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Vietnam Anniversary

05/10/05 12:00AM By Kenneth Davis
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(HOST) Commentator Ken Davis has been thinking about Vietnam and the long shadow of war.


(DAVIS) The recent observance of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon was punctuated for me by three curious news items. First, a New York Times travel article highlighted where to bargain-hunt in what is now Ho Chi Minh city. The second was a picture of young Vietnamese women pushing shopping carts in a people's salute to supermarkets. Finally, there came word that Levi Strauss - maker of the very jeans I once wore to peace marches - had opened its first outlet in Hanoi, a "new and attractive market."

In other words, 30 years after "destroying the village to save it," Vietnam is safe for capitalism.

These incongruous news stories left me shaking my head. With America caught in another unpopular war, maybe I was hoping for some introspection about what 58,000 American deaths in Vietnam actually meant. And serious thought about what - if anything - we had learned from that bitter and costly experience. Surprisingly, there was precious little about that.

But even more conspicuously absent from the news accounts recognizing the fall of Saigon was any mention of the horrific toll that the "American War" - which is what the Vietnamese call it - continues to exact. Since the so-called "end of the war", which claimed three million Vietnamese lives, another 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed and more than 60,000 maimed and paralyzed. These victims are mostly the very young, born long after the last chopper lifted off that embassy roof in 1975. They have fallen prey to "unexploded ordinance", or UXO, one of those tidy euphemisms like "collateral damage". In Vietnam, UXO is the nasty leftovers of America's war - the millions of land mines and tons of cluster bombs and other munitions America unloaded on a country about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

Since Vermont's Jody Williams and the International Campaign to ban land mines won the Nobel Prize in 1997, and the death of Princess Diana, who had adopted the cause of clearing land mines, scarce attention has been paid to this calamity. All of our talk about the "culture of life" apparently doesn't apply to children who are being obliterated.

Fortunately, there are some people addressing the problem. Right here in Dorset, Vermont, a group called Clear Path International works on a shoestring budget to knit together the broken limbs and lives of a war-shattered people. They are allied with such organizations as the British based Mines Advisory Group which works to clear the world's hot zones of its deadly war surplus. Needless to say, they face a dangerous uphill climb.

We tell our kids to clean up after themselves. We have a moral obligation to do the same thing.

When we send our kids to the yard or the soccer field, we don't have to worry that they might lose a limb. Vietnam's children aren't so fortunate. Levi Strauss now markets jeans to those kids. But it's sad to think that some of them only need pants with one leg.

I'm Ken Davis of Dorset.

Ken Davis is an author and historian. He spoke from our studio at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester.
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