I remember being at school in Somerset in1973, when there seemed great excitement among the teachers. The American soldiers were being withdrawn from Vietnam – I remember being told that the war was over.
To my naïve mind the good guys always stayed to the end and the good guys always won – so when teachers said that the war was over (and teachers were infallible as far as I was concerned), the war must have been finished and the good guys must have finished the job they set out to do.
I remember feeling confusion when seeing news reports in the two years that followed showing that the war was anything but over and the pathetic pictures of people desperately trying to flee from Saigon in 1975. The events that were to follow in Vietnam were hideous and the critics of the United States were strangely muted in their condemnation of a regime that killed countless numbers of its own people and drove thousands into becoming boat people.
Having been on the left of centre, I’m sure I would have marched against the Vietnam War as I marched against the Iraq war in 2003. President Bush has conceded that there are similarities between the two and with mid-term elections coming up in the United States; there is a prospect of the American people saying enough is enough.
Maybe the United States soldiers aren’t the good guys, maybe they never were, only a naïve mind would excuse them all their wrongdoings, but one thing I know, that what followed in Vietnam was hideously different from what had been imagined by anyone who thought the war was over. Perhaps the Iraq invasion should never have taken place, but the clock cannot be turned back. If the United States decides to withdraw now, there will be rejoicing in some quarters; will the same people rejoice as the country descends into a bloody anarchy and civil war? Or will they be as muted now as they were thirty years ago when it became clear that war was anything but over?