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Vietnam THEN & NOW - A Vietnamese American's Perspective

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posted on Jul, 16 2006 @ 11:24 AM
Phuong Ngan Do is a senior editor at the International Affairs Review, a weekly newspaper in Hanoi. She is currently living in Pittsburgh and working for the Post-Gazette on a six-month Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship, which annually brings foreign journalists to the United States to observe firsthand the workings of the free press in America. Her e-mail address is

The Vietnamese people remember the past but they live in the present, where the United States is a friend, Phuong Ngan Do writes.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ~ Sunday, July 16, 2006

All my beloved relatives and friends in Vietnam congratulated me when they heard that I would be coming to study in the United States. Conversely, when my American friend in Pittsburgh, Noreen Doloughty, was going to visit Vietnam, her friends and relatives feared the worst.

That is as surprising as it is backward. The threat of terrorism looms over the United States, and the warning level from the Homeland Security Department sometimes moves from yellow to orange. In the meantime, the world media haven't reported any terrorist activities in Vietnam, which is considered a safe country.

The problem is the perception of each nation. My relatives and friends don't remember the U.S. bombs but think of the United States as an advanced country where I can learn a lot. Noreen's relatives and friends can't forget the Vietnam of the 1960s and '70s and, of course, what Americans call the Vietnam War.

It's not easy to forget the past, especially a difficult one. Although two-thirds of the Vietnamese population, including me, was born after the war and has no recollection of that hard period, we sense and feel the war's legacy every day.

When I was in primary school, I was so excited to participate in a campaign called "Silk Shirt for Grandma." Through this campaign, school kids saved a little money that their parents gave them for buying breakfast to buy instead clothes for old women who had lost children in the war, as many as eight sons in some cases. These old women -- in Vietnam, we call all old ladies grandmas -- now live alone and in poverty.

When I grew up, boyfriends invited me to go out or wrote love letters to me. I felt lucky, because there are women in Vietnam who have never had that chance in their lives. They fought in the war even when they were only 18, then endured harsh times for years thereafter. By war's end, many were weak, many were wounded. Meanwhile, many of their male peers had died in the war, leaving few men for them to date.

So, instead of returning to their hometowns, they live together on big farms, planting trees and raising cattle. Some begged strangers to impregnate them. As a result, many children don't know their fathers.

When I became a journalist and could travel outside my hometown, I saw a lot of children with birth defects -- the victims of Agent Orange. The all-too-sad and all-too-familiar story went like this: The man was lucky to return home safely without any major wounds. He was so happy until his first child was born. The child had no legs. Vietnamese doctors informed him that he eventually might suffer the effects of Agent Orange (the toxic chemical U.S. forces sprayed on Vietnamese forests in the war to destroy the trees and leaves).

Such men were warned immediately not to impregnate more women. But hope persists and dreams die hard, so they tried again to have a child. And then, another child would be born without arms. Few couples tried again after they screamed when presented with an infant without arms or legs.

American troops also suffered a lot in Vietnam. Not only did they suffer the mental and physical wounds of war, but also from the apathy of others. Freddy Baker, a war veteran who served in Vietnam in 1969, recalled that when he came back to the United States from Vietnam, somebody called him and his friends "baby killer." Though he doesn't want to, he remembers the war every day when he sees a passing plane or hears a sudden sound.

Once our heart is hurt, all pain feels the same. Some American families cannot sleep well because they haven't found the bodies of their sons -- an anguish shared by Vietnamese families, too. Out of 2 million Vietnamese who died in the war, thousands of bodies haven't been found. Many families went through the funeral ritual of placing incense sticks on tombs, but an empty tomb leaves an empty heart.

But different people and, more so, different cultures react to pain in different ways. In my first few days here, I was taught much about the U.S. culture. My teacher stressed that not all Americans feel comfortable talking about Vietnam because of the history. In Vietnam, we often say "let the past stay in the past."

Americans are welcomed in Vietnam. Noreen's father was an American soldier who died in Vietnam but, when she visited there in March this year, everybody smiled at her once they knew she was from the United States and shared the hurt with her once they heard about her father's death. That's why she really wants to go back.

Considering Vietnam's long history of fighting, a 30-year period since the end of war represents a short time. My people have enjoyed the peace and rebuilt our country. We want to work for and think of the future and a prosperous Vietnam.

Thuy Tran, a Vietnamese journalist studying in New York, was surprised when a professor there asked her: "Are you sure that there is California wine in Vietnam?" Indeed, there is. We drink California wine, eat KFC chicken, waited to see "Mission Impossible III" or rushed to buy a new Britney Spears album.

Windows, Microsoft and IBM PCs are so popularly used in Vietnam that Bill Gates is considered a role model among young people. Vietnamese students jostled to see Mr. Gates when he visited Vietnam in April. Conversely, when I shop here, I often see clothing or shoes that bear labels telling me they were made in Vietnam.

These might be the results of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the United States, 11 years ago, on July 12. Since then, a diplomatic mission has been opened in each country and bilateral cooperation in all fields has been enhanced remarkably.

Since December 2001, when the Vietnam-U.S. Bilateral Trade Agreement took effect, there has been a boom in two-way trade between our countries.

Vietnam's exports to the United States jumped from $1.053 billion in 2001 to $5.276 billion in 2004 and nearly $7 billion in 2005. On the other hand, the United States had 276 direct investment projects in Vietnam, ranking ninth among countries and territories investing in Vietnam.

The number of American visitors to Vietnam ranked second only to China. In the first five months of 2005, the number of U.S. tourists was more than 134,000, an increase of 14.2 percent from the same span in 2004.

Last month, Vietnam and the United States finished the Vietnam-U.S. negotiations on Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organization, opening the way for Vietnam to join the biggest commercial organization in the world.

Last year, Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai made an historic visit to the United States, and President Bush will go to Vietnam at the end of this year to attend the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. Last month, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Vietnam to talk about bilateral military cooperation.

How has "normalization" worked for ordinary Vietnamese and Americans? Some American veterans overcome their pain to return to Vietnam to see what my country is like today.

Last Sunday, I attended a Vietnamese dinner in Pittsburgh held by American veterans here. For many years, Friends of Danang has been very active in raising funds to help disabled children in Danang, a city and province in central Vietnam where many troops were stationed during the war. This kind of work not only helps the Vietnamese, but it also helps these veterans heal.

Raymond F. Burghardt, the second U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, said in his remarks to the Asia Society in Hong Kong in 2004: "Vietnamese people live in the present and look to the future ... I was in Saigon from 1970-73. Now that I'm back in Vietnam 30 years later, I'm conscious of that history every day. But like the Vietnamese people and leaders, I keep my focus on the present and the future. ..." How many Americans think as Mr. Burghardt does?

Remember that, despite the history between our countries, the word "Vietnam" means a people and a state, not a war.

[edit on 1/3/2008 by Dave Rabbit]

posted on Oct, 14 2007 @ 02:22 AM
Well for me the image of Vietnam will always be Diggers on patrol and entering villages and being welcomed by the locals because they didn't blow half the peoples homes in the process. I am also left with the bitter taste of South Vietnam losing the war still the blame for this must rest with politicians , US military leaders and not the solders themselves.

posted on Mar, 7 2008 @ 10:50 AM
Not having been around when this WAR was fought I can't talk of the things soldiers and citizens went through in that time period. But what I can say is it is SOOOO refreshing to read an article written by someone with understanding and COMMON SENSE!

Having the ability as a citzen of Vietnam and that country as a whole to look forward and NOT live in the past says a lot about them. To bad we can't do the same here in the U.S.. Here we ALWAYS look back and bring past situations into current/future feelings as excuses. The WAR was definitly ugly, as they all are, but the attitude of this writer and this country (Vietnam) is something we should definitly try ourselves!

posted on Mar, 7 2008 @ 11:13 AM
Yes brings up some sad memory's,I had 7 of my friends killed in Nam,and 2 others came back insane,after a while both commited suicide,hate to say it but I'm glad I was in college and had a deferment

posted on Apr, 26 2008 @ 03:02 AM
I was Born a war baby in Vietnam.

My family has had hardships against the communists in Vietnam, many of my relatives were kidnapped in the night and was found tied, bound and gagged with bullet holes floating down stream Nha Trang.

to this day, the sound of Hueys still triggers a reflex in me. I was lucky to escaped in Saigon via Airport, with the staff of the embassy 3 days previous the fall of the capital.

I just wanted to say thank you to all the Service men from America, Australia, and other nations who helped me at that age of 5, and my sister to escape the bloodshed and pandemonium, you will always be in my prayers , my heart. i may have forgotten your faces, but I will never forget your noble soul when you lifted me into the airplane, when the rails and stairs leading on the plane was collapsing.

we are all captured in time.

plz, don't fire on the N. Vietnamese again and blamed them for the fault at Tonkin bay, many men/women suffered because of the U.S.A's foriegn plans/politics. you can find the facts under CIA declassified.

and lastly, for that Jew that snickered at who was killed more, either the 6 million in WW2, or the 4 million in Southeast asia, vietnam alone accounted for 4 mil, not including the raped, blown up, drowned, and all the Missing in action, plus the millions more that were in concentration camps, counting over 5000 from north to south Vietnam. add up all the deaths my jewish friend, and you will still be counting the deaths today.

one death be you from any race or color is enough, never compare !!


posted on Oct, 25 2008 @ 01:33 PM
Maybe someone can help me with this, im looking for a vietnamese perspective. I am just trying to understand the sequence of events and i get alot of conflicting info. From what i understand, after japan severed the treaty binding vietnam to frances rule during WWII and then the japanese left, the vietnamese were united in their new freedom. There was no civil war, or war at all until the French came back in to takeover again after the japanese this correct or incorrect? Also, from what i understand the French installed a vietnamese minority ownership government in south vietnam and this is when hostilities began. At this point vietnam asked america for help and even modeled their declaration of independence and their constitution off of the US. Is this correct or incorrect?? and at this point, when the US refused to help and actually supported france, the vietnamese turned to USSR for aid since they were the only ones who offered, is this correct or incorrect? Im just trying to find the true sequence of events leading up to the war. THanks

posted on Oct, 25 2008 @ 01:54 PM
I found that quite a moving read, perhaps there really is long term hope for humanity after all.

Not a one liner.

posted on Oct, 27 2008 @ 04:36 PM
Really? can i not get a single reply from someone who was there? This is rather important to me. Another thing i wanted to bring up. There are many americans who were involved in the vietnam war that to this day hate vietnamese, continue labelling them with slurs, etc. I have never seen the same from vietnamese towards i was it buddhist compassion that allows them to forgive? Or perhaps just that those vietnamese feeling that way dont make it to our country?? Any thoughts?


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