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Thursday
Jul142011

In Vietnam Today

[I went to Vietnam with a local Bar Association, and this is this is the article I wrote for their journal from a non-lawyer’s point of view. I’ll be elaborating on these things and more in future pieces.]

A bunch of lawyers, myself and Bob Dylan arrived in Vietnam at the same time in April.  A defining moment for most of us.  We had come full circle.

Traveling with a bunch of lawyers (I am not one, but I live with a couple) is not much different from being with regular people (I am one, I hope).  The Vietnam war had affected us all, to the point where one or two in group went to law school to avoid being drafted into that hoary conflict.  Now, here we were at the scene of the crimes, amazed to be at the hotel where Hanoi Jane stayed (Fonda, for those who are underage), uttering phrases we never imagined we would,  "Is that in dollars or dong?" And watching Dylan perform in the country that was the focus of his anti-war songs.

This was a bunch of especially thoughtful and insightful folks compared to your usual tour group.   For instance, one of our members speculated that our Saigon guide's "attitude" may have resulted from his family having been Viet Cong.   She asked, and indeed, they were.  What followed was a fascinating tale of how his grandmother had been a courier, his grandfather had died as a result of the war, and his family felt that they were fighting for their independence and right to self-determination.  The irony is, we were told we were fighting to give them the same thing.

I  thought we never quite  got insight as to how the typical Vietnamese feel about Americans today.  But we certainly got the official line, and that bothered many of our group.  For instance, at the "Hanoi Hilton" we were exposed to much propaganda, but never told anything about its use as a hardscrabble prison for shot-down American fliers.  The War Remnants Museum (formally the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes) has three floors dedicated to U.S. atrocities and use of Agent Orange.  There was no recognition that the Vietnamese had any role in this conflict...a balance we expect as Americans.  It made me wonder what image children, who are shown what passes as "history," have of the West.   

Nevertheless, we were able to travel where we wished and were never hampered in our movements or watched--that we knew of.  This is an emerging country, with a capitalistic economy and hunger for our tourist dollars.   There is enough noise and air pollution to give you a headache. Motorcycles are the mode of transportation, and crossing the street is a death-defying act.

One benefit of our trip not accorded to the usual tourist was that ours was the first group of American attorneys to be admitted into a Saigon courtroom.  The "people's court” was a dingy, informal place.  Unrobed justices, defendants casually dressed in flip flops or sneakers.  Justice was severe.  We saw a drug case, and one of the sentences was thirty years.  The Vietnamese take drug trafficking very seriously.  Only two lawyers appeared for four defendants, and each lawyer spoke only once.  The court itself questioned the defendants directly and the outcome seemed obvious.  There was no jury.  This is, after all, still a Communist country.

The bargaining power of our lawyers was in full force in the markets--always interesting places in emerging countries.  There's a huge indoor market in Ho Chi Mihn City and that's where our group found The Watches.  In the four  days we were there, some folks went to that watch kiosk at least three or four times...or more?  Bargaining was of the highest quality, even if the merchandise wasn't.  It's rumored one person acquired ten timepieces.  Later, one of our group in Cambodia lamented that her "designer" watchband was deteriorating from the deet and the heat.  Anyway, if you should encounter a person in some dark alley with Rolexes up his arm for sale, be nice.  He could be a member of your local Bar Association.

And, in thirty years, some of us will be planning our next trip--or maybe our  children's--to Afghanistan and Iraq.

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NEXT: The historic Dylan concert

For more information visit:

Notable Documents: The Navy and Indochina, 1945-1965

Top 18 Secret Mercenary Armies of the CIA

Ronald Reagan: The Bad and the Ugly - The Daily Nugget

Jihad Jane: First American Woman Terrorist

Good morning, Vietnam: first Apple computer store opens in Ho Chi Minn City

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Reader Comments (1)

You travelled with Bob Dylan? Say more about that!
Sad to think that we are and will be repeating it all...any hope of us turning it around?

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjane hirsch

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