It’s great to be here at Hobart College. I also am impressed, stunned, honored, flattered that so many people would choose to come inside on such a nice day for any reason. It’s fun to be here. I met with maybe some of you. I met with Professor Tom D’Agostino and a group of students who came to Hanoi, I guess it was now a year and a half ago or so, and that was my first contact with your college. These were students who were in Vietnam on the semester program in Vietnam and they had good questions, tough questions and so I was very glad when Tom asked me to come visit the college and speak to you today.
I’m going to focus on the topic of the relationship between Vietnam and the United States. But I’m going to try to keep my remarks fairly brief and I can’t talk about that subject without also talking about Vietnam today and what it’s like. But there’s a lot more obviously to say about that subject. I know that many of you are interested in particular fields, sociology, or interested in Vietnam as a society or the religions in Vietnam or the economy in Vietnam. And there’s a lot we can talk about on that but I’m going to depend on you to ask me the right questions about those subjects. I want to say now that I’m open to questions about U.S.-Asian relations or the situation in Asia today. In addition to Vietnam I spent a lot of my career working on China. Immediately before Vietnam I was the de facto ambassador to Taiwan. We can’t call it that or they’d basically have a hissy fit in Beijing, but I was basically the ambassador to Taiwan. That’s always an interesting subject. I worked in Korea and other interesting places in Asia too. But now to Vietnam.
I began my foreign service career in Vietnam. I went there at 25-years-old, having studied Vietnamese and watching at the State Department school, and I spent six months loaned by the State Department to AID, the aid agency to work on a provincial advisory team, and then two years in the embassy. And all that was during the war years. I was there from 1970-1973. And then I had periods of return to Vietnam. I went there in 1981, I’m sorry, in ’82, in one of the very first U.S. delegations after the war, to try to normalize relations between our two countries. And all we talked about on that trip was accounting for the missing in action, because we knew we had to solve that problem before we could get to a more true normalized relationship.
Then I had nothing to do with Vietnam for 19 years ’til I went back as ambassador. But it was unlike serving as ambassador anywhere else for someone who’d been there during the war. It was like almost every day I had this feeling that I was picking up the thread of an old story. The story of my own involvement in this troubled relationship between the United States and Vietnam and the thread of the somewhat tortured history of Vietnam itself. This year we celebrated the 30th anniversary of those famous scenes of the helicopters lifting off the roof of the embassy in Saigon and the end of the war. And the tank crashing through the gates of the palace and the north the communist government conquering all of Vietnam.
It’s also, coincidentally, precisely the 10th anniversary of the U.S. and Vietnam 20 years after the end of the war deciding to have relations with each other. Deciding that despite all of that bitter past that we had reasons to be mutually helpful, mutually useful to each other and have diplomatic relations. And there’s already a lot of attention focused on Vietnam this year because of those anniversaries.
But before we opened the embassy in 1995, we already were inching toward normalization. And what I would suggest is that the whole normalization process between the U.S. and Vietnam is sort of a series of layers and we started out dealing with the issues leftover from the war. There was no other way to start. There was no way to erase the fact that we had fought this war with each other.
And so we started dealing with some of the painful issues that existed in our own society as well as in Vietnam. First of all we had to deal with the issue of accounting for the missing in action. There were over 2,000 Americans who had been lost in Vietnam and the remains had never been found. And so, in the early '90s, we set up an office there in which the U.S. military started to run rather complex engineering and excavation and archaeological operations, which continue until this day, of looking for and digging jet planes out of the ground and finding the remains of missing Americans.
One of the other historical issues leftover from the war was reuniting families. You all remember, or maybe you’re too young to remember but perhaps you’ve heard about, the boat people. At the end of the war there was a massive number of Vietnamese who fled the country fearful of communist rule. Years after the war, the whole phenomenon of the boat people crescendoed, actually in the late '70s it was even worse. Conditions were bad, economic conditions were bad, in the immediate period after the unification in '75 there was a very very harsh and repressive government that was put into place and a lot of people fled. And so they fled under terrible conditions in boats that went out across the South China Sea and many perished in the boats or perished because of pirates, and there were refugee camps all over southeast Asia. But in many cases families were split up. Some had come to the United States and in many cases there were family members still behind in Vietnam.
And so in the early '90s in addition to the MIA program we also set up an office in the south, in Saigon, which was began the process of bringing families together and figuring out people who had a legitimate claim to bring their mother or their sister or their husband or their daughter back to the United States to join with them. Then we established relations in 1995.
And I got there as the second ambassador to a unified Vietnam. I got there in December of 2001 and before I went out there I met with the people who’d been most instrumental in getting us to normalize relations. There were two U.S. senators, both of them veterans of the war, who had taken a particular interest in bringing the two countries together again. And that was Senator John Kerry on the democratic side and Senator John McCain on the republican side and McCain in fact had been a prisoner of war. And these were two people, who were, particularly on McCain’s part, willing to put that experience behind them because he thought the two countries should deal with each other again. And I went and I talked with them and I talked with our Deputy Secretary of State, Rich Armitage, who also had been very involved in Vietnam. I said, "So what do you want me to do out there? What do you think we should do?" And they both said "You need to continue the process of normalization." The fact that we raised flags over embassies in 1995 didn’t mean that it was a completed process. To us to normalize means that the U.S. is dealing with Vietnam in the whole range of activities, the way we would with the Philippines or Malaysia or Thailand or any of the other countries. But it doesn’t look like that in Vietnam yet. You’ve got a few pieces to put in place yet before you can consider it a normalized relationship.
Our militaries don’t deal with each other. We don’t have Navy ships that visit there; we don’t interact between our militaries. Our police forces don’t interact--we don’t pick up bad guys in each other's countries and help each other out on that. We don’t cooperate very much on counter-terrorism. We don’t exchange intelligence very much, and in general the level of American investment is still kind of low. We don’t have any peace corps program in Vietnam. There’s a lot of things you could do.
So I went out there and I found that there were a lot of reasons why the relationship had progressed slowly. The most obvious one of course was that there was a bitter history of war with each other. There were a lot of people in both societies who still hadn’t gotten over the war. In Vietnam it was in the obvious places too, it was in precisely those organizations which had developed slowly with their American counterparts—the military, the public security , the secret police, the intelligence force, all those kind of people--the propaganda apparatus people in the party, the hardliners in the party.
And in the U.S. of course there were also groups who were and are bitter about the war. You find it most of all within the Vietnamese American community. Frankly most Vietnamese Americans of middle age or older still are not really happy with the fact that we even have diplomatic relations in Vietnam. I used to get this all the time, I used to meet with Vietnamese Americans in groups and an old soldier from the south Vietnamese army would get up and would say, "Before we start let’s just get one thing straight"
and I said, "yes, sir," and he said "Most of us in this room don’t think there should be an American ambassador in Vietnam." So I would laugh and I would say, "OK, let’s start from there and we’ll have a discussion."
They’re still bitter. There are veterans groups who are bitter also. And there are veterans groups who are not. And veterans groups I found were divided. There were veterans groups who are bitter about the war and then there are others, I used to call them the healing ones, they want to do good work and I’m now on the board of one of those groups, the Vietnam Veterans for America Foundation. And we do all kinds of good works in Vietnam, including mine clearances and providing prosthetics for wounded people.
But in general one of the concepts we talk a lot about in political science and in international relations, I don’t know if your professors talk about this subject, is the constituencies for foreign policy, in other words the groups within a society that support a relationship or are interested in a relationship with another country or with a group of other countries.
And in the case of Vietnam the constituency base is very shallow. And it consists largely of single interest groups who pop up now and then over their particular issue.
One of the issues which had slowed the relationship from growing and continues, I would say, to be the biggest impediment to a speedy growth in the relationship is human rights.
Vietnam remains one of the world’s five last communist ruled countries. And it’s the second biggest after China. Quick quiz—what are the others? It’s, you’d be forgiven for not remembering, Laos, North Korea and Cuba.
It is one of the world’s last Leninist political societies. In theory they don’t believe in civil society, they don't believe in independent groups, independent forces within that political system. Everything is under the control of the party.
Religions are not completely free to operate as they are in non-communist societies. There is no freedom of the press, there is no freedom of assembly, there are no opposition parties allowed. In fact discussion of a multi-party system gets you in a lot of trouble in Vietnam, particularly if you put it in writing.
That’s troubling to a lot of Americans. We have a lot of issues with that, and particularly of course it’s troubling to Vietnamese-Americans but it’s troubling to other people as well.
And in fact, just before I got to Vietnam the human rights issue had been given a lot of attention. In Vietnam, we don’t have a map here, do we? In Vietnam, in the central highlands area of southern, midsouthern, Vietnam, there’s a lot of ethnic minority people, who are more ethnically like Malaise than like Vietnamese, who are generally known under the rubric of montagnards, which means mountain people in French. They were closely associated with the U.S. special forces during the Vietnam war.
They always had a troubled relationship with the dominant ethnic group, the Vietnamese, and many of them are Protestants, converted to Protestantism by missionaries over the years. There are also a lot of communities of montagnards in the United States. And they communicate with each other. The ones in the United States often stimulate the ones in Vietnam to feel that they ought to be a separate country and they ought to be separatists and that they’re unhappy with the Vietnamese rule. And there were quite large scale, and some would say violent, demonstrations in March 2001 before I got there, which led to 1,000 of these people fleeing to Cambodia, and the U.S. took these people as refugees and the Vietnamese government was very unhappy about that.
And it brought attention in the United States to one certain human fights problem in Vietnam. I arrived with all that situation. And with the leadership in Vietnam, which is not the most charismatic looking group of people in the world--these are Soviet-educated, you know people educated during the era when Vietnam had a close relations with the Soviet Union. These are people who will tell you "I have a Ph.D. in economics." "Oh really, well from where?" "From Sofia University in Bulgaria in 1983." And you can imagine what kind of economics that was.
So we had this was the leadership in Vietnam–soviet-educated, very distrustful of globalization, distrustful of America, and looking out at a world in which they feared loss of control as their own country was evolving. And they feared what they would call peaceful evolution, which was a phrase that Richard Nixon used once in the 1970s, which no one else in the world remembers except the government in Vietnam and the government in China.
Peaceful evolution means you slowly bring things to my society and interact with my society and invite my students to your country until you gradually undermine my communist system, that’s what peaceful evolution means. The Vietnamese used to tell me in their most private moments, Vietnamese government types, "You know what our nightmare is? Our nightmare is Poland. An independent church, independent labor unions, and slowly or quickly the whole thing collapses, our whole communist system collapses." And of course we were all reminded of that recently in the discussion about the important role that the late Pope played in the collapse of the communist government in Poland.
So what does it look like three years later? I left Vietnam, I arrived December 15th of 2001, I left in September 2004, and as I look at the country and look at the relationship, there’s been change. The relationship has broadened. We’ve put more pieces into place as Kerry and McCain suggested was my job description for the next three years. And certainly it’s a broader and deeper relationship.
The trade has just exploded. Just before I got there we signed a trade agreement which brought the U.S. taxes, the U.S. tariff on Vietnamese goods, down from an average of 40 percent to an average of 3 percent in one day. And so there was an explosion. And Vietnamese barriers to American goods went down also though not quite as much. So within the first two years after that happened, 2002, 2003, bilateral trade went up four times. It was probably one of the fastest growing trade relationships in the world. American investment increased also though not quite as much.
We made an agreement with each other to have direct flights between our two countries; you can now fly as I did--I went back and visited two weeks ago--fly directly from Saigon (you’ll notice I call it Saigon instead of Ho Chi Minh City because everyone who lives there calls it that but officially it’s Ho Chi Minh City) to Hong Kong, and then the plane stops and then it goes on to San Francisco. That’s the first American air carrier to return to Vietnam since 1975.
We have started to have a lot of high level visits between our two countries; we didn’t have as many of those before. There are a whole string of Vietnamese ministers that have been going to the United States, I accompanied many of them. We had a deputy prime minister go, in 2003, and now we are planning for the Vietnamese prime minister, the head of government, to come visit the United States this year. This is sort of a reciprocal visit, a return for President Clinton, the head of our government, visiting Vietnam in November of 2000.
And probably the most symbolic of an improved relationship considering the tortured history between us was when an American navy frigate steamed up the Saigon river for a visit. We had reached agreement on having an American Navy ships visit Vietnam. The Vietnamese were willing to put the war that much more behind them to allow a ship flying a U.S. flag to come up the river. I went to Vung Tao, the port, to go up the river with that ship as it came into Saigon, four hours winding up the river into Saigon, and as we came up and as I was standing with the captain on the bridge, both of us had the same thought. It was early in the morning and we said, "can you imagine some guy maybe hadn’t heard about this and he wakes up in the morning and he looks out and he sees this ship coming up with the American flag flying, and he says holy cow, they’re back." But then he would have noticed that the Vietnamese flag was flying next to it so it came in peace this time.
We had another visit by an American navy ship to Danang, in the center part of the country, in July of 2004, and I couldn’t help thinking and I said in my remarks when I greeted the ship, that if you looked just down the beach from where that ship was docking in Danang, that is the red beach which is the beach where the Marines stormed ashore in March 1965, in the first major landing of American forces in Vietnam. So that had wonderful symbolism also, especially for the Vietnamese, I mean.
We have done a lot of other things in Vietnam, and a lot of other things have happened that show improvement. One of the things that was very strange about the relationship before was that there was not strategic dialogue; there wasn’t when our leaders met. When our ministers met, we would talk about immediate issues: Vietnamese complaints that the U.S. was using trade measures to keep catfish out of the American market or something like that. We didn’t ever seem to get above that level. That’s changed. The Vietnamese are now not afraid to talk to us about why they are suspicious of China and what China is doing in southeast Asia. That’s no longer a taboo subject. So we tell them what we think.
And they’re not afraid to talk to us about situations, Iraq or to talk about Japan or the relationship between Japan and China or these things—it’s all out there now, and that is a tremendously refreshing change from the situation a few years ago.
If you look at the Vietnamese press, it used to be very critical. Every day we would get hammered over something. That also has changed, they’ve backed off from that. Among the things we have going in Vietnam, we have very large humanitarian programs, particularly health programs. We have the largest of any other country than Vietnam to deal with HIV/AIDS prevention. It is a problem there, we can talk about that if you want. It’s not the level of seriousness of some places but it is a problem, particularly because of intravenous drug use. President Bush chose Vietnam as the only country in Asia to receive special funding for HIV/AIDS prevention. Part of the reason, frankly, is it has a public health system which has enough capability that we felt the money really would be used and would be used beneficially.
Why did this happen? I just described a positive picture, there’s a lot of change, I mean things got a lot better over the last year and a half. Well, it mostly came from their side. We were ready to move forward. We found less resistance and there are a lot of interesting reasons for that and that gets us back to Vietnam and the story of what does Vietnam look like today 30 years after the war.
One of the issues, I described the leadership is wary of globalization. And I remember there’s a wonderful man, Tom Vallely, some of the people here know him, who runs for Harvard the Vietnam program in Saigon. He told me that before President Clinton went to Vietnam in March 2000, he was brought to brief President Clinton and he told him, he said "look, the Vietnamese leadership are driven by four fears: fear of the U.S., fear of China, fear of globalization, and fear of modernization. Because all of those things they fear threaten their control and control is all they really care about." And I don’t think that's changed. The four-fear theory is still valid. But, what’s happened is that there’s a fifth fear that entered the picture and entered their minds and it began to reorder the priorities and the order of importance of the other four fears. And the fifth fear is the fear of falling even further behind.
They looked around at Thailand, at Malaysia and at the other countries in Asia and especially at China and they saw them taking off. And they saw that Vietnam was growing pretty fast but they weren’t catching up, they were losing ground.
And that is something that inspired them to realize that they have to enter the world, they have to loosen up, they have to relax controls. That fear was really underlined by the kind of briefings, getting increasingly worried, that they were getting from organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the UN development program, which were preparing briefings for leadership there, saying "all right, here’s a chart, shows your workforce and it shows the jobs you’re creating. Every year you have two million new people who need jobs in Vietnam." The reason is Vietnam had a baby boom right after the Vietnam war and it continued for a few years, and these people are now coming of age. They need jobs. They’re becoming 18 years old or else they’re going to university, they’re graduating from university. And in addition to the baby boom, Vietnam had the same phenomenon that every society in the world that has modernized has had, including the United States, which is that as agriculture becomes more productive, and as land that is used for agriculture is taken out of use for building factories or building residences or building suburban areas, less hands are needed on the farm.
So you have movement of population from the countryside into the city on top of the baby boomers coming of age and needing jobs. Two million people a year. And a population of 82 million or so. Why is this a political problem for the leadership?
Well, because as the international organizations and their own economists explain, the government is not going to create jobs for these people. The state-owned factories were in bad shape, like state-owned factories everywhere in the world, very low productivity, expensive products, poor quality products, badly managed companies, and definitely not in the mood for hiring a lot of new workers. The government apparatus isn’t going to hire a lot of new workers either. Only two ways you’re going to employ these people. One is foreign companies coming in and investing and creating jobs. The second way is to develop the domestic private sector so that Vietnamese private companies can provide jobs for these people.
So the Vietnamese government, they got it. There was a lot of debate, there was a lot of factional strife between people who were more hard lined, more doctrinaire, and others who were more reformist. But essentially the reformists won out. And so they passed an enterprise law in the year 2000 which really opened up the economy and made it instantly easier to create private businesses. Overnight there were thousands and thousands of mom-and-pop private businesses created and officially registered. It was a little slower getting larger private businesses going, but that has now started also. It was even slower getting the financial system to provide capital for private companies, but even that is now finally in the last year or so getting going. The government also started becoming much more welcoming toward the foreign private investors and made it even easier for foreign private investors to enter into the market--and started to sign a lot of agreements with countries like the U.S. to make that possible.
So what was the crisis, what was the problem, and why did things change in June 2003?
Vietnam is still run by the communist party. The communist party has a central committee of a couple hundred, 300 members, and they have a plenary session of the whole committee usually every twice a year, fall and another time in June. And in the June meeting of 2003, they decided that the topic of the meeting would be to reassess the country’s national security strategy. And it concluded that because of all the factors I’ve mentioned that they needed to improve relations with the U.S. and they should set about to do that in a way that was tangible and that was obvious to their own people and obvious to the world.
There are two main reasons for it. First was that they saw their trade agreement that they’d signed with us in 2001 had been a fantastic success, that trade had grown at a rate that they’d never imagined, and they saw that whole industries had developed just because of the agreement with the U.S., especially the textile and garment industry. But they didn’t see as much American investment as they liked. And they had this idea that if the relation with the U.S. was better, if the U.S. government would encourage it more, there would be more American investment in Vietnam. Actually it’s not the way American investors work, but they didn’t realize that.
They also were very anxious to join the World Trade Organization because, and this gets into a somewhat arcane subject, but just very briefly in Jan. 2005 they knew that all the tariffs, all the barriers, the quotas, that had kept the world textile trade very bound up in order to protect markets in the U.S. and Europe was all going to disappear. The World Trade Organization agreed that all that would go and that textile trade would be liberated from quotas and barriers and high tariff walls in Jan. 2005. And they were afraid if they didn’t get into the World Trade Organization they could be one of the last countries in the world that still could be subject to quotas. And so all this wonderful industry that developed would just wither and die. That was one of the reasons. One of the many reasons that they decided they needed to get into the World Trade Organization. And they knew that part of the ticket for that was to reach a trade agreement with the U.S.
The second reason why they decided to reassess the national security strategy is actually more interesting in some ways. The second reason is China. Now if you think the history of Vietnam with the United States is tortured, the history of China with Vietnam is really tortured and really long; it’s thousands of years of trouble. All Vietnamese national heroes were people who had fought the Chinese, without exception. That’s the criterion of becoming a Vietnamese national hero is you stood up to the Chinese in some point in the Vietnamese history. The Vietnamese had fought a very ugly war with the Chinese on their border in late 1979 and that was the nadir of the relationship. By 2003, they patched up the relationship a lot with China. It wasn’t perfect, they were still wary of each other, but things were better.
And the Vietnamese came to me, came to us, and they said, "You know the triangle is out of balance." I said, What triangle?" They said, "You know, for us foreign relations is a triangle--it’s us in the middle, China, and the U.S. That’s what really matters in terms of our foreign relations and relations with China are better, and that’s great, but the closer we get to them the more we’re still afraid of them. And we don’t like what they’re doing in the region. They’re throwing their weight around. They’re increasing their influence, and frankly you haven’t paid enough attention to this region. You’re so obsessed by terrorism and Iraq that you’re not paying attention to southeast Asia, and meanwhile the Chinese are eating your lunch while you’re absorbed somewhere else."
They started to become very frank to us about this. And they said, "We want improved relations with you, we see you as a necessary counter to Chinese influence in Asia and nobody else can do it, and that’s why we’re willing to have ship visits now. Your Secretary of Defense way back in the Clinton administration invited our defense minister to visit and we never responded. Well, today we’re saying yes."
And so Rumsfeld sent an invitation; he thought this was a great idea. And so that’s why we had this change and the relationship improved.
So where are we today?
Well, I left plenty of pieces in place for my successor to work on. I think neither Senator Kerry nor Senator McCain would say that the process is finished. The cops in Vietnam still don’t like us very much, so cooperation of law enforcement on counter-terrorism, on counter-narcotics, is still pretty low-level, worse than in China, for example, where despite the fact that we have a lot of similar reasons for distrusting each other with China, we have much better cooperation on a lot of these things. But, it takes time.
But I think this is going to be an important year for U.S.-Vietnam relations. Not only for the anniversaries I mentioned, but also for two more reasons. The prime minister visit, which I mentioned, which is going to attract a lot of attention, and also there’s going to be some important decisions the U.S. makes about Vietnam. If we decide we agree with Vietnam getting into the World Trade Organization, we will have to have an important vote in our Congress to grant Vietnam something called "permanent normal trade relations." Meaning that we don’t have to every year decide whether to do that, which we have to do with communist countries.
We know that when that vote came up about China four years ago, the U.S. Congress saw it as an opportunity to review the whole relationship. And it was a very noisy and very contentious debate. So we’re sort of bracing for that to happen over Vietnam this year.
And we’ve warned the Vietnamese on that. I said to them, "Now is the time to build that constituency base. Now’s the time to get some new friends. If you were ever thinking of releasing all these political prisoners whom you shouldn’t be holding anyway, now’s the time to release them. And now’s the time to give some nice contracts to American countries and do all kinds of other things."
They started to do it. Gradually they have released some prominent political prisoners and there are some other things moving in the right direction. Nowhere near as far as it should be, but there’s some progress. What’s the future?
I think we’re always going to have differences over human rights. We’re going to have Vietnamese Americans who are unhappy about the relationship. There’ll be tensions. I just took part in an appearance before the Hawaii state house in which there was debate on whether to establish a sister-state relationship with one of the provinces in Vietnam All the angry Vietnamese-American groups and veteran groups were out there in force saying why this was a bad idea. And Vietnam is always going to be suspicious of us for a lot of reasons.
But we will make progress if we keep in mind a principle that applies in foreign policy in general, which is "never let an overall relationship be held hostage to one issue." You get mad over one particular problem—a trade problem, a human rights problem, whatever—you don’t shut down the whole relationship while you solve that one problem. It’s a good rule in foreign policy in general. Unless of course it’s something overwhelmingly egregious, like a country invading Kuwait or something like that, but aside from that it’s generally a good rule. And the other thing I would say is that Vietnam and the United States have no strategic conflict with each other. In fact, vis à vis China, there’s a certain amount of strategic overlap. Not containment, we don’t use that word, but keeping things in balance in that region.
And then finally, I look at the Vietnamese leadership today, and it’s still guys who studied at the University of Sofia in Bulgaria, but they’ve learned a lot about their world in the last few years, and the more open-minded ones have tended to prevail in their own internal conflicts. And so, when I look at the future, I think I see a country in which they will continue to openly state that their goal is integration with the world. That’s a big change. Think of all the countries that don’t say that. Well, it’s the other three communist countries, aside from China—Laos, Cuba, and North Korea. They’re not saying that. Vietnam is and China is also.
They will continue to develop a market economy, because they see that that’s essential to preserve social stability and growth in their own country. There will continue to be a rapidly growing domestic private sector, and I see some improvement in terms of rule of law. Not huge improvement, but some. I see increased foreign investment. And then most of all I see a process that’s been going on 10, 20 years in Vietnam, which is state control over people’s lives is eroding. People can make decisions about their own lives—where they study, who they marry, where they live, whether they go overseas, all that kind of thing. You couldn’t make that kind of decision about your own life 20 years ago or even 15 years ago, and now you can in Vietnam. That’s going to increase.
Part of this is the growth of the private sector. Not everyone works for the government anymore, so the ability of Big Brother to control your life is being eroded. And so that gives me some optimism.
I encourage all of you who are going to be spending a semester there. You’re going to find a very vibrant, very open society, people who are going to welcome you, people who are going to be remarkably unfocused on the war. Most of them were born after the war ended. They actually show an ability to put the past behind them and focus on the future and the present, which we could learn from. I find it’s the American visitors to Vietnam who focus on the war. And they sometimes find it hard to find anyone in Vietnam who wants to talk about it. It’s there, it’s underneath, especially in the older generations, of course. The past always permeates the present but most of all you’ll find a remarkably optimistic and hopeful people who are interested in relations with us.
"Vietnam and the U.S.: 30 Years After the War, 10 Years After Normalization," Ray Burghardt, Former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam
April 19, 2005