Tag Archives: Ho Chi Minh City

Taliban ‘declare victory’

It is worth asking: Will the Taliban, who have “declared victory” against the United States, assume a more charitable relationship with their former battlefield adversary … in the manner that Vietnamese have done with former American servicemen and women?

Our military engagement in Afghanistan has ended. The Taliban have pranced around Kabul and other cities proclaiming that they “defeated” the United States. I get how they can make that declaration, even though their battlefield losses were horrific during the 20 years we fought them. Then again, so were the Vietnamese pounded on the battlefield back then, too. Yet they persevered and were able assume control of a government we fought to defend and preserve.

The Taliban have declared victory. Now they must reckon with a country freefalling into chaos (msn.com)

I don’t know about any parallels between then and now. The Taliban are driven by a deep religious fervor steeped in Islamic fundamentalism. The North Vietnamese were driven by a communist ideology that had nothing to do with religion. 

In 1989, I had the honor of returning to Vietnam 20 years after I reported for duty in that long-ago war. The editors with whom I was traveling and I flew from Bangkok to Hanoi for the first leg of our Vietnam tour. We then flew a few days later from Hanoi to what once was known as Saigon but is now called Ho Chi Minh City … named after Uncle Ho.

I remember getting off the plane, boarding a bus and then riding to our hotel. I got off the bus and was greeted — along with my traveling companions — by a gentlemen who asked some of us if we had served there during the Vietnam War. Some of us said “yes,” to which the gentleman said — while smiling broadly — “Welcome back to our country.” 

I found that to be a moving welcome and it portended the kind of relationships we were able to build during our brief time touring Vietnam.

Will any of that be available over time to returning Afghan War vets? Time will tell. I hope for their sake they are able to return to a country that so saw much hell over the span of time we fought there.

That will depend, of course, on whether the Taliban can set aside their religious fervor. Therein lies a fundamental difference between then and now.


Who’s next, those who fled the Holocaust?

Donald J. Trump is expanding his campaign to rid the nation of political refugees, or so it appears.

The president now reportedly is taking aim at those who fled Vietnam during the war that tore that country apart. The Vietnam War! The one that ended in 1975 when the communists rolled into Saigon and took control of the country. They renamed the South Vietnamese capital city after Ho Chi Minh and set up a repressive government that rounded up those who cooperated with the United States and sent them to what they called “re-education camps,” which was a euphemism for “concentration camps.”

Now, more than four decades later, the president wants to round up many of those who came to this country and send them back to Vietnam. What in name of human decency has possessed this guy, the president?

According to The Atlantic: This is the latest move in the president’s long record of prioritizing harsh immigration and asylum restrictions, and one that’s sure to raise eyebrows—the White House had hesitantly backed off the plan in August before reversing course. In essence, the administration has now decided that Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the country before the establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Vietnam are subject to standard immigration law—meaning they are all eligible for deportation.

Trump believes many of those immigrants have taken up lives of crime, corruption and assorted mayhem, that they pose a hazard to Americans.

Here’s what the White House needs to consider: Vietnam is still a hardline communist country. Many of those refugees who fled their homeland did so to avoid persecution by the government, which looked harshly on those who aided U.S. forces and diplomats during “the American war.” Returning them to Vietnam well might subject them to imprisonment — or worse.

Yes, we now have full diplomatic relations with our former battlefield enemy. Do we really want to imperil that relationship over a demagogic campaign promise to crack down on immigration, to “put America first”?

Don’t go there, Mr. President.

Thanksgiving brings back a special memory

hotel majestic

Most of my Thanksgiving celebrations have been of a fairly standard variety.

Turkey and all the sides. Fellowship with family. Lots of laughs. Sometimes even some pro football watching on TV.

But I’ve got a special Thanksgiving memory I’d like to share here.

It occurred in 1989. Twenty-six years ago I had the honor of attending — along with about 20 other journalists from all over the country — a three-week journey through Southeast Asia. Our trip took us — in order — Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and back to Vietnam. Our delegation represented the National Conference of Editorial Writers, which has been renamed and reorganized into the Association of Opinion Journalists.

It was a marvelous experience at many levels. Just going so far from home in itself was a treat. For several of us on that trip, it gave us a chance to return to Vietnam, where we had served during that terrible war and to see a country no longer shrouded by that conflict.

But along the way, we ventured to Cambodia. In 1989, the country was just beginning to recover from decades of war. Phnom Penh, the capital city, was in shambles. Vietnamese forces had just evacuated the country after liberating Cambodia from the heinous rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The city’s infrastructure was decimated.

We spent several days in Cambodia, laying eyes on a notorious killing field and seeing up close a former prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed their countrymen.

But then the Cambodia portion of the trip ended. It happened to be Thanksgiving Day when we boarded our vans and headed east, back to Ho Chi Minh City (which the locals still refer to as Saigon).

We traveled all day along a terrible road. We crossed the rapidly flowing Mekong River aboard a “ferry” that in reality was little more than a glorified raft.

After a grueling day of travel back to Saigon, we settled into our hotel, the Majestic. Then we were informed by the hotel staff that they had prepared a special meal for us.

They wanted to make us feel a bit more “at home” by serving us a Thanksgiving-style meal in the hotel’s main dining room.

We all sat down to dinner that evening and enjoyed a serving of what one of my dear friends refers to this day as “road kill duck”; we also enjoyed some fresh peas and mashed potatoes.

The meal was just OK.

What made it so very special, though, was the hospitality displayed by our Vietnamese hosts, who were delighted to treat us to a meal that enabled their American visitors commemorate a uniquely American holiday.

A day that began with some trepidation as we looked forward to a long, tiring and potentially harrowing trip back from a nation still bleeding from the wounds of war ended with warmth and good wishes — in a place so far from home.


A Thanksgiving to remember … in Vietnam

Thanksgiving is a day we express gratitude for all that we have.

It’s a uniquely American holiday and my friends overseas often are kind enough to extend wishes to my family and me at this time of year.

It also is a time to remember. And today I am remembering a particularly exciting Thanksgiving holiday.

I spent it far from home. I didn’t talk to my family that day. I was traveling in what once was a war zone and the site of one of the 20th century’s most infamous episodes of genocide.

Thanksgiving Day 1989 was spent traveling with fellow editorial writers and editors from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The day ended in grand fashion, for which we all gave thanks at the end of a harrowing overland travel experience.

The day began in Cambodia, where our group of about 20 journalists had toured several chilling locations, including killing fields, the infamous Tuol Sleng prison and where we met with survivors of the Pol Pot’s murderous reign of terror that ended nearly a decade earlier when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and ousted the dictator’s Khmer Rouge regime.

The country had been decimated. Two million Cambodians had been exterminated. The country’s infrastructure was in shambles. The people — beautiful as they are — were still in shock. The capital city of Phnom Penh was virtually empty.

We set out that day in several vans full of people and luggage along a crowded bumpy road. Ho Chi Minh City would be our destination. But first we had to travel several hundred treacherous miles.

The “highlight” of our journey occurred when we reached the Mekong River. We boarded a “ferry,” which in reality was hardly more than a motorized raft. Aboard that so-called ferry we loaded our vans, along with Cambodians traveling with carts, animals, loads of fresh fruit. The river, as I recall, was running fairly swiftly and I began to fantasize about overturning in the middle of the Mekong. I read an imaginary headline in my mind: “U.S. journalists killed in Cambodia ferry disaster.”

We made it across the river and then continued on our way.

Finally, several hours later we arrived at the Cambodia-Vietnam border. The line of traffic getting through the militarized checkpoint was quite long. We had a young guide, who we called Vibol. As with most business in Cambodia, a lot of it is transacted underground, under the table. Vibol collected some cash from all of us and then greased some palms at the gate. Suddenly, without explanation, our party was moved to the head of the line.

We slid on through to the Vietnamese side of the border, where we noticed a vision in the form of the young Vietnamese guide who had escorted us through Vietnam at an earlier portion of the trip. Her name was Mai and she was, as one might say, a sight for sore eyes — if you know what I mean.

Mai then escorted us the rest of the way to Ho Chi Minh City — which, by the way, the locals still refer to as Saigon.

We reached the city. Got to our hotel, unpacked our vehicles and were informed that the hotel staff had prepared a special dinner for us that evening.

We got cleaned up and went down to eat later. Awaiting us in a very nice dining room was a meal of what one of my colleagues called “road kill duck,” mashed potatoes, peas, rolls and a cake for dessert.

Was it the kind of Thanksgiving meal to which we were accustomed? No. But it was served with all the love and good intentions imaginable. Our Vietnamese hosts wanted to recognize our special holiday.

For that we all were thankful beyond measure.

After the experience we had endured that day, and in the previous days in a country decimated by war and untold inhumanity, we felt almost at home in a faraway land.

Happy Thanksgiving.