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Published: Sunday, 5/1/2005

Vietnam plus 30

YESTERDAY marked the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, an unambiguous event with a still undecided meaning for Americans.

Vietnam was a war that, in a sense, is still being fought, but now the battle is over its meaning. Did the end come as the inevitable result of a failed policy or the final shameful chapter in a failure of national will? As a people, we cannot agree on much more than it was a painful episode in our nation's history.

The Swift Boat Veterans who attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for his conduct in the war illustrate the point. Senator Kerry's real offense, of course, was that he had spoken out against the war when he returned home - he had cast doubt on the morality of fighting it.

While it is worth debating the historical meaning of the war, it is time to stop thinking of Vietnam as if nothing were settled.

History has moved on.

On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks knocked down the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon. Now it is Ho Chi Minh City, an increasingly modern metropolis bustling with commerce. Cell phones are ubiquitous.

American visitors are made to feel very welcome; the majority of Vietnamese were not alive during the war. With diplomatic ties now firmly established, the Vietnamese government cooperates with American officials in searching for MIAs. Despite all the lingering memories to the contrary, Vietnam is a nation at peace.

Thirty years on, it is time for Americans to be at peace as well with what occurred, for good or ill. The U.S. government should do all it can to help Vietnam clear unexploded ordnance and treat the victims of Agent Orange.

Vietnam veterans have done much to bind up the wounds of war. That is a way to find the meaning in this anniversary in the spirit of Ecclesiastes: "For every thing there is a season "

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