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Sullivan's Corner: The End of an Era

By Ian Sullivan
On May 4, 2012


It might take a person with an astute sense of knowledge to know what April 30 means in Asian History, but it is something that those in the current generation should know. This past Monday, April 30, marked the 37 Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. This Asian city was the capital of South Vietnam, which fell to the North Vietnamese forces more than thirty-seven years ago, effectively bringing the entire country of Vietnam under Communist rule. People who will try to find Saigon on the world map will have a difficult time, since Saigon goes by another name these days; Ho Chi Minh City, which celebrated the legacy of this Vietnamese leader, who is known seen today as the founder of Modern Vietnam. The fall of Saigon brought to an end a conflict that had affected the entire Indochina region (an area that included Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) which had being going on for more than thirty years. Seen as a triumph by the Vietnamese Communists, the fall of this city marked a tragic end to a tragic era for the United States, which had been involved in that region for over twenty years.

            But how did the United States become involved in a small area of Asia in the first place? The answer to this question actually goes back to the 1940's, just close to the end of the Second World War. During that time, the Japanese Empire had taken over the Indochina region from the French (which had colonized Indochina in 1887). Many Vietnamese Nationalists-led by Ho Chi Minh-helped to push the Japanese out of Indochina by early 1945 (ironically, they had support from the US Government in this matter). At the end of the war, the Vietnamese guerillas hoped that the Western Powers would allow them to become independent from their French masters-knowing that President FDR was opposed to European Colonization.

             However, this was the beginning of the Cold War, which spilt the world into two major groups of powers, the Democratic nations (led by the US) and the Communist nations (led by the Soviet Union). Because of the ties that the Vietnamese Nationalists had to Communism (and the fact that the US needed French support in Europe), the United States-this time under Harry Truman-and other nations (Great Britain and Nationalist China) helped bring the French back into Indochina, in an attempt to reclaim the empire they lost in World War Two. This eventually led to the French-Indochina War of 1945-1954, which saw the French defeated by the Vietnamese Communists (who had much support from the Soviet Union and China, when that country fell to the Communists in 1949).

            This led to the Vietnamese country becoming split into two, with the north falling under Communism, and the southern portion following under the establishment of a Democratic regime, with the capital stationed in Saigon. The United States, wholly intent on preventing the further spread of Communism in the area, backed up the South Vietnamese Government. To make a long story short, the Vietnam War that the American people recognize was the attempt by the United States (along with South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and several other countries) in stopping the Vietcong (South Vietnamese Communists) and the NVA (North Vietnamese Army), from uniting the two Vietnam's together under a Communist regime.

            However, after almost eight years of fighting-the US was in South Vietnam since 1955, but serious action only started around 1964/1965-the American Government found that it could not find the advantage needed to defeat the Communists (in part by the frustrations caused by massive corruption in the South Vietnamese Regime, and the dogged determination of the Communists in not losing the war). By 1972, the American Government had pulled out of South Vietnam, leaving after the deaths of over 58,000 Americans, as well as hundreds of thousands of their Vietnamese Communists foes and civilians caught in the crossfire (we should not forget, though, of the two hundred and fifty thousand causalities that South Vietnam's Army suffered in this conflict). Three years after the Americans left, South Vietnam finally fell to the North Vietnamese (critic's state that this happened after Congress withheld funds to South Vietnam due to an economic recession affecting the US).

             By late April of 1975, North Vietnamese troops had taken over most of South Vietnam, and were only a few miles away from Saigon. This saw the last major tragedy of this conflict, as hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians, soldiers, and government personnel tried to flee their country onto the American ships that were right off the coast. Journalists during that time reported people hanging off of helicopters, falling almost instantly after not being able to hang on to the swift motion of these machines. In the end, only a small fraction of these people made it out before the country fell. The years that followed would see over one million refugees flee by sea, now known as the "Boat People." Saigon would have its name changed to Ho Chi Minh City soon after its fall, and all traces of a South Vietnamese Government were quickly destroyed. Even though it's been almost forty years, there are still many people that were affected by this infamous event. The only hope that one could ask for is that such as situation should never happened in the world anytime soon. 

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