What is the difference between Communism and Capitalism?

You do not normally start a story with the punch line, but this time, we will. The answer is: In capitalism, as we all know, Man exploits Man. In Communism, it is the other way around. (AKA Man exploits Man.)

So, knowing how the joke ends, I want to explain the difference between a true believer and someone who found it the convenient path.

Whilst working on the POW/MIA investigations, I spent many hundreds of hours in circumstances where we had nothing to do but wait. Wait for a drive to be over, wait for this that or the other chairman or witness or guide to show up. Or, we spent many hours in dinners and parties or events involved with our work. For one who hates the sounds of silence, that means lots of talking. For a guy who loves to argue about politics, that means lots of arguing. Where better for an ardent capitalist to argue than in the Vietnam of the late 1980’s?

One of my favorite guys was Ngo Hoang. I have to tell you, I still have a lot of fondness for this old man who had lots and lots of history under his belt. At the time of this event, he would have been in his early sixties. We had worked together for about 18 months and knew each other well. We discussed this that and the other thing and were pretty free with each other in that few topics were off limits. After the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, one of his jobs was to convert the captured French soldiers to the joys of communism. He was pretty successful from what I hear. As a Ministry of Foreign Affairs employee, his English was reasonably good and my marginal Vietnamese filled any holes he had.

We were enjoying a good-by, end of the investigation joint team meal in Saigon before returning to Thailand and he and I began a discussion on the differences between Capitalism and Communism. We discussed the stock market, the investment of the worker (time) vice the investment of the owner (time, money, capital) and the correctness of making a profit on the labor of others which he denied. We argued through the aperitif, the main course, and finally the desert. Finally, I posed the question above to him. At the point where I explained that capitalism involved Man exploiting Man, he said with conviction “YES, YES, YES!”

When I said in communism it is the other way around, he exploded “NO, NO, NO!!!” That was the only time I ever got him hot and he was hot! He took out a cigarette stuck it in his mouth and lit the filter. You see, Mr. Hoang was a believer. He understood the problems with the difference in the theory and the practice which we had discussed. Yet, he had spent his life promulgating this doctrine and struggled with the growing reality that it did not work.

Now we fast forward to another co-worker of this time frame. Mr. Dich. Mr. Dich had ridden the party as a convenience. He had served the party and the party had served him. I never saw the ideological love which I saw in Mr. Hoang. He HAD paid his dues. As a young man, he had participated in a brutal truly remarkable (from a soldier to a soldier) march from Hue to Dien Bien Phu to provide reinforcements to the Communists fighting the French leading up to the final fall of the outpost. He was wounded in this battle via grenade shrapnel in his leg. He showed me the damage from the wound which 40 plus years or so later was still ugly. He had participated as a party secretary at the Paris Peace Talks in 1972/1973 which resulted in the US withdrawal from Vietnam. My Friend Bill Bell indicates in his book that Mr. Dich may have been involved in assassinations at one point in his career. I do not find that hard to believe. Whereas Mr. Hoang was personable and debonair and a mixer, Mr. Dich was morose, and kept to himself far more. He was a bit grumpier than most of the people we worked with. Being a diplomat, I was able to get along with Mr. Dich fairly well.

On this particular trip, we were in the Ashau-Aloui valley. The north end of this valley was made famous by the movie Hamburger Hill. The terrain was brutal, the malaria which infested the area was a particularly vicious form of cerebreal Malari. The mountains were vertical. In short, the main benefit the area had was the multitude of fish ponds created by the B52 bombing of the area during the war. A couple memories of that trip were the horribly scarred face of the noseless man who was burned almost to death when he tried to open up an unexploded bomb to get the phospherous and to obtain the metal for recycling. He messed up and the bomb went off in a fizzling sort of way. I still can see his face.

I also remember coming down a stream bed where we scaled the walls at the edge of several 100 foot waterfalls. Mr. Dich followed me in the file and I put his feet in cracks and handed him vines all the way down. (Mr. Dich was about 60 at the time of that event and mountain climbing was not in his job description. He stayed in the hotel the next day and we went out without him.)

One evening, we were resting after the day’s work talking about the war–a discussion worth its own story–and I popped the Man VS Man story on him. I tried Vietnamese, I tried English. My team leader, Gary Smith, tried Spanish which they both spoke. He just did not get it. I think one of the team members spoke a bit of French which Mr. Dich spoke well. Still nothing. Later, as we moved towards Hanoi, we stopped for a lunch break. Mr. Dich was in a particularly grumpy mood and was sitting off by himself. I went over and sat down with him and tried to cheer him up. Finally I got out a paper and wrote out the joke. When I visually moved the front man to the back man place and vice versa, the lights came on! Mr. Dich, in his high pitched voice said in amazement, “The SAME, They’re the SAME!” He saw the light! He KNEW the truth! He reveled in it, he rolled in it and laughed out-loud.

For the next three days as we drove from central Vietnam to Hanoi, he sat in the back seat and every once in a while, he would start tapping his knee, smile and say, “The Same! They’re the Same!”

You see, Mr. Dich was pragmatic and moved with the flow. When communism was what worked, he was fine with it. As the country began moving to a more open economy, and these were the very early stages of that move, he could move with it. Mr. Hoang, on the other hand, was a true, orthodox believer and while I believe he saw the truth of the statement, found it brutally hard to bear.

In any case, both men were very interesting and I look back at my association with them with happiness. It was a good work and we as former enemies were able to work together to achieve some measure of success for our respective countries.

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