12/29/2013 12:37 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2014

Hong Kong, China and the Mythology of The Cold War

(Part Four/Finale of My Cold War Recollections)

Whatever changes occur in Hong Kong, may forever psychologically continue to be a listening post for those monitoring events in China, What has been going on without much Western attention is what one trusted friend has told me is an unprecedented political polarization over universal suffrage. The collision is between the Hong Kong "dogs" and the mainland "locusts." Travelers may not be aware of these subtleties under present circumstances.

Nevertheless, as we prepared to wind up our month long visit to Southeast Asia, it was impossible to ignore China and what its impact may have on the entire region. Keeping in mind the grim realization that approximately 56,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam, largely because of our fear of China and what might happen if we lost the war, which we did. That was part and parcel of what columnist Joe Alsop described to me and several correspondents he invited to dinner at a Tokyo restaurant one evening. He described it as his domino theory. It implied that if Vietnam fell, its neighboring nations would also fall afterwards. An embarrassing number of so-called "experts" in politics and academia in high places bought into that fiction for decades.

Now, in my view, is the time for American leaders, beginning with our president, to lead the nation past the cliché-ridden images o the Cold War. Clearly, China is out of the box and we had better recognize how misleading policies of the past have warped public opinion for too long. For years, members of Congress, too busy to investigate for themselves, accepted the support of the moneyed special interests who conveyed many of the bizarre images of China. But whatever we have seen on television recently from Beijing has shown us representatives of a functioning government that has traded in its blue boiler suits for coats and ties that are most comforting to us. To believe otherwise would saddle us with the dead images of the past.

See also: Part 1: A Retrospective, Part 2: A Grim, Yet Satisfying, Return Visit to Cambodia and Part 3: Hong Kong: Memories of the Past and Realities of Today.