Courtesy Reuters

The Real Revolution in South Viet Nam

South Viet Nam, as is obvious to anyone with the most cursory interest in world affairs, is in the midst of a war, and equally obvious is the fact that this war is being waged by a Communist-controlled insurgent movement supported and directed from Hanoi. Less obvious, but equally important in determining its political complexion and future (including, ultimately, the outcome of the Communist-instigated war) is the fact that South Viet Nam is also in the midst of a social revolution.

When South Viet Nam was created in 1954, political authority was initially assumed by a predominantly mandarinal class, largely French-educated and foreign-oriented in culture even though politically nationalistic. Of that class, Ngo Dinh Diem was both symbol and archetype. Today political power is in the process of passing to a more militantly "Vietnamese" group, at least latently xenophobic and, in some ways, more culturally autochthonous, far less prone to think about politics in a foreign idiom. Of this group, the students, the bonzes (monks) who lead the "Buddhist" movement and the military "Young Turks" are prime examples. This shift in the locus of political power explains much of the otherwise baffling turbulence on the South Vietnamese political scene and constitutes the real revolution in South Viet Nam. The Communist insurgency has contributed to the climate and circumstances which produced it, but the two are not the same. The insurgency is and always has been a contrived and consciously directed politico-military campaign. South Viet Nam's social revolution is something much more formless, much less the result of deliberate intent and much less amenable to anyone's control.

This revolution is a thing of manifold complexity in which nationalist sentiments, for example, are complicated by crosscurrents of regionalism and in which contending factions bear religious labels even though no issue of religious doctrine or practice is really involved. So far, it has been largely confined to urban centers and as yet has had relatively little effect on the lives of the peasantry who constitute

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