As The State Department Historian, Ambassador Edward Brynn, noted this morning, today's conference on "The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975" is the sixth in a series spanning more than a decade, and represents the office's “most ambitious effort to date to bring together those who played a seminal role in this conflict, and those who have dedicated their lives to identifying and assessing Vietnam's enormous consequences.”
Speaking at the conference today, Secretary Clinton said, "For Americans of my generation, the war in Vietnam shaped the way we view the world and our country. Like everyone in those days, I had friends who enlisted -- male friends who enlisted -- were drafted, resisted, or became conscientious objectors; many long, painful, anguished conversations. And yet, the lessons of that era continue to inform the decisions we make. And for Vietnamese of the same generation who saw their country torn apart by war and who shared also the anguish, the loss of loved ones, friends, and family members as so many Americans did, the memories are also vivid and, for many, still painful.
"People do not easily shake off the weight of history. All over the world, we see the bitter legacy of old conflicts and enmities. It is a source of many of our most persistent challenges. I see it every day as I work with governments on very intractable conflicts that are difficult to even imagine resolving because of the accumulated history of mistrust, of violence that has joined peoples together over time. But how remarkable it is that the American and Vietnamese people have decided to leave behind a history they could not change and embrace a future that we can shape together."
Recalling a visit to Hanoi ten years ago, Secretary Clinton said, "...the most moving experience was our visit to a site where Vietnamese and American archeologists, along with American and Vietnamese soldiers, were searching together for the remains of a missing United States pilot who had crashed 33 years before, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Evert. Bill and I stood there watching this work with Lieutenant Colonel Evert's children, now grown beside us. We watched the workers carefully sift through the mud. Knee deep, they painstakingly excavated the fragments of Colonel Evert's F-105 fighter plane and the tatters of his uniform. It was a sacred site and both sides were joined in that work. The Vietnamese Government had sent engineers to help, villagers had come forward with artifacts and information, and eventually the Everts were able to take their father home.
"...The image of that dig 10 years ago has stayed with me. Americans and Vietnamese covered in mud, searching together for traces of a shared and painful past, not because they sought to relive it nor to open old wounds, but because together we recognized we have to face our past if we're going to make peace with it.
"And that is what history, your work, this conference, and the many volumes that have been published, is all about. Historians are excavating, sifting, and straining, helping us know our history more fully so that we can put the past behind us and move forward together.
"The progress between Vietnam and the United States has been breathtaking. When I was in Hanoi to help commemorate the 15th anniversary of the normalization of relations, I addressed a large group of American and Vietnamese businesses that are working together. Our trade agreement has created jobs and spurred growth on both sides of the Pacific. Our friendship has become an anchor of security and stability in the region. An entire generation of young people has grown up knowing only peace between Vietnam and America, and the relationships that they are forming through educational and cultural exchanges, through new businesses and social networks are drawing us even closer together."
You can read the full text of Secretary Clinton's remarks here.