It's time to forgive

November 13, 1990|By -- Newsday

THE PASSIONS of wartime enemies fade with time. After enough years, the hatred and pain of long-ago battles fought in the jungles of a distant continent, in another decade, are no more than faint static to the more urgent call of today's alarms.

Fifteen years is long enough to bear a grudge against Vietnam. President Bush should listen to the advice of congressional leaders and lift the trade embargo against Hanoi, the first step toward eventual diplomatic recognition of our former enemy.

Fifteen years after World War II, the United States had already helped rebuild the economies of Germany and Japan -- enemies that became the closest of allies. Americans had fought grueling battles against those two nations, lost tens of thousands of lives -- and won. That was perhaps the major difference. Victors can afford to be magnanimous.

There was another difference, of course. World War II brought Americans closer together. Vietnam tore them apart. It split families and friends. It left scars as disfiguring as the wounds brought back by veterans of the murderous Tet offensive.

Some issues remain unresolved. More than 1,600 American servicemen listed as missing remain unaccounted for. The Cambodian conflict and Vietnam's lingering role in it are still murky. The Bush administration cites both as obstacles to normalization. But Vietnam has made progress in both, and appears willing to work further to resolve both issues.

Just as an earlier, more innocent America showed it could be generous in victory, a more chastened and weary America can show that it can be forgiving today -- however long it has taken for that reconciliation to occur.

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