The My Lai Massacre memorial site honors the mass killing of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968. (Courtesy photo)

The tragedy of the Vietnam War

The War in Vietnam ended on April 30, 1975.

Let us remember the tragedy of this war: 58,000 Americans and 3.8 million Vietnamese killed; countless orphans and widows.

My family yearned and prayed for peace in our homeland. My mother has not seen her parents and siblings for decades as a result of the war.

Since 1975, we have witnessed the spirit of reconciliation, cooperation and healing between Vietnam and the United States.

Vietnamese-Americans have referred to April 30 with different words. Initially, some called it “mat nuoc” (“loss of country”). Others called it “giai phong” (“liberation”) to mark the end of the war. Later, people referred to this date as “ngay thong nhat” (“day of reunification”). Regardless of the diction used, the feelings remain etched in our memory as an integral part of what it is to be Vietnamese-American.

The U.S. government became involved in Vietnam in the 1950s and ’60s due to both a post-colonial period mentality and the pervasive Cold War mentality at that time.

After the Vietnamese defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Geneva Accords of 1954 divided Vietnam into two regions, North and South. The Geneva Accords, crafted by superpowers including the U.S., stated that this division would be temporary for two years, Vietnam would be reunified and a national election held.

The U.S. government propped up the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem convinced the U.S. government that Ho Chi Minh, who had defeated the French, was a Communist and would take over Vietnam. All Diem had to say was the word “Communist,” and he knew that the American government would react like a knee-jerk reflex.

The American people were misled by their government, and Diem, indoctrinated that the U.S. must send economic and military aid to South Vietnam to defeat Communism, fed the propaganda of the domino theory: “If South Vietnam falls to the ‘Commies,’ the entire region would collapse like dominos.”

When 1956 arrived, Diem did not allow for a national election and reunification. Diem knew that Ho Chi Minh would win the election.

President Lyndon Johnson deceived the American people with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, claiming that North Vietnamese boats had attacked an American destroyer. Congress gave Johnson the authority to escalate the war. Only two senators voted against the resolution. There had been no attack.

The U.S. bombing in Vietnam was four times that of U.S. and British bombing of Germany in World War II. The U.S. unleashed all its armaments on the people of Vietnam: Napalm, cluster bombs, Agent Orange.

President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger even discussed nuclear bombing.

The My Lai Massacre, where American soldiers killed more than 500 babies, children, women and men, was not an isolated incident. Such wonton killing of civilians was not uncommon. Soldiers were brainwashed that Vietnamese were “gooks” and “dinks.”

Who were the war profiteers? Vietnamese who got rich from the U.S. economic aid and war machinery? Generals fleeing Saigon carrying suitcases loaded with gold? Nguyen Van Thieu, who reportedly sent gold bars abroad? American weapon manufacturers? Did President Dwight Eisenhower not warn us about “the military-industrial complex?”

How is the conduct of American foreign policy formulated?

In the invasion of Iraq, what U.S. vested interests were at stake?

Why did we invade a sovereign nation, kill its people and decimate its infrastructure and land?

What about invading Afghanistan?

In Syria, we feel repulsed by stories of use of nerve gas. Use of chemical weapons is abhorrent. It must be condemned. So where was our revulsion and condemnation regarding napalm and Agent Orange?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that he could no longer remain silent while bearing witness to the slaughter perpetrated on Vietnamese children, women and men.

President Barack Obama visited Ho Chi Minh City. He and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Hiroshima, and both leaders went to Pearl Harbor to honor those who perished. I look forward to the day when an American president will visit My Lai to honor all who perished in Vietnam.

Let us not forget the Vietnam War. Let us not allow the government to send our young men and women abroad to kill and to be killed. Let us reclaim our belief in the sanctity of human life. The holocaust of the Vietnam War calls on us to do so.

Anh Le has worked with the Vietnamese American community in San Francisco and the Bay Area for many years.

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