35 years after fall of Saigon

ByRichard Botkin

April 28, 2010

Thirty five years ago this Friday, the final chapter to the American portionof the Vietnam Warwas ingloriously concluded – even though American combat forces werelargely gone by late 1971 and all remaining support troops, air crews and POWswere home in early 1973. Unlike Dec. 7, 1941, or June 6, 1944, or Aug. 15, 1945(Victory over Japan Day), or any other notable day from World War II, April 30,1975, will never be recalled in positive ways by those old enough to rememberor those too young whose ideas have instead been shaped by contemporary media.

For the more than three million American servicemen who honorably served in Southeast Asia between 1964 and 1973, there were notumultuous homecoming parades, no victory celebrations in Times Square or anytown square – nothing. For the remaining 200 million Americans alive thenwho did not go to Vietnam,the war was mostly a vicarious, unpleasant inconvenience. Where Americans mightrecall this day in 1975, if they recall it at all, they are likely to conjuretension-filled images of action at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, of Marinesattempting to impose order from chaos, of throngs of Vietnamese clamoring toget aboard already overcrowded helicopters hoping to leave ahead of theinvading communists, some of those same helicopters later being pushed over thesides of U.S. Navy ships, of barely seaworthy, ramshackle hobo freighterspacked to the gunwales with star-crossed refugees steaming well in trace of theAmerican armada.As negative as it all seemed, as bad as the day was, at least the bad dreamthat was, for Americans, the Vietnam“experience” was ending. Time to move on.

For the left-behind 17 million citizens of the Republic of Vietnam, whichceased to exist the moment the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet retired over theeastern horizon, memories of that day are far different. While April 30, 1975, really didsignal the conclusion of American involvement, all thatchanged for our discarded former allies was the manner of struggle and degreeof difficulty. There would be no moving on. The new communist masters wouldimpose a different kind of peace. It would be peace with retribution, peacewith subjugation, peace with no forgiveness and peace with maximum pain.

America‘sinvestment in Vietnamwas significant. Aside from the tens of billions of dollars spent to fight thewar, 58,000 men paid the ultimate price. Several times that number wounded, and every man who endured combat has beenmarked forever by that experience.

While Americans have spent liberally and invested tremendous amounts ofblood and sweat and treasure in the defense of freedom around the world, thereis still that solipsistic sense, even today, perhaps especially today, thatliberty is somehow an American concept and not everyone is ready to enjoy itsblessings. Underappreciated is the fact that a high percentage of people who live under totalitarian rule, if givenopportunity, will risk everything to seek and gain the freedoms most of us socasually take for granted.

As Richard Nixon observed in a speech given long after hisretirement: “No event in American history is more misunderstood than theVietnam War. It was misreported then. It is misremembered now.”Arguably, most misreported and most misremembered is the post-Tet of 1968 timeperiod of the war and the media treatment of the Vietnamese effort to fight their own battles as the American drawdown continued.Misremembered and misreported are the facts that our Vietnamese allies, withthe assistance of American airpower, had largely defeated the northern invadersduring the Easter Offensive of 1972. Snatched from the jaws of victory,American negotiators traded away hard-fought battlefield gains for emptycommunist promises while Congress later turned the fiscal screws to our allieswhen victory, or at least freedom from northern domination, might have beentheirs.

The South Vietnamese paid an especially heavy price for being the Americanlapdogs and lackeys they were accused of being by many in the media, thenorthern communists and anti-war American college students. In the military ofthe Republic of Vietnam, more than 220,000 men werekilled in action and more than a million were wounded. Civilians, of course,paid an even higher price with more than 1.5 million killed – the highestpercentages killed by the communists during their final invasion in 1975. Thenumber of wounded and displaced civilians, many times the number killed, willnever be accurately assessed.

Where American expenditure of blood and treasure in Vietnam endedon April 30, 1975,for our ex-allies the nightmare had only begun. No records of the calculatedretribution have been made public – even though some probably exist asthe communists are known to be fastidious record keepers – but once thefreedom genie was brutally forced back into her bottle, the paybacks beganimmediately and in earnest. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamesecitizens, of the millions already displaced, before they had opportunity toattempt escape were consigned to Stalinist reeducation camps where many diedhorrible painful, slow, lonely deaths. Those who managed to survive will carrythose scars to their graves.

In a 2,000-year-old village-centric and ancestor-venerating culture, it isnot possible to quantify or overstate the pain of the northern conquest. Thesecond major exodus of Vietnamese citizens within a single generation was setto begin. (In 1954 with the partitioning of Vietnam into North and South, morethan 1 million northerners – about 6 percent of the population there–moved south to escape from the communists. Only a handful of the mosthard-core communists moved from the South to the North.) Between 1975 and 1990it is estimated that more than 3 million of the remaining 17 million SouthVietnamese – more than one in six citizens – became “boatpeople” in this second diaspora. Of those who risked the high seas inanything that would float to gain their freedom, it is believed that as many as25 percent perished. For those who made it to friendly shores, stories of rape,murder, pillage and even cannibalism perpetrated by the ubiquitous pirates areso common as to be almost the norm.

With all the pain and suffering the war in Vietnam caused, it is important tofocus on the gain, and gain there was. The American and free-Vietnamese effortin Vietnam,however flawed the outcome, did buy time for the rest of Asia‘seconomies to grow free of the communist threat. The dominoes were kept upright.Lee Kwan Yew, founding prime minister of Singapore, was perhaps most stridentin his observations at the conclusion of the Vietnam War: “It was theAmericans who stopped the Chinese and Vietnamese communists from spreadinginsurgency into Cambodia and Thailand … Because Americans were resolutelyanti-communist and prepared to confront them, Nehru, Nasser and Sukarno couldafford to be nonaligned.”

Vigorous free-market economies throughout all of Asiatoday, in part, owe their successes to the American and free-Vietnamese blood investmentthat blunted what otherwise then might have been an unstoppable communistjuggernaut. Investors the world over who now, without a thought, profitablyinvest billions in the emerging markets might ponder what the face of Asia would look like had Americans not shown up in forcein the 1960s to stand beside a people who really were hoping to live outside ofcommunist domination.

For the Vietnamese living in free countries paid significantly for their freedom, there is no way to wipe away the painendured. While never to be excused or forgotten, there is little positiveemotion invested in self-pity or victimhood. For the American Vietnamesecommunity, success is the best revenge. The unintended consequence of theVietnamese loss and their ultimate migration has become their new country’sgain. In California,where there are large Vietnamese populations, one can visit any of the severalU.C. campuses to find young Vietnamese men and women over represented in everyprofessional school and program. It is said that the two million Vietnamese inthe United Stateshave a greater combined income than what is produced in the entire country of Vietnam.

On this upcoming 35th anniversary of our end to that war, we must honor ourdead – American and South Vietnamese – and those left among us whonobly served. We must recall that freedom has a tremendous price which isnearly always unevenly borne, and celebrate all that was right with our effortto advance its cause.

The true history, the final history, the not-misremembered or misreportedhistory of the Vietnam War remains to be learned by most. That victory mighthave been attained is a lesson requiring further and ongoing study. From theleft we have heard: “No more Vietnams.” From the right, wemust answer in kind: “No more Vietnams.”

Richard Botkin is a formerMarine and the author of “Ridethe Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph,” which is the2010 book of the year for military-writers.com.

Courtesy: http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=146437

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