David Rich 500 Words
W h i z W h a m, T h a n k Y o u ' N a m
The main tourist attraction in Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, was the War Remnants Museum. On the way the cyclo and moto drivers hissed, "Hey mister, where you from?" I lied and said Canada, but they seemed to know: "Hey mister, I was in the Saigon Army, best friend American Yanks. Yeah, America number one."
I toured the museum and thought, Sure, Americans are best friends of the Vietnamese with Agent Orange and dioxin and napalm and eight years of a billion bombs and a trillion landmines. In the museum courtyard sat U.S. Air Force jets and recon planes and half a dozen gifts from the U.S. Army: Whiz wham, tanks for Nam.
We toured the infamous Cu Chi tunnels, tiny things sized for small Viet Cong, camouflaged and on multiple levels, secret exits under the Saigon River. All the while I tried to remember exactly what the war was about. Why were a million Vietnamese slaughtered and more suffered birth defects, along with 58,000 Americans killed? And how could the Vietnamese stand the sight of Americans?
It was apparently a civil war, communists against capitalists, with the United States wading in on the side of the good-guy capitalists, better dead than red, a battle more about economics than political systems. After eight years the United States withdrew with honor and lo and behold, almost thirty years later, after 1,058,000 meaningless deaths the American goal had been achieved. The south of Vietnam was true blue capitalist while the north was teetering dangerously in that direction.
We toured the jungle headquarters of the Viet Cong General Staff, a mile from what was the largest U.S. Air Force Base in the Mekong Delta, and I chuckled hysterically. After a thousand years of Chinese rule and a hundred years of the French, the Vietnamese "sort of" ruled themselves, and the land in the south had been deeded as private property, the foundation of capitalism and the antithesis of communism. The Vietnamese government had promised to issue private land deeds in the north and someday might do that. The Communist regime continued mostly in name only. "Public" education was no longer free, and few could afford to send their children to high school. Everyone had to pay for their own health care and the Vietnamese government was a cookie cutter of the other Southeast Asian governments, existing mostly for the corrupt benefit of the governors, the same as in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and even Thailand. Through many hundreds of years of foreign domination and horrible wars, the Vietnamese people remained the warmest and friendliest in the region, rivaled only by the Thai, land of smiles. "Hey mister, America best friend." I was embarrassed. Whiz wham, thank you, Nam.