Where is it? That's what most Americans returning to, or entering Vietnam for the first time want to know. With visions of My Lai, napalm, strategic hamlets and B-52's dancing through their heads many Americans are very wary of the reception they will receive upon their arrival in Vietnam.
Most Vietnamese are actually quite friendly to Americans though. They don't seem to harbor any grudges. As you walk down the street they scream "America number one", "Dallas Cowboys, Awright" or "Do you know Michael Jackson?"
Where is the hostility? It's there if you dig deep enough. Most Vietnamese have made the distinction, however, between the American people and the American military. Even in the Museum of War Crimes in Ho Chi Minh City, which describes many of the atrocities committed by American servicemen, there is a plaque commemorating the efforts of the American people who tried to end the Vietnam war.
No malice towards the Yanks
When pushed as to why they are not angrier, the Vietnamese say that they are, but what's done is done and cannot be undone. The fact is that most Vietnamese like Americans as many of them have relatives living in America. Many Vietnamese also still desire to travel to, or live in the USA.
Many Americans exaggerate the animosity that the Vietnamese have for America. Remember that in this century the Vietnamese have fought the French, Japanese, Chinese and Cambodians as well. And the office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to the CIA, actually helped the Vietnamese and Ho Chi Minh in their struggle against the Japanese in World War II.
Most Vietnamese are simply sick of war as their country has seen so much suffering. Millions of lives have been lost and the people are tired of being dirt poor. They want a normal life, no more Cold wars, no more embargoes, no more strategic hamlets, no more MIA searches, no more firefighters, no more bloodshed.
Many Vietnamese, particularly residents of Saigon, grew quite attached to Americans servicemen during their stay in Vietnam. Even today, street vendors like Johnny, a forty-two year old newspaper salesman have kept the slang they learned from the GI's over two decades ago. "Yoe man, how's it happening?" screamed Johnny as I walked by him on the street. "Want to buy a paper, bud?" "No money" I said. "No sweat". Later as I passed Johnny on the way back to my hotel he said "Hey man, wanna come watch some James Brown and Jimi Hendrix videos". Tired and hungry I declined, but as I walked on I could hear him mimicking Brown "I feel good like I knew that I would, oh yeah, so good, yah, yah, yah, yah" True Motown. True Americana.
A great irony for many Americans coming to Vietnam today is that the war is till very much alive in their memories. Hollywood movies such as The Deer Hunter, Apocalyse Now, and Platoon have a lot to do with this way of thinking. Some tourists expect to see the Viet Cong lurking behind every bush.
Most Americans seemed to enjoy their visit to Vietnam, and they were pleasantly surprised by the lack of resentment they encountered while traveling through the country. One young backpacker probably summed it best when he said "there's nothing more American than Vietnam".
Considering the amount of damage, defoliation and death that the USA inflicted on Vietnam, the Vietnamese are very friendly and kind towards Americans today.
The war is behind them and they want to leave it there.