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Remembering the fall of Vietnam



Remembering the fall of Vietnam

Hopes for freedom died 40 years ago

Illustration on remembrance of the Vietnam War by Alexander Hunter/The Washington

By Sol Sanders – – Sunday, May 3, 2015

Probably no event in contemporary American history touched more of its citizens than “Vietnam.” I use the quotes to describe a concept that includes more than the country, the American war and 58,000 lost American lives, and convoluted arguments still haunting our political discourse.

Millions of words have been written about this tragedy. Unfortunately, much is ill-informed, ideological and distorting the issues. I sometimes despair historical truth will ever emerge from all the claptrap.

My own “Vietnam” begins much earlier than for most Americans, decades before the massive U.S. military buildup and its disastrous end. It began when I was a callow youth, a budding journalist fascinated with Asia after a short collision with India as an ambulance driver in the British army in World War II. That led to Indonesia, and thence to Vietnam. It metamorphosed into roaming Southeast Asia as a freelancer.

My year in Hanoi during “the French war” (1950-51) taught me basics of the convoluted Indochina conflict. And they were far from those I — and some of my well-meaning anti-colonialist friends — thought we knew. We thought we had done our bit when in 1946 a few Vietnamese emigres — mostly sailors who had jumped French ships — staged a highly successful protest meeting at the old McAlpin Hotel on Herald Square in New York City. Do Vang Ly, then a Columbia University Vietnamese student but already a veteran fighter for his country, and I were the spark plugs.

We drew for participants on an early United Nations General Assembly session Asian luminaries and Americans noted for their interest in the new “underdeveloped countries.” They included everyone from Norman Thomas, the old U.S. socialist warhorse, to Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru’s poet sister, and novelist Pearl Buck, epitome of Western interest in China. Naively, our purpose was to support Ho Chi Minh, purportedly heading a broad national alliance, still negotiating with the French for independence until almost by accident they stumbled into war. A quiet agent among us from Ho’s Paris “embassy,” we were to learn later, saw to it that we adhered to the Communist “line.”

In Hanoi, I learned that beyond the constantly mutating argument between the Vietnamese and the French was the more bitter struggle between the Vietnamese Communists and nationalists. During a 16-month post-World War II hiatus, when the Communists controlled the Tonkin Delta, they had massacred nationalist leaders. In my time, plaques — imitating those for fallen French Resistance heroes throughout Paris — marked the spot where anti-Communist nationalists were struck down. Those included, interestingly enough, the older brother of Ngo Dinh Diem, later to lead the Republic of South Vietnam — the man of that generation from their Confucian court family originally slated to have been the politician.

I still remember the shock when I wrote a friend back in Boston, Harold Isaacs, author of a famous tome on the Chinese Revolution, that were it a choice between Ho Chi Minh and the then-French puppet “chief of state” Bao Dai, I would choose the ex-emperor. As the dedicated southern Vietnamese Trotskyists calculated, it was clear what Ho’s Indochina would be, whereas the corrupt and incompetent Bao Dai might still afford an avenue to Vietnamese freedom.

These two currents — dedicated, efficient, merciless Stalinists with their calls on the Soviet Union and its propaganda and infiltration in the West — and the incompetent, feuding and often far too fallible non-Communists continued the Vietnamese struggle. That contest seemed to have been finally decided once and for all with the fall of the Saigon regime, the 40th anniversary of which we marked on April 30.

However painful the specter of Americans being hauled off the roof of the Saigon embassy as North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the Presidential Palace gates, the United States was ready to shrug and turn to other issues. Nor were officials in Washington ready to admit the cutoff in American military aid had produced the catastrophe. But alas, for the Vietnamese, it marked yet another milestone in that continuing struggle between an alien totalitarianism — morphing as Lenin had prophesied in his more pessimistic moments into traditional Asian despotism — and the universal search for freedom.

Tens of thousands fled the “reunification.” Unknown thousands died in unworthy seacraft. My friend, Do Vang Ly, managed only by an accident of fate to survive. Washing up on an eastern Malaysian beach, he and a little band shepherded by a Catholic priest, were about to be shoved back into the water by their fellow Southeast Asians (a long-forgotten footnote to all the horror). But he took his water-soaked diplomatic passport from his shoe and persuaded the police to take it to a friend, the Malaysian foreign minister.

As with more than 1.5 million other Vietnamese refugees, “Tony” and his family made it to America. But he did not live to see the democratic Vietnam to which he had devoted his life. The continuing travesty in Vietnam today mocks those hopes. Nor do the new self-serving American rationalizations — in which some of our most aspiring politicians indulge — mask that the old fight still goes on if under different auspices.

• Sol Sanders is a veteran international correspondent.

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Vietnam, in sadness but not in shame

America’s more than a million and a half Vietnamese Americans this week will mourn the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the Republic of [South] Vietnam.

Defying conventional wisdom, they will memorialize the bravery and sacrifice of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam [ARVN]. They want recognition for the heroic struggle it put up against overwhelming odds after the withdrawal of American forces and the cutoff of U.S. military aid. Fortunately, a new group of revisionist scholars are setting the record straight, even in the face of the long history of American media and academic malfeasance on the Vietnam disaster.

The mourners will also recall the enormous loss of life and suffering – “the bloodbath” which, again, conventional wisdom has tried to deny took place – that followed Saigon’s fall. Thousands died in “the Vietnamese gulag”, Communist “reeducation camps”, where Prime Minister Pham Van Dong publicly admitted more than a million people had been imprisoned. Few but the Vietnamese remember that in addition to the 255,000 “boat people” who reached the misery of the refugee camps, thousands drowned at sea, often refused shelter by neighboring countries.

That is not in any way to minimize the enormous loss in life and sacrifice of Americans in what was a noble if tragic struggle. But it is an effort to retell the whole story of “Vietnam” for fellow Americans, particularly their own offspring who have grown up amidst a vast media and pseudo-scholarly distortion of facts. And it glories in the thousands of young Vietnamese serving with distinction in the U.S. armed forces.

Unfortunately, in Vietnam itself, the oppression continues unabated. The Communist regime persecutes the religious and ethnic minorities, and in its own ham-handed way attempts to stamp out political dissent. An endlessly feuding politburo guides the one-party state – so enmeshed in petty personal rivalries and ideological confusion that it publicly arrested the Communist Party official newspaper editor after he wrote an anti-Chinese editorial. And, since 1995 when Senators John McCain and John Kerry pushed for U.S. diplomatic recognition without quid pro quos – at a time the Hanoi regime desperately needed and wanted it — official Washington obfuscates the nature of the regime. U.S. policy has naively and ignominiously sought favor with economic and trade concessions in a fruitless effort to achieve political liberalization.

Although it long ago adopted “the Chinese model”, tattered Soviet-style central planning, incompetence and unbridled corruption have led to shortages, inflation, and rising debt. Nevertheless, the indomitable Vietnamese entrepreneur with his traditional thirst for education –- demonstrated so forcefully in the success of the immigrants in the U.S. — has produced a growing gross national product for a youthful population nearing 90 million.

Ironically, remittances from the American émigrés to unfortunate relatives left behind has been the most powerful economic prop for the regime, totaling as much as $8 billion in 2008, only slightly off since the worldwide recession began. [That’s compared with $5 billion annually in aid from the multilateral agencies and bilateral aid programs.] TheseVietnamese Kieu contribute 5% of the GDP adding to the money sent home by half a million workers abroad and receipts from another 400,000 annual ethnic Vietnamese tourists. Capital from the American émigrés, often arriving via the black market, fund small entrepreneurs who make greater Ho Chi Minh City-Saigon the country’s overwhelming economic hub, the cash cow for Hanoi’s kleptocrats. The US remains Vietnam’s largest official investor, as well, with some billion dollars in registered capital. More foreign investment would come were it not for the tangle of kickbacks and intrigues between Hanoi and regional Party bosses.

Attempting to counteract the effects of the worldwide credit crunch and recession, the Communist planners in 2009 threw more than $1 billion [over 1% of GDP] at the currency. But while credit expanded by nearly 40%, the price of dollars soared despite two massive devaluations. Exporters, struggling with an overvalued currency, have difficulty financing dollar imports of raw materials and components in the battle against their heavily subsidized Chinese worldwide competition. And foreign exchange outflow is draining reserves. The business community is bracing for another round of inflation, probably greater than the crisis year of 2008.

The struggle for existence, especially among the unemployed youth for whom both the French and American wars are a distant past, ignores the continued preoccupation with “Vietnam” in the U.S. Hollywood’s Vietnam war movies, for example, despite the widespread appeal of American popular culture, have elicited little interest.

Much more important now, the Vietnamese look over their shoulder at their traditional enemy neighbor, China. Despite border agreements [following the short but bitter war in 1979 in which Hanoi bloodied Beijing’s nose], disputes continue over islands in the South China Sea. And a flood of clandenstine Chinese imports have wiped out cottage industry in the North. Netizens on both sides keep up a steady chauvinist debate over old issues. And everyone waits for some new and spectacular development which will end the current malaise.

Rolling the dice in China

When scientists get further along with epigenetics, they may discover the Chinese have two unique DNA: a gambling gene, and another for hospitality. The first, of course, explains why Macau is odds-on favorite for replacing Vegas as No. 1 world gambling champion. The second suggests why few escape the lure of a Chinese campaign to win visitors’ hearts and minds.

Looking at a new determined shift in Beijing’s economic strategy, one has to chalk it up to that gambling gene. Intoxicated with turning into “the world’s factory”, Beijing plans to sail right past their successful collaborative development with foreign multinationals. Its new strategy literally amends Maximal Leader Deng Hsiao-ping’s dying instructions two decades ago to hide their capacities until they had achieved his four modernizations.

One can only chalk up Western businessmen naiveté to that second suspected Chinese gene, the ability to vamp any visitor. Of course, Frederick Engels, Karl Marx’s more literary companion, explained it all more than a century ago. He foresaw that on the way to the gallows, the capitalists’ greed would drive them to compete with one another to sell the rope to their executioners.

From mid-summer last year Chinese authorities – as a muddled but highly informative U.S. Chamber of Commerce report concludes – shifted from defense to offense. Years of studying their acknowledged total dependence on foreign technology has culminated in proposing 16 new megaprojects. With them they aim:

1] To provide new opportunities for stealing foreign technology. Now, before any technology can be introduced into China, it must be intensely “studied” — in fact, stolen even before it enters the market. Another is increased allocation of “patents” to Chinese firms with virtually no verification, making it virtually impossible to pursue legal indemnification for losses.

2] To restore the primacy of the SOEs, the state-owned enterprises, those giant behemoths notorious for their inefficiency and corruption but powerful political entities. Massive funds [$25 billion] — out of the huge 2008 stimulus package, originally aimed at warding off contagion from the world financial crisis – have been allocated to the SOEs to produce “indigenous innovation”

3] To continue to ensnare foreign companies, Beijing will suggest in return for continued tech transfers, they will get a share of the growing Chinese markets. They will also be offered participation in new technologies in China using government funds. But increasingly “import substitution”, that protectionist policy which crippled much of the third world before “globalization” became fashionable, is government policy.

Beijing’s new turn is loaded with risk. The history of Chinese innovation during the current boom is miserable. Eighty percent of China’s major firms do not have R&D at all.  One reason may be it has been so easy to rent or steal needed foreign technologies. But there may be even more important – if difficult to evaluate – cultural factors.

Although China was historically leader in basic scientific development, simply said, the Europeans picked up on those breakthroughs to initiate the industrial revolution leaving China behind. Why? The answer to this question is perennial among scholars. One answer lies in China’s intense bureaucratization, in part arising from the need for huge collective enterprises – largely for water control. Another, of course, is Chinese learning has always put the emphasis on rote memorization and an inordinate, even religious, respect and adherence to what has gone before. It may be no accident, as the Communists used to say, now bereft of its Marxist-Leninist-Maoist dogma Beijing is turning back to Confucianism. [A statue of Confucius was recently installed in Tien An Mien square alongside a huge portrait of his greatest adversary, Mao Tse-tung.] With its emphasis on ritual, Confucianism represents the antithesis to the restless European [Greek] mind. An even greater threat to the new effort to produce originality may be the all pervasive corruption permeating Chinese life today which means vast sums promised R&D will go astray.

China is also taking other risks. Despite an intense campaign, Beijing has not been able to lure home more than a few prominent scholars among more than 62,000 Chinese in the U.S., many in technological research. With ties in both cultures, they have been critical to transferring technology. The new Beijing strategy may jeopardize that relationship as American business, reluctantly, and the U.S. government becomes increasingly cautious about China deals.

True, economic development in East Asia was always full of warfare over intellectual property. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea have been major culprits. But the Chinese pour salt in the wound by offering products overseas based on stolen technology. Thus California’s former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was talking to the Chinese about proposed federally subsidized high-speed rail based on their theft from three foreign companies that had cooperated in creating them in China. At the moment, Washington is grappling with the proposed purchase by Huawei, a Chinese entity with military connections, of an American IT company with the Pentagon as a client.

Beijing’s gamble if successful would insure continued giant leaps forward but like Mao’s infamous economic plays, this one could prove catastrophic.


Foreign policy by prayer

In a region noted for miracles – Israel’s prosperous if beleaguered survival, despite attempts to mobilize 360-million Arab enemies, is a recent example – prayer could be a way to make U.S. policy. Although she now contributes only by inheritance, former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice voiced that possibility, woefully, recently: “…We have only one choice: to trust that in the long arc of history those shared beliefs will matter more than the immediate disruptions that lie ahead and that, ultimately, our interests and ideals will be well served.“

To quote John Maynard Milord Keynes, in the long run we will all be dead.

Reality is the Obama Administration cannot continue to abdicate America’s responsibility, leaving a worldwide vacuum to be filled by every would-be amateur Metternich. Obviously, policy is made with many unanswered questions. But leadership requires sorting possibilities, and decision-making, usually accepting the best of poor alternatives.

In all the uncertainties facing Egypt’s future, and indeed, the whole Arab world, by encroaching poverty pitted against rising expectations, none is so mysterious as current U.S. policy.

The talking heads more or less confirmWashington was unprepared for Cairo’s implosion. Okay, as some of us over 35 know, human events are largely unpredictable. Who could have guessed immolation by an unemployed vendor in tiny Tunisia, hardly respectable among the macho Arabs, would topple the dominoes?

But Egypt was notorious as a classically fragile third world country. There was always potential drama in rising unemployment, underdeveloped or depleted natural resources, literally thousands of years of bureaucratic malfeasance. Ruled by a highly personalized military dictatorship, no secure succession was in sight to its 83-year-old, ill, reactionary head. Yet Cairo dominated culturally a region because of its fossil fuel resources critical to the U.S. and the world economy. Yet destabilization came as a surprise? Yes, the U.S. is in a period of overwhelming domestic concern. Fickle Washington is notoriously a one-issue theater – and the Obama Administration is still winding down two wars. But surprise?

Looking for an explanation, the inevitable conclusion is the foreign policy establishment – in and out of government, for with the Inside the Beltway revolving door they are indistinguishable – is incompetent. Why?

“Group think” dominates analyses. Fads and instant expertise – instead of the long, hard, slog through history and anecdotal information – preclude originality. Even the Pentagon, supposedly noted for realism, bought into the most primitive “scientism”: the hypothesis scientific method could be applied to social problems. It spent tens of millions of dollars on “software” replacing the old crystal ball, the alchemist’s puttering, the Gypsy soothsayers on Manhattan’s Second Avenue, or the oracle of Delphi but didn’t see this coming.

Even now most media chatter trots out tired clichés. Basic problems are ignored or obfuscated. Not even the right questions are posed, at least not publicly:

1] How is any Egyptian regime going to meet growing unemployment and unrest among a notoriously young population? Will the new regime reverse largely protectionist, corrupt Murbarak policies which inhibited foreign investment and technological transfer. [Read the labels: Highly valued Egyptian cotton is made into sheets, towels and garments in India, China, Bangladesh – any place but Egypt!]

2] Fatuous rationalizations about Islam dominate the politically correct discourse. No one, probably including the Muslim Brotherhood itself, knows the fanatics’ strength in the new environment. But can there be any doubt a movement grounded in radical political and primitive Islam, threatens all modern values? Even if analyses arguing the Brothers are currently ambivalent are correct, will the obviously difficult days ahead not stir its original bowels of fanaticism as has happened elsewhere?

3] With continued military dominance likelihood, how far have the jihadists penetrated its lower echelons? Is a sergeants’ revolt likely – just as Gamal Abdul Nasser overthrew the original 1952 military coup instituting failed pan-Arab nationalism and a Soviet alliance? Doesn’t anyone remember Pres. Anwar Sadat was assassinated during a military review by the Brothers’ intellectual offspring in “borrowed” uniforms?

4] Most important, what role can America actually play? Is it wise to continue making public statements, often contradictory within 24 hours? Wouldn’t a quieter diplomacy – if such can be conducted given Washington’s official blabbermouths and wikileaks’ assistance – be more effective? Given past history in Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, etc., isn’t the influence of the Pentagon on Egyptian military – despite the annual $1.5 billion aid bribe – questionable? Is America’s “soft power” being mobilized? coordination between policymakers and propaganda, official and unofficial, in a world of instant replay?

Pres. Barack Obama’s ideological proclivities will have to give way to realism if the U.S. is not to stumble further. Nothing was clearer when his feathers were ruffled by admonitions from old Egypt-hand Amb. Frank Wismer advocating a transition with Mubarak.

Running American foreign policy is not community organizing agitation, but a hard-headed, facts-based choice of always difficult alternatives. Choices have to be made, quickly, quietly, and judiciously. Harry Truman had it right: constitutionally and historically the presidency of the U.S. is a strong executive, and it sometimes doesn’t matter as much what the decision is but that it be made.


Crises – but which is the one?

Clichés come in at least two varieties: those sayings artfully worded, however empty of logic. Others trotted out because they do represent universal truths, vetted over centuries. One of the latter: “history does not travel in a straight line”. Afterward, reinforced with additional retrieved facts and by fads, we concoct a simple, “logical” timeline.

For those of us who lived through long decades of The Cold War, we look back to mistaken views of a world scene played out on many stages. Then as now, drama tended to overshadow more important currents.

Relevant, perhaps, was the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. A Soviet satellite state, incidentally Bloc leader under benighted central planning, attempted escape from Moscow’s grip. It, too, began with youngsters in a square. In part, alas! they were emboldened then too by Washington’s support for “liberation”. But when the brave stood against Communist tanks, the U.S. blinked, fearing nuclear war.

Almost simultaneously, Egypt’s military dictator Abdul Gamal Nasser used the pretext of the Eisenhower Administration’s refusal to build the Aswan Dam megaproject  to “nationalize” the Suez Canal, for a century an immensely profitable Anglo-French commercial entity. To regain control, London and Paris used another pretext, warding off but actually colluding in an Israeli Sinai occupation to insure its own passage through the essential waterway.

U.S. Sec. of State John Foster Dulles adamantly forced America’s allies to relent. NATO Sec.-Gen. Belgian statesman Jean-Paul Spaak, an unsung hero of the epoch, literally in tears, beseeched Dulles: we have sinned but grab this opportunity to secure Europe’s lifeline to Mideast oil. Dulles, forever the moralist, refused “to reward aggression”. Nasser got the Canal, reinforced pan-Arabism sweeping the region, allied with Moscow to bedevil the West until his death. But his legacy was a mess of pottage, dismally failing to produce that long-awaited Arab renaissance, leaving a further discredited secularism for the benefit of his Moslem Brotherhood enemies.

Contradicting another cliché, history does not repeat itself, no more than the same water runs under the same bridge as the stream flows on. Nevertheless, while our attention is focused on increasingly bloody events in Araby, perhaps again more important happenings may germinate the kernel of world history elsewhere:

·        The German parliament has just laid down the law to a more than willing Chancellor Angela Merkel: it will not accept a “Europeanization” of the Euro’s financial debacle. With Greece near civil war trying to impose austerity, its southern tier debtor neighbors – facing rapidly increasing borrowing costs – move inexorably toward new “bail-outs”. No all-Europe institutions or mechanisms can meet those costs. Now the Bundestag has closed the door at least temporarily on Eurobonds [with Germany as prime guarantor] which might repeat might have been an “out”. The Euro as we knew it is doomed. Can “the European project” – the effort to create a stable continent shorn of its age-old capacity for intra-European violence — survive it?

·        A huge, new wave of Muslim refugees from Tunisia, Egypt, now Libya [accompanied by “transiting” Black Africans] is flooding Italy and Europe. They come as Chancellor Merkel, French Pres. Nicolas Sarkozy, and even U.K. Prime Minister David William Donald Cameron [the youngest British leader in 200 years], publicly declare “multiculturalism” dead. Failed Western assimilation of new workers in otherwise declining populations has led to indigestible, economically deprived enclaves abetting bankruptcy for “welfare states” created in the postwar prosperity.

·        The Europeans, as the U.S., finds itself in the grip of a growing threat to physical security from totalitarian Islam but bemused by intellectual confusion reminiscent of the1930s seduction of intellectuals by the Leninist road to utopia. When the Catholic Church’s scholarly leader, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, attempted to renew the dialogue between Christianity [and Judaism] with Islam – a 1500-year-old debate – at Regensburg in Sept. 2006, he was howled down by the politically correct. Yet native Europeans, their government – and their economies –are assaulted daily by immigrants who want to continue non-European lifestyles including some of the world’s most barbarous customs, exploiting modern Europe’s tolerance and freedom.

·        China, which within a generation has turned itself into “the world factory”, is being drawn into shaky collaborative international financial arrangements but at only a snailspace. Beijing uses its export of “capital” – slave labor and increasingly stolen technology – to blackmail its trading partners. It expands exponentially a military machine against fictitious enemies. Using largely American and EU debt, Beijing is spurring threatening worldwide inflation, uneconomically pursuing raw materials– and increasing worldwide food shortages which it has helped to create by neglect of its agriculture. Its unlimited infrastructure expansion and claptrap financial structure including unprecedented payments surpluses – now pressured by Washington’s “quantitative easing” in its effort to reflate the world’s engine, the American economy – promises a bubble bursting at any moment.

Therefore, as dramatic and seemingly all encompassing as current Arab world happenings would appear, when this period is looked back upon, it could be other contemporary world crises were more important. We, of course, will never know – which, should, inspire a little humility [admittedly not seen in this unavoidably brief review].




Hawaii as a corporate state

Hawaii’s corporatist model imploding?

By Andrew Walden | 02/28/10 | 02:38 AM EDT

EDITOR’s NOTE: Hawai`i Free Press is posting this previously unpublished 1998 look at the fate of corporatism in Hawaii in order to advance public discussion of the state’s political and economic challenges.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines corporatism as:

The theory and practice of organizing society into ‘corporations’ subordinate to the state. According to corporatist theory, workers and employers would be organized into industrial and professional corporations serving as organs of political representation and controlling to a large extent the persons and activities within their jurisdiction. However, as the ‘corporate state’ was put into effect in fascist Italy between World Wars I and II, it reflected the will of the country’s dictator, Benito Mussolini, rather than the adjusted interests of economic groups.

Unlike Mussolini’s Italian police state, in Hawaii’s system of Democratic corporatism competing interest groups are managed through the medium of the elected one-party system. The election of Republican Governors in 1959, 2002, and 2006 has coincided with internal crises within the Democratic Party which rendered all leading Democrat gubernatorial candidates unable to mediate between the competing factions.

The challenge facing Hawaii is whether to reform the existing corporatist system or to overthrow it. The default answer has been reform, since very few recognize the nature of the system, fewer advocate its overthrow, and nobody has spelled out what overthrow of the corporatist system in Hawaii would consist of.


Hawaii’s corporatist model is imploding

By Sol Sanders, 1998

Honolulu—Hawaii’s corporatist model is imploding.

Like everything in these islands, disintegration of the power structure of half a century creeps. But the days of the combine of Big Business, Big Labor, Big Government and the Democratic Party are clearly numbered. What replaces it and when remains in doubt.

Imitating corporatism everywhere, Hawaii’s mid-1950s compact built on the notion that insiders, negotiating for their constituencies without transparency, would deliver a just and frictionless society. In the same way some Catholic moralists justified Franco’s Spain as avoiding “the evils of capitalism” or Solzhenitsyn would “return” Russia to some paradisiacal Orthodoxy, the Hawaii Establishment promised to preserve “the aloha spirit” of a mythic Polynesian past.

The mid-1950s Democrat victors, after a century of Territorial Republicanism, had used the fight against Big 5 domination to overthrow the old regime. Some 40% of registered voters in the new state were Americans of Japanese Ancestry [ AJAs]. Many of the leaders were 442 Regimental Combat Team [incorporating 100th Battalion] veterans, among the most decorated units in U.S. military history. The Japanese Americans had volunteered after Pearl Harbor to prove their right to be considered loyal Americans.

Old habits die slowly and the “revolutionaries” who came in with statehood simply cut themselves a piece of the pie. Rather than overthrowing the old order, they built on the authoritarianism of the Hawaiian monarchy, the Big Five plantation and transport corporations, and the U.S. military. Jet tourism and military expenditures of two Asian wars kept the old system going. Spin-off from the Japanese “bubble” economy which sent soaring yen into dollar real estate here created a false boom.

What has brought everything crashing is economic stagnation. It’s all been dramatized by a fight for Bishop Estate, Hawaii’s largest landowner and one of the biggest charitable trusts in the country, assets conservatively estimated at $10 billion.

On the face of it, whatever a half dozen official and unofficial inquiries [including a belated IRS investigation with Washington implications] finally reveal, a Hawaiian princess’ legacy intended to give a helping hand to native Hawaiian children through better education is a farce. The massive fortune supports “preppy” schools with only 4000 students. Its five trustees get $1 million annually. There are accusations of conflict of interest, use of foundation funds for personal gain, incompetence in money management—and arrogance—leading to New York and Washington connections. [For example, Bishop owns 12% of Secretary of Treasury Rubin’s former firm, Goldman Sachs.] Lack of disclosure that no public corporation could maintain and the proverbial somnambulance of the Islands have masked all of this.

However corrupt ties between the state’s Democrat machine and Bishop, its operations typify the monopolistic practices that have brought the local economy to its knees. Whether retailing—“neighborhood pricing” takes on a new meaning where a grocery can charge 50% more for a product a block away by appealing to a particular ethnic group—or dwindling manufacturing, actual product costs are often fantasy. Regulations, licenses, permits, overlapping bureaucratic controls often have greater commercial value. The layers of bureaucracy are ridiculous—fifth in the nation on a per capita basis for a million people.

Pyramiding controls have exacerbated land tenure problems, already restricted by plantation history and mountainous, volcanic island terrain. “Planning” has turned much of Oahu into slums. Affirmative action programs and mismanagement of Native Hawaiian Lands makes the Interior Department’s Office of Indian Affairs look good.

Mainland emigrant environmental radicalism has compounded all this. Recently, for example, “activists” demanded a Japanese paper company, promising badly needed new jobs on the Big Island, plant long maturing hardwood instead of quick growing soft woods. Meanwhile, unprocessed garbage has ruined a fishing ground where it is dumped near the luxury hotels on the other side of the Island.

With virtually every other state trimming welfare, Hawaii’s bill rose 36% in 1996 over 1993, and looks to keep on going up. [Arrivals can go on the welfare rolls 48 hours after arriving.]

Now entering its eighth year of recession—with no hope of relief in sight, despite the California boom—the Establishment seems mesmerized with its 50-year-old slogans. A vaunted governor’s commission for economic revitalization came up with insipid palliatives. Threatening injury to insult, in one of the most highly taxed states, they suggesting additional levies on an already limping tourism. Since no one has figured out how to meet Honolulu and the State’s 10% shortfall in revenues for the next budgets, there is even talk of cutting back the bureaucracy–and in an election year!

Accounting for a quarter of the state’s GDP, visitors’ expenditures are down 20% — bound to drop as the full impact of Asia’s economic crisis hits harder. The Hawaii Visitors Bureau has succumbed to its own propaganda– that a tourist worries whether he is in a four-star hotel in Yucatan or Waikiki. Fewer and fewer are willing to pay double the price it costs to go to Cancun in less than half the time. Liberty House, an upscale retailer, just bellied up. Bank of Hawaii, cornerstone of the establishment, has called in a hot shot New York banker and what he will find is a sheaf of nonperforming loans to insolvent East Asians. Hawaii would have been perfect for the software industry spinning out of Silicon Valley, but new business has been frightened away. And the multinational heirs to the old Big Five — BHP which just sold its refinery here — are quietly liquidating, getting out of a market that is more trouble than it’s worth.

There is no doubt about the unique beauty of these islands. But they cannot defy the laws of supply and demand as their Democrat leaders for decades have promised. With a cost of living as much as a third over the mainland’s, there is probably more income disparity here than any of the lower 48. The word is slowly getting out: emigration of Hawaiian “locals” to mainland jobs is having its effect.

The state in 1997suffered a net population loss for the first time in a century. And some Hawaii emigrants are calling back to say that it may not be so lovely on the Mainland, but one can afford decent housing and luxuries that an increasing below-the-poverty-line population cannot in the Paradise of the Pacific. “If something isn’t done,” said one small business leader, “we are going to be worse off than Puerto Rico”—a slur that really puts more than the trade winds up in these Islands.


Sol Sanders was formerly a visiting fellow of the East-West Center