Today in history: The Vietnam War is over!

Today is the 40th anniversary of the official end of the Vietnam War. The final push into Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) on the part of the Vietnamese People’s Army took place on this date in 1975. Thousands of remaining U.S. military and members of the diplomatic corps, along with some of their South Vietnamese collaborators, were airlifted from rooftops out of the city. The American War, as the Vietnamese referred to it, had dragged on for more than ten years, following the Vietnamese defeat of the French colonialists in 1954.

The 30-4 Park in Ho Chi Minh City, referencing this date of liberation, is a popular gathering place today. May 1, aside from the universal May Day celebration of labor, is commemorated as Reunification of Vietnam Day.

Some scholars estimate that as many as 3.8 million Vietnamese died during the war. Up to 800,000 perished in Cambodia and another one million in Laos, neighboring countries into which the U.S. expanded the war. The U.S. death toll was 58,000, about half of them people of color. It was a racist war both home and abroad. More than 100,000 Vietnam veterans have committed suicide since returning to the U.S.

Vietnamese people and U.S. veterans continue to be affected by the tons of chemicals, especially Agent Orange and napalm, that were indiscriminately dumped on that country and are still causing birth defects in children born decades after the war ended. Adding in the unexploded ordnance that still claims limbs and lives, after half a century it can well be said the war is not completely over, nor has the environment recovered.

The legacy of the Vietnam War is contested ground 40 years on. Textbooks and popular culture rarely reflect upon this major loss for the U.S. military. Although many ordinary Americans would now agree that this was an unwinnable war not worth fighting, politicians and policy makers do not necessarily agree, and their voices are loud. Their argument is that America was too weak, withheld its power, did not do enough to suppress internal dissent, and could have won the war if not for betrayal by the liberals. This serious misreading of history has led to further unsuccessful adventures, for example in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Visitors to Vietnam today are often drawn to various monuments and memorials around the country that commemorate the war and the terrible toll it took on the country. In Ho Chi Minh City they include Independence Palace and the War Remnants Museum, among others.

Today Vietnam enjoys a renewed relationship with the U.S. 


CONTRIBUTOR

Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union, Local 1981 UAW (AFL-CIO) for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski.

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