THE PILOT EDITORIAL - Vietnam: a tense partnership

Monday, October 8, 2001

Senator Chuck Grassley tells us that as the ranking Republican of the Senate Finance Committee, he fully supported the decision Thursday to pass a U.S.-Vietnam trade agreement to be sent to the president for a signature.

The decision happens to come just a few days after a new organization of Vietnam vets has been chartered in the Storm Lake area to help those still feeling the effect of their experience in-country. We imagine the step may be more emotionally complex around their meeting table than it is among the economic advisors to Congress.

We wonder too, how it will be felt by the a local group of former freedom fighters who risked their lives and their homes to help the American troops in an effort the ultimately failed politically. Wait - rephrase that - the politicians failed them. To this day, those Asian Americans don uniforms and proudly march with the U.S. flag in our Storm Lake Fourth of July parade.

We cannot fault Congress' decision. There is nothing to gain after so many years from building walls, economic or otherwise.

We will have more human rights leverage with a country as a trading partner than we have as an enemy. We will avoid punishing a people for actions of a government. We will open new markets, especially for agricultural products, so important to our own local economy. We will allow a flow of products such as medicines to people who need them.

But our nation's healing process from the Vietnam war isn't complete yet. In return for offering trade authority, our veterans deserve something in return - starting with the final, most absolute information on the fates of those who fought beside them. There is a reason we still fly the Prisoners of War / Missing in Action flag in the Storm Lake park. There are answers that still elude us.

Maybe they were lost to turmoil and time. If so, there is nothing for Vietnam to lose in allowing access to all records dating to the war era, and all sites where physical clues to the fate of Americans may remain.

The next issue to be faced is whether Congress will grant trade promotion authority to President Bush. In a time of economic uncertainty and potentially war, such authority could be used to prevent terrorists from succeeding in their goal to cripple global economic cooperation - if it is used with great wisdom.

It seems that in a time of turmoil, it is smarter to reach out a hand to the world - not to mention a bag of northwest Iowa corn and a loin of northwest Iowa pork - than to draw back.

We hope the process will not be too painful for those who served us so courageously a generation ago. But the war today is an economic one, and it ultimately will not be won with guns and missiles, but with global unity.