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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

April 21, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 11




global perspective The safest place for Americans

by Thomas C. Fox, publisher of NCR

I write "Today's Take" from Hanoi, the Baghdad of its day. The streets here are packed and as I walk around I stand out, a Westerner in an Asian city. And feel completely safe.

Ironically, in the midst of the current worldwide terrorist-driven travel scare, brought on by the Iraq war, tourism in Vietnam is doing well. For Americans who care to travel abroad, Vietnam is a prime spot. Travel agents will tell you it is one of the safest spots in Asia. (By the way, the SARS scare here has subsided and the disease is believed to be contained.) And why is Vietnam considered so safe? Two reasons jump to mind: Vietnam has no meaningful Islamic population and it won the war against the United States.

Consider the lessons:

Islam: The ongoing bloodshed in Iraq is raising fury throughout the Islamic world. Islamic extremists have pledged to seek revenge against Americans wherever they can. Henceforth, Americans traveling overseas need to be especially cautious, keeping low profiles while avoiding places associated with the U.S. government. Bush Administration policies, at a practical level, are making Americans less, not more, safe.

The Vietnam War: By the way, Vietnamese don't speak of the Vietnam War. They call it the American War. Perhaps no one wants to claim it. Vietnamese tell stories here of guilt-ridden US veterans who return to Vietnam to express sorrow and offer apologies. What they find, however, is a Vietnamese population that has long ago left the war behind them.

I am not a schooled psychologist. However my reading is that the Vietnamese have been able to let go of the past more easily than some might consider, especially the past that entwined them with US military campaigns, because they won the war. They emerged from the grueling conflict, which took up to 2 million Vietnamese lives, with their personal and national pride intact. As victors, the Vietnamese have been able to be magnanimous in their contacts with their former enemy, the United States.

I am not saying that we ought to go out and fight wars and lose them. I am saying that with all our alleged smarts we ought to do better in the field of basic human psychology. Our country simply cannot expect to invade another nation, subdue its government - even a Saddam Hussein led regime - and expect to be received with laurels and gratitude. It won't happen. Too much pride gets trashed along the way.

But let me leave this reflection on a note of modest hope. Virtually to the last person, Vietnamese, during and after the Vietnam War, were able to distinguish between US citizens and US policies. They admired the former and rejected that latter. I sense from conversations I have had with colleagues who have traveled to Iraq that the Iraqi people can make the same distinctions. Maybe someday, Americans will be greeted warmly in Iraq. But before that happens, US policies will have to change and Arab and Islamic pride must somehow be restored.

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