From foe to friend: Vietnam and the legacy of war: When George Bush arrives in Hanoi this week for a trade summit, he will see a country which has prospered during three decades of peace – but is still scarred by conflict (Kathy Marks, 14 November 2006 , The Independent)
Thirty-one years have passed since the fall of Saigon brought an ignominious end to the Vietnam War. The last US troops had left two years earlier. Yet it continues to haunt the American psyche, especially today, when so many parallels can be drawn with the current situation in Iraq.
Images of Vietnam remain profoundly influenced by the war: forests defoliated by Agent Orange; the massacre at My Lai; B-52 bombers dropping their deadly load; people fighting to board a helicopter as it takes off from the roof of the US embassy; a little girl runing in terror, her body scorched by napalm.
But while reminders of that conflict are still visible, modern Vietnam is very different from the place abandoned to the Viet-cong in 1975 – as President George Bush is set to discover this Friday when he arrives for the Asia-Pacific summit. It is a country of elegant colonial-era hotels restored to five-star luxury, restaurants offering the best of Asian and French cuisine, golf courses, and upmarket shops rivalling those of Singapore and Hong Kong.
The Vietnamese economy – devastated by decades of fighting, the destruction of much of the infrastructure and the dead hand of communism – is booming, fuelled to a large degree by tourism. A country that was once a byword for death and devastation is now a chic travel destination, and a must-do stop on the backpacker trail.