“Carpe Diem”—seize the moment, seize the day! It was not the set of the “Dead Poets Society”, but rather on one of the back seats of Air Force One that two warriors had this aphorism on their mind for U.S. national interests and for world peace. They discussed normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Both had served in Vietnam; one had been a resident of the famous “Hanoi Hilton” for five and a half years and the other was a swift boat captain in the troubled waters of Vietnam and Cambodia. As U.S. senators, John McCain and John Kerry both ran unsuccessfully sought to become president. They were, however, successful in their goal of helping normalize U.S. relations with Vietnam. On February 11, 2014, both leaders spoke at the 20th anniversary of the normalization of trade relations between Vietnam and the U.S.
ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) ambassadors, U.S. Chamber of Commerce representatives, business leaders representing many U.S. corporations, military leaders, and professionals from different backgrounds participated in the celebration. Vietnamese ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong noted the presence of “president pro tempore of the Senate, Senator Patrick Leahy, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain, Senator Tom Harkin, Senator Mark Pryor, Senator Jeff Flake, Congressman Kurt Schrader, [Assistant Secretary of state for state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs] Daniel Russel, among others.”
“Over the past 20 years, our peoples have benefited tremendously from that turning point, which has contributed to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific. For myself, having grown up during the Vietnam war (which we call ‘the U.S. war’), witnessed the post-war reconciliation, and participated in the development of bilateral relations to the Comprehensive Partnership formed by President Obama and President Sang last July—believe me, our journey together seems nothing short of miraculous. It has taken courage and conviction, wisdom, and vision from both sides,” said Ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong. From a trickle of students arriving in the past, now there are about 18,000 Vietnamese students in United States.
In a bipartisan spirit, Senator McCain praised President Bill Clinton’s role and Secretary Kerry praised the efforts of President George H.W. Bush. Among the participants were some “boat people” like Larry La, owner of the popular restaurant Meiwah, who had survived the reeducation camps and found a place to realize their dreams in the United States.
On February 11, 2014, the Dirksen Senate Office Building provided some glorious moments for diplomacy, for jobs, and for world peace. Thousands of boat people like La now contribute to the U.S. economy and strong U.S.-Vietnam relations provide opportunities for business and travel to Vietnam.
Photo courtesy of the Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in the United States of America.