South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Hanoi Jane never stayed at The Hanoi Hilton
Date: May 8, 1995 18:22

21:37 Especen Hotel #11; Hanoi-Vietnam :: 5 MAY 95

Vietnam is a country, no longer a war, but it is the other context that continues its position at the forefront of the American mind, just ahead of the phrase 'boat people'. Media images create these contexts by reporting little else. I regret not being in Canada to see Peter Arnett's CNN coverage of the 20th Anniversary of Vietnamese reunification, which he undoubtedly referred to as 'the fall of Saigon'. I wonder how much depth and breadth he brought to the report; did he report a milestone in the country's history and the significance of the event to its people or simply lick American wounds and retell the first post-war tragedy of American military muscle.

Sadly, I arrived a day too late in Ho Chi Minh City to observe the event myself. Having grown up in the United States--I was just weeks shy of 14 living in New England the day Saigon ignominiously fell--seeing the grisly realities on the nightly news (Walter Cronkite assured me, "That's the way it is"), reading Time and Life magazine throughout the latter years of conflict, Vietnam--the war--remains on the periphery of my consciousness.

I remember Kent State, another anniversary coming up, and the grisly images on the television accompanied by the words napalm, Viet-Cong, Tet, Mekong, Mig, MIA, POW. 'Hanoi' Jane (Fonda) raised her voice on behalf of North Vietnam and ending the war even as she was denied a visit to the American POW's being tortured in the notorious 'Hanoi Hilton'. I remember a little of that. I remember that Tricky Dick Nixon promised an end then presided over an expansion. That US planes apparently dropped more bombs in Indo-China than fell throughout all of WWII. I remember the funny conical shaped hats differently than the ones I see now, shading the beautiful faces of a people still called 'gooks' back home: buried within the patterns of my mind those hats conjure the association 'guerrilla'. My time amongst hats and people spurs new associations.

I was not quite too young to be affected by it. Gladly, I was too young to die for it. If drafted, I would never have fought, but used my Canadian citizenship as legally justifiable means of joining ROTC, Run Off To Canada. The only moral justification necessary being my conscience. Years later, when Jimmy Carter re-instituted the draft in response to Soviet aggression in Afghanistan I, being of eligible age, registered knowing that again ROTC was my escape hatch. The world does not need a one-nation police force, it was rotten enough when there were two, and I certainly have no intention of joining such a self-righteously hypocritical one.

My friend Tom told me a story, perhaps an urban legend, of an American General meeting with a Vietnamese General sometime after Viet-Cong tanks crashed the embassy gates.

The American told his counterpart, "You know, we really kicked your butts all over Vietnam. Our kill ratio in the field was 20-1, in the skies we shot down 35 jets for every one we lost, and for every tank you destroyed we got 50."
"Yes," replied the other, "but that is irrelevant."

I made the numbers up, but there's no doubt as to American military prowess, just as there is no doubt as to who ducked out of Saigon with their tail between their legs.

It is 20 years later and it amazes me how Americans soothe themselves still with the same kind of arguments that created the mess in the first place. In USA Today a letter to the editors claimed the US didn't really lose the war since an armistice had been signed that the North subsequently ignored, waiting until the US had lost its political resolve to maintain democracy in Indo-China. Besides, if America failed to meet its original objectives in Vietnam, it would eventually win the War Against Communism so both Vietnam and Korea should be looked at as early triumphant displays of committed opposition to communist expansion. In fact, checking the development of a Vietnam unified under hammer & sickle can be directly connected to the later 'collapse of communism'.

The 1973 Paris Agreement was largely a face-saving gesture for the US. It provided for a cease-fire, the establishment of a National Council of Reconciliation and Concord (whatever that is), the complete withdrawal of American troops (which the American public had long been clamoring for), and the return of 509 American POWs. I remember the news footage of their return, many on stretchers or in wheel chairs. The agreement made no requirement of the estimated 200,000 North Vietnamese troops then in the South to withdraw. How serious a 'peace treaty' is that?

On the morning of April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks crashed the palace gates and a Viet Cong officer made his way to an ornate 2nd floor reception hall. A South Vietnamese general, who had become head of state just 43 hours earlier, awaited them there. "I have been waiting", the general said, "since early this morning to transfer power to you." The VC officer replied, "There is no question of your transferring power, you cannot give up what you do not have."

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

Our people long ago established Vietnam as an independent nation with its own civilisation. We have our own mountains and our own rivers, our own customs and traditions, and these are different from those of the foreign country to the north. . . We have sometimes been weak and sometimes powerful, but at no time have we suffered from a lack of heroes.
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Nguyen Trai
from Binh Ngo Dai Cao (Great Proclamation)
Written in 1428 after Le Loi won Vietnamese independence from China