Soundtrack: Devil Devil by Milck
Explosions shook the air. Vietnam heard the whirring of helicopter blades and feet pounding against asphalt as people scrambled for an escape–echoes from a distant reality. But what wasn’t muted, what was so real that it pumped fire through her veins, was the sight of her flag wavering in the dusty wind amidst the wreckage of Saigon.
She held up her shaking hands to see red seeping down her wrists and filling the cracks in her skin. It was beautiful, that color.
By the end of ’73, the United States had pulled his forces out and let North Vietnam’s stay. She wondered why he’d conceded to so much, but then thought maybe he was just happy to leave.
They stood on the flat rooftop and overlooked the aftermath of the war’s final, chaotic day.
“Well, that’s it,” America said. “We’re out. All of us. It’s over.” He kicked a pebble across the roof. “Nineteen goddamn years of killing and suffering and nothing to show for it.”
“Twenty-seven years,” she said.
“It was twenty-seven years for me.” Vietnam turned to him. “Twenty-seven years of bleeding for my sovereignty.” America didn’t say anything, but his eyes narrowed. “Why do you think it is that we are expected to earn the right to life? That people have to die before we can be free of foreign shackles?”
“Oh, come on. We both know this war wasn’t about rising above colonial oppression. It was about power and control, about poisoning the whole country with your ideology.”
“And in that way, we understand each other.” She paused. “You may despise us, but you’re playing a losing game. You will never kill the revolution we’ve put in motion.”
A sardonic smile tugged the corner of America’s mouth. “I don’t have beat communism, I just have to beat Russia.”
“Do you really think your problems will end with her?” She met his condescension with intense eyes. “You can destroy the Soviet Union–you could destroy it one-hundred times over, but I will still be here and other like me will still be here.”
“Is that an invitation?” His voice was louder than before, the result of a fragile psyche unraveling.
She smiled. “You hate it, don’t you? That a poor, Asian ‘hellhole’ made an international embarrassment of you. You wasted nineteen years only to wallow in doubt and defeat.”
“Keep talking,” he said in a low voice. “I’ll remember all of this when you start begging me for aid after your shitty economic system inevitably collapses on itself.”
“You can enjoy that fantasy. Meanwhile, I will revel in the reality that this failure is one you will never get to live down.”
They sat across the table from each other. His navy suit was pressed, so were her lips. She opened her briefcase and he opened his mouth.
“Told you so.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Told me what?”
“That your economy would go to shit and you’d want my help one day. That came after you said, ‘America, you’re a stupidly handsome imperialist bastard. I hate you, you racist pig.'”
“Those weren’t my words, but I don’t disagree with them.”
“Thank you. Anyway, I’m not opposed to hitting the reset button, but there’s the POW and MIAs problem we need to work out.”
“And what about the issue regarding the use of Agent Orange?”
“Well, what about your war with Cambodia?” So like America to shift the subject when blame came up. “Congratulations, by the way,” he said before laughing. “The communist world is kind of a clusterfuck right now, huh? You’re all just a bunch of little chickens runnin’ around with no heads, bumping into each other.”
“Be careful how you speak to me, or I will turn you into the headless chicken.”
“See, that’s the problem. You guys get mad too easily. But hey, knock yourself out with that war. It makes my job easier.”
Vietnam watched over crop fields that had been plowed again and again and again, fruitlessly chasing an unreachable quota. A scarce few fields were ripe with food, but it would never be enough. Mosquitos took rest in the sickly paddies that should have been growing rice. In the distance, a row of empty factories lined the horizon.
There was an ache in her gut, something beyond physical. The feeling weighed down on her like an anchor. It was always there, always hurting. Pain and anger, together and potent. She’d struggled to place it, just what that ache was. But looking out across her famine-stricken land, it came to her.
America had his hands in his pockets and was admiring the shiny, new building that was the US embassy in Hanoi. “Should I have brought ribbon and scissors?”
“But this is special. It’s a true testament to the end of the Cold War.” She looked at him, signaling him to go on. “We’ve moved past the ‘us versus them’ attitude that prevented communists and sane countries from opening embassies, resolving trade issues, and becoming friends with each other.”
“We’re not friends. This may be the start of an improved relationship, but I will be watching you carefully. If you slip up, I will not hesitate to protect my interests.”
“I wouldn’t want it any other way. Now, are we gonna open that champagne, or what?”
“This isn’t for you. I’m heading to Beijing to meet with my,” she hesitated, “allies.”
“A communist party, huh? Hey, don’t walk away. I want credit for that. Come on.”
After the “party,” she stepped outside for a breath of cool, crisp air and saw that North Korea had done the same. He smoked without saying a word, as if she wasn’t even there.
It was then, under the porch lights, that she was able to get a good look at him for the first time that night. She noticed the darkness under his eyes and how the youthful vigor had been drained from his face. She saw creases where there weren’t any before and little red lines creeping toward his irises. There was something sickly about him, something more than just sleeplessness.
Vietnam had no reason to feel sorry for North Korea, and he had a good reason to resent her. Yet, she felt overcome by something and took his cold hand in hers. His muscles tightened reflexively but he didn’t pull away.
She spoke softly. “It’s difficult, isn’t it?” When he turned to her, she didn’t see pain or sorrow in his eyes. She saw nothing–the same nothing that used to stare back at her in the mirror not long ago.
Vietnam held his hand tighter and they stood there in silence, shivering and understanding each other for the first time in thirty years.
- After the War: 25 Years of Economic Development in Vietnam by Bui Tat Thang.
- “Eyewitnesses to the Fall of Saigon” from TIME.
Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange and U. S. -Vietnam Relations By Michael F. Martin.
- The Vietnam-U.S. Normalization Process from the Library of Congress
The iBall Round the World crew suggested I write something about Vietnam’s communist history. The song “Devil Devil” really struck me as a good theme for US-Vietnam relations, and it’s what ultimately inspired this piece. Of course, there’s so much that could be written about so I’d love to explore more in another story someday.
The Vietnam War rallied communist countries together against a common and much-hated enemy; North Korea, China, and Laos fought for North Vietnam as allies while the USSR and Cuba backed them with military support. Cambodia’s “Khmer Rouge,” followers of its Communist Party, fought in the Vietnam War too. However, the KR was really f*cked up and was eventually removed from power by Vietnam at the end of the Cambodian-Vietnamese War.
So, one takeaway here is that solidarity in the communist world was quite shaky at times; Russia had a major falling out with China, Chinese communists massacred their Korean comrades, and many of Vietnam’s former communist allies sided with the KR against Vietnam in its war with Cambodia–to name just a few issues. There were a lot of ideological rifts, power struggles, and general diplomatic nonsenses that damaged these countries’ relationships with each other… but I think, in the end, one principle remained strong: they all sought, in their own ways, to resist imperialism, capitalism, and the Western world order.
I did a really bad job of drawing it, but Vietnam is wearing Ho Chi Minh’s iconic white suit: