War is Over: Vietnam 40 Years On
Apr. 30, 2015
People in Vietnam marked the 40th anniversary of the end of their civil war on April 30th. A crowd of about 3,000 gathered in front of the former Presidential Palace in Ho Chi Minh City. They included representatives of the Communist Party and the government.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in a speech asked people to show patriotism, as well as “humanity and tolerance”. He urged citizens to “sincerely engage” in reconciliation.
A 51-year-old man in the crowd said, “This is a great opportunity to help our next generation follow the heroic tradition of their predecessors.”
The Vietnam War grew out of the French Indo-China conflicts of the 1950s into a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1965, the US expanded its military involvement with a large-scale bombing campaign against the North. The conflict engulfed all of Vietnam.
The tide turned against the US-backed South in 1968, after the communist side launched the Tet Offensive -- a campaign of simultaneous attacks during the Tet holiday.
The North lost these battles, but the attacks did their job. Back in the US, the loss of life, the growing anti-war movement, and the battered economy pushed leaders in Washington to seek peace.
It was a long process. The US withdrew its armed forces after all parties signed the Paris Peace Accord in January 1973. But the fighting continued. And the communist forces gained the upper hand.
In April 1975, after the fall of Saigon, South Vietnam made a total surrender. The country was reunified the next year.
How has Vietnam changed since then? We asked NHK’s Hanoi bureau chief, Kazuomi Shimizu, to describe the mentality of the post-war generation.
Shimizu: Young people don’t question the war’s historical importance. But they don’t share the same attitude as their parents and grandparents. Those born in 1975 or later account for more than half of the country’s 90-million population.
For them, the war is something they heard about from their elders or learned about in school. April 30th is a public holiday in Vietnam. It’s celebrated as “Liberation of the South Day.” Together with the weekend and other holidays, this year’s calendar allows for up to nine consecutive days off. Because of this, many Vietnamese are said to be on holiday inside the country or abroad.
Beppu: How do those who experienced the war view the situation today?
Shimizu: Many people believed a bright future awaited them after the victory. They lived through the war. And they helped each other through post-war hardship. They’ve seen their country grow and prosper, to some extent, since 1975. But the gap between rich and poor is widening. And corruption is rampant. Many are starting to doubt whether today’s Vietnam is the one they strived to create.
Beppu: In some cases, the Vietnamese people are still struggling with the legacy of the war.
Shimizu: Yes. There’s a TV program that features people still searching for relatives who disappeared during the war.
Beppu: It’s amazing that families are still being reunited after all these years. But then you could say Vietnam has been reconnecting with the world since the end of the war. How would you describe the country’s relationship with its former foe, the United States?
Shimizu: This year marks two decades since the countries normalized diplomatic ties. And lately they have been strengthening relations even faster. One major motivating factor has been China’s increased activity in the South China Sea, near disputed islands.
There have been standoffs between government ships of both countries. Leaders in Hanoi are concerned about China’s overwhelming military strength. They’ve been thankful the US has stepped in to help. The Obama administration has increased maritime security cooperation through military drills. And last October, it partially lifted a long-standing ban on lethal weapons sales to Vietnam. The countries are also deepening economic ties.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would push these efforts forward. The removal of tariffs would help Vietnam expand textiles exports to the US. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam has planned a trip to the US this year. Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit would be the first by a Vietnamese party chief.
Beppu: Nguyen Phu Trong met Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month. What do these high-level visits with China and the US say about Vietnam’s foreign policy?