In 1975 the North Vietnamese army entered Saigon, marking the war’s end and the reunification of the country. A quarter century later, I visited Vietnam, hoping to gain insight into the war and its aftermath from the Vietnamese perspective.
Traveling ‘slow’ has always been my favorite way to experience a place. In Vietnam, I traveled by bicycle from Hanoi to the ancient city of Hue and then by train to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Along the way I was struck by the sheer number of massive military cemeteries I passed. Each one seemed to stretch on and on and were sobering reminders of the war’s tragic cost
As I looked out at these cemeteries I couldn’t help but think that most of those headstones resulted from US operations. Estimates of Vietnamese casualties from 1965 to 1975 range from 1.6 million to over 2 million. And yet, the majority of Vietnamese I met seemed to have little memory of the war or animus toward the US.
Much of this might be attributed to the age range of the Vietnamese I met. This is a young country and most of the people I met were in their twenties and thirties — too young to have known the war. In contrast, there was a notable absence of middle-aged men who would have been of fighting age during the war years.