Sunday, November 18, 2012

The medicinal properties of passing years

In our travels--and especially during our time in the Middle East--Mrs. Blog and I have visited a lot of places with painful histories. Lebanon is a great example of this: although there is obviously a fair amount of tension beneath the surface, and violence occasionally spills over from Syria, it is a peaceful and calm place today compared with 30 or even 10 years ago. Beirut is a beautiful place filled with amazing art, friendly people, ancient sites and delicious food. But everywhere you go, you can see the scars of war. Sometimes it's figurative, in the form of monuments or signs. Other times it's literal: the bullet-pocked shell of the Holiday Inn still squats among luxury high-rise developments on high-priced waterfront real estate.

A building with a troubled past.

But in the formerly troubled countries we visited, America was never one of the major belligerents in the conflicts that had scarred them (although U.S. troops were obviously in Lebanon in 1982, Israel played the role of invader/occupier in that one). That changed with our recent, brief visit to northern Vietnam.

I'll keep this short and sweet: Hanoi is a friendly place. I didn't run into any lingering dislike of Americans, which, depending on how cynical you are, may or may not be surprising considering how many thousands of tons of bombs the United States dropped on and around Hanoi. This is possibly because in the end, the United States threw up its hands and left the country after realizing that getting involved in someone else's civil war was not worth American blood and treasure. If you're North Vietnam in 1974, that's victory. And it's easy to forgive when you're the winner. Maybe things would have been different if the Paris peace accords had held up, or a more Korea-like situation arisen through other means.

I can't say that I totally understand the complex psychology behind present-day attitudes. But I am glad the country seems to be at peace with its past. In any event, this picture sums up the result:

Photo courtesy iPhone of the Blog.

Those, by the way, are tourist boats cruising under a unified Vietnamese flag through a bay that empties into the Gulf of Tonkin.

So maybe there's no animosity because despite all the atrocities and bloodshed, things ended up right where both sides wanted them. In 1975, Ho Chi Minh was able to spread his banner of communism over the entire country. And the U.S. leadership of that era would no doubt have been thrilled to know that in 30 years, Vietnam would be home to a nominally capitalist economy (and the Soviet Union, the "head domino," would no longer exist).

No comments: