Economic History Case Studies: Vietnam Syndrome and Cuban Special Period (1919-2019)

Ernst Jünger’s Demand for Arbeit: “To be a[n] Arbeiter, the representative of a great form entering [Western economic] history, means to take part in a [Socialistic] humanity destined for dominion [over Western Finance.] Is it possible that this consciousness of a new [economic] freedom, the consciousness of standing in the place of decision, can be felt in the space of thought just as much as behind whirling machines and in the bustle of mechanized cities [like New York’s 27 Wall Street]? We do not only have evidence that this is possible, but we also believe that this is the premise of every real intervention and that precisely here lies the pivotal point of transformations no redeemer ever dreamed of.”

Ethical forms of Socialism will always emerge within ethical forms of Nationalism and Interventionism. Nationalism, Socialism, and Interventionism exhibit the same economic and political manifestations in both domestic and foreign policies. They must always be distinguished from the Progressive/Libertarian, Welfare Capitalist/Lasse-Faire Capitalist, Internationalist/Isolationist tendencies of Liberal Capitalism. A “Vietnam Syndrome,” shared by the United States and People’s Republic of China, continue to linger over the Vietnam War. In Mainland China, some like to claim that the PRC won the Vietnam War; and in the Americas, some like to claim that the US won the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, the Cuban Special Period offers instructive lessons on the excesses of Economic Foreignization for all Planned/Command Economies like the PRC, US, and Vietnam.

Vietnam Syndrome: American Northerners of North Vietnam   

Bác Hồ’s Demand for Arbeit: “To reap a return in ten years, plant trees. To reap a return in one hundred years, cultivate the people.”

Unlike the US, the PRC was not scarred by its involvement in the Vietnam War to the point where Beijing had to end both military conscription and work-conscription because of that conflict. Although military conscription continues, work-conscription in the PRC had ceased due to the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. Its demise coincided with the end of the time-honored “Iron Rice Bowl,” the Chinese equivalent to the “Vocational Civil Service” in the SMP Compendium.  

Very few Americans, I am ashamed to say, are willing to support the reinstatement of the draft for any Intent whatsoever. Conscription does not have be for the armed forces; it could just as easily be the workforce itself in the form of Work-Conscription. Work-Conscription allows any young person to create Military Arbeit and Military Geld, and having the Central Bank oversee the conversion into Actual Arbeit and Actual Geld. The Figure of the Arbeiter under the Work-Standard resembles the sort of worker-soldier-scholar personality depicted in posters like these two from the US and PRC:

“Women who rifled muskets in the American Revolution are also Arbeiter in the Pursuit of Eternal Glory!”
“I am an Arbeiter of the People’s Liberation Army and Command Economy of the People’s Republic of China!”

Each poster depicts a single Individual engaging in two separate professions, as if to imply their workforces and the armed forces coexist in the same peacetime and wartime conditions. The economic conditions will eventually reflects itself in the character, appearance, and most importantly the conduct of both the workforces and the armed forces. For the PRC and the US, a sort of “Vietnam Syndrome” persists over their respective experiences during the Vietnam War.

Just what was the US really fighting for in the sweltering rainforests and crowded cities of Vietnam and how can we connect our Vietnam Syndrome to the Special Period? Why was the US affected by the conflict more than the PRC? Where does Hamiltonianism stand regarding Ho Chi Minh Thought and Castroism? We begin by realizing that Hồ Chí Minh and Fidel Castro shared the same peculiar fascination with New York, the city where George Washington became the first President of the United States and where Alexander Hamilton was once the neighbor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on Wall Street. Once Wall Street start issuing Federal-State Financial Instruments (FSFIs) from Havana and Vietnam, it would not take very long for everyone in the US to wonder why.

The following is from a 2017 US Federal-State radio transcript entitled, The Little-Known Story of Vietnamese Communist Leader Hồ Chí Minh’s Admiration for the US. While the article does describe the obscure historical facts about Bác Hồ–“Uncle Ho” as he was affectionately called, it also obscures the philosophical dilemma confronting him: Was Hamiltonianism aligned with his Hanoi and North Vietnam or Jeffersonian-aligned Saigon and South Vietnam?  

What people might find most surprising is that [Hồ Chí Minh] once lived in the United States: in Boston and in New York City.

[Bác Hồ was] put to sea from French-occupied Vietnam at the age of 21, in 1911, to work as a cook on a steamship. He was well-educated and came from a relatively prosperous middle-class family. But finding his prospects stymied by imperial French control of his homeland, he was probably already politically active. So, he may have been looking for a way to broaden his horizons and see the world, rather than embarking out of poverty or desperation.

And see the world he did. He spent about eight years working and traveling, mostly as a cook or a baker, but also as a dishwasher. First in France, then the UK, then in the US before heading back to France.

Not too much is known about his time here. He traveled under various names, and employers did not keep very good records back then. But it’s known that he worked at the Parker House Hotel in Boston, whose guests over the years included Charles Dickens and John Wilkes Booth.

As a cook there, [Bác Hồ] — the future leader of one of the most violent communist insurgencies the world would ever see — may well have made some of the hotel’s signature dishes, such as the Boston cream pie and the Parker House roll, both of which were invented there. Ho Chi Minh wrote a postcard to a friend in France, mentioning his job there.

It’s not clear what he thought about the bitter party politics in America in [the Gilded Era], but he was a huge admirer of American ideology [Read: Hamiltonianism]. Some Americans nowadays have this view of the US as a colossal and morally questionable imperial [empire because of Jeffersonianism]. They forget that for most of its history, it was the revolutionary underdog. The country’s whole narrative was one of resistance to a foreign tyrant — Great Britain. If any nation was a champion of other colonial underdogs, it was the United States, at least in the popular imagination.

So, the young [Bác Hồ] and other young nationalists around the world admired this and would try to court US public opinion by appealing to that strain of revolutionary anti-colonialism in America.

Back in Paris in 1918-19, Hồ Chí Minh hooked up with other Vietnamese nationalists  — remember, thousands of Vietnamese and other subjects from France’s colonies had been brought to Europe for the first time to assist with World War I.

[The Jeffersonian] President Woodrow Wilson had put forth a list of Fourteen Points as a basis for a peace settlement and one of these was the principle of self-determination. It’s likely he was directing this at Europe, but colonial peoples everywhere were inspired by this to seek independence from their European colonial masters.

So, Hồ Chí Minh and his fellow Vietnamese nationalists petitioned Wilson when he came to France for the Versailles Peace Conference [as part of the Versailles Treaty] in 1919. They wanted help to get their freedom from France, but were ignored.

But just as Theodore Roosevelt struggled to comprehend the finer nuances between Personal Property-as-Power and Private Property-as-Wealth in “Where We Cannot Work with Socialists,” FDR’s subversion of Ho Chi Minh Thought by Jeffersonianism was already taking place in 1945.   

Hồ Chí Minh’s admiration for the US is most clearly seen in the language he wrote in Vietnam’s own declaration of independence, which he issued on Sept. 2, 1945, just as the Japanese empire was crumbling in defeat. The first line of that declaration is a direct quote from the American version: ‘All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’

It’s likely this was partly sincere, and partly [a plea] for US help in decolonization, [despite being deceived by the Jeffersonian] Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s anti-colonial rhetoric.

This has all led some writers to speculate counterfactually, that the US missed an opportunity to ‘flip’ Hồ Chí Minh [Read: consider a Friendship Agreement between North Vietnam and the Northern States], and thus could somehow have avoided the Vietnam War. Most [Liberal Capitalist] historians think that’s a step too far. Hồ Chí Minh was a committed [Nationalist and Socialist] from the 1920s. He was persecuted for it and yet stuck to his guns. And however much he may have liked America’s anti-colonial history, he could never have been a sincere partner for [the Democratic-Republican Party]. [Liberal Capitalists] in South Vietnam were much more natural partners for the [Jeffersonians].

That’s not to say he ended his admiration and emulation of America’s Founding Fathers. Ho Chi Minh and his top general, Vo Nguyen Giap, modeled their war to some extent on George Washington’s fight against the British [Empire]: wear down the enemy, avoid catastrophic defeat, keep the army in being and simply make it too expensive for your superior enemy to continue the war. 

A Special Period in Time of Peace: American Midwesterners of Castro’s Cuba

Che Guevara’s Demand for Arbeit: “Every person has the truth in his heart. No matter how complicated his circumstances, no matter how others look at him from the outside, and no matter how deep or shallow the truth dwells in his heart, once his heart is pieced with a crystal needle, the truth will gush forth like a geyser.”

The next document pertains to the events surrounding the Fidel Castro’s fascination with New York and a juxtaposition of the Cuban Special Period with the Jeffersonian Special Period. Important lessons can be learned from this from a Prussian and a Hamiltonian perspective. It’s from an NPR radio broadcast entitled, 60 Years Ago, ‘Fidelmania’ Took New York City By Storm. There are some archived recordings from the period about Castro that should be revisited for the purposes of The Fourth Estate:


SULLIVAN: They said your army was communist and that you were communist. I’ve seen your army. They carry Bibles. Cuba, I know, is mostly Catholic. And you, too – aren’t you Catholic?


SIMON: At the time of the interview, there were concerns that Fidel Castro and a lot of the rebels were secretly communist, as opposed to the avowed communist that they became, right?

PERROTTET: There was a lot of concern. The – Batista, the dictator, actually hired a PR company in Washington [Read: recruited Jeffersonian propagandists] to promote this idea that these guys were communists. But the CIA would send people down regularly to interview, you know, the revolutionaries and find their secret contacts. And they come – always come back saying that they’re [neither Leftists nor Rightists nor even Centrists]. They’re [Nationalists-Socialists], but they’re not [always Scientific Socialists or Marxist-Leninists]. And so weirdly, you have the situation where the CIA members are actually starting to support Fidel.

SIMON: Let’s get to the New York visit. And to set the scene a bit, some audio from a contemporary newsreel.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: New York Pennsylvania Station rarely has seen anything like it. Only the magnetism of a Castro could produce it. For this is the spontaneous, oh-for-sure unrehearsed enthusiasm greeting the Cuban premier, bearded Fidel Castro. Visiting this town…

SIMON: And we’ll explain. There’s a little boy held aloft, and he has (laughter) a fake beard, little army hat, little army fatigues. What was included in this New York visit?

PERROTTET: Oh, it was very touristic in a sense. He’s – he went to City Hall and, you know, met the mayor. He went up the Empire State Building and the observation deck. He went to Bronx Zoo, and he leapt over the fence and patted a tiger at one stage, much to the, you know, delight of the journalists. And then he ate a hot dog and declared the Bronx Zoo the best thing that New York has.

SIMON: And a big speech in Central Park, right?

PERROTTET: Yes, that was the climax on the last night. And some 30,000 people turned up.

SIMON: Let me ask you about some other stops that he made, including, by the way, from Washington, D.C., where we often forget he met Richard Nixon.

PERROTTET: Yes, that was the start of the trip. And so he went to D.C., and Eisenhower – President Eisenhower made sure that he was off on a golf trip. So Nixon was there, and they had this meeting. And it didn’t go terribly well. (Laughter) Fidel disliked Nixon, and Nixon sort of snubbed him a little bit and was sort of very aloof. [Nixon] said that Fidel was either lying about being a communist [Read: Nixon thought Castro was a Nietzschean like himself, Spengler, Lenin and Jünger], or he’s just extremely naïve [by not heeding that Revisionist who is still bellowing “Marx is dead!”]. [If it is the latter] he’s [being] play[ed] [by the Last Men forewarned by Nietzsche in ‘Thus Spoke Lenin’].

Beware that producing too much or too little Actual Arbeit for Actual Geld will be targeted by the Speculative Attacks of Financial Warfare. Never become the America that has too much of everything that nobody knows what to do with, which also happens to be the same America that has too little of everything that nobody knows what to do without. For it is highly peculiar for Welfare Capitalist policies by the Jeffersonians to be the result of Midwestern farmers creating so many dairy products that it may be the Implicit Intent behind why the Democratic-Republican Party likes to feign ‘opposition’ to its own Welfare Capitalism.

NPR had also broadcasted a passing mention about that arrangement in a radio report from 2019, Nobody Is Moving Our Cheese: American Surplus Reaches Record High. It was about how the Union had created up to 1.4 billion pounds (or ~635,029,318 kilograms under the Metric System) of cheese prior to the Coronavirus Pandemic. And yet I am not at all surprised to learn about US cheese shortages during this Coronavirus Pandemic. So far, the Jeffersonians’ dysfunctional Market Economy in 2020-2021 has had shortages of Philadelphia, NY cheese, French cheese, blue cheese, Italian cheese, Greek cheese, and Swiss and Fondue cheese:

While Americans consumed nearly 37 pounds per capita in 2017, it was not enough to reduce the country’s 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The glut, which at 900,000 cubic yards is the largest in U.S. history, means that there is enough cheese sitting in cold storage to wrap around the U.S. Capitol.

The stockpile started to build several years ago, in large part because the pace of milk production began to exceed the rates of consumption, says Andrew Novakovic, professor of agricultural economics at Cornell University.

Over the past 10 years, milk production has increased by 13 percent because of high prices. But what dairy farmers failed to realize was that Americans are drinking less milk. According to data from the USDA, Americans drank just 149 pounds of milk per capita in 2017, down from 247 pounds in 1975.

Suppliers turn that extra milk into cheese because it is less perishable and stays fresh for longer periods. But Americans are turning their noses up at those processed cheese slices and string cheese — varieties that are a main driver of the U.S. cheese market — in favor of more refined options, Novakovic tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. Despite this shift, sales of mozzarella cheese, the single largest type of cheese produced and consumed in the U.S., remain strong, he says.

“What has changed — and changed fairly noticeably and fairly recently — is people are turning away from processed cheese,” Novakovic says. “It’s also the case that we’re seeing increased sales of kind of more exotic, specialty, European-style cheeses. Some of those are made in the U.S. A lot of them aren’t.”

Novakovic also notes that imported cheeses tend to cost more, so when people choose those, they buy less cheese overall. The growing surplus of American-made cheese and milk means that prices are declining. The current average price of whole milk is $15.12 per 100 pounds, which is much lower than the price required for dairy farmers to break even.

The Union should be grateful that our Special Period is not going to be as bad as the Cuban version, which was over petrochemical fertilizers. This “Special Period and Recovery” article from a British website focusing on the overall history of the island nation-state is very fitting:

The collapse of the Soviet Union, ending 1991, decimated the Cuban economy. The country lost approximately 80% of its imports, 80% of its exports and its Gross Domestic Product dropped by 34 percent. Food and medicine imports stopped or severely slowed. Perhaps most immediately impactful, however, was the loss of nearly all of the oil imports by the USSR; Cuba’s oil imports dropped to 10% of pre-1990 amounts.

Before this, Cuba had been re-exporting any Soviet oil it did not consume to other nations for profit, meaning that petroleum had been Cuba’s second largest export product before 1990. Once the restored Russian Federation reemerged out of the wreckage of the Soviet Union, its administration immediately made clear that it had no intention of delivering the tanker after tanker of petroleum that had been guaranteed the island by the USSR; in response to this notification, Fidel Castro angrily cut off all oil delivery from Russia, merely one week later. He fell witness to an immediate need to reduce domestic consumption of what remained by 20% over a span of just twenty-four months.

The effect was felt immediately. Entirely dependent on fossil fuels to operate, the major underpinnings of Cuban society—its transportation, industrial and agricultural systems—were paralyzed. There were extensive losses of productivity in both Cuban agriculture — which was dominated by modern industrial tractors, combines, and harvesters, all of which required oil to run — and in Cuban industrial capacity.

The early stages of the Special Period were defined by a general breakdown in transportation and agricultural sectors, fertilizer and pesticide stocks (both of those being manufactured primarily from oil derivatives), and widespread food shortages. Australian and other permaculturists arriving in Cuba at the time began to distribute aid and taught their techniques to locals, who soon implemented them in Cuban fields, raised beds, and urban rooftops across the nation.

Organic agriculture was soon after mandated by the Cuban government, supplanting the old industrialized form of agriculture Cubans had grown accustomed to. Relocalization, permaculture, and innovative modes of mass transit had to be rapidly developed. For a time, waiting for a bus could take three hours, power outages could last up to sixteen hours, food consumption was cut back to one-fifth of their previous levels and the average Cuban lost about twenty pounds. Although starvation was avoided, persistent hunger, something not seen since before the Cuban Revolution, suddenly became a daily experience, and initially, malnutrition in children under five was evident after just a few weeks of these food shortages.

The United States law allowed humanitarian aid in the form of food and medicine by private groups. Then in March 1996, The Helms-Burton Act imposes penalties on foreign companies doing business in Cuba, and allowed U.S. citizens to sue foreign investors who use American-owned property seized by the Cuban government. Due to the external factors contributing to the energy crisis in Cuba, the collapse of the USSR who was their main source of petroleum and food imports, along with the various stages of the US embargo, this is referred to as an “artificial” peak oil.

The Cuban government was also forced to contract out more lucrative economic and tourism deals with various Western European and South American nations in an attempt to earn the foreign currency necessary to replace the lost Soviet oil via the international capitalist markets. Additionally faced with a near-elimination of imported steel and other ore-based supplies, Cuba closed refineries and factories across the country, eliminating the country’s industrial arm and millions of jobs. The government then proceeded to replace these lost jobs with employment in industrial agriculture and other homegrown initiatives, but these jobs often did not pay as well, and Cubans on the whole became economically poorer. Alternative transportation, most notably the Cuban “camels” — immense 18-wheeler tractor trailers retrofitted as passenger buses meant to carry many dozens of Cubans each — flourished.

Food-wise, meat and dairy products, having been extremely fossil fuel dependent in their former factory farming methods, soon diminished in the Cuban diet. In a shift notable for being generally anathema to Latin American food habits, the people of the island by necessity adopted diets higher in fiber, fresh produce, and ultimately more vegan in character. No longer needing sugar as desperately for a cash crop — the oil-for-sugar program the Soviets had contracted with Cuba had, of course, dissipated — Cuba hurriedly diversified its agricultural production, utilizing former cane fields to grow things like oranges and other fruit and vegetables. The Cuban government also focused more intensely on cooperation with Venezuela once the Socialist Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998.

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