Forty years ago, the last United States’ troops left South Vietnam and the country was united with the North as a single, communist State. Was Vietnam ‘lost’ then? Today, American veterans are welcomed back as tourists, American businessmen are making deals and signing contracts with Vietnamese entrepreneurs, the country has social media, KFC has a 130 or so outlets and McDonald’s has opened there. So, was Vietnam really ‘lost’? What is happening there?
In the 1830s and 1840s, as people moved out of New England for upstate New York, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, there was much talk of ‘the universal Yankee nation’, powered by ideals of economic development, invention, a meld of organization with democracy, and technology. All of these were subsumed under the notion of ‘progress’. Through the Civil War and two world wars, the impact of progress, Yankee-style was extended throughout America and then the broader world.
This brief tale connects back, not to the US Army, but even further, to Fred Taylor’s Scientific Management of the early 1900s and then further back to Roswell Lee and Charles Hall’s success in producing interchangeable parts. Social media is a direct descendant of F.B. Morse’s telegraph, and air conditioning, which makes Vietnamese factories possible, can be traced to Willis Carrier. All of these people are of Yankee or part Yankee descent. They all had some organizational ability, they all were keen to see their ideas benefit the lives of everybody, not just the rich and powerful. These are not natural cultural traits around the world.
The 19th Century Yankees made much of modern America and their cultural values are now remaking much of the world. Democratizing business and organizing it properly, communicating instantly with everyone and providing similar entertainment and products for everyone are all subversive of the traditional ways of the wider world, just as they were subversive of the Old South on the eve of the Civil War. That’s where I am going in exploring The Yankee Road. Come on along. You’re part of the action.