Friday, March 07, 2008

Similarities among insurgencies

What is remarkable about various insurgencies is how similar they all sound. A weak central government loses the ability to effectively assert its authority in rural areas. Long pent up grievances held by farmers are exploited by insurgents who have moved into the power vacuum left by the receding power of the central government. In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government never addressed perceived and real agrarian inequalities, and the North effectively exploited those grievances. Other countries that have faced a discontent by rural peasants found that real land reform effectively forestalled insurgency. Taiwan, Bolivia and parts of India have instituted land reform that has done much to undermine insurgencies. However, successful land reform is difficult since landowners who must give up their land also provide the capital and taxes that any government needs to stay in power. Consequently, governments facing a crisis that has sprung from agrarian inequalities must negotiate carefully. There is a real tension between the need to distribute land equitably to aggrieved peasants and the interests of entrenched landowners loathe to surrender their title to lands. Skilled, successful and relatively uncorrupt governments can do it, Diem was none of these things. Not surprisingly, he failed.

Mao and his disciples have sought to exploit rural discontent. Communist ideology appeals to landless, disenfranchised peasants because it seems to offer a chance to retain their claim to the land. Skilled Maoist propagandists exploit these desires to gain a foothold among villagers. These insurgents can swim among the “fishes” of the local people, always present, enforcing discipline, but relatively invisible to government forces. Then, these Maoist true believers use ruthless tactics to maintain discipline, and to thwart attempts by the government to counter their influence.

The North shrewdly recognized the dynamics of the government of the South that replaced the French colonialists. The political and economic environment had not changed, so it was likely that the tactics that prevailed against the French would work against the Diem government. This assessment was correct.