with that comparison is the following: It is not very hard to get a Russian say good things about Polish culture, classical music etc. the reverse is a bit more difficult, but not that tough either. Try getting Chinese to say good things about Vietnam, or vice versa.

Concerning the specifics of minority disdain:

Well, I think you need to make a difference between the various Montagnards and the Khmer as well. The Khmer used to be an empire, one that iirc pretty regularly fought Dai-Viet/Dai-Nam. In a way, a Viet would see a Khmer as "hostile/alien" but more or less "equal". A montagnard from that pov. is not equal, he is simply inferior. Of course, not all Montagnards are created and treated equally, and if you add the Cham people as Montagnards (who used to be an empire as well) it gets more complex.
Laotians are somewhere between "rival" and "colonial subject" on the spectrum. Thai are pure rival.

With the Khmer, there is also the legacy of the Khmer rouge, their atrocities, including on Vietnamese soil, their running behind the skirts of the Chinese when Vietnam retaliated (which made them despised rather then feared) and the refugee waves (including into Vietnam) that they caused.

Something to keep in mind is that you were in Vietnam during a massive crushing war. This is, generally speaking, not a time that brings out the best out of people. All wars feature resource deprivation, and generally increase clannishness because individuals band together based on clannishness/ethnicity etc. to gain access to resources. Dehumanizing those not belonging to the clan/tribe is a necessary ingredient for this. Removing IV tubes is basically a one sided resource war between 2 persons. "Save medicine for my own tribe, fuck everyone else".
Such things are universal features of mankind, and not in any way exclusive to Vietnam or South East Asia.


Amazingly enough, some of my Viet friends in Germany remarked that being in Germany, it was the first time they saw Hmong/Montagnards as "Vietnamese" because everyone else in Germany was/is way more different to them then the Montagnards were.

Germany is kind of curious because you had communist refugees in East Germany, some boat people and AVRN refugess in West Germany, and they pretty freely intermixed after the German reunification.


As far as despise goes, from what I get, the despise is progressively evolving into a (very patronizing) "oh, our little montagnard brothers in need of our fatherly guidance, we will eventually make proper Viets out of them" attitude. In a way that is progress.



You obviously have a stake in this discussion of Vietnam and Vietnamese society. Tell us about it. I expect that you are probably Vietnamese or part Vietnamese. In fact the Vietnamese look down on people of mixed race as do the Chinese generally. The race mixing itself is thought to be unacceptable. Obama himself must be an interesting sight for them. In the period of the 2nd Indochina War (ours) there were people of mixed race in Vietnam who were holdovers from the period of French colonial rule. Some were part Vietnamese and part white and others had African blood as a result of the presence of French colonial troops from Africa for many years. These people had no real place inVietnamese society. The Eurasian women were often quite beautiful. They could be seen every day at the "Cercle Sportif" club in Saigon inhabiting the bar or lounging aroud the pool. They were all someone local's mistress or simply prostitutes. They were in that position because of what can only be described as Vietnamese racism. You can imagine if you like that Vietnamese society was a utopia in which the Vietnamese would have inhabited a "peacable kingdom" if not interfered with by the foreigners but that is just a delusion that is probably widespread in the Vietnamese diaspora. BTW the tribals were all out in the countryside, especially in the mountains. If that is what you mean by "the front line" that is where the Vietnamese and the tribals were in each other's presence. pl


Tony: In the long ago, I worked with the Hmong (speaking Mong Njua was one of my odd skills that the big green machine taught me).

Try telling one of the Hmong that the Vietnamese aren't xenophobic....I'll wait here for you


Two items:

1. The cost of light manufacturing is reportedly now lower in Vietnam and the Philippines v. China.

2. I wonder if there is an intelligence sharing component with the US/Vietnamese arrangement?

Babak Makkinejad

That racialism also imbues Korea and Japan.

Babak Makkinejad

Unless China can assimilate the principles and practices of the Platonic Academy - developed over the last 2500 years in Europe - they will likely not escape the middle income trap; or at best will be were South Korea is today - in my opinion.

There is a vast gulf between copying what others have created - say the atomic weapons - and to create something truly new - like the ability to tap into the Dirac Sea and freeze air over an entire city.

Babak Makkinejad

You asked: " why do the Vietnamese despise the Montagnards, Khmer, Lao, etc.?"

Because men require inferiors to feel good about themselves.

Babak Makkinejad


I recall reading a piece buy that WWII war orphan who was rescued by US soldiers - Art Buchwald - decades ago in Iran. He wrote it as another political parody, inspired by the stories current at that time in the world press regarding a number of Japanese soldiers who were still fighting WWII in the jungles of the Philippines.

He began his parody by writing about a lone US soldier who was discovered, years after the end of the Vietnam War, to be still fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. His parents go there to persuade him to give up and come back home.

I do not recall much except snatches such as these below:

- Son, you need to come back.
- No, I am fighting for what the President (Nixon) said....
- Nixon is not the President anymore.
- I am fighting against godless Vietnamese...
- Vietnamese are not our enemies any more, they are exporting transistor radios...

Besides Buchwald's prescience, I wonder was that war necessary?



No. US participation in that war was as Voltaire wrote, "worse than a crime. It was stupid." We were lured into that war by another hysterical misreading of developing history by the Borg of that time. i.e., "the best and brightest." pl



It was a rhetorical question. pl


"moi" if my memory is any good meant "savage". And from my experience Colonel Lang is correct regarding Viet ethnocentrism. The mountain people of the Central Highlands were also referred to as "muoi" or "dark-skinned" (can't remember the diacriticals and cannot find my old Anh-Viet dictionary), perhaps TonyL can translate it correctly.

A.I.Schmelzer is also right saying that not all Montagnards were treated the same. The Muong, Meo, Tho, and T'ai people of the mountainous areas of North Vietnam were treated differently. But they supposedly had a cultural level as high as lowland Viets. Plus the fact that Ho and Giap needed their support as Viet Minh base areas were in their territory. How Ho won them over I don't know as those people for centuries had hated the lowland Viets. I can only surmise they hated the French more??? Several NVA divisions were primarily made up of those mountaineers. The 316th was such a division and it was one of the most gung-ho both at Dien Ben Phu and 31 years later at the fall of Saigon. The 325th was also largely made up of northern mountaineers, they participated at Khe Sanh and overran Lang Vei, in 75 they took Danang.

The General Secretary of the Communist Party of Viet-Nam during the early 2000's was a mountaineer minority. But there were some literary insinuations that he was the bastard son of Ho Chi Minh and a Tho girl, so perhaps he was accepted on that basis??? Ho of course was a lot more cosmopolitan than your average Viet as he had spent his youth in Paris, Marseilles, London, Harlem NY, Moscow, Canton, Shanghai and Kunming.



Yes. In SVN the Montagnards fall into two groups ethnically, the Mon-Khmer and the Malayo-Polynesians with the first group being much more primitive. I don't know much about the T'ai peoples of North Vietnam. There are also other stocks up near the Chinese border who are interesting. I had a counterpart who had been a Viet Minh and then had defected to the French. He was a big man about six foot tall. He was one such. (Tho maybe) To work with the Mon-Khmer Montagnards it was necessary to teach them such concepts as time, measurable distance and numbers. pl

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

Among other things, it was Walt Rostow and his ‘stages of economic growth’.

This tended to assume that a Western model of ‘modernisation’ could be indefinitely replicated elsewhere.

I also suspect that – like Fukuyama – Rostow treated the more untowards elements of ‘modernisation’ in European history (and also American – that small matter of a civil war) as ‘teething troubles’.

So, if you helped the Vietnamese through the ‘teething troubles’ stage, everything would be fine.

Time and again, what appears to be a purely secular ‘social science’ turns out to be a kind of secularised theology. And time and again, precisely because of this, it leads to very bad predictions.


I may be wrong, but as I remember stuff from conversations (this is second to third hand) my grandfather (was at that time responsible for helping foreign, mostly mosambiquan and Vietnamese, students to not fail in the GDR) basically described the Northern Montagnards in the following way:

1: To an extent, they were a pretty martial "highlander" culture. They were mostly excluded from positions of power during various Chinese dominated, or Vietnamese Imperial eras, but were to a certain extent represented in the armed forces. This was also partly because they were to poor to bribe themselfs out of conscription. Due to their "martial" pursuits, these people got around and were themselfs somewhat more cosmopolitan and well, more "worldly" then lets say the Hmong. The Hmong, well, I was once dating a pretty germanized Hmong, but I had serious difficulties understanding her family at all, and I am pretty sure this was mutual. Making proficient soldiers out of them well... I dont envy the guy with that assignment.

2: French colonial rule did, to an extent, show the northern montagnards that the normal Viets arent that different from them after all, compared to the huge difference towards the French.

3: French colonial rule also reduced the previously proud northern Viets to subjects, this humiliation made them less arrogant towards northern Montagnards. Especially since resistance against the French were something the northern mountain tribes were better at then the Nguyen dynasty.

4: During Hos period, the communist were pretty big on using minorities, and opening pathways to power for them. There apperantly was even some "Korenizatsija" equivalent (but only for some). A big thing was that communist Viets could be quite humble regarding "their" montagnards. The northern mountain tribes care immensely about prestige and Ho himself was supposedly really really good in flattering them when neccessary. The Soviets also played a role. Some of the northern montagnards dont like the Chinese very much, and allying the with USSR (also known as the big, really big, blob on the map conveniently located in a position to threaten China) was a "no brainer" to them. Moscow also offered some "appellatory functions" for communist Montagnards who had problems with specific Viet policies. In a way, this was seen as a way to temper overbearing Viet attitudes.

5: Viet racism increased with the US american war entry ("why the fuck are they even bombing us? What did we ever do to them? Some minority must be to blame!"), at some point, North Vietnam switched from being communist first and nationalist second to being the over way round. This made the North Vietnamese leadership more appealing to ethnic Vietnamese who werent communist, but of course reduced their success with minorities. Apparently, some of the Vietminh also flipped out trying in vain to make communists out of the Hmong (also not an enviable assignment. If you think teaching a Hmong measurable distances is hard, try to teach them the concept of the means of production), but I digress.

6: As a pretty imperfect analogy, Vietnam is the UK, the Viets are englishmen, northern Montagnards are Scots, southern montagnards are Irish, and we are in 1840 or so.

7: There isnt much transvietnamese Montagnard solidarity btw. some of these groups hate each other more then either hates the Vietnamese.


To somewhat different degrees though. Imho, you can (now, I dont know how it was decades ago) get by in China as a mixed raced provided you father (its nearly always a male foreigner and a female native) culturally assimiliated towards Chinese culture.

Not so in Korea (let alone North Korea. Possibly the worlds most racist nation), Japan is not a fun place to be mixed blood as well.

I think that I got quite lucky, being half German half Russian in Germany is completely unproblematic, being half German half Russian in Russia is pretty fun as well if you do it right.


A.I Schmelzer

I never had anything to do with NVN Monagnards. USSF in SVN worked mainly with Djarai, Sedang, Rhade, and other Malayo-Polynesian tribes. I just happened to develop a relationship with the Stieng and Mnong Gar because they were in my area in Phuoc Long Province.


A.I. Schmelzer

Your Opa's description of the northern Montagnards makes sense to me.


The Hmong were badly treated by the DRV. Mainly because of their recruitment by the French and Americans, they were perceived as traitors and a security risk. But I suspect that the communist aversion to religion had a lot to do with it also.


I was going to add this to Babak's comment above, then noticed that you already brought this up.

The Chinese are, in their own way, far more cosmopolitan than Koreans, Japanese, or Vietnamese, since there had never been a clearly defined "Chinese" ethnic the way Koreans, Vietnamese, and the Japanese have been. If you look close enough and abide by Chinese "culture" (defined broadly), people can and do get by. (Ethnic Koreans in PRC shock South Koreans by simultaneously being "cultural" Koreans, i.e. speaking Korean and knowing the correct mannerisms, yet being very loyal Chinese citizens for example. Kinda unsettling to my mother's people, who left China in 1946, since, apparently, back then, Koreans in China hardly ever interacted with their Chinese neighbors and may even have been even more given to ethno-nationalism than the Koreans in Korea proper.) Of course, the Chinese don't abide by those who don't "do" Chinese (which bodes very poorly for the distinct cultural minorities--e.g. Tibetans), even if they don't care too much whether you "are" Chinese (at least compared to their ethnonationalist neighbors.)

Keith Harbaugh

Colonel, here are some soft, but sincere, questions:
1. Did you sample the native cuisine in VN? How did you find it?
2. There are, or were, many VN restaurants in Northern Virginia. Some, in my personal experience, offered really excellent food (for example, the Hanoi grilled pork and spring (or summer?) rolls at the “Queen Bee” which once graced the “Little Vietnam” on Wilson Blvd. in the Clarendon district of Arlington, conveniently and no doubt coincidentally just across the street from a major DIA facility :-). Was such good food typical of the VN cuisine, or an exception, like “The Inn at Little Washington” is in America?

Just wondering, and thought you might not mind taking a break from addressing military issues and ethnic differences.

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