America was wrong about Vietnam in 1965. Now, no one seriously disputes the idea that the “American War” was a battle for independence. It was a civil war, but at the time American leadership was obsessed with the idea that the dominos would fall and all of Asia would be dominated by Mao and the Chinese dragon. Didn’t anyone know how much the Vietnamese disliked and distrusted the Chinese? They had been rivals for a thousand years (or was it two thousand?).
But this post isn’t about the war – exactly. It’s about the skyline of Saigon. As I was sipping my beer last night I looked out at the tall buildings dominating the skyline. The four tallest buildings, emblazoned with logos, were Dai-Ichi Life, the Caravelle Hotel, the Sheraton Hotel, and SUNWAH Tower – a Japanese insurer, a French luxury hotel, an American hotel chain, and a diversified conglomerate based in Hong Kong. I couldn’t help but wonder what Ho Chi Minh would think if he could see the city that bears his name?
The Vietnamese fought and won wars against the Japanese, the Chinese, the French, and the Americans, and now the Saigon skyline is dominated by companies from each of these four countries. It’s not about who won or lost; it’s about the tragedy and irony for Saigon and all of Vietnam in 2009. I can’t judge whether today’s Vietnamese think the price they paid was worth it. I think they probably believe it was. 60% of today’s population was born after the end of the war. It’s history for them. I can say that it was not worth the lives and price the American people paid in that war or the damage they caused to this country.
Now Vietnam has its independence and it’s finding its footing in the world. The country is on a roll. It is definitely on its way, but the irony is that its former enemies are leading the charge. Make no mistake, there is a lot of talent and entrepreneurial drive in Vietnam, but the Dai-Ichis, Caravelles, Sheratons, and SunWahs had a head start. They didn’t have to invent and reinvent themselves after 30+ years of civil war.