Vietnam today: Home of the free
Every year in Vietnam, April 30 is celebrated as “Liberation Day.” It was on this day in 1975 that the country long subjugated by foreign colonialists saw its final deliverance from more than a thousand years of foreign rule, first by China, then France, Japan and the United States.
The victory of Vietnam against foreign domination is a lesson in the courage and tenacity of a people—not just for ideological reasons but also for love of country and freedom. The surrender of South Vietnam on that day started the long-awaited unification and independence of the country. With much pride and joy, the Vietnamese people saw the North and South officially reunited as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976.
The country’s colorful history—from the ancient period of the Vietnamese of the Red River Delta (driven south by the Chinese) to the end of World War II—seems fuzzy and complicated. The turbulent events at the end of the war, however, renewed the interest of anthropologists and students of history in Vietnam. The deaths and destruction that occurred, almost surpassing the worst experienced during World War II, were too massive to contemplate, and the horror of it all pricked the collective conscience of the modern world.
Amid the adversity in a poor country and the political cross-purposes of alien forces bent on leeching it, heroes and patriots are born. With China, France, Britain and Japan wanting to ravish Indochina, especially Vietnam, communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, leading the Viet Minh forces, emerged to free his nation from the colonial masters. In 1954, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap planned and successfully directed military operations against the French in the famed battle of Dien Bien Phu. When the US government entered the scene under the guise of “advisor” to the anticommunist regime of the South, it tasted its first rout at the so-called “Tet offensive” in 1968. It will take much space to detail the heroism of Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Minh (later Vietcong, when most of its members became communists), General Giap, and the other patriots of the North.
It is also worthwhile to note here that the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War starting from the administration of President John Kennedy down to those of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had the “purity of intention” of “preventing the spread of communism,” and not to “rid us of it,” which, according to critics of US foreign policy, was one reason behind America’s defeat in the war. Drug-taking and drunkenness among the US forces deployed in Vietnam were widespread, indicating the soldiers’ low morale that was exacerbated by the massive antiwar sentiment on the US home front. Rebellion against unpopular officers in the US military in Vietnam started to escalate, proving serious demoralization among the troops. And in America, young men began leaving their country to avoid being drafted.
All these were “symptomatic of the Vietnam War’s loss of support among the US youth,” according to one writer.
It may be inopportune to mention the harsh facts about the horrible conflict that was the Vietnam War, but history must never be hidden to defend or condemn the actors in deplorable world events. These facts, unprecedented in history, remain: More than 19 million gallons of defoliants were dropped all over Vietnam by the US forces, and almost seven million tons of bombs were dropped in Indochina. (By comparison, Britain dropped “only” more than two million tons of bombs in Germany during World War II.)
Today Vietnam welcomes tourists and businessmen from all over the world with open arms. Happily, in the spirit of rapprochement, it now considers the United States a friend and ally for lasting peace and progress. The bomb craters in Hanoi, the capital, are no longer grim reminders of the past and are now filled with beautiful flowers and green foliage. While once upon a time US youth shouted antiwar slogans in Washington, today’s young Americans now walk the streets of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), and war veterans have come back as tourists sailing on the beautiful Ha Long Bay.
Vietnam is now “home of the free” and, if we may add, also “land of the brave,” to complete the paraphrase of the last line of one of the most-loved anthems ever written.
Eddie Ilarde ([email protected]) is a former senator and president-cofounder of the Philippine-Vietnam Friendship Association.
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