Thanh Tan’s column on the 38th anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam brought back memories, and a chance to look at the two photos here. I took them on May 1, 1975, in one of the few places in the United States where the Communist victory was celebrated by a parade down the city streets: Berkeley, Calif.
I took the photos on Telegraph Avenue, a block from where I lived. In one, a man holds up a Vietcong flag (blue and red with a yellow star), and another, a red-and-black anarcho-syndicalist flag (though the white sign was held by a street Christian, or “Jesus freak”). In the other photo, a sign says, “All Indochina Must Go Communist!”
Berkeley was a left-wing town, but most people were not as deeply political as these marchers. I suppose in other places in America marchers with communist signs would have been jeered, or worse. In Berkeley nobody yelled at them. Just another demonstration.
I was quietly sad about the communist victory. I grew up in a Republican family, and in junior high (1965-66) I argued in class in favor of the war. As the years went by, and the war dragged on and on, I gave up on it, though never out of sympathy with communism. After President Nixon withdrew U.S. military forces, which seemed to take an awfully long time, I lost interest in the war. (I had a high draft number and was never called up.)
In the spring of 1975, the year following Nixon’s resignation and big Democratic gains in the 1974 elections, the Democratic Congress cut off military aid to South Vietnam. The Saigon regime collapsed. There was a communist attack on a stronghold in the central highlands, the South Vietnames forces ran, and basically kept running all the way back to the capital. On April 30, the day before May Day, the communists took Saigon.
In my journal I wrote of CBS editorialist Eric Sevareid urging viewers not to engage in “recriminations” about who “lost Vietnam.” He had lived through the fall of China, which I had not, and he remembered arguments about who “lost China” I didn’t think the issue would come up that way, and it didn’t. Most Americans didn’t want to talk about Vietnam. They were done with it.