Andrew Lam's essay does not contain a typical thesis in that it presents an argument to be debated and proved; however, it does contain something like a thesis that states the central idea of the essay and holds it all together. Lam's central idea can be found in the lines:
I remember thinking, were we still in the war and I his subordinate. Father, once a a tree-star general in the South Vietnamese army, no doubt would have me confined to the brig for whatever it was that I said.
These sentences introduce the idea that the fall of South Vietnam as well as Lam's father's military career are all very central points to the essay. His father's favorite general was Napoleon; hence, the trip to see the Waterloo battlefield in Belgium. Throughout the essay, Lam makes it clear that his father admired Napoleon not just because he was a brilliant military strategist but also because he feels that Napoleon's defeat parallels South Vietnam's defeat, as well as his father's own defeat as one of South Vietnam's generals during the Vietnam war. Lam describes all of the things that his family, as well as what all of South Vietnam, lost when communist North Korea defeated Saigon, such as his family's luxurious, wealthy lifestyle.
Hence, essentially the essay's purpose is to relate Napoleon's fall at Waterloo with Saigon's fall, and Lam's first mention of South Vietnam and the war as shown above is the first place where we start to see a connection drawn between Waterloo and his family; hence, it serves as something like a thesis statement without being a real thesis statement. What is being looked at as a separate essay is actually an excerpt from Lam's book East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres, which has an overarching theme of its own that subsumes any individual theme that may be identified in individual excerpts.
"My Father’s Waterloo—Vietnam, Napoleon and Our Family Vacation": In his new book East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres from Heyday Books, New America Media editor Andrew Lam recalls teenage memories of how his father, once a South Vietnamese general, drove his family all over Belgium to find Waterloo, where his hero, Napoleon, faced defeat.