- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2000


Twenty-five years ago today, the last American Army helicopters lifted from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, leaving behind a desperate country which would soon fall to the dreaded North Vietnamese communists. Though it seemed that way, it was hardly the end to an ignoble chapter in American history. In fact both the Vietnamese and the Americans have been living with the repercussions ever since. As often happens with old adversaries, our fates have been intertwined in strange ways.
Most recently, Vietnam again surfaced in this country in the presidential primary campaign. After seven years of Bill Clinton, a president who not only didn't serve in the military, but actively protested against his own country during the Vietnam War, Americans turned around and endorsed in unexpected numbers Republican candidate Sen. John McCain. The most persistently cited reason was Mr. McCain's character and patriotism. As a former prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, Mr. McCain was justly hailed as a genuine hero. Though Mr. McCain's campaign was flawed and unsuccessful, it was reassuring that at least he touched this chord among his countrymen.
Vietnam, meanwhile, has endured great suffering since the communists grabbed power. One million South Vietnamese were sent to re-education camps. Two million fled their country, many in pathetic, rickety boats streaming towards Hong Kong and hoped-for freedom until the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 1997 put an end to that. Not just Vietnam, but Cambodia as well, endured horrible suffering after 1975.
In recent years, the United States and Vietnam have entered a warming trend. The Vietnamese communists are thirsting for foreign investment and have given up in return some of the secrets of the past to Americans. Diplomatic relations have recently been established, and a number of veterans have traveled back to confront their painful pasts. Which may all be well and good; the past is after all the past. That does not mean that Vietnam is a transformed society, however, or that communists have changed their stripes.
Again, Mr. McCain can be trusted to speak his mind no matter who's listening. This time he did so as a veteran returning to his place of five years of captivity and torture. Mr. McCain said that he thought the wrong side won the war (hear, hear), and on Friday, he told NBC's "Today" show that "You can't dismiss facts. There were thousands of people executed, millions did leave on boats. I mean it's just facts." And he added. "Every information I have is that [the government] is taking a harder line towards the people, towards some of the freedoms that people have enjoyed." A sad legacy this is, after 25 years.

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