What connection does Lam draw between Waterloo and the Vietnam War?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In an article for New America Media, second-generation Vietnamese American Andrew Lam relates a trip he and his family once made to the site of the battle of Waterloo. The poignancy of the piece is reflected primarily in the figure of Lam's father, a former South Vietnamese general forced with his family to flee their homeland just before the fall of Saigon in 1975.

General Lam is someone with an extensive knowledge of military history. In particular, he is an unabashed admirer of Napoleon. And it is this unflinching admiration for the Corsican general that provides a connection in Lam's article between the battle of Waterloo and the Vietnam War.

To a large extent, General Lam identifies strongly with his fallen hero. Both were ignominiously defeated, despite acute tactical brilliance; both lost everything they had; and both were exiled to a foreign land in which they never once felt at home. Neither general is willing or able to admit their shortcomings; they both felt defeated by the irresistible forces of fate rather than their respective opponents' superior military capabilities or tactical ability.

As General Lam casts a misty eye over the battlefield, he contemplates history, not just that fateful day in 1815, but his own tragic personal history—a history inextricably linked with that of the homeland from which he is to be permanently exiled. In mourning for Napoleon, he mourns for himself.