It has been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy ordered U.S. “advisers” to South Vietnam to help battle the communist North and 37 years since the end of that divisive war and the country's unification under Communism.
Today, Vietnam is fighting a war with itself.
A local TV program reminds a visitor of Chinese propaganda “operas” circa 1970. Performers, some wearing military garb with a backdrop of missiles and an American B-52 bomber going down in flames, commemorate the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong ordered by President Richard Nixon. Banners and posters in the streets reinforce the government's history lesson.
Younger people, who substantially outnumber the old guard, seem mostly indifferent to these messages because few lived through the war. An American official tells me just 4 percent of the population belongs to the Communist Party.
While there are large pockets of poverty between and even within major cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Hanoi, prosperity is making inroads. The 1-year-old Da Nang airport is more modern than some U.S. airports. Luxury hotels, clothing stores and restaurants abound. Many locals wear stylish Western clothes and transport themselves on motorbikes and in cars. Twenty years ago, the primary mode of transportation was the bicycle.
Vietnam eagerly wants to conclude a trade agreement with the United States known as TPP. Among other things, it would allow for more capital investment here and more Vietnamese goods to be sold in the United States. Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Phuong Nga tells me that since normalization of relations in 1995, the U.S. has become the “eighth-biggest foreign investor in Vietnam,” totaling $10 billion.
U.S. officials say human rights issues, including more religious freedom, are holding up American approval of the new trade deal. I asked Madame Nga about this and the recent sentencing of three bloggers to between four and 12 years in prison for criticizing the government.
She deflects the question by noting press criticism of government corruption (true) and claims people have freedom of speech so long as they do not cause “harm,” a word open to interpretation in a one-party state.
Vietnam recently opened two new areas to exploration for the bodies of American soldiers missing in action. Nga says Vietnam has “actively worked with and supported the U.S. in finding the MIAs during the last 20 years.”
The old guard remains suspicious about American objectives, seeing economic and political liberalization as a strategy to achieve among the Vietnamese people what America failed to in pursuing their “hearts and minds” in the war.
Professor Carlyle A. Thayer of the University of New South Wales, an expert on Vietnam, said recently, “Vietnam is motivated to keep the U.S. engaged in Southeast Asia, and the South China Sea in particular, as a balance to China,” which claims some territorial rights in conflict with Vietnam and is a formidable economic and military power on its northern border.
Vietnam is in transition, and it is unrealistic to expect too much progress too quickly. Considering where it was when the U.S. left in 1975, the country appears to be inching in a positive direction. Those Americans who died here left behind the seeds of democracy, capitalism and a desire for prosperity and freedom. Whatever one's view of that war, it can be said they did not die in vain.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for USA Today.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers defense must replace three injured starters
- Pirates notebook: Volquez open to re-signing with team
- Steelers notebook: Running game kept Panthers guessing
- Gubernatorial debate features incumbent in need of win vs. wealthy businessman running as an outsider
- At least 40 Iraqi soldiers killed in Islamic State strike; dozens captured
- Obama defends work of Secret Service
- NFL notebook: QB-strapped Bucs hold tryout for Pryor
- Tuesday’s scouting report: Pirates at Braves
- Root Sports prepares for Pitt/WVU telecast overlap
- MLB notebook: Braves dismiss GM Wren
- Peduto’s first budget proposal seeks to increase real estate tax rate