TWENTY years after the last United States helicopter lifted off from Washington's embassy in Saigon, the Vietnamese people are still paying the price for the humiliation they inflicted on the American psyche. While American officials, veterans, journalists and film-makers examine their navels for emotional shrapnel, the people of Indochina work daily to overcome the ecological terrorism and economic destruction that is the legacy of America's war on Vietnam. If the war was hurtful for America, it was agonising for Vietnam. These days it is difficult to find anyone in the US ready to defend the war. Even former Defence Secretary Robert McNamara says Washington was 'terribly wrong', presumably because it lost. But the US continues to punish the Vietnamese for their victory. When Washington should be paying reparations, it is discouraging others from putting money in Vietnam; when it should be reconciliating, it is searching for the remains of missing servicemen. The Vietnam War was not just a blow to the American psyche: it was an injury inflicted upon Vietnam. To this day, Washington has difficulty getting to grips with the situation in Asia, from Beijing to Tokyo. American values of political and economic freedom can be a model for Asia, just as Asian values of discipline and self-sacrifice can be a model for America. Vietnam humiliated the US, but humility can either be a source of strength or a reflection of weakness. Isolating Vietnam for two decades is more than enough. Washington should extend an olive branch to Hanoi and ask what it can now do to help. Asia has much to learn from the US but relations must be based on mutual respect, never again on bombs and bullets.