“America Lost, Capitalism Won,” The Economist, 28 April 2005, http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3914886.
Vietnamese tourguards don’t care much about the “American War”
On the steps of the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, a guide recounts the final, dramatic moments of the Vietnam war. On the morning of April 30th 1975, two tanks of the â€œliberation forcesâ€ crashed through the gates of what was then the presidential palace of South Vietnam, in what was then Saigon. One of the tank commanders raced to the roof to tear down the flag of the American-backed regime and raise a communist banner in its stead, symbolically reuniting the two halves of the country and putting an end to 30 years of conflict.
The guide himself, however, does not seem very stirred by this story. He tells it only halfway through his tour, as one of a number of historical anecdotes. Like most Vietnamese, he was born after the war, so feels little personal connection to the events he recounts. He is from the north, he says, but has come to the south to improve his English and find a good job. From the rooftop, he gazes not at the famous tanks enshrined in the grounds below, but at the high-rises sprouting from the city’s skyline, emblazoned with American brand names such as Citibank and Sheraton.
Vietnam commemorates 30 years since “The American War” ended on Saturday, no longer simply exulting in the victory but instead urging people to look to the future.
Concerned that too visible a show of triumph could harm ties with the United States, the celebrations have been toned down compared with previous years.
The government’s talking of more market-based reforms
“The way we have been commemorating these historical dates is getting repetitive and overdosing on them may have a counter-effect,” he wrote.
“We have to push ahead with reforms and stay away from self-satisfaction and the disease of talking too much about our achievements,” said Kiet, prime minister in the mid-1990’s.
Skyline of Capitalist Saigon, see also the Samsung Billboard
While the people just make money
Little trace remains of any hostility towards Americaâ€”just one, after all, of the many countries Vietnam fought during the past century. It went to war more recently (in 1979) with China, a perennial enemy over the last millennium, and the authorities still seem more suspicious of their northern neighbours and fellow communists than of anyone else. America and Vietnam restored diplomatic ties in 1995, and signed a trade pact in 2000. America is now Vietnam’s largest export market. Disputes between the two countries hinge more on tariffs and market access than on war crimes or missing soldiers.
Last year, United Airlines resumed flights to Ho Chi Minh Cityâ€”which still bears the code SGN. A pilot who was lionised during the war for bombing the presidential palace in Saigon is now looking forward to captaining Vietnam Airlines’ first commercial flight to Americaâ€”on one of the firm’s ten Boeing jets. Last month, Ho Chi Minh City received an American naval vessel for the second time in as many years. Locals scarcely batted an eyelid at the sight of uniformed American sailors wandering the streets.
The South is benefiting most from Hanoi’s liberalization, because of its connections with the United States and its history of free-market economics
The war exacerbated these differences. For one thing, the south suffered less from American bombing, leaving it with better infrastructure. What is more, northerners have lived under a communist regime since 1954, whereas southerners have much more recent experience of capitalism. The flight of well-to-do southerners in the face of the communist advance in 1975, and the subsequent exodus of boat people, has left the south with a bigger diaspora. These links to viet kieu, or overseas Vietnamese, give the south a more cosmopolitan outlook, and provide southern businessmen with capital and ideas.
Saigon is a huge part of the boom
Ho Chi Minh City alone accounts for 17% of national output, 30% of foreign investment and 40% of exportsâ€”far in excess of its 9% share of the population. Local income per head is roughly four times the national average. Throw in the four adjacent provinces, and the share of output rises to 40%, and of exports to 70%.
Ho Chi Minh City, for example, has refurbished a beautiful colonial building as an investment-promotion office. English-speaking officials enumerate the city’s many advantages with the help of PowerPoint displays and glossy brochures. The city government, explains one, can process applications for various business permits online. It is also starting up an â€œe-discussionâ€ scheme to answer investors’ queries, in both English and Vietnamese.
America’s post-1972 betrayal of South Vietnam is shameful. Suspending military aid to the Republic of Vietnam was the worst action of the U.S. Congress in history, and the moment of Democrat Party bankruptcy. But this tragedy of the past does not change the present.
Vietnam is rapidly becoming a Thailand-class ally of the United States. Like America, Vietnam has strong interests in containing China and growing the world econony. That is why our ships are visiting her ports, and that is why Hanoi is the capital of America’s friend, Vietnam.