The Vietnamese capital once trembled as waves of American bombers unleashed their payloads, but when Kim Jong-un arrives here for his summit with President Donald Trump, he won’t find rancour toward a former enemy. Instead the North Korean leader will get a glimpse at the potential rewards of reconciliation.
By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, tens of thousands of tons of explosives had been dropped on Hanoi and nearly two decades of fighting had killed three million Vietnamese and more than 58,000 Americans.
Vietnam, though victorious, lay devastated by American firepower, with cities in ruins and fields soaked in toxic herbicides and littered with unexploded ordnance.
Despite the conflict’s savagery, what followed was a remarkable rapprochement between wartime foes and it took merely 20 years to restore full relations.
Now some hope Vietnam will offer Kim a road map for his own détente with the United States and that the formerly besieged capital city will be the site of a dramatic resolution.
While North Korea remains America’s sworn enemy 65 years after the Korean War fighting ceased, Vietnam today stands as a burgeoning partner which even buys lethal US weaponry. Bilateral trade has soared by 8,000% over the last two decades and billions of dollars in American investment flows into one of the world’s best performing economies.
And while North Koreans are still taught to loathe Americans by their country’s propaganda machine, in Vietnam there is little animosity.
“I was born after the war and only hear war stories from American films or books,” said Dinh Thanh Huyen, a 19-year-old university student who was waiting in line at a crowded McDonald’s in Hanoi.
She said she was happy the former enemies have moved on. “History is for us to learn from, not to hold grudges.”
Kim could take note of the history of win-win rapprochement and how Vietnam’s communist leaders have allowed a capitalistic economy and an open door to the US and others, all while not sacrificing their tight grip on power. Or he could allow it all to pass him by as he narrows his focus for the Feb 27-28 summit on tit-for-tat bargaining over nuclear arms and sanctions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke in Hanoi last year about “the once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership” the US has come to enjoy with Vietnam and noted Vietnam was able maintain its form of government.
“I have a message for Chairman Kim Jong-un: President Trump believes your country can replicate this path. It’s yours to seize the moment,” he said. “This can be your miracle in North Korea as well.”