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Marjorie Cohn: The Vietnam War is Over

The Vietnam War is Over

By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 24 May 2005

April 30th marked 30 years since the end of the Vietnam War. Yet, recently elected California Assemblyman Van Tran is pushing the California State Assembly to adopt the old flag of the Republic of Vietnam as the official and only flag of the Vietnamese-American community in the state, to be flown at state-sponsored Vietnamese-American events. That was the flag of the puppet regime in Saigon that consistently claimed to be the legitimate government of all of Vietnam. No government in either Saigon or Hanoi ever accepted Washington's claim that there were two separate countries.

Many of us protested US involvement in Vietnam, and its support of the corrupt regime. The Vietnam War claimed 3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American lives. Subjected to the most intense bombing and chemical warfare in human history, the land has still not recovered, and new generations suffer from damage inflicted on the Vietnamese gene pool.

Although the US government has grudgingly recognized some of the diseases caused by Agent Orange in American veterans who were briefly exposed, it still refuses to acknowledge any of the effects of Agent Orange and other chemicals on the Vietnamese people who have been exposed for decades.

US veterans of that war continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, now a part of our national vocabulary. Many struggle with the lingering effects of drug addiction, homelessness, psychological and physical wounds, and one of the highest suicide rates of any demographic in our society.

In the last 30 years, Vietnam has overcome political and economic hardships to build a new society from the ruins left by the war. Official relations between the US and Vietnam are friendly, and billions of dollars worth of aid and investment are flowing into its economy from around the world.

The flag issue may seem but a symbolic gesture, honoring the undeniable contributions of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the US. But there is a chilling undertone to this campaign, meant to silence and intimidate those in the Vietnamese community and outside of it who have actively worked towards normalization of relations between the US and Vietnam.

This sentiment was also reflected in the vicious right-wing attack on Senator John Kerry's military service during the presidential election campaign. The "Swift Boat Veterans" succeeded in convincing millions that Kerry not only aided the Vietnamese enemy but also betrayed our POWs.

Daniel Ellsberg, in the 1974 Academy Award-winning documentary Hearts and Minds, outlines how the American people were lied to about Vietnam by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Once again, a US president is lying to the American people about the need to fight a needless and deadly war. George W. Bush is rapidly creating a new Vietnam in Iraq, with the tragic loss of American and Iraqi life.

Enshrining the old flag of the Republic of Vietnam in California would constitute still another lie. Flying that flag is tantamount to flying the Confederate flag in state buildings.

Californians should resist the passage of SCR 17, which will be considered by the Rules Committee of the California Senate on Wednesday.


Marjorie Cohn, is a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

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