It’s been 50 years since the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam and nearly 30 years since the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Vietnam and the U.S. have become trading partners, and it’s not uncommon for American veterans of the War to return to Vietnam and literally embrace former enemy soldiers, sharing bitter-sweet memories with them.
As a counterbalance to China, the U.S. is strengthening ties with Vietnam. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently spoke of how the two countries “can advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, one that is at peace and grounded in respect for the rules-based international order.” And the U.S. is building a new $1.2 billion embassy compound in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, once a prime target for U.S. bombers. Formerly bitter enemies have become partners, and I’m reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s famous dictum: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
By the way, those interested in remembering or learning about the protests against the War in Vietnam should read Norman Mailer’s account of the 1967 March on the Pentagon, The Armies of the Night. The book ends with a group of Quakers thrown into jail because of their participation in the March. Refusing food and water, refusing to wear prison clothing, they suffered naked in cramped, cold cells. Mailer asks himself,
Did they pray, these Quakers, for forgiveness of the nation? Did
they pray with tears in their eyes in those blind cells, with visions
of a long column of Vietnamese dead, Vietnamese walking a
column of flame, eyes on fire, nose on fire, mouth speaking flame,
did they pray, “O Lord, forgive our people for they do not know….”
So, today, it would seem that forgiveness and trust have replaced retribution and fear in the relations of the two countries. The United States and Vietnam are friends and—possibly—future allies. (This post was partly inspired by Heather Cox Richardson’s April 16 newsletter.)
~ Richard Russell
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