Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 29, 2009

On this day in 1973, the last American troops left Vietnam and Hanoi released its last U.S. prisoners of war. Our part in that war was over; the war itself ended in 1975 when the Communists captured Saigon--Ho Chi Minh City, as it is now called.

It was a tragic war. More than fifty thousand Americans died in it and several times that many Vietnamese. When the Japanese left Vietnam toward the end of World War II, Ho Chi Minh captured Hanoi and declared the country independent. That was okay with the Allies--British troops on the ground and U.S. naval forces, but Charles de Gaulle insisted from Europe that it must be a French colony again and so the Allies drove Ho out. What a saving if they'd just not bothered!

But the war did end finally and, wonder of wonders, we and they are sort of friends. We exchange ambassadors; we cooperate on information about the missing; the Vietnamese have discovered capitalism. The last time I was there--it's a few years ago now--the phrase you heard most often was "joint venture"--they were all seeking foreign investors. Among the tourists I saw were middle-aged Americans who'd fought there.

We get along now, in other words.

Somehow, it's hard to imagine us getting along with the Iraqis or the Afghans a generation after those wars end, if they ever do. I suppose it's possible, but I don't quite see how. Religion may he at the heart of it. Many Americans feel theirs is evil; many of them feel that we are infidels who just don't matter much. And that's a pity. We get along with the Germans and the Japanese, though that war was a very long time ago. We get along with the Vietnamese. The Iraqis? I really doubt it.

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