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Was the South Vietnam Government Corrupt?

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The US constantly recognized corruption—outlined right here as efforts of presidency officers to counterpoint themselves or shut associates utilizing public funds—as some of the pervasive issues throughout the South Vietnamese authorities. Leaders in Saigon discovered it arduous to construct widespread help when the financial and political system seemed to be rigged in favor of a small, well-connected elite. The Viet Cong made corruption a central theme, promising to remove all profiteers and dishonest officers as soon as they seized energy.

Corruption sapped South Vietnam’s navy power when senior officers pocketed cash or assets meant for the armed forces, arrange rolls of “ghost troopers” to gather the pay for nonexistent troops, took bribes in trade for contracts or put private connections above confirmed skills once they doled out jobs.

The large infusion of U.S. {dollars} into South Vietnam between 1965 and 1974 fed the corruption. Throughout that interval, america offered a median of $1.5 billion in financial and navy help annually to a rustic whose annual gross home product averaged about $10 billion. As in Iraq and Afghanistan extra lately, the try to construct a steady authorities in a poor, war-torn area requires an unlimited sum of money and infrequently enriches the well-connected as an alternative of funding essential wants.

It’s troublesome to find out the extent that corruption weakened South Vietnam. Between 1963 and 1967, when the South Vietnamese political panorama was in turmoil, American officers pushed anti-corruption measures as a precedence for “successful hearts and minds” and thus successful the struggle. In the course of the Tet Offensive of January-February 1968, the communists tried to cripple the brand new authorities of President Nguyen Van Thieu, who grew to become head of state in 1967. Within the wake of the disaster, Thieu tamped down on corrupt actions throughout the navy and helped the South Vietnamese armed forces emerge stronger than earlier than.

Some corrupt South Vietnamese officers went to jail, however kickbacks, skimming and insider dealing remained till the autumn of Saigon in 1975.

The 1973 Arab oil embargo, aimed toward supporters of Israel, raised the worth of oil and created inflation across the globe that damage Western economies and nations they backed greater than it damage communist nations. Inflation’s impact on the U.S. authorities’s funds was one of many elements within the support discount to South Vietnam in 1974. With inflation and support cutbacks, Thieu’s authorities struggled to fund its navy. Rampant inflation was extra harmful than corruption. The ultimate blow was the North Vietnamese blitzkrieg of early 1975.

Corruption continued to be a significant drawback even after the communists took energy. In 2021, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which charges nations for corruption on a sale of 0 (extremely corrupt) to 100 (very clear) positioned Vietnam at 39— a slight enchancment from its rating of 31 a decade earlier. South Vietnam might have had an issue with corruption, however the communist authorities has proved to be no extra trustworthy.

Dr. Erik Villard is a Vietnam Warfare specialist on the U.S. Military Heart of Navy Historical past at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.

This text appeared within the Autumn 2022 concern of Vietnam journal.

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