Thursday, November 20, 2008

Remembering the Vietnam War

Recently I read "Last Night I Dreamed of Peace," by Dang Thuy Tram. This excellent book is the diary of a North Vietnamese doctor who was killed in the Vietnam War on June 22, 1970. Although her life was only one of millions who died in that horrible conflict, this book reminds us of how priceless each one of those lives were, and how much suffering resulted from the war. I was reminded again of how much influence the Vietnam War (which I've heard is called the "American War" in Vietnam) had on me and many other people from my generation. The Vietnam War is one reason, along with the Christian Anabaptist faith of my ancestors, (and also several other reasons), that I am not a conservative. Conservatives have a habit of choosing bloody solutions to problems. Unfortunately far too often liberals, progressives, and others support harmful conservative actions. It seems that the lessons of the Vietnam War have been forgotten by the conservative leaders of this country, and others, who currently have the US bogged down in two losing wars. It's estimated that the Iraq War alone will cost us from three to five trillion dollars, and, as in all wars, the financial cost is the cheapest expense. The cost of the lost lives, destroyed and damaged families, and the illnesses and injuries are even greater.

The use of depleted uranium by the US military guarantees that the death toll from the Iraq War will continue to rise indefinitely. Depleted uranium has a half life of a billion years. The rate of pediatric tumors in Iraqi children increased 12-fold in the areas where depleted uranium was used after the 1991 Gulf War when only 200 tons of depleted uranium was used, mostly in rural areas. Much more has been used in the current war, and most of it in urban areas, which means that long after the United States is as gone and forgotten as the ancient Babylonians, there will still be children in what in now Iraq coming down with potentially fatal tumors, as a direct result of the current military violence of the US. No dictator in history has yet been guilty of threatening the lives of children whose ancient ancestors have yet to be born, but that is exactly what the US is now doing in Iraq. The question that must be asked is this: is this the worst evil that any nation has ever inflicted on others, or is it simply a tie for the worst?

Dang Thuy Tram in her diary expresses some of the sentiment that the Vietnamese felt as they were targeted with US military violence not so long ago. This is also the sentiment that will be used to curse the US by other innocent victims, possibly for the next several thousand centuries. Hear her words:

"Oh! War! How I hate it, and I hate the belligerent American devils. Why do they enjoy massacring kind, simple folks like us? Why do they heartlessly kill, life-loving young men like Lam, like Ly, Like Hung and the thousand others, who are only defending their motherland with so many dreams" (Page 39)?

"The bleeding has stopped; the patient's urine has become clear and normal. A life saved should be a great joy, but somehow I feel apathetic and inadequate before my smiling patient, unmoved by his respectful eyes. Is it because I know I have stemmed but one bloodflow while countless others are still bleeding? I must mend all the wounds of our nation. The American are upon us like blood-thirsty devils, stealthily sinking their fangs into our bodies. Only when we have chased them all out of Vietnam will our blood stop pouring into the earth" (Page 47).

"Be willing to die, but also be willing to love life dearly, this precious thing that our people have paid for with blood and tears for twenty-three years" (Page 57).

"Every time I say good-bye to you, my young brother, I realize I love you even more. Hugging you in my arms, kissing your eyes, I feel that nothing can make us forget the hours and minutes we share. You have asked me many times why I love you. Why? It's because of your suffering, because of your courage before tremendous dangers, and because your heart thrists for love, but your life is lonely and cold" (Page 68).

"Life spreads before us in a thousand pieces of love, pain, hope, and jealously. Half of our heart is filled with red blood, half with black" (Page 69).

"Now Duong is captured again. Fresh out of prison - still not yet recovered from that saga - he has to weep for his father, shot by the Americans. His father's funeral was barely over before the enemy came again and killed his big brother in a tunnel, and captured Duong and took him away. They burned down his house. His mother is left to weep silently by her son's body, on the bare, charred ground of their burnt home. Is there anything more painful than that" (Page 74)?

"Late at night, I'm lying next to my comrades. They are sound asleep, their breaths are even. Outside artillery shells explode all over the sky. Oh. my comrades, we breathe the same air on this fiery, smoky battlefield. Let's love and care for one another" (Page 205)

"Come to me, squeeze my hand, know my loneliness, and give me the love, the strength to prevail on the perilous road before me" (Page 225).

(A foot note on page 223 states: The bombs and chemical defoliants used during the war decimated the bird population of Vietnam. Many Vietnamese commented on the eerie quiet, and on how sad they felt in the absence of birdsong.)

We should have learned a lot by now from these horrible mistakes we've made as a nation, mistakes that have resulted in the premature deaths of millions of people, most of them innocent women and children. One thing we know for sure is that neither the Vietnam War, nor any war we've been involved in since has had anything to do with defending the US. These wars have been about imposing our will on other nations, stealing resources, trying out new weapons, padding the Pentagon's budget, yielding to weapons manufacturer's pressure, and lobbyist's influence, and other reasons, but not about making the US safer. Families, doctors, and birds in Vietnam have never threatened the US. If there are any wonderful diaries like this left from the Iraq War, diaries that help us view the war from our victim's perspective, will we ever see them, considering that there is a lot more censorship imposed on the media now than during the Vietnam War? To get an idea of what the victim's perspective is in the current Iraq War, check Baghdad Burning at, and when you get a chance, read "Last Night I Dreamed of Peace."

Leonard Nolt


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