For most Americans, Vietnam is a place associated with loss and tragedy. For decades, movies and media related to the conflict were overwhelmingly dark and painful to watch. POW flags flew everywhere and many believed for years there were still soldiers held there against their will in jungle camps.
America did not remain static in the past four decades and neither has Vietnam. During the immediate post-war period, the Communist nation was politically isolated and economically backwards. Growth did not occur, so in 1986 reform was initiated which directed a path away from communism towards world integration. Tourism is now a significant part of the modern Vietnamese economy. In 2011 the country received about 6 million international visitors. Reviews from friends and travel magazines were overwhelmingly glowing, so when my mom was visiting we spent our Easter holiday in Vietnam.
We quickly found how much the country had progressed during the short drive from the brand new Denang Airport on the south central coast of Vietnam. The region drew us for its beautiful beaches and historical destinations. Non Nuoc beach, the most famous, is known better to Americans as “China Beach” where many US soldiers went for “R and R”. Today the area is awash with new resort developments many of them currently under construction. Golf is also apparently quite popular Colin Montgomery and Greg Norman were both advertising new courses!
I spent only four days in Vietnam and I wish I had more time to explore the country. People were very welcoming and gracious. We never shied away from telling locals we were Americans and I never felt any animosity. The only observation worth mentioning was an English local paper referred to the conflict as the “Anti-American War,” however I suppose that is more politically correct than calling it the apt “Civil War with American support for the South.” Sydney for one American was certainly adored. I love this photo of her surrounded by the staff at a Hoi An restaurant.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that America is not considered “the evil enemy”. Communism was ultimately what failed. Probably more importantly Vietnam is a young country, only 6.8% of the population is older than 65 years old, most people do not personally remember the war. Their economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and they have the 13th largest population with 90.5 million people. The life expectancy rate is 75 yo and 93% of adults are literate. Vietnam is primed to quickly become a very formidable country on the world stage.
I know and have met many people who were personally affected by Vietnam in ways I can never fully understand or appreciate. Hopefully the fact that American children can now form such different memories of this beautiful place is some reward for the efforts their grandparents gave despite their reasons or cause.