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'When Hypnotics Won a War'

May 14, 1988

In his article loftily instructing Americans about our "failure" in Vietnam, French journalist Todd has the colossal nerve to ask, "Why, for example, do communists so often manage to confiscate a national liberation or anti-colonial struggle?"

He ought to know. It was the French who plundered, oppressed and brutalized the Vietnamese so that capitalism, which the French represented, became synonymous with hell. Communism seemed a viable alternative.

Paul Doumer, who became the French governor general of Vietnam around the turn of the century, stated the French attitude quite succinctly when he wrote in his memoirs, "When France arrived in Indo China, the Vietnamese were ripe for servitude." And serve, they did. So many of them died at the base of rubber trees on Michelin plantations, that they had a Vietnamese name for themselves which translates into "rubber tree fertilizer."

When the French came to Vietnam, most peasants owned their land. By the 1930s, 70% were tenant farmers or had been pushed off the land.

Todd's ignorance of his nation's colonial history is surprising in a journalist and author of a book on the fall of Saigon, but it's not a particularly French phenomenon. American ignorance of our role in supporting brutal and exploitative regimes in Latin America continues to pave the way for communism there just as handily. It's time we paid attention to history and the current affairs of other countries, especially those in our hemisphere. Our legendary ignorance has cost untold numbers of lives and has been totally counterproductive to our aim of stopping the spread of communism.

ANN ALPER

Pacific Palisades

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