Posted by: sharemore1 | February 22, 2011

The American War

Viet Nam

Few people talked to us about the “The American War,” as they call it, when we were in Viet Nam.  Perhaps it’s because people under 40 have no direct memory of the war and older Vietnamese were too polite to bring it up.  It may also be that the Vietnamese have a longer view of history.  They lived under Chinese rule for more than 1,000 years and the French for nearly 100.  The 14 years that American troops were fighting in Viet Nam seem short in comparison.

Yet during that time fifty-eight thousand Americans were killed and more than twice as many injured, some still suffering today.  The toll on the Vietnamese was even more devastating.  More than a million Vietnamese soldiers died and four million civilians were injured or killed.  Toxic herbicides, such as Agent Orange, destroyed vegetation in 10% of South Viet Nam and contributed to an increase in birth defects and disease.

Hue Massacre

Despite the nearly $700 billion the U.S. spent to “save the country from communism,” Viet Nam has a communist government today.  Unlike the rigid monolith that many Americans imagined at the height of the war, the government continues to evolve.  It can be harsh in suppressing dissent and there are frequent charges of corruption.  Other times its dictatorial methods have saved live:  the government recently got 90% compliance with a law requiring motorbike drivers to wear helmets.

The economic system is also evolving as the country joins the world of global capitalism, with the United States its largest export market.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has named the communist country the most attractive investment destination in SE Asia. The current economy is a mix of state-owned and private enterprises.  Companies such as Toyota, Mitsubishi and Mercedes Benz assemble cars in Viet Nam, and Brooks Brothers, Eddie Bauer and Wal-Mart manufacture clothes there.  Small entrepreneurs, from motorbike repair shops to outdoor barbers, set up shop on every street corner.

Motorbike Repair Shop

The Vietnamese have been resourceful in responding to changing economic conditions.  The village of Dong Ky was known for an annual fireworks competition lasting 20 days, with residents competing to set off the most explosive firecrackers.  The government outlawed the practice after fireworks destroyedpart of the village communal house in 1994.  This ban not only put an end to a popular celebration, it abolished the jobs of those who made fireworks.  To survive, the villagers learned to make fine wooden furniture, for which they are known today.

Furniture Maker

Many Americans knew the war would not achieve its intended aims and urged a succession of U.S. presidents to pull out of Viet Nam.  My husband, three young children and I were among 70,000 people who marched on the Pentagon in 1967.  My grandmother, Elizabeth Franklin Robinson, wrote the following letter to President Lyndon Johnson in February 1965, when she was nearly 90.   It is sad to think that by changing a few words—substituting Iraq and Afghanistan for Viet Nam and terrorism and radical Islam for communism—she could send the same letter to President Obama today.

February 26, 1965

Dear Mr. President:

I listened to your inaugural address with much interest, respect and approval.  You made a picture of what I should like the United States to become, –more beauty, more education, more and better health and freedom from poverty.  I will say, as I have said before, if we could succeed in bringing these things about, we would not have to worry about peaceful co-existence with communist countries.

We cannot stop communism or contain it with bombs or military action.  We must free communism and give its followers an example of something better that they will want to copy.

We are not in Viet Nam to preserve the people’s freedom.  There is no government there that is working for their freedom.  We are there because we are afraid that communism will succeed and show up our system.  We are not treating them like human beings.  In my opinion, we will lose what freedom we have if we continue our interference there.

This country needs all the funds we can raise to build the kind of country you envisioned and we must not waste it trying to destroy people who are trying to obtain their freedom, as they see it.

It is a mockery to talk Peace while we are supporting and urging a war in another country and endangering the peace of the world.

Respectfully yours,

Mrs. Frank Robinson

Lilliwaup, Washington

c.c.-Tacoma News Tribune


  1. Sharon,
    Thank you for writing this. I was quite moved by your words and the letter. It is a shame we are still governing with the same horrible tactics.

    Plus, I had no idea Daniel marched at the Pentagon. He’s never mentioned it.


  2. Powerful post — and a great way of connecting your Frank and Libby project with your travel blogs.

  3. I love that letter, what a treasure. I like your photos too but they won’t enlarge on my computer to I can see them better. I hope you can bring them next time you come to the writing group.

  4. Very well written and informative as well as persuasive. It is sad to see that we learned and gained so little from so many lives lost. When we don’t know history and sometimes even when we do, it is sad that we repeat it.

  5. I’ve never seen this letter before. Grandma wrote it several years before people began to protest the war, including me. Amazing.

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