The sight of the Huey helicopter beside a ramshackle museum
filled with war photographs and artifacts was jolting.
There it was, this onetime war horse of American and South
Vietnamese forces, intact, ponderous, and useless, another trophy of
war. It could have fallen to the people we once called "the enemy"
in any number of ways, but the real mystery was what was emblazoned
on the side: a star inside a circle with the words "U.S. Air Force."
Did the Air Force fly Hueys into Khe Sanh, a former Marine base?
That was news to me, a correspondent who had helicoptered into the
base before, during, and after the famous 77-day siege of the base
in 1968. It also didn't seem right to Carl Robinson, another war
correspondent now leading a group of us on a tour of old
battlefields. The Vietnamese, he concluded, had painted the fresh
markings on the fading olive-drab Huey to show it off as American,
even though it was probably flown by South Vietnamese and captured
Of course, to the victors go the spoils - including the right to
rewrite history. Just imagine what British soldiers would think if
they could see all those monuments from Boston Harbor to Yorktown.
Or native Americans, when asked about the conquest of the American
West - or, for that matter, the Germans and Japanese about World War
II. Thirty years after its final victory, Vietnam's historical
revisionism fulfills a political need: to unify a people still
divided by history, outlook, income, and social status. The results
vary considerably from what we lived and saw.
Along Route 9, first built by the French colonialists, then
rebuilt by US Army engineers, and lately widened and repaved with
foreign aid, one finds constant reminders of the war that raged
along the DMZ, the demilitarized zone that divided North from South
Vietnam at the 17th parallel. The victors remember the US forces at
such datelines as Contien and Camp Carroll and the "Rockpile," a
rough-hewn karst that soars out of jungle-covered hills, but no one
mentions the South Vietnamese who occupied these same outposts until
they were driven out in the offensive of May 1972, a rehearsal for
the final push three years later.
Time and again, the official history focuses on the Americans
while ignoring the role of the Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who
supported the old Saigon regime.
On the southern side of the bridge across the Ben Hai River, once
the line between North and South, a massive statue, in the old
Soviet style, shows a sad-faced, young woman pleading for the return
of a loved one who fled north after the signing of the Geneva
agreement in 1954. Approximately 200,000 southerners went north,
compared with more than 1 million northerners who came south. The
southward flight is forgotten while the entry of North Vietnamese
divisions into the South is portrayed as a crusade to save a
This version of history endures everywhere, never so poignantly
as in a sprawling cemetery inside the DMZ that marks the final
resting place of thousands of soldiers who died in the revolution to
reunify their country. All of them were either in the Northern army
or Southerners in the National Liberation Front; that is, the Viet
Cong guerrilla force that waged hit-and-run attacks against the
Americans and their "puppets" long before Hanoi began sending troops
down the Ho Chi Minh trail network through Laos. …