Fatal Symptoms: How Opium Related Corruption Fueled Instability in the Government of the Republic of Vietnam
Grant Monson Burton
University of Utah Member ΦΑΘ-AP
Read at the Utah Regional ΦΑΘ Conference at Utah State University
Published in Utah Historical Review, Vol III.
Winner of 2nd Place Undergraduate Paper Prize at the Phi Alpha Theta Regional Meeting
Various governing authorities in Southeast Asia have historically used the opium trade to generate extra revenue. The British and French colonial governments, in particular, promoted opium cultivation and distribution in many of the ethnic communities of Southeast Asia. The trade was burdensome to local peasants and tended to associate colonial governments with opium corruption. When French control in the region began to break down around 1945, the opium trade network connecting local poppy farmers, local government officials, and French officials allowed corruption to develop in and around what became, after 1954, the government of the Republic of Vietnam. Alliances with anti-communist locals who promoted the opium trade were useful at fighting off guerrillas, yet alienated local populations from their ruling class. When the United States took up the patronage of South Vietnam from the French, many Americans were determined to take a different approach and to suppress the opium trade. Despite this, and multiple attempts to solve the opium problem in South Vietnam, the drug trade flourished. The highest levels of the government of Vietnam remained implicated in the opium-related corruption. This climaxed with the GI heroin epidemic in Vietnam during the later years of the U.S. war effort. The culmination of the drug problem was the result of embracing a corrupt government and was a major factor in the eventual collapse of the South Vietnamese government.