[sixties-l] The Forgotten Debt to Vietnam

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 11/19/00

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    November 18, 2000
    The Forgotten Debt to Vietnam
    As President Clinton talked with officials in
    Hanoi this week, he undoubtedly hoped to lay groundwork for more
    progress in what is already a much improved relationship with Vietnam.  And 
    chances are his hosts, who have much to gain from stronger ties, did what 
    they could to build a case that a friendly and prosperous Vietnam is very 
    much in America's interest.
    In 1997, when the American visitor to Hanoi was Robert McNamara, General Vo 
    Nguyen Giap, Vietnam's legendary hero in its wars against France and the 
    United States, carried the theme to what might seem an extreme: he broached 
    the idea of a future American-Vietnamese alliance.
    I was one of several Americans to witness the extraordinary scene that day. 
    Mr. McNamara, the defense secretary during the Vietnam War, had just 
    concluded three days of discussions with a group of American historians, 
    generals and political figures and their counterparts from North Vietnam's 
    Politburo and army. As Mr. McNamara was about to leave, General Giap was 
    led into the meeting on the arm of an aide. For the next hour he sailed 
    serenely through his version of the war. From a man then 86, it was a 
    remarkable filibuster, and it flummoxed the former secretary.
    Mr. McNamara had to leave because he had a plane to catch, and he did not 
    appear to react to a remark that General Giap had made: The United States, 
    the general predicted, might someday realize the importance of Vietnam's 
    geopolitical position. He added: "The United States and Vietnam can 
    contribute to the stability of Southeast Asia." He seemed to be warning of 
    the day when China might stir aggressively. If that happened, Washington 
    would need an ally to help contain the Chinese.
    One of the sadder misconceptions of America's involvement in Vietnam was 
    our assumption that because Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong were both 
    Communists, Vietnam was a Chinese pawn. Vietnam had struggled against 
    Chinese domination for 2,000 years, and as America's war in Vietnam 
    progressed, Western visitors were surprised by the visceral hatred of the 
    Chinese displayed by the North Vietnamese. A few years after the war, 
    Vietnam and China were fighting each other along their common border.
    Today, the ancient belief remains that Vietnam must never let down its 
    guard against China. This explains the Vietnamese attraction to an alliance 
    with Washington. The United States, for its part, might well consider the 
    wisdom of cultivating the Vietnamese counterweight to China. But it also 
    has a nearly forgotten historic reason for helping Vietnam: an unpaid debt.
    In 1972, pressing the North to sign a peace agreement, Henry Kissinger 
    agreed in Paris to reparations for the war damage to Vietnam. The chief 
    Communist negotiator, Le Duc Tho, first suggested $8 billion  $4.5 billion 
    for the North, $3.5 billion for the South. By the time an agreement was 
    initialed in January 1973, the figure was down to a total of $3.25 billion 
    over a five-year period, with the possibility of an additional $1 billion 
    to $1.5 billion for food and commodities.
    Of course, neither side respected the peace agreement. South Vietnam's 
    president, Nguyen Van Thieu, launched military actions against Communists 
    in the South, and Hanoi's forces made major gains in the Mekong Delta. 
    Washington had its excuse to back off from its commitment to reparations.
    That was almost three decades ago. Aside from General Giap's strategic 
    arguments, simple justice suggests that it is time to pay our debt. Last 
    year, the United States offered Vietnam $3 million; at the same time it 
    continues to hold Vietnam to the $145 million debt that the Communists 
    inherited when they took over the South.
    Vietnam prevailed in the war, but it was Vietnam, and not the United 
    States, that saw its land devastated, and it is the United States that has 
    the power now to heal the lasting damage both to Vietnam and to the 
    relationship of our two countries. We should give the Vietnamese the kind 
    of substantial aid we once gave to Germany and Japan. It is time to forgive 
    them for winning.
    A.J. Langguth is professor of journalism at the University of Southern 
    California and author of "Our Vietnam."

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