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Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Vietnam: What do you remember?
Twenty-five years after the Americans ended their military involvement in Vietnam, what lessons have been learnt?
Did the conflict change the nature of American foreign policy, or Americans' view of the world? Can Vietnam ever fully recover from the years of war and have its people overcome the bitter divisions of the war years? Tell us what you think.
And did the events in Saigon 25 years ago have a special significance for you? How do you think of the war, a quarter of a century later, and what do you remember?
Michael Sotile, US Air Force, retired, USA
Born and raised in South Vietnam, my greatest hope was peace in my country, so that my father would take me travelling to see our beautiful country. Our town was constantly threatened by the Vietcong who blew up bridges and buildings that killed innocent people. My dream shattered when the North Vietnamese communist tanks rolled into the streets of Saigon in April 30, 1975. I was 10 at the time. They imprisoned my father, took our house, sent the rest of us to their so-called "new economic zone." We faced hunger and malaria everyday. We finally escaped Vietnam and set sail to the high sea. We survived attacks and rape by Thai pirates, hunger, and thirst in the high sea. Twenty years later, I never forget what the communists have done to my family and my country, nor will I ever forgive their crime and cruelty.
War? What war? Isn't it true that the US has never officially declared a war against any country since the 1940s or 50s? Even after scores of killings there are Americans who say that the conflicts with Iraq and Serbia in the 1990s were not really wars. What rubbish!
It was not a US officer who performed the famous execution that Malcolm Littlemore is writing about. The executioner was an officer in the South Vietnamese Army.
I was in my last year in High School when the war ended. I feel there was a "loss of innocence" for my generation, not just for the participants. On the TV news I saw an incident where an American officer shot a young man (suspected of being a spy) in the head. He just fell in a ditch like a slaughtered animal. This was so different from "war films". Death in war was now "real", it was callous, and tragic, and there were no heroes. I wondered if I could kill an enemy so cold-heartedly. I hope I never have to find out.
Huy Anh, Manchester
I really think the American Government is responsible for all the damage in Vietnam, so they should have given financial support to the Vietnamese people, because they were innocent victims. Without American support, they will never have a normal life again.
After my father spent 3 years in Vietnam as a SEAL,
won the Navy Cross and three Silver Stars, and came
back still proud of his country, he read the Pentagon
Papers story in The New York Times one-month after
returning. He almost committed suicide. He is now a
well man, but one thing I did not inherit from him
was pride in my country. Dow and Dupont were what my
father was fighting for, and he'll never get over that.
And, fortunately, he won't let me either.
When the first "boat people" started showing up here I started teaching them English, and then I took classes to learn how, and I've been teaching ESL ever since. I started doing it because it was all I could think of to do, to try to do something good, something real to help some Southeast Asian people. My students were not only Vietnamese - we had lots from Laos and Cambodia too all victims of my country's mad war making.
Paul Siemering, USA
As a Viet Nam vet Phu Bao 71-72, and whose Father served in the Pacific WW II, let me say that, what we were trying to do there was, shove our way of life down their throats. Having said that any Non-American, who thinks we were breaking down the door to hit the Normandy beaches, Viet Nam, or Kuwait, may think again. Some of us Americans are really tired of it. To My Fellow Nam Vets Welcome Home.
Napalm. That is what I remember on my TV screen as a child. The Vietnam War was a tragic event and I am incapable of watching films about Vietnam as a form of entertainment. I speak as a former Major in the British Army. However, I do dispute the inaccurate use of the word genocide in many of the entries. This was not the motive of the USA and it is crass to suggest otherwise.
Hai Nguyen, Canada
I remember the Vietnam War clearly. I was an American student in college and was summoned for the draft. I didn't want to be forced to fight a war in which I had no belief and I remember stating this at the dinner table and being called all sorts of names by some members of my family. The war divided the American nation and it divided families.
Kudos to Jon Elford! It disturbs me that the media portray Vietnam as "the only war America lost", yet the U.S was not defeated on the battlefield and did not surrender militarily to North Vietnam. America may have lost the war politically, but not militarily.
Stuart Nicklin, UK
I have just spent 3 years living in Vietnam. I have to say that the Vietnamese are not cruel people as depicted in most films or media regarding the war. The Vietnamese have moved on from the war. What they are struggling for is to earn a living to have a better life for themselves and their children. But what they should struggle for is the US to clean up their country regarding Agent Orange.
In my final year at a boys' high school in Durban, South Africa, our English teacher (who was also our form teacher) turned over two-thirds of the pinboard at the back of the classroom to be used as a kind of wall-newspaper by us, the class. Anyone could post contributions. It seemed a very radical move then (1972) in a very conventional boys school.
Two of us took the lead in posting material and turned it into a kind of running photo essay taken mainly from the pages of Life magazine, and showing the bloody reality of the war in Vietnam.
I was a small schoolboy in this African country when the Vietnam War had really turned fierce. Yes, I even remember that picture on the magazine of a small Vietnamese girl running without any clothes, a terrible one for such a young boy like me at that time. I was told then that it was a war of ideologies, pitting capitalism against communism. I think a good lesson to come out of the Vietnam War was that ideologies are not fought using the conventional war machinery. The wrong ones are destined to crumble, under pressure from their own people like for communism in Russia and the whole of Eastern Europe. Had this simple truth been accepted then, millions of Vietnamese and thousands of Americans would have been spared their lives.
Sometime, when sitting with my second brother around some good rice whiskey, we say that our youngest brother is the brightest of all. He was a skilled pilot and we all are proud of him. That is a bad thing that he was killed and not one of us. But we supposed that is life. Life is a matter of luck. Sometimes you do good things, sometimes you do bad things. Sometimes you win - sometimes you loose. All you shall do is respect the others and keep your eyes open and your hands closed when death comes.
B-K Huynh, Viet-Nam
I am proud of all VN Vets for the job they did. With the draft it was a part of growing up. I still feel proud to put on my dress blues and know in my heart I did what I thought was the right thing to do.
I was born in Saigon in 1973. My Dad was executed in Re-education Camp by the people who "liberated" us from the USA. They (the North Vietnamese) did not liberate anyone. They have brought only poverty and sorrow to us.
I experienced with my own eyes how they took away the property of other people whose relatives worked with the USA. They then sent these people to Re-education Camp as well.
I do think that all sides involved made mistakes. But a quarter of a century has gone. What has the Vietnamese leadership achieved? Absolutely nothing! They have mismanaged the economy, taken away people's freedom, brainwashed other Vietnamese people.
Vietnam needs a revolution like in Eastern Europe in 1989, so that Vietnam can start from scratch as a free and democratic country!
Tien-Thanh Do, Australia
Steve Foley, England
I did not serve in the war - I was too young.
But I remember very well, how the American
service men who did serve were treated when
they returned to the US.
I'd like to clarify one point raised by someone else from the UK. JFK would NOT have steered the US away from war in Vietnam - he was committed to fighting communism in Vietnam, and during his administration, he increased the US military presence there.
I remember vividly that day in April 30 when the whole city was extremely chaotic. And then when the North Vietnamese troops entered the city, they looted the buildings that were left behind by the US and the Saigonese. Almost overnight, the Saigonese coined a phrase to describe these Northern soldiers "Va`o Vu+ng Va'c Ve^`" - meaning going South and stealing as much as you can and bring it up North.
Phat Nguyen, USA, but originally from Saigon
Vietnam showed that the USA could not impose its political doctrines on other countries. It is a pity that more countries could not shake off American Imperialism. If Che Guevara had "set off two, three, many Vietnams" than maybe the world would be run for the benefit of the People not the Capitalists.
On this anniversary no one in my family wants to celebrate, I would like to commemorate and
to say thank you to all 58,000 GI and to hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese who gave
their lives in this tragic war. Especially to the SVN soldiers who fought side by side with the
Americans and unfortunately, their sacrifices went unacknowledged.
The Story of The ARVNs after the war is never told. All reports and people talk about is the North and the Americans. What about the feelings and lives of the soldiers who fought for freedom in the south and have been suppressed by the communists.
We lost 57,000 Americans and killed millions of their people. If it would have been a baseball game, there would be no question as to who won. I now believe that any war or conflict where human beings of any kind die, is a waste of human life. When the next war or conflict comes to earth, the people should refuse to participate and let the leaders of what ever countries are at conflict deal with it in another manner that does not require people to die for their reasons.
E-4 Hubert D White, United States of America
I do not recall having served for "my county", my family, the FLAG, or any of these romantic ideals I have always heard coming from the minds of old vets looking back on their youth. I served because I had no choice in the matter. No choice other than that of beating the draft by enlisting of my own free will that is. I even went so far as to make my last act of individual choice before boot camp that of going to the barber shop and getting a crew cut.
It seams to me now, just as it did then, that I did my duty as best I knew how simply for my Bros. Those guys were great and I wasn't about to let them down on my end, though, many did do no more than they had to do to make it to their DOR day.
Steven Butler, USA
The last thing I remember is the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and scenes of soldiers pushing helicopters off of the flight deck of an aircraft carrier to make more room for refugees.
For a dose of reality, though, go visit The Wall - the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. It is a most sobering experience and a fitting reminder that there is a human price to pay for freedom.
I appreciate all that those individuals did for me and this country.
I just hope we have evolved enough to avoid a war like that in the future.
Wars do not exist in a void separate from politics. War is politics by other means. So losing the political will to continue a war and losing the war are the same thing.
The thing I remember about Vietnam is the extreme brutality of the US government, so called defender of the free world, in pursuit of its political and economic interests.
I am a Korean, so many people out there might think I have no relation with the Vietnam war. But I have known some veterans who fought in the war as American allies. Korean soldiers were involved in the war in order to make money, especially American dollars. One my uncles is a Vietnam war veteran. He was very handsome and strong young man when he came back from the war but when I recently met him his face was covered with scars. According to my grandmother he has been suffering from orange for 20 years. The Vietnam war was an atrocity.
As a World War II vet what I remember best about the war was the hypocrisy displayed on the college campuses. There was very little protest until LBJ toyed with the idea of tapping into the only warm bodies available- draft exempt students. Then all hell broke loose. Today many students support these unending US foreign forays knowing they will not leave their bodies nor its parts in some distant land. That honour will be once again assigned to our least educated and least sophisticated chumps.
"An army in the field is of no use without wise counsels at home."
It seems like only yesterday that my squadron of the 8th TFW received its tasking orders to re-deploy back into Southeast Asia to meet the North Vietnamese invasion.
Many of us having just completed our combat tours and commitments to Uncle Sam, were again on our way to DaNang to do battle with a very determined enemy.
I remember arriving at DaNang to news that Quang Tri, Dak To and many of the northern provinces had already fallen to the enemy. Without hesitation, we were sent to defend the ancient capitol of Hue. While in the end, US air power alone was not enough to halt the invasion, I have no doubt that US air power made the enemy's invasion of South Vietnam
extremely painful and on more than one occasion, was close to halting
the invasion in its tracks.
Finally, in 1974, my squadron had flown its last missions in South Vietnam
as we headed home.
It seems to me to be both irresponsible and historically false to portray 30th June 1975 as the victory of North Vietnam over the USA, it was the victory of the North over South Vietnam.
This is not nitpicking; the USA withdrew its forces after 1973. They withdrew their forces because they had negotiated a peace treaty, not because they had lost a war.
US troops remained at a tactical advantage throughout the war and the USA didn't face any major military defeats. Even the much vaunted Tet offensive was a military failure.
Let us be quite clear about this; losing the political will to continue a war and losing one are quite different things.
So many innocent lives were lost. So unnecessary. All stemmed from disastrous policies set by hawkish politicians in US who were sometimes ignorant about the rest of the world. Very ignorant indeed. They thought that every country in the world must have a political and value system identical to that in US. The red scare and the domino theory doesn't hold water. If a country's political system is inherently bad as US claimed, it would not have endured and would have died on its own. There was no need to sacrifice so many lives.
I still remember vividly the huge influx of Vietnamese refugees into Hong Kong after Saigon fell. Almost the whole of Hong Kong was converted into a refugee camp. The Princess Margaret Hospital under construction was converted into a refugee camp. The Vietnam War was a great tragedy, especially because the Vietcong had won in the end and the Vietnamese people had to endure a brutal and totalitarian regime after being ravaged by a bitter war.
However, Americans still assume that they have the rights to judge other people. For example, though I appreciate McCain's efforts in bringing the US people and Vietnamese people closer, I was very angry with McCain's comments when he visited Hoa Lo prison that he would never forgive those who beat him and his friends. Let's ask how Vietnamese people forgive, but we have forgiven, American atrocities during the war.
Thanh Vinh, Vietnam
I was a member of the Socialist Union at Birmingham University at the time of the war and remember the protest marches we had in London against the USA's actions including the infamous Battle of Grovesnor Square. (A fellow member of the Union at the time was Jack Straw. How times change!)
Larry Leistikow, USA
I can't believe the US comments! Spraying the whole of Vietnam with Agent Orange and they call it a noble war. Americans need to grow a brain and start thinking for themselves.
All that technology for war had to be used, and it was: in an unending "rotational" conflict that had no end from the beginning. It massaged the egos of the back seat generals. Neil Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie" says it all. I wonder what would have happened if JFK had remained as Commander in Chief. The world might have been a much better place and still "safe from Communism".
Daniel J. Flynn, USA
What I remember about Vietnam war
(this I will remember forever) that no
matter how powerful your enemy is, no
matter how poor your country is, you
can win the war with your willpower
and unity. The Vietnamese peasants
showed the world that they are much
more powerful than the hi-tech US army.
USA now think twice before RENTING their
army for other countries.
Let me see: the communists won the war but the Americans are winning the peace ... what's right with this picture?
I hate war with every fibre of my being. What I remember most about Vietnam is that it is the most beautiful place on earth, The people are so graceful and lovely. I haven't slept for 33 years and that is what I want to think of the most.
I was in Khe Sanh, in the so-called hill battles and I'd like my ashes to be spread there when I die. It was like fighting a war in paradise. There is nothing to be learned from war. Nothing at all. It is the most worthless thing on the planet. I wish I could take it all back. Be young and innocent again but I can't. I can only say to the young boys and girls who want to be hard who want to prove something to themselves don't do it. Don't end up like me, save yourself before it is too late.
Larry F. Godo, USA
The most tragic event in the history of Vietnam occurred shortly after World War II when Ho Chi Minh appealed to the Americans for help in liberating his country from French colonial rule. Imagine his surprise when he was turned down.
To Mr. Peter Kohler - Is not it plain nonsense to call this a noble war? Apparently that outdated sense of heroism still exist in the US. I had been to Vietnam and the people of Vietnam and their sense of forgiveness is the real heroism. I do not think any other people would so easily forgive the genocide in support of a colonial regime
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland
America's worst hour, genocide of women and children, chemical poisoning of the land, humiliating evacuation from a moral crusade they had long ago lost, and no apology or even recognition of the pain, death and misery they caused upon a sovereign state entitled to its independent ideological choice.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA
This anniversary is a very good opportunity to examine the human rights record of US troops in Vietnam and compare it with Russia's current war in Chechnya. Any unbiased observer will see that Russia's conduct of war is not that brutal as many human rights advocates in the West claim. This will also show that all these advocates live in the world of hypocrisy where one standard is for the West and another for the rest of the world.
I served 3 military tours in VN and worked there afterwards for a total of almost 7 yrs. My whole time was spent in Kontum Province, central highlands. Throughout VN's history the montagnard tribespeople were abused by the ethnic Vietnamese whether northern or southern.
Communist North Vietnam may have won the war, but they have certainly lost the peace and any visitor to the bustling Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) would certainly recognise this fact. As for my recollections, I can't say too much as I was born in the year that our troops withdrew. I can say however, that my generation has the highest respect for our veterans of that war and in some ways we can look more objectively at this time in history without being swayed by all of the hollow rhetoric that echoed from all quarters, right and left, throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.
I agree with President Reagan who called this a noble war. It was, in many ways, just that: helping a people to keep their freedom and independence. Although the end was dishonourable, there was nothing shameful about the brave men, American, Australian etc. who fought this war.
Only their leaders who betrayed their heroism and many of their countrymen who failed to give them the critical home-front support. As a young teenager, I remember my revulsion at the anti-war protests by college brats who already had draft deferments and let others do their duty.
Peter Kohler, USA
After University, I moved home to Canada. Bad memories of the US.
I made five deployments to Vietnam between
1963 and 1972 on Navy destroyers. Raided
North on numerous occasions.
What I do remember is that this was genocide that Americans were never tried for. Than again, they were never tried for Hiroshima either!
Neven Kasic, England
I think Peter Goff's comments are typical of what has been taken from the Vietnam conflict. This was a war like no other, it was fought at first by a professional army, who were actually winning, then it became embroiled in politics and micromanaged from the "White House".
I am now a father of two. That image is more haunting now than it has ever been. How do we end up in such violent conflict and what does it achieve? What did the Vietnam war achieve?
What? "The very things that the west actually stands for won". That would be supporting an illegal government in an attempt to retain greater influence in SE Asia then, Genocide on a scale hitherto seen before, and throwing away the lives of it's citizens in a bizarre attempt at posturing then!
Like the Bourbons of Spain, the western powers have neither learnt nor forgotten anything. They still continue with their rocket-rattling diplomacy; they still suffer from arrogance and insolence that only their way of life is the god-given way to live and that others are primitive and not civilised.
I visited Vietnam 5 months ago and found it and its people fascinating. There seems little military presence in Hanoi and nothing in Saigon. The wars with France and American have left scares on the countryside, but the people just get on with life. During my visit they had only just managed to rebuild the road linking north to south which had been washed away in flooding killing about 600 people. The country is extremely poor and I'd like to see more help and investment given to them.
As for the military lessons learned by the US, first and foremost must be that one does not go to war, however large or small, unless there is a total commitment to win by the Executive, Congress and the people. Too, the mass media have to either be on board or neutralised (denied access). The lesson of Vietnam is that everybody had different objectives, which was hardly a winning formula.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
I remember the incredible effect of seeing it on the news every day. It was the first war to be so transparent. However look at Vietnam now - tentatively entering and benefiting from the free market trade its 60's communists so vehemently decried as evil. Perhaps America did win the hearts and minds, in a way, or perhaps Vietnamese people would have shrugged off communism by themselves anyway.
Many years later the Australian government finally did something to provide support, counselling and compensation to war veterans who's lives have been seriously affected. It would seem that this lesson has not been learnt by the UK government in it's handling of gulf war syndrome and PTSD suffered by servicemen in more recent wars.
Toby Nichols, UK
Vietnam was a victory for democracy in America. It was a war the American people didn't want, and their elected politicians withdrew their forces. Unfortunately, America lost all credibility and has never recovered it. If the USA says it will support you beware, they only mean until things get really rough.
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