IN THE NEARLY two and a half years since the last American troops left Vietnam, the American government's attitude toward Vietnam has progressed from intransigent hostility to grudging near-acceptance. The State Department announced last May it would drop its opposition to Vietnam's application to the United Nations, and promised to lift a trade embargo as soon as diplomatic relations are established; this produced visible results last month, when Vietnam entered the U.N.
But while U.N. admission is of enormous symbolic importance, this alone will not enable the Vietnamese to achieve the difficult task of rebuilding their ravaged nation. After more than three decades of fighting, first against the French and then against the U.S., Vietnam's entire landscape and culture must be reconstructed. Much of the land is still pock-marked by open craters, created by bombs dropped from U.S. planes; other areas on which American planes dropped defoliants will remain barren into the next century. Casualties still occur when unexploded mines in the fields kill unsuspecting farmers. The population of South Vietnam is still dislocated, as a result of the U.S. policy of forcing urbanization through bombing the countryside. The people and land of Vietnam still bear the deep wounds of a long and brutal assault.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Vietnam has not been able to reestablish its agricultural production as rapidly as it had hoped to, and that the Vietnamese will experience serious famine this year. Current reports indicate the rice crop will be two million tons smaller than last year's, or 20 per cent short of the normal Vietnamese harvest. It is therefore even more important than ever that the United States government begin at the earliest possible date to pay reparations to the country it spent nearly 20 years destroying, and immediately authorize funds and send foodstuffs to avert the impending famine.