On April 30, 1975, the troops of Communist North Vietnam captured Saigon, toppling the South Vietnam government. At the time, South Vietnam was popped up by the United States. Superficially, the war between North and South Vietnam was widely perceived as a fight between Communist dictatorship and Capitalist democracy. In reality, there were many interlinking, complicating factors. One important one was that the South Vietnam government was corrupted to the core, partly by the money poured in by its supporters. On the other hand, the Americans, despite their superior firepower and technology, could not win a guerrilla war against a people determined to defend their homeland. These lessons have been repeated many times since, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Somehow, however, the lessons do not seem to result in changed behaviour.
I went to the building which was the presidential palace at the time when Saigon fell. On the roof of the presidential palace, I could see the front gate that the North Vietnam troops blasted through back in 1975.
A presidential helicopter sat on the roof, so that the president can walk to the helicopter without getting out of the building.
After 1975, Vietnam went through a long period of relative isolation. In the past 10+ years, however, it has been opening up economically, as evidenced by the high rises in the distance, but still visible from the rooftop of the presidential palace. Much poverty remain, of course. And we are hoping to find some partners to set up appropriate service-learning projects for our students.