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Trump-Kim summit: Besides meeting N Korea leader, should US president also apologise to Vietnam?


Hanoi, Feb 27: US President Donald Trump reached Vietnam on Tuesday, February 26, for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inside a year. The summit is being seen as an important stepping stone towards establishing peace in the Korean Peninsula and the world will be watching closely how things go in Hanoi, the capital of the Southeast Asian nation, in the final two days in February.

Trump-Kim summit: Besides meeting N Korea leader, should US president also apologise to Vietnam?

However, apart from meeting Kim to settle one conflict in Asia, should Trump also use the opportunity to recall the acts that Washington had committed on the soil of Vietnam during the heights of the Cold War in the 1950s to 1970s? Do Vietnam deserve an apology from the American president for what his predecessors had done?

A few years ago, Trump's immediate predecessor Barack Obama had apologised to Japan during a trip for the atom bomb attack of 1945. So why can't the same be expected from Trump in Vietnam?

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The US aggression in Vietnam is considered one of the most atrocious the world has ever seen. The origins of the US's involvement in Vietnam date back to the time when the Second World War (1939-45) ended.

Vietnam was fighting to end French colonial occupation of their land. The country's iconic leader Ho Chi Minh who led Viet Minh (Vietnamese Independence League) and founded the Vietnam Communist Party, led the freedom movement blending nationalism with the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary ideology. In 1954, the Viet Minh captured the city of Dien Bien Phu and the French were routed.

Vietnam was divided and became a stage for Cold War battle

Vietnam's woes didn't end though. In peace negotiations in Geneva, the country was divided into North Vietnam and South Vietnam with the communists headed by Ho Chi Minh leading the northern part and non-communists in control of the South. At the height of the Cold War, the erstwhile USSR and China backed the North while the US supported the South with an aim of arresting the spreading of communism.

In December 1960, the Viet Cong or National Liberation Front emerged to challenge the South Vietnamese government and soon a civil war erupted for controlling the South and it snowballed into the Second Indochina War with the US's involvement.

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In 1961, the then John F Kennedy administration expanded the US's military presence in the region and authorised the use of deadly napalm, herbicides and defoliants. The US, which propounded the containment strategy, felt it was key to save South Vietnam or else the deadly ideology would spread to other parts of the region.

In 1964, the US government learned that two North Vietnamese torpedo boats had attacked American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin and the then Lyndon Johnson sought authorisation of the Congress for a full-scale military involvement in Vietnam.

The resolution declared the support of Congress for "all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the armed forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression".

Johnson escalated the war in which bombing campaigns (Operation Rolling Thunder) were launched and troops were sent on the ground to fight the opponents. The US president also concealed the extent of the military escalation from the people of his country though that did not succeed eventually and as a consequence, he decided against re-running for another presidential term in 1968.

His successor Richard Nixon campaigned for the presidency with a "secret plan" to end the war that looked increasingly unwinnable. After his election, Nixon expanded the war into the neighbouring Laos and Cambodia and gradually withdrew American troops from Vietnam. By the end of1969, the number of American troops in Vietnam had been reduced to half.

Eventually, the US pulled out of Vietnam by the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 and North Vietnamese forces succeeded in unifying the country under one communist regime. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was set up in 1976.

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The Vietnam War had a telling impact on international as well the US's internal affairs. Post the debacle in Vietnam, there were efforts in the US to rethink its foreign policy action and put the presidential power under some check. In the US, large-scale protests against the atrocities that had seen deaths of lakhs of people had become the order of the day and it also had a profound impact on the popular culture.

The US was humiliated in Vietnam but still its actions there are recalled with horror. Will Trump use this opportunity to make peace with history?

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