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Still confused by Vietnam

There is a lot I don't understand about Vietnam. When the allied forces won an easy victory in the Persian Gulf, President George Bush declared that this nation had kicked the "Vietnam syndrome," a 20-year bout of depression triggered by the America's failure in Vietnam. The syndrome may be over, but the war sure isn't.

This summer, more photographs of American servicemen, believed still held prisoner since the end of the war, surfaced. As quickly as they emerged, they were denounced by the US government as frauds. Other, better, photographs emerged, and officials in the Bush administration said they would not rest until all of these photos had been discredited as fakes.

The United States demanded answers about the missing servicemen from the Vietnamese, when all the evidence pointed to the fact that if Americans were being held at all, they were being held by the Laotians. When the Vietnamese said they were holding no one, the United States stopped looking.

The US Army colonel in charge of the Defense Department's MIA search program resigned, charging the department with a cover up.

I don't usually believe in conspiracy theories, but the facts of this case just don't fall into place.

President Ronald Reagan said the MIA issue was "the highest national priority." If this issue is our highest priority, I would hate to see how our second-highest priority is handled.

Maybe there are Americans still languishing in camps in Southeast Asia. But even if there aren't, wouldn't it be in the political interest of the US bureaucracy to at least act as if it is interested? What is it afraid of revealing? That it may have screwed up along the line? Maybe left someone behind in the jungle? Maybe ignored some crucial piece of evidence that would have put this ongoing tragedy to rest? Are we afraid of angering the government of the Vietnamese? The Laotians? The Chinese? They deserve to get angered.

Are the US officials trying to forget that they lost the war? Are they afraid to start the Vietnam War all over again? That was the message of that absurd movie Rambo: First Blood Part II.

If so, then we haven't really kicked the Vietnam syndrome -- we're still very much afraid of that war, and what it can do to America's self-confidence.

If there are Americans still being held, I believe we are both internationally justified and ethically obligated to use all necessary means to secure the release of the prisoners. They should not be the subject of committee debates or international negotiations. Their enslavement would be a crime against humanity, a crime the United States should respond to with the familiar clatter of helicopter gunships and the bellowing roar of an angered nation.

Not that this will happen, of course. The MIA issue will be buried once and for all when the United States eventually restores diplomatic ties to Vietnam in the coming years. The POWs, if they exist, will die, like the 8,000 Korean War MIAs. The Vietnam generation will be replaced by a new one, for whom the Vietnam War is the distant subject of a few good movies. The MIAs will be forgotten.

Well, no -- they've already been forgotten.

I don't know.

There is still a lot I don't understand about Vietnam.

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Matthew H. Hersch, a sophomore, is an opinion editor of The Tech.