Secretary Clinton's 4th of July MessageAbout the Author: Angela Aggeler serves as Assistant Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Just say Fourth of July to many of us in the Foreign Service and our first thought is of an official reception. I immediately imagine standing in the backyard of the Ambassador’s Residence (could be anywhere), heels sinking into rapidly degrading lawn, sweating fiercely (usually), clutching an empty glass and trying to make myself understood in the local language. All to say these events can be, at a minimum, hazardous to one’s wardrobe.
This year seems different though, and I feel quite moved to be here in Vietnam for our Embassy event. For starters it’s in a hotel with air conditioning and good solid flooring. But even more compelling is the grand echo of history reverberating around us. Ambassador Michalak wrote a statement for this year’s Independence Day, invoking what has been called the most famous sentence in the English language: “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Yet in 1852, in a famous Fourth of July speech Frederick Douglass demanded to know what the meaning of Independence Day was for our nation’s slaves. Today, 233 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and 157 years after Frederick Douglass’ speech against slavery in the U.S., we have an African American President, who took office in our 43rd peaceful transfer of power of our nations office – watched by millions of people here in Vietnam.
Many Americans are surprised to learn that these moving words were evoked here in Vietnam as well, in 1945 by Ho Chi Minh. Quoting that famous sentence verbatim, he added, “This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.”
It was only 14 years ago this month that President Clinton announced the normalization of bilateral relations between the United States and Vietnam - again, reverberations of history: a sad, shared history of tragic loss of beloved life on both sides. And though, as with race in the United States, we have much work ahead of us, there is so much that is good that is moving briskly forward. We are cooperating on education, security, trade, health, climate change, governance and myriad other issues. And at our Independence Day reception, Ambassador Michalak and a Senior Vietnamese Minister will raise a toast to our two countries, with genuine wishes for the prosperity, security and a deepening friendship. Reconciliation is an extraordinary force for change.