Twenty-five years after the end of a war that claimed 58,000 U.S. and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese lives, President Clinton told the Vietnamese people on today that the United States joins with them in honoring the sacrifices of war so that “a painful past can be redeemed in a peaceful and prosperous future.”
To a communist nation still suspicious of the West, Clinton pleaded for a more open Vietnamese society and economy.
He said the new generation deserves “the chance to live in your tomorrows, not our yesterdays.”
“We cannot change the past,” said the first American president to come to Vietnam since the war ended in U.S. surrender of the South 25 years ago. “What we can change is the future.”
In an unprecedented act, the authorities broadcast his speech live. His immediate audience was mostly students at Vietnam National University, listening to a translation through earphones. Passers-by along Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung street, a stretch of TV and stereo shops, stopped to watch — at least a few at every shop, over a dozen at some.
Clinton: Tourist, Diplomat, Politician Clinton was first the diplomat, then the tourist, then the campaigner, grasping hands in the sidewalk crowd along Van Mieu Street after walking the walled grounds of the Temple of Literature, a 1,000-year-old museum, once a university dedicated to literature and philosophy. But his high point came in talking at the university, cautiously trying an occasional phrase in Vietnamese. His wife and daughter sat in the audience.
In urging a more open Vietnamese trading economy and society, Clinton acknowledged that no one can force change on a nation determined to make its own decisions — a nation which fought off the United States when it tried to block communism here.
Speaking of the long war he opposed and avoided by maneuvering around the draft three decades ago, Clinton said the suffering shared by Americans and Vietnamese alike in the war “has given our countries a relationship unlike any others.”
The pain, he said, is shared through the 1 million Americans of Vietnamese ancestry, the 3 million U.S. veterans and others who served here during the conflict, and “are forever connected to your country.”
“Finally, America is coming to see Vietnam as your people have asked for years: as a country, not a war,” Clinton said. He said it is a country “emerging from years of conflict and uncertainty to shape a bright future.”
Clinton urged that it be a future built on freer trade — and also on freedoms restricted by the communist regime. On the red-carpeted stage behind him was a larger-than-life bust of the man who emblemized that regime and the American defeat of 1975 while he lived, Ho Chi Minh.
The president said the knowledge to be gained on campuses like Hanoi’s will be vital in the future of globalization of economies, and so will the freedom to explore, travel, think, speak, worship and dissent.
“All this makes our country stronger in good times and in bad,” Clinton said. “We do not seek to impose these ideals, nor should we. Vietnam is an ancient and enduring country.”
“You have proved to the world that you will make your own decisions,” he said. But his words were a summons to a turn away from the barriers of the communist way.
“Let us continue to help each other heal the wounds of war, not by forgetting ... but by embracing the spirit of reconciliation,” he said.
Clinton Greeted with Cheers