As Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in late April, 1975, Americans escaped by helicopter from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in the conquered capital of South Vietnam.
"No matter what you think about the war, the hurried American exit was a tragedy and not handled at all efficiently," said Gary Hess, a distinguished research professor of history at Bowling Green State University, during a taping of The Editors television program.
Three decades later, there hasn't been reconciliation in the United States over the Vietnam War, he said.
"Many of the differences that existed between Americans back in the 1960s and '70s are still very much a part of our political culture - as we were reminded during the 2004 presidential election," Mr. Hess said.
Americans lost confidence in their government as a result of the war, and their trust was further eroded during the Watergate scandal in which President Richard Nixon resigned.
Protests at home against the war and public reaction to the counterculture "figure into a very turbulent period in American history and a period that still influences us," Mr. Hess said.
He sees some similarities between the U.S. nation-building efforts in South Vietnam and Iraq.
"But the differences are more significant," he said. "In the case of Iraq, it's hard to say that the insurgency has any deep roots in the country. Whereas in the case of Vietnam, the Viet Cong had very strong roots built up over the years fighting against the French. It was a much more legitimate insurgency than what we face in Iraq today."
The legacy of the Vietnam War suggests that "Americans need to think very deeply before getting involved in distant problems [and] cultures that they don't understand very well," Mr. Hess said.
"And I think instinctively Americans recognize that," he continued. "It's tragic that it took a war and 58,000 lives to send that message home."
Mr. Hess was questioned by Thomas Walton, vice president-editor of The Blade.
The Editors will be broadcast at 8:30 tonight on WGTE-TV, Channel 30, and at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on WBGU-TV, Channel 27.
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