As I passed the building of the U.S. Consulate General in downtown Ho Chi Minh City last week, an iconic picture from April 1975 came back to my mind: on the roof top of a building (not far away from the then U.S. Embassy to South Vietnam) people desperately tried to board a helicopter to flee from Saigon. In 1973, the United States had signed a peace treaty with North Vietnam, not even two years later, the former ally in the South had to surrender. Ironically, when I visited the former presidential palace (now named Independence Palace), I found a sign board next to a former state banquet room which displayed the irony of the times.
It was that day last week, when the U.S. president decided to withdraw from Northern Syria and to allow Turkey to move in. A trusted ally, the Kurds, were suddenly left without support and protection. (All this has been slightly reversed by now, as I am writing; and in the fast changing politics of the region allies and enemies change by the day.) But the events, last week and in 1975, showed how unscrupulous regional power plays can be and how little decency and trust matters when interests change.
Memories of the past are still on display in Vietnam, not the least in the Hoa Lo Prison Museum in old Hanoi.
It illustrates Vietnam’s struggle against colonialism and against a superpower in the East-West conflict. Both countries, the United States and Vietnam, have moved on since. And it shows all over the place, especially in Ho Chi Minh City.
That’s a good thing, to be sure. Bombs from B-52s , Agent Orange, Vietcong snipers, and massacres in villages are horrors of the past, at least in Indochina. But would anyone listen to the hundred thousands of poor souls, who lost their lives? And to the tens of thousands of young American souls whose names are inscribed on a stone monument in the U.S. capital? They were conscripted to a cause their government later admitted was a mistake. All Souls Day is approaching. We will put up lights on the graves of our loved ones. But we also should put lights on the graves of so many who died in wars for nothing.