North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba — a case for humility and understanding
The major “Communist” countries my country invaded or fought during the Cold War without doing so well — I just visited (or smoked a cigar from).
It gives you the opportunity to learn.
The dominant voices in the United States, especially during an election year, cheer that we’re number one. You hardly hear anything else. I can’t imaging a politician disagreeing in the slightest having a hope of election.
Seeing how others perceive us is enlightening and humbling. Each has a major claim to victory over the United States despite overwhelming odds.
China: An elderly Texan oil man in Beijing — a man in any other context I would expect to praise God, country, and the great state of Texas — bluntly told me he’s been living in Beijing for a decade because the United States had long become number two to China.
North Korea: North Korea does what it pleases with little regard to warnings from the United States as it has for decades. It launches rockets, explodes nuclear weapons, counterfeits U.S. currency, and so on at its leisure.
Vietnam: After the U.S. left South Vietnam, the North took over and renamed Saigon Ho Chi Minh City, after the guy the U.S. tried to defeat. The War Remnants Museum (I’ll post about it later), however one-sided, forces you to consider, if nothing else, what we were doing on the other side of the world in a tiny country, bombing them “into the stone age” and “destroying the villages to save them.” I can answer those questions, but the answers never add up.
Cuba: I’ve never been there, so I’ll keep quiet except noting they make a mean cigar.
I stand by what I consider America’s greatest values, but Americans, and America as a country, would benefit through similar understanding and humility. You can’t learn from anyone if you think you’re better than everyone. (EDIT: I wrote a post on quotes from Robert McNamara, who played a major leadership role in Vietnam, describing what he learned from the experience, also describing the value of understanding and empathy).
Leadership benefits from non-judgmental understanding of other people’s perspectives, even if you disagree. Understanding doesn’t mean agreement. If you don’t understand people’s beliefs, perspectives, values, and motivations, they will not see you as credible and you will limit your ability to influence them. As the U.S. found with these four countries, if you can’t influence them, you are powerless with them, no matter how large your military.
Many people view the United States as a violent imperialist aggressor that has lost wars against much smaller countries it had no reason to invade in the first place. Many Americans disagree. They may even have more facts on their side — I don’t take a position here — but that doesn’t change other people’s perspectives.
If America wants to continue what leadership it has — does any halo of the Marshall Plan linger? — it would do well to understand other people’s perspectives.
Why “Communist” instead of communist?
I put “Communist” in quotes at the top of this post for a couple reasons.
First, I rarely find labels improve communication.
But mainly because China and Vietnam, at least at the street level, appear as capitalist as any place I’ve seen. You couldn’t count the number of small business running on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The entrepreneurship is amazing. I couldn’t help but think about how much U.S. laws have come to favor large businesses and impede entrepreneurship.
Anyone who thinks the U.S. is operating at its full potential has no idea what they’re talking about. We have a lot to learn from these countries we think we’re more powerful than yet couldn’t defeat. In particular in areas we consider our strengths and their weaknesses.
Humility and understanding would help a lot.
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