DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
January 11, 1994

LET'S END THE SUFFERING

It is hoped that President Clinton will soon announce an end to America's diplomatic and economic embargo of Vietnam, thereby finally putting an end to our longest war and the most devastating bloodbath in Vietnam's 2,000-year history.

It was a bad war that killed 3 million Vietnamese, 60,000 Americans and scarred America's soul with the same violence with which it pummeled Vietnam's people and countryside.

It's been argued that it's inappropriate for Clinton to end the war because he refused to serve there. I disagree. He's the fight person. Back in the divisive and turbulent 1960s he, along with millions of other Americans, said the war was wrong. History has proved them right. Clinton's moral stand makes him not unlike Willy Brandt, who objected to Hitler, left fascist Germany and returned after the war to lead his country's rebirth.

Clinton's decision will create a lot of heat. He will have thrown a fire-bomb that will incite the unforgiving. They will froth at the mouth across the airwaves and march in the streets. The Ross Perots and Oliver Norths will charge forth, backed up by a cadre of beer-bellied Vietnam heroes" in camouflage fatigues who will attack the president with irrational hate.

Since the fighting stopped, I've been in contact with thousands of Vietnam veterans. All but a handful want to end the embargo. While most don't wear uniforms or march behind black MIA flags, they were in the thick of the fighting and the dying, seeing their brothers blown apart and taken out on stretchers and in body bags. They also saw villages bombed and napalmed and innocent people slaughtered.

Few carry grudges or harbor malice, but all carry the mental scars that brand every veteran of that searing apocalypse. All of us want to end the nightmare that continues to play in the collective mind of our nation.

Burying the hatchet would allow those Americans who fought, those who didn't, those who protested and those who stuck their heads in the sand to let go of the past. They all have guilt, and making peace will exorcise that shame and remove the pain.

This will be our long-delayed gift to the people of Vietnam, the paddy people who were at the center of the violence and who now live in one of the poorest nations in the world. Easing the embargo will let them join their regional neighbors and enjoy the good life, where children have medicine and parents can provide a promising future.

Trade between our two nations would flourish. Jobs would be created on both sides of the ocean. American goods will be everywhere.

As their Vietnamese-American cousins have proved, the resourceful Vietnamese are intelligent, hard-working and skillful. With our help, Vietnam will recover faster than Japan and Germany, countries we forgave before the cannons grew cold.

Lifting the embargo will increase communication and understanding, and plant the seeds of democracy in ground that's ready for change. Tourists will visit former battlefields and villages from the Mekong Delta to Hanoi. Americans and Vietnamese will interact. Friendships will develop, secrets will be told and the chance of unraveling the MIA mystery will be greater than it has been with the punitive embargo in place.

Communism will fall to the Yankee dollar. 'Coca-Colaism" will win over totalitarianism, as it has the world over.

Moreover, Vietnam sits on critical terrain. Nearby, an uncertain China could switch back to its belligerent ways at any time. The United States built billions of dollars in first-class bases, ports and military infrastructure in Vietnam. With a reasonable lease and a coat of fresh paint, U.S. forces could be back in the security business in an area of great strategic importance.

A poster from the 1960s read, "Suppose they had a war and nobody came." We went. Millions suffered. Declaring peace would end the hurting and be the final act of healing.