By Kevin A. Stoda in Hawally, Kuwait
On my round-the-world trip back to the USA and then back to Kuwait this October, I stopped for 9-days in northern Vietnam. I had wanted to travel to Vietnam for several decades, especially after I took a history seminar on the “Vietnam War” in Bethel College in Kansas under Dr. James Juhnke in 1984. (I have even been considering stopping my current employment in the near future and going there to teach English, i.e. hopefully y to empower someone.)
VIETNAM AND MY EDUCATIONAL TRAINING
Two and a half decades ago, the debacles and lessons of the American-era of the Vietnam Wars of the 20th were relatively fresh. However, as I personally had been too young to have been drafted into that Vietnam War disaster, I needed to spend part of my adolescence and college years acquiring information about the 1960s and 1970s systematically, i.e. as a student of history. The historian Juhnke, whose wife also taught literature at Bethel College (BC), also had us read popular fictional literature as well as took time to show and discuss films about those war years--and various American memories in the wake of the Great Quagmire.
Dr. Juhnke, himself, had run as the Kansas Democratic Party’s Peace Candidate in 1972. Thanks to this seminar under Dr. Juhnke, taken during my senior year at BC, I was already quite familiar (from an academic perspective) with popular film, documentaries, fiction and non-fiction of the immediate post-Vietnam era by the time I received my Kansas state teaching certification in history later the next year.
For example, I knew that the Coppola classic movie Apocalypse Now was based much more on the writing of Joseph Conrad, set in the Congo at the turn of the last century, rather than resembling Vietnam and Cambodia of the 1960s and 1970s.
In those same college years, I had also written a paper on chemical weaponry used in wars of the 20th century, so I was quite ready to discuss the use of napalm, tear gas and other weapons of war in Southeast Asia—had anyone asked me to do so.
Sadly, no school district in Kansas ever asked me to teach American and world history over the subsequent decades. This was:
 partially due to the fact that in the state of Kansas one generally has to
volunteer to do sports coaching along with one’s regular duties as social
science or history instructor, and I had decided never to coach after my own
high school football injuries had left me unable to do many sports as an adult
(, i.e. I felt that their is too much pressure to play hurt and get hurt in the name
of a game).
 partially due to the way the old-guard school boards in Kansas often
selected particular archetypes of yuppies to teach back in the 1980s.
Therefore, I moved to Germany in a sort of exile for the next few years, where I sought an international school position to teach social studies.
When I did come back to Kansas and taught German and Spanish in high schools from1990 to 1992, I was aware that many lessons from America’s Vietnam War were not being taught in social science and history classes across the state. The story was the same throughout most of the USA.
By late 2000, when I went to Texas A & M University to try and complete a PhD in Political Science, I was surrounded by an astounding number of both undergraduate and graduate level college students who had never taken a course or seminar in American Vietnam War history.
This is one reason why I researched among the Oral History Archive at Texas A & M University in autumn 2001 (just as America’s War on Terror was fired up) and wrote a long article on the memories of the Vietnam War era, especially as revealed in oral history interviews collected by a hand-full of A & M students and professors over the prior two decades:
“In the Long Shadow of the Vietnam War: American Post-Vietnam War Era Individual, Collective and Cultural Memory Since Vietnam”, http://www.geocities.com/eslkevin/vietnammemories.html
Historically, outside of West Point, the University of Texas A&M produces the largest crop of generals and high ranking officers in the U.S. military. However, the students at the third largest university in the USA as a whole were lacking sufficient and well-rounded study of (1) the Vietnam War era, (2) its effect on America over the long term, and (3) the important lessons to have been acquired by a generations of young Americans.
Since I had lived in Germany in the 1980s and 1990s when the Nazi era and the Holocaust were all being discussed in the public domain, this lack in the USA for its Vietnam memories some 3 decades after the war has been shocking. Such a world of ignorance is easily manipulated by neo-cons, conservative revisionists, and the like! Recall, Texas A & M was the university which was taken over by neo-cons and Reagan-era leaders, like Bob Gates, during the 1990s and 2000 period!
AMERICA’S DOLCHSTOSS LIE
One amazing thing I had learned in my listening and reading of oral histories of the Vietnam era in College Station, Texas was how interested the families of cadets and others at the university had been when provided opportunity to public debate and discuss the war, especially after the Tet offensive of 1968.
However, by 2001, it was clear to me that, aside from the few Korean cadets I was teaching English to at A &M University, a generation of ROTC-, national guard- and military leaders all across the USA had been proceeding with life as though the Rambo-type film myths of their parents’ was a reality and that Americans had lost Vietnam because:
(1) Americans didn’t have the will to kill—i.e. not tough and run by bleeding hearts.
(2) Politicians wouldn’t let the military win.
(3) American people had turned its back on the military early on.
These false beliefs or false memories make up America’s version of the Nazi-era propaganda concerning the loss of WWI.
This big conglomeration of lies in 1920s and 1930s Germany is known by historians as “the Dolchstoss” Theory or Lie.
“Dolchstoss” means in English “the stab in the back”.
In the German version, certain groups in Germany are called un-German and are blamed for the loss of German territory etc. after WWI through the Treaty of Versailles. These evil groups identified in this great German lie included socialist politicians, Jews, left-wingers, homosexuals, pacifists, and “bleeding heart” liberals.
The American Version of the theory is that the Great U.S. Military had had its hands tied behind its back in the war with Vietnam.
The misbegotten belief in this myth embedded deeply in American historical memory or psyche. It has also been propagated by many B-grade action hero films over the past 4 decades. Politicians, especially the most radical and abrasive right, have pushed the same post-Vietnam era propaganda.
The pervasiveness of this “stab-in-the-back” or “our-hands-were-tied-behind-our-backs” victim-hood belief enabled the Bush-Cheney administration to use the morally reprehensible so-called “Shock and Awe” war and to-hell-with-just-war theory in creating propaganda to sell American’s on a quick and lasting victory in Iraq in 2002-2003.
SHOCK AND AWE
“Shock and Awe” actually sounds innocuous, doesn’t it?
It sounds like exactly what Americans do on the Forth of July when beautiful fireworks are sent into the skies above our cities and village. Observing Americas say to themselves as the fireworks go off, “Oooohhh. Awwe! Ahhhhh!”
However, to any good student of the Vietnam War era, “shock and awe” is just a revamped version of “bomb ‘em back to the Stone-Age” approach that the leaders of the U.S. Air Force, like Gen. Curtis Le May, in Vietnam advocated as a solution to persuading the North Vietnamese to surrender.
This practice of lobbing almost unlimited amounts of weaponry on the enemy peoples—even indiscriminately—was tried on-and-off by the USA presidents in Vietnam. Some of the worst bombing levels actually took place during the last three years of U.S. involvement in the war, i.e. it was a bit spitefully done as one might observe a spoiled brat doing (knocking things over) after he has lost a game.
“Bombing the enemy into submission” was unsuccessful even though the U.S. used much more bombing tonnage in Vietnam and neighboring states, like Laos and Cambodia, than had been used in any prior war in the 20th century. (Only the tonnage used in the Iraq and Kuwait in the period starting in 1991 Gulf War through the current 2003-2007 Iraq War exceeds what the U.S. used in Vietnam.
In short, failure to have learned from Vietnam War history that wars are fought and won against people either through hand-to-hand fighting or ended by finding mutual agreement in hearts and minds was not being taught to Americans as whole between April 30, 1975 and the 21st Century.
America and Americans were being short changed and being set up for another Vietnam-like endless war as the new Millennium was dawning.
NORTH VIETNAM TODAY
Over 33,000 Americans visit Vietnam annually. Compared to two decades ago when American films, like FULL METAL JACKET and PLATOON were being filmed, this is positive increase.
However, I personally find this number of U.S. citizens visiting Vietnam to be astoundingly small as hundreds of thousands more Americans visit China each year.
Likewise, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong combine to send nearly 100,000 visitors to Vietnam each year. (Recall that China and the Vietnamese have fought wars for millennia. The most recent war was in 1979, i.e. after America pulled out of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.)
As I first arrived in Hanoi on a Vietnam Airlines flight, several elder Americans (war veterans), their spouses and families were on board.
Some--like me--were a little nervous about what to suspect.
We knew from the American point of view that 4 decades earlier Hanoi had represented for American mythology a key triad city in the Evil Empire of Communism. “The Hanoi Hilton” (or prison) or phrases like “Hanoi Jane” had become idiomatic expressions associated with the city where Vietnamese communists, under Ho Chi Minh, had come into power between 1940 and 1954.
All of us--I am certain--were more than pleasantly surprised by how welcome we were made to feel by their Vietnamese hosts. Our hosts seemed to go overboard to make sure that we were never left feeling as though we represented some evil force in their land.
As I only stayed for 9-days on my first trip in northern Vietnam, I cannot accurately say that my first impressions have totally accurate, but I certainly did feel that the Vietnamese people as a whole seemed more cordial to Americans than nationals in any other nation I have visited over the past decade. (I have traveled in some 60-plus countries on five continents in the past decade. Recall, also, that I am living in a surprisingly very pro-USA country now: namely, Kuwait.)
MY FIRST INTERVIEW IN HANOI
My first evening in Hanoi, I had dinner at the Little Hanoi restaurant in the upstairs of an old French building with the organizer of my tour, Le Thi Ninh. Ninh was quite open about her life and experiences. She noted that she had previously arranged trips for many U.S. veterans and their families from the Vietnam War-period.
Ninh shared that once she had met one U.S. Veteran’s group in Ho Chi Minh City, she found them virtually shaking with nervousness and expecting the worst of receptions by the Vietnamese.
Naturally, these American tourists had been pleasantly surprised—as I certainly was. (I had not expected a negative reception, but just at times I felt I would find simply a cool reception towards Americans.).
I asked Ninh whether she had experienced the war personally. She said her older family members remember the wars more, but she vaguely remembers having to go into underground areas during bombings. However, her family members were affected by more by the war.
Ninh noted that she had lost uncles in the War for Independence with the French.
Ninh is from the North. Her two brothers were later sent south to fight the Americans. Both were injured. Only one of her brothers returned home and her family never heard a word from the other brother again—until recently.
Ninh shared that, finally, two or three months earlier she had learned of the finding of her older brothers remains discovered through new developments in DNA testing. This sort of research is aided in Vietnam through aid provided by American Veterans organizations. Such organizations work with Vietnamese counterparts identifying remains of various victims of the war years of the 1920s through the 1970s in her homeland.
Ninh also shared that she was aware that one of the soldiers involved in the Massacre at My Lei decades ago now sends all his wealth to Vietnam to aid in the country’s regional development. She shared this because she felt it showed that friendships and good relations with America were enfolding slowly over the recent decades.
GETTING TO KNOW HO CHI MINH
The second day, I joined a group of tourists in Hanoi who went early to the Ho Chi Minh memorial.
Although Nguyen Tat, alias Ho Chi Minh, had specifically asked for no special arrangements to be taken with his remains after his death, his communist cohorts had determined that, like the communist heroes of the Soviet Union (Lenin and Stalin) and of China (Mao), Ho Chi Minh’s body should be embalmed and put on public display.
Luckily for me (I don’t believe in deifying or displaying the dead), the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was being renovated--as was the body of poor Nguyen Tat. Being that the Mausoleum was closed, my tour group moved on to other places of memory related to Ho Chi Minh, the nation’s independence & civil war years.
We first passed by the Presidential Palace, built by the French colonialists a century earlier. It is claimed in my guidebook that Ho Chi Minh refused to live and work in the palace as long as his nation was at war.
It was also in his character to live a less pretentious life-style.
Instead, when Ho Chi Minh slept and worked in Hanoi officially as president starting in 1954, he slept either the guards’ quarters in another less fancy structure on the same old palace grounds or slept in a simple two story stilt wooden house across the pond on the grounds of the former French governor general’s palace for Northern Vietnamese territories.
Next, my tour group proceeded to pass by the Dien Huu Pagoda and then went into the Ho Chi Minh Museum. In the 1980s I had visited similar sort of museums glorifying national communist revolution in both Moscow and East Berlin. Currently, Ho Chi Minh’s Museum’s narration still praises communist victory in much the same language. On the other hand, as a whole Minh’s museum was much humbler and visually more entertaining than either of those two I had witnessed in Europe prior to the end of the Cold War.
The focus in the oldest sections of the museum were on happiness (pursuit of?), freedom and a hoped for peace. More effort is made to explain the victories over the French than to explain the war with America. (Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, so he never saw the reunification of the country in 1975.)
One of the oldest displays notes that on September 2, 1945 the first document created by the communist-led coalition, which had just kicked out the Japanese occupiers, was based almost wholly on America’s Declaration of Independence of 1776.
It appeared that many of the most trite communist phrasings have been taken out of display in the museum in recent decades. One of the remaining phrases on the first floor displays a quotation from Uncle Ho that seems to be pointing a finger at the current age of Communist leaders and national bureaucrats in both Vietnam and China:
“The revolutionaries must be ones of virtue. Without virtue, they cannot lead the people no matter how skilled or talented they are.”
Almost any English speaking Vietnamese I met concurred that over the past three-plus decades, the corruption and cronyism in Communist governance has left the whole country not only underdeveloped but disillusioned (and lacking hope).
Hanoi has obviously developed negative aspects in recent decades but I observed positive changes, too. Negatives include the lack of planning for mass transportation in a country that moved from bicycles to cars and motorbikes too quickly.
Positive changes include much more tolerant attitudes towards ethnic groups—allowing Vietnams minority families, for example, to bear more than two children per household (which is the rule in Vietnam for the highly urbanized Viet peoples in the country).
Upstairs at the Ho Chi Minh Museum is an attempt to link Ho Chi Minh to the various artistic and mass cultural developments of the early- to mid-20th Century. This is likely done, not in order to claim that Ho Chi Minh influenced cubism and other movements in the 20th century, but in order to show that he and Vietnam were part of a wave of historical materialism.
In any case, the upstairs displays make up a fascinating montage of graphic design and artwork, commemorating a man (and his generation) that most American youth today know next-to-nothing about.
Meanwhile, we need to remind ourselves and the youth of today that those individuals who grew of age in America of the 1960s or 1970s would have been told at times by propagandists that this relatively humble leader was the “devil incarnate on earth”. In other words, although Ho Chi Minh had never threatened to invade the USA, he had been known in my childhood as our generation’s Osama bin Laden. Therefore, both Australia and New Zealand would send troops to serve alongside the Americans in Vietnam during the 1960s.
ARCHIPELEGOS, BEAUTY AND THE GULF OF TONKIN
Similar to Japan, Vietnam is a fairly long thin nation-state running primarily north to south for well over a thousand kilometers. In addition, it has thousands of many smaller islands along its coasts. In the islands of the Gulf of Tonkin exists a tremendous archipelago consisting of Karst mountains and caves of legend. The most famous bay amongst these isles is called Halong Bay.
I slept a night on a wooden junk in Halong Bay and certainly recommend that experience to everyone who has the opportunity to do so. The experience combines serenity and beauty like almost nowhere else on the planet.
It is sad to note, however, that the U.S. leadership used the Gulf of Tonkin in late summer 1964 as an excuse to make full-scale war on North Vietnam.
In the decades since that debacle, historians have proven through review of official U.S. government documentation and through interviews with participants in the Lyndon Johnson government that (1) the U.S. falsely claimed that its navy boats were in international waters when Vietnamese ships apparently shot on them one August night in 1964 and (2) the Gulf of Tonkin incident was simply the excuse the Johnson administration had been trying to find for months n order to significantly escalate the U.S.’s military activities in Southeast.
In summations, a Gulf of Tonkin Incident was used to write the U.S. President a blank check by the U.S. Congress. That 1964 Congress used a singular event as an excuse to provide a president cover in order to undertake whatever he wanted to make war in another part of the globe in the name of fighting communism.
Naturally the Gulf of Tonkin ploy worked so well during their own formative years of the 1960s that four decades later George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the Neo-Con Clan in Washington D.C. used the same tricks to take Americans into other lengthy wars half-way around the planet in 2001 and 2003.
The scam used in Iraq, namely making an unfounded claim that Sadam Hussein was a threat to America and had major destructive weapons ready to use against America and the planet, was an even more disingenuous ploy (as it was closer to absolute fiction) than the Gulf of Tonkin incident was.
Nonetheless, the name Gulf of Tonkin has continued to have such a bad rap that currently all tours to the wondrous emerald and rocky archipelago northeast of Hanoi are labeled “Halong Bay” tours.
Despite the marketing name change, the Gulf of Tonkin remains a must see for Americans, who will be astounded that a U.S. navy boat so far north, i.e. so far from the DMZ and South Vietnam, and so close to the beautiful isles of north Vietnam could have landed America and the Vietnamese peoples into such a deathly struggle.
A few years later during that same catastrophic war, my uncle, Gerald Gardner, would be gunning a much larger ship for the U.S. Navy in the same Gulf of Tonkin.
One day, it was reported that tanks and a large convoy of Vietcong forces were coming over a hill in the near distance.
Alas, as often occurs in war, the information was incorrect. Instead the U.S. forces ended up destroying a heard of elephants.
My uncle always mourned the deaths of those elephants. (I am sad to say that during my entire trip to North Vietnam I found no elephants at all on either the coast or in the highlands. However, the Vietnamese themselves have been to blame—as they deforested the elephants homelands for decades.)
AGENT ORANGE AND OTHER MEMORIES IN HANDICRAFTS
On the way to-and-from the Halong Bay Isles, my mini-bus was filled-with-tourists from all points on the globe. We stopped at a Vietnamese handicraft center run by handicapped peoples of northern Vietnam.
Like all government run enterprises, it was a colorless affair. The whole structure was painted white--with no advertising signs outside it. The building reminded me more of a automobile garage from its layout than any sort of market I could recognize.
Nonetheless, the handicrafts—especially the embroidery—were wonderful! I fell in love with the scenes that showed daily life in Vietnam--life on the coast, life in the rice fields, and life in the hills and mountains.
Nonetheless, being on a tight budget, I at first balked at buying any of the more expensive embroideries.
Suddenly, a coy sales lady with a slight limp explained to me that the handicraft goods were made by disabled peoples, such as her friend who can only use one hand. She showed me her friend’s work. It was certainly of good quality
I looked around for confirmation that what she was telling me was true, i.e. this was run by and for the benefit of handicapped peoples in Vietnam.
Finally, I spied above the cash register in the corner, a single black and white sign explaining that victims of war, victims of land mines, and victims of agent orange were included among the handicapped peoples who produce in and work at the handicrafts center.
Naturally, I went and bought one of the more beautiful and more expensive embroideries to be hung on my wall.
As I visited the handicrafts center a second time, I noted again that most tourists weren’t being told by their tour guides that the goods there were made by handicapped persons. I noted that only a few of the workers and artists doing embroidery had any evidence of disabilities. I wondered if silence on the matter had to do with the fact that the locals were bending over backwards to be friendly and didn’t want any Americans or Australians to feel guilty for what had been done to Vietnam in their name decades ago. [This doesn’t mean that some peddlers didn’t lay a sort of guilt trip on me at times, though—but that occurred only rarely.]
However, it dawned on me later that in many parts of Asia, people with disabilities are still ostracized and thought of as bad luck. So, they tend to be kept out of the public sphere.
I hope this situation improves and that a lot of other Americans go and buy goods to aid the disabled of Vietnam. (NOTE: Since 1975, at least 38000 Vietnamese have been killed by previously unexploded ordinance left over from earlier wars.)
Next, I took an all-night train to go hiking for a few days amongst the hill tribes and towns on the border of China. I actually slept well as the train wiggled its way from Hanoi to the highlands, where the peoples the French colonialists had called Montagnards lived. So, I was looking forward to a great day when I woke up early one morning in the mistier and much colder part of the country.
The Mortagnards are by no means a homogenous group. The various tour guides I met and the Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi reported that there are at least 54 ethnic groups, with their own cultures and languages, living in the country. Some of these peoples are the white Thais. Others are the red Moungs. There are dozens more.
Before going to Vietnam I had been aware of Montagnards. In fact, I had learned of them a bit while reading the novel, The Barking Deer when I took that Vietnam War Seminar in Kansas so many decades ago. It was one of the first literary work by a U.S. special forces officer who worked with the hill people during the war.
Later, I taught refugee Montagnard children called Hmongs (mostly from present day Laos) while doing my student teaching days in Kansas City.
Although almost all of the Hill Tribe peoples of Vietnam (1) are still not well integrated into the growing Vietnamese economy and society & (2) have often been persecuted in the past, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there has been greater regional assistance and expertise in development brought to these Montagnard peoples in recent decades.
NOTE: Similar to the U.S. in its treatment of Native Americans historically, the ethnic peoples have been victims of Viet dominated society. This is certainly one reason why many of the hill tribes in Vietnam and Laos joined with the United States and South Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s in their struggles against communism.
The signs of integration among the Black Hmong, the Dzau, and the Giay tribes whom I walked with and stayed among include the fact that paved roads are increasingly reachable by many of the smaller villages around Sapa. Further, most children seemed to be now attending school and learning some of the basic skills in order to achieve in a modern society without having to move or emigrate from their village at an early age just to get by.
The many Hmongs, Dzaus, Giay, and Chinese tribes peoples, especially the female ones, in the market of Sapan and in the villages wore their traditional garb with pride and enjoyed greater preservation of their indigenous culture than I had ever witnessed in my homeland.
Their lifestyles among the gardens and huge terraced rice fields of their native lands are much more similar to the lives of indigenous peoples enjoyed in the highlands of Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador--than any North American indigenous peoples I have seen in the NAFTA states.
On the other hand, poverty is everywhere in Vietnam and millions of citizens in the country have had to move from rural regions to urban areas in order to scratch out better livings. I slept in the home of one Dzau family member who had only a dirt floor under their feet.
However, having dirt floors doesn’t mean one has to be isolated or feel impoverished. Every village has several TVs and satellite receivers on hand. The ancient earth floor felt warm and dry compared to the cool concrete floors many city dwellers have under foot.
Tourism, naturally, is bringing both good and bad to these remote regions with their knock-dead gorgeous hiking trailes in the highlands of remote Vietnam. For example, sadly, some young children are encouraged by their elders to skip school in order to sell goods to the backpackers who wander throughout their homelands.
As well, there is a sort of visual and acoustic pollution of the whole touring experience caused by the handicraft goods and post card peddlers who badger the tourists in order to persuade them to undertake undesired purchases. (Aside from my visits to Egypt and India, I have never been so often hit-upon to by such masses of pesky peddlers—and never to such a high degree in any rural landscape anywhere.)
This all means that Vietnam will need to do more to provide alternative occupations, education, and training in the rural areas of the country.
In concluding, I certainly recommend a visit to the many rural areas of Vietnam. They are gorgeous and the ethnic peoples reveal a world of Vietnam that is hardly ever portrayed in America (& Australian and European) stories, films, and other formats for memories about Vietnam. Meanwhile, nearly 60 years of communism has left too many peoples in the North under-serviced in a society that is crying out for indigenous (Vietnamese citizen) skilled and technical labor.
DEMOCRACY AND INITIATIVE
When one travels to or from the International airport and downtown Hanoi, one sees some large joint-venture firms located in very modern looking plants. However, they are surrounded by fences—apparently to keep a mass of underemployed citizens out.
On my way into town the first day in Vietnam, I had asked about employment opportunities for the average Vietnamese. I was told that the Vietnamese populace faces several problems.
The first problem is that, from the global economic perspective, most Vietnamese labor force is not, in general, qualified enough to fill many positions at such firms.
In short, most of the best paying positions go to foreigners.
Second, in order to obtain the remaining jobs, local Vietnamese have to either use (1) connections, (2) bribes, or (3) both.
In short, just as in China, the booming parts of the Vietnamese export economy are benefiting only a minority—many of those being elite peoples in the government who are well-connected.
Only in the inner city of Hanoi is there a great tradition of starting up firms. This is why thousands try to move ever- closer to the congested center of the capital to find jobs and to earn a living these days—cramming the city full of motorcycles (often used as taxis) and load-laden pedestrian peddlers under an air-polluted sky.
In short, in Hanoi and in the other big cities of Vietnam, the Chinese model of economic development is being followed—leaving many people living on the fringe as have-nots--with little qualification and few connections to lift themselves much further up the ladder on the human development scale.
Partially, the underdevelopment of the political economy of Vietnam is the result of its current and prior development models. One of the disconcerting parts of the current Communist China Capitalistic model is that the haves grow wealthier while the poorest laborers stay at the margins of modern-job-employability in a globalizing marketplace.
Even more worrisome is that democracy and representative access to government are in retrograde. In short, democratic reform and access is needed but the current regime is not budging.
AMERICANS AND VIETNAM TODAY
As I drove out past the large multinational companies in their compounds at the edge of Hanoi on my way back to the airport on the last day of my excursion, I recollected what one disheartened Vietnamese had recently told me.
I had been told with a simple sigh, “If I stand in the street and demand democracy, justice or fair access without a bribe, I will be put in jail. It’s that simple.”
That comment made it clear to me that for the current generation of people in Vietnam, “America is no longer seen as the enemy at all in this country. The enemy in Vietnam for the majority of Vietnamese are the usual suspects—i.e. those in government and those with the most political economic power in the country.”
LET’S GO VIETNAM
Here is a list of the reasons I call all Americans to commit themselves to going to Vietnam at least once in their lifetime:
(1) In general, despite the fact that the American military tried to bomb the Vietnamese people back into the stone-age in the 1960s and 1970s, the Vietnamese seem to hold few obvious grudges against Americans visiting their land.
(2) Americans who fought the communists in the old days should go and support modern Vietnamese who need international support in reforming their country and government today.
(3) We need to give moral support, financial support or both. As tourists we can leave money where we want to along the way. As possible investors or future donators to charities we can begin to make important connections. [However, if we tour with socially conscious organizations that give back to the planet and local communities, as Green Sapa and other organizations do, we can be more efficient with our financial support. Conversely, we can make purchases of groups that help the disabled.]
(4) Most importantly, once we have met the varied Vietnamese peoples face-to-face, we can put away some of our cultural baggage about the current war on terror [and cultural clash myths] which claim that such cultural wars go on forever, i.e. cultures continue to fear, hate and attack each other forever. Maybe we can then more quickly pull out of Iraq with confidence and know that some day we will have better relations with the Arabs there in the Middle East-- just as we have good relations with the Japanese and Germans today.
(5) Finally, we owe the Vietnamese our hand in friendship. We, in fact, did a lot to destroy all of the prior Vietnamese colonial infrastructure through bombings and through continued isolation through 1995. We owe them much more than we have provided to date. [The Vietnamese showed America that God had not destined it to rule the planet single handedly. This is one reason why, after signing the peace accords with North Vietnam in 1972, our nation managed to have the discipline to stay out of major wars for nearly 20 years--and out of lengthy--wars for over 30 years.]
In addition, I hope that by traveling to Vietnam, all Americans will learn to take time and rediscover more accurately America’s own historical relationship to South East Asia. We can learn so much about ourselves and others.
Green Sapa Tours, http://www.greensapatours.com/
Junke, James & Hunter, Carol M., (2004) THE MISSING PEACE: THE SEARCH FOR NON-VIOLENT ALTERNATIVES IN UNITED STATES HISTORY, Pandora Press and Herald Press.
“Living through the Vietnam War”, http://www.travbuddy.com/travel-blogs/2550/Living-through-the-Vietnam-War-Cu-Chi-90
Stoda, Kevin, “Americans Trickle Back to Laos—or should be doing so”, http://www.opednews.com/articles/genera_kevin_an_070820_americans_trickle_ba.htm
Stoda, Kevin, “NATIONAL PRIORITIES PROJECT”—A Useful Website to See How Taxes are Misspent and Priorities are Lost in America—but some Underestimates of Total Costs of War in Iraq are Evident”, http://alone.gnn.tv/blogs/25053/_NATIONAL_PRIORITIES_PROJECT_A_Useful_Website_to_See_How_Taxes_are_Misspent_and_Priorities_are_Lost_in_America_but_some
Stoda, Kevin, “In the Long Shadow of the Vietnam War: American Post-Vietnam War Era Individual, Collective and Cultural Memory Since Vietnam (PART 1)”, http://www.rtis.com/touchstone/feb02/08.HTM
Stoda, Kevin, “In the Long Shadow of the Vietnam War: American Post-Vietnam War Era Individual, Collective and Cultural Memory Since Vietnam (PART 2)”, http://www.rtis.com/touchstone/apr02/07.HTM
Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped, http://www.vnah-hev.org/
“Vietnam Defuses 7-Ton Bomb 30Years after End of War”, http://mailman.ngocentre.org.vn/pipermail/ngo-lwg/2006-July/000028.html
Vietnam Development Information Center, http://www.vdic.org.vn/?name=library&op=viewDetailNews&id=354&mid=322
Vietnam War Timeline, http://www.landscaper.net/timelin.htm