ALMOST TWO YEARS to the day after the last Americans left Saigon, the State Department announced last week that it would drop its opposition to Vietnam's application to join the United Nations, and promised to lift a trade embargo as soon as diplomatic ties are formally established.
The announcement marks a halting step forward in the U.S. attitude toward Vietnam. In the two years since Saigon's liberation, the U.S. has vetoed three U.N. applications from Vietnam, and has steadily maintained its trade embargo. The Vietnamese have made efforts to meet America halfway--delivering the bodies of American servicemen this spring and promising to intensify efforts to find the 800 Americans still listed as missing in action--and the Carter administration seems sincere in its desire to normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam.
But although the U.S. has finally made diplomatic overtures to Vietnam, the government has consistently refused to acknowledge its moral obligation to give the reparation aid Vietnam needs so badly for the reconstruction of a society destroyed by more than 15 years of struggle against one of the most industrially advanced nations of the world.
When the last Americans were evacuated from Saigon, they left behind them a million orphans, 181,000 physically disabled Vietnamese, and three million unemployed South Vietnamese. Even more serious, perhaps, was the total economic and social dislocation of the Vietnamese population caused by America's decision to bomb and defoliate the Vietnamese countryside, disregarding--or, more probably, desiring--the consequences that action would have on a primarily agrarian society.
Private American organizations have been permitted to send $4 million in humanitarian aid, and the U.S.-supported International Bank for Reconstruction and Development has lent Vietnam $44 million, but the U.S. government continues to ignore its obligation to send direct reconstruction aid to Vietnam.
The U.S. House of Representatives last week reaffirmed its opposition to aid for Vietnam, apparently ignoring the fact that former President Richard M. Nixon secretly promised Vietnam $3.25 billion in reconstruction aid during the 1973 Paris negotiations. Congress may justifiably consider itself under no obligation to fulfill Nixon's secret promises; but that does not eliminate America's moral obligation to aid the people of Vietnam. President Carter and Congress should renounce the position reaffirmed last week--as the U.S. renounced its opposition to Vietnam's U.N. application--and send the reconstruction aid Vietnam so badly needs, and America so clearly owes.