Why try to punish Hanoi for defeat we can't accept?

July 12, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

It is the war we cannot forget. It is the war we do not wish to be reminded of.

It is the war that ended 20 years ago. It is the war over which our citizens still fight.

It is that most unusual of things in our national history and occupies that most unusual of places in our national psyche: A war we actually lost.

And that is why we have punished Vietnam for so many year with our economic and diplomatic boycotts.

A nation uncommonly gracious in victory, the United States has been mean-spirited in defeat.

Make no mistake. That is why we have refused to recognize Vietnam for so long.

It is because they beat us. And we didn't know how to deal with that.

When we win, we know just what to do: We forgive. We send aid. We let bygones be bygones.

More than 405,000 Americans were killed in World War II.

Yet how long did it take us to recognize Germany and Japan after we defeated them? How long before we were helping them and welcoming them and trading with them?

How long before our old enemies were our new friends?

It is an enormous tragedy that 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam.

It is an enormous tragedy that they were sent there in the first place.

But just what have we been punishing the Vietnamese for all these years?

Have we resisted recognizing them because they are a Communist nation?

This cannot be. We recognize Communist China. And we recognized the Soviet Union when it was Communist.

So have we refused to recognize Vietnam because we do not have every last American body back from that country?

That has been our excuse.

And some still argue that because 1,618 Americans are still unaccounted for in Vietnam, we should not recognize that country.

But as Sen. John McCain, Republican from Arizona and a Vietnam POW, points out, there are still 78,000 missing in action cases from World War II that have never been resolved.

Yet life must go on.

The United States must build its foreign policy on the future of the living and not on the history of its dead.

As harsh as it sounds, we cannot let our foreign policy be held captive by corpses.

Yes, let us continue to resolve every case of a missing American that can be resolved. But we cannot stop time in order to do so.

We have a duty to remember those who have left us.

But we also have a duty to build a safer world for those who are still to come.

The recognition of Vietnam, which Bill Clinton announced yesterday, was not an easy thing for him to do. Just as he ducked the draft 26 years ago, he could have ducked this issue today.

4 But he did not. And that took political courage.

Clinton said recognition "will extend the reach of freedom in Vietnam."

Maybe. But Calvin Coolidge put it a little more plainly 70 years ago: "The business of America is business."

Vietnam has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. And we want a chunk of it.

For those who still want revenge, there may be some small solace in that: We will sell the Vietnamese cigarettes that will destroy their lungs, fast food that will clog their arteries and music and movies that will endanger their family values.

But considering 60 percent of the Vietnamese were born after the war, I am not sure with whom we are still supposed to be angry.

"Treat it like a country, not a war," said Sen. John F. Kerry, Democrat from Massachusetts and a Vietnam veteran.

That is a very good idea.

Sen. Bob Dole, Republican majority leader and a presidential candidate, opposes the recognition of Vietnam and he has threatened to block the funding of a U.S. Embassy there.

But that is neither good policy nor good politics.

Americans don't want to pick at this scab forever.

They want to move forward. And you cannot move forward by looking backward.

Besides, as the old saying goes, if you make your enemy your friend, have you not destroyed him?

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