Celebrating Thanksgiving and all that made it possible

The holiday spirit is on display everywhere - in downtown Saigon, Vietnam
The holiday spirit is on display everywhere – in downtown Saigon, Vietnam


Tis the season to be thankful and I, for one, want to start my thanks by waking up this morning to 45 degree weather as I let the dogs out. I mean, if you can’t have snow on Christmas, at least have chilly weather on Thanksgiving. Of course, not too chilly. This is Vero Beach and people don’t come here to be cold.

I was actually happy to see all the stores decorated for Christmas, colorful lighting all over town, the sound of Christmas music in every public building, people out shopping. That doesn’t seem worthy of a Thanksgiving message, but I am talking about Saigon, Vietnam, a communist country (at least nominally).

Having spent three weeks touring that country until last week, what I came away with is here are hard-working people yearning for a decent government so they can build a future for themselves and their families. The people are enterprising as all people are when exposed to the opportunities of the free enterprise system. The corrupt government has tried to rein in this force of nature that Karl Marx could never grasp.

Hanoi was the communist capitol long before Americans entered the south so most people living there  today have never known any other system.  There are “minders” at every tourist location, not to keep an eye on tourists, but to sound check what tour guides tell the tourists. Our guide escorted a traveler to the American embassy and waited at a coffee shop across the street. He received an anonymous call asking why he was in the embassy. In other words, the government tracks his cellphone to account for all his movements.

What would these people have to be thankful for if they even had a Thanksgiving?  The answer is they have their families, they are not starving as they were when the communists first took over and they have seen a glimmer of the light that only freedom can provide.

In Saigon, as much as the government has tried to erase all memories of the pre-communist past. In spite of its attempt to propagandize the citizens, Saigon isn’t much different than it was before the war. Businesses are required to close by 11 pm throughout the country. In Hanoi, everyone complies. In Saigon, I was in one restaurant and the owner said he stays open until 3am without much government interference. The tour guides take us to parks that they say were once hangouts for prostitutes. A wonderful accomplishment by the Ho Chi Minh communist government. In reality, the prostitutes now operate out of hair salons. Way to go Ho.

The people of Saigon seem much more gregarious and visibly happy. Yet, anyone on the street will tell you about their miserable government. Who knows when this discontent will synthesize into action, but it will happen.

I think of all the Americans who died in Vietnam and many more who fought there and returned to a thankless country. But in retrospect, we went there to fight the spread of communism. Unfortunately, we were supporting another corrupt government that lacked the support of its people. Did those Americans die in vain? Absolutely not. The fall of the Soviet Union and all its satellite states was helped along by all our efforts to stem the communist tide. And although Vietnam today is still run by communists, its people have been given enough of a taste of free enterprise and freedom itself, that the regime can only fall in the end. As I told our tour guide, we may have lost the battle for Vietnam, but we won the war against communism. The Vietnamese economy is booming compared to where it was before its sponsor, the Soviet Union, collapsed. In fact, Vietnam’s leading export customer today is, you guessed it, the United States.

So, enjoy your Thanksgiving and be thankful that you are celebrating it right here in Vero Beach, Florida. Just save some of your thanks for all the people who made our lives possible.

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