Peace with honour

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The Independent Online

Sometimes symbols obscure the truth. In mid-November, his successor safely elected, Bill Clinton is likely to visit Vietnam, site of the sole unequivocal military defeat in American history, and the foe in a misbegotten war that defined a generation and forever scarred perceptions of the presidency. Mr Clinton will not only be the first president to travel there since 1975, but also one whose own bid for the White House eight years ago almost came to grief because of his failure to fight in that war. The storyline is irresistible.

Sometimes symbols obscure the truth. In mid-November, his successor safely elected, Bill Clinton is likely to visit Vietnam, site of the sole unequivocal military defeat in American history, and the foe in a misbegotten war that defined a generation and forever scarred perceptions of the presidency. Mr Clinton will not only be the first president to travel there since 1975, but also one whose own bid for the White House eight years ago almost came to grief because of his failure to fight in that war. The storyline is irresistible.

Yet the reality is more prosaic. The virtual indifference that greeted last April's 25th anniversary of South Vietnam's fall showed how the US - if not its politicians - had already moved on. As the popular, albeit shortlived presidential challenge by the war hero John McCain proved last winter, Vietnam veterans have at last secured an honoured place in American society.

The Vietnam which lost two, perhaps three million dead in the war (nobody exactly knows) is now an impoverished but ravening Asian tiger, a country of 77 million people avid for Western and US investment. Yes, the Clinton visit will restore normality. In truth, however, normality has been waiting in the wings for many years already.

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