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Commentary: To Vietnam's Ghosts, Who Won the War?

Sunday, 19 November 2000 12:00 AM

Would you still think that war really worth killing and dying for? And who really won? And lost?

If you were a member of the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army and you could return to Saigon for the first time during President Clinton's one-day visit there Sunday, what would you think?

Certainly, the city was now called Ho Chi Minh City. But that would be the only evidence you would find that the North might have won. Otherwise, you would be sure the South had.

There was certainly no sign of communism, or of Chinese or Soviet influence. Instead, American, Japanese and European investment would be everywhere.

Everyone would be riding around on Japanese motorbikes and scooters. Huge numbers of luxurious consumer durable goods would be sold everywhere in the city, even in the streets. The pace of life would be even more frenetic than it was in the heyday of the American presence in the 1960s.

You would certainly see no sign of anti-American feelings. You would see more people watching American movies – at home on these new-fangled, mysterious things called VCRs or on DVDs, whatever those initials stood for – than ever did when you were alive.

You would also find that the South was prosperous and the North was not. You would find that foreign investment was flooding into the South and that international capitalists were doing very well there. And you would that the government of the united nation of North and South was working flat-out to attract more Western investors to come.

You would also find that – far from preaching any gospel of communism or national liberation throughout Southeast Asia, the government of Vietnam had joined a regional grouping of nations – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. And this ASEAN club was dominated by the free-market democracies of the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

So what could you possibly conclude except that the North had lost the war and that the South, with American support, had conquered the North?

Once you reached that conclusion, everything else would make sense. Of course, the unified nation of North and South was authoritarian in government and not democratic. But then, the South's government had never truly been democratic to start with.

Admittedly, Hanoi remained the capital of the united nation and Saigon had been renamed in honor of Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the North, while you were alive. But that was obviously just a face-saving gesture for the southern victors, who had occupied Hanoi and the North.

You would see that all the warehouses, factories and motorways or freeways that the Americans had built in the South when they arrived in the 1960s were a tremendous boost to commerce. You would see that the people of the South had retained their capitalist free-trading ways.

And in Hanoi, you would see that while Ho had been honored with a magnificent mausoleum, and though many elderly people visited it, very few people below the age of 30 did. Clearly, it was only the fading remnants of your own generation, the generation that had fought and lost the war against the Americans, who still really remembered the Father of the Nation.

You would note that when this president of the United States, this Bill Clinton, came to visit, he was warm and friendly and enormously popular with the people of your country. Clearly they loved him. He was not coming as a cruel conqueror or from an embittered, defeated nation. And you would note that it was the American president, not the president of Russia or China, who was visiting your country.

You would also quickly notice that the military victory your people were most proud of was the one more than 20 years ago over fellow communist China to the North. And that it was China, not America, that the people of your nation now feared.

So of course you would conclude that your country had lost its war with the Americans. And if you were of a forgiving or philosophical turn of mind, you might even conclude that it was for the best.

But you could not possibly imagine that the revolutionary communist national cause you had fought so bravely and desperately for so long ago had actually won, but that these things had happened anyway.

After all, who could possibly imagine that?

(C) 2000 UPI. All Rights Reserved.

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Would you still think that war really worth killing and dying for? And who really won? And lost? If you were a member of the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army and you could return to Saigon for the first time during President Clinton's one-day visit there Sunday,...
Sunday, 19 November 2000 12:00 AM
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