Next week marks the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the day the Viet Cong took over the capital of the US-backed government of South Vietnam. FT columnist Gary Silverman recalls the political division that the Vietnam War caused in the US, and reminds us that Americans have since ignored the Vietnamese, who suffered “a civil war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands — or maybe even millions — of people”.
On one side [40 years ago] were the Americans who were willing to sacrifice their own sons to protect the Vietnamese from the communists. In all, more than 3m members of the US armed forces were sent to Southeast Asia on that mission. More than 58,000 Americans died. Thousands upon thousands more came home wounded — in body or in spirit, or both.
On the other side were Americans who felt there were better ways of showing affection for people than showering them with napalm. Some of them grew so unhappy that they rebelled against their own leaders, pledging allegiance to Ho Chi Minh’s government in Hanoi and its allies in the south, the National Liberation Front, also known as the Viet Cong. ….
[After the fall of Saigon,] Americans of all political stripes found reasons to ignore the Vietnamese. As the brutality of the communist government grew more evident, opponents of the war switched their focus to causes in other places where the oppressed were more appealing. The hawks, meanwhile, found new enemies all over the world, from Grenada to the Middle East, and eventually dedicated themselves to the war on terror.
All the while, Americans have never stopped squabbling about our role in Southeast Asia, if only because the what-ifs of the situation remain unanswerable, and the rifts in US society created by the war have never healed. But a funny thing has happened to the Vietnamese in the process. They slowly, but surely, have faded from the US view.
Gary Silverman, “The US has forgotten about the Vietnamese“, Financial Times, 24 April 2015 (metered paywall).