Beyond The Noise And Beneath The Fog

By the time you read this, President Donald Trump’s summit meeting with Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam will be a fading memory. Two days from now it will be buried in dust and dirt. In a month, the event will be fossilizing under forty other layers of dead news cycles.

Before we reach that point, I’d like to invoke William Shakespeare.

You see, it was Shakespeare who, at least for me, wrote stories rich with irony, dramatic meanings, and stunning portrayals of life’s fragility and complexity, all at once.

It is worthy of Shakespeare that the US-North Korea summit of February 26, 2019 occurred in Hanoi, Vietnam. I say this because the recent American past includes an amazingly intricate relationship with Korea and Vietnam. Focus on the post-World War II period, swap out the three national names and insert a king, a couple of princes, and a bevy of backstabbers and courtiers, it’s Shakespeare all over again.

Consider:

>Both Vietnam and Korea enter the American orbit as a result of Japan’s actions in World War II;

>Both Vietnam and Korea share a border with China at a time when Communism has ascended in power;

>Both Vietnam and Korea present unique geo-political issues because of the shared Chinese border and the presence of extensive shorelines

>Both Vietnam and Korea constitute by far the hottest sites of combat for the United States in the Cold War (over 53,000 American soldiers killed in Vietnam and over 33,000 American soldiers killed in Korea)

>Both Vietnam and Korea produce an American military outcome other than victory for the entire nation;

>Both Vietnam and Korea include an artificial line of demarcation drawn from parallels of latitude (the 17th in Vietnam, the 38th in Korea) with American support for the southern region;

>Both Vietnam and Korea have northern regions that effectively defy the United States in alliance or partnership with a much larger Communist nation;

>Both Vietnam and Korea present Americans with the thorny problem of having to discern between the dynamics of a civil war and a proxy war;

>Both Vietnam and Korea are conflicts waged primarily by the United States aligned with an array of other national allies;

>Both Vietnam and Korea are conflicts where a major American military commander suffers greatly in reputation (Westmoreland in Vietnam, MacArthur in Korea);

>Both Vietnam and Korea involve a presidential election where the winning candidate asserts he has a plan to “end the war”;

>Both Vietnam and Korea are conflicts where multiple generations of the same American family serve in the field (the John McCain family, the Krulak family, and many others);

>Both Vietnam and Korea are received in American life during the rise of a rebellious youth culture (the flower-child and hippy generation in Vietnam, the beat generation in Korea);

>Both Vietnam and Korea share a popular television show (MASH, ostensibly set in the Korean War but reflecting anxious memories over the Vietnam War);

And finally, key members of the Trump Administration used Vietnam as the site of the 2019 summit meeting with North Korea’s dictator. They even referenced the “Vietnam Model” as a way to influence North Korean thinking on removing nuclear weapons.

Step back and contemplate that for a moment. Set aside your feelings about POTUS 45 and look at the far broader picture. After all this time, after all the pain and trauma, Vietnam has become a semi-open society and nation (15th largest in the world) in terms of economic advancement, growth, and relative freedom. Its trajectory points toward becoming a larger version of, guess where, yes—South Korea. Of course. Pure Shakespeare.

Reflect on the past since 1945. As we put together the history of trilateral relations between the United States, Vietnam, and Korea, it is a much different River than is true for other part of the world, for other multi-national relationships in a particular sub-region.

The River will never stop surprising you.

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