|Cu Chi Tunnels|
For those of us who grew up during the 1960’s it should be a moral imperative to watch the Ken Burns series The Vietnam War on PBS. Tonights PBS screened the inaugural episode, which resonated with me across the decades. The conflict in Vietnam had such an influence on me and my friends who came of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s, who watched the evening news, saw the collection of ever mounting body bags, and listened to the rhetoric of politicians and talking heads that claimed it was essential to stop the spread of communism in the world.
As children most of us were afraid that we would be drafted, forced to join the military and fly to a country across many continents to fight in a foreign land about which we knew nothing and was unlikely to have any effect on our way of life. I, personally, was against the war from the age of 10. While I believed we as a people had a duty to defend our shores from an attack from foreign invaders, I [even as a child] had no inclination to fight for the autonomy of a country thousands of miles away.
Even in my infancy I was aware that General Westmoreland and the federal government were spouting propaganda to support a war machine that should have been shut down. We had no moral authority to impose the will of the USA on a foreign government. Essentially, the US government sought to appease the post WWII French who wanted to continue an to expand its imperial influence. It is for this nominal excuse that we sent our young, often economically disadvantaged youth into the valley of death. To this day I am disgusted.
I have been to Vietnam and love its people, who are open, generous, kind and welcoming. It has been my privilege to walk in the footsteps of those who were compelled by government compulsion to visit this land and fight for somebody else’s mission.It is a beautiful land transformed by miles of pristine beaches, mountains, rice paddies, lowlands, cities, and farm land, which has been transformed by its history and those who conquered or influenced the food, architecture, religion, ideology or technological status. It is a country of diverse political, religious, ideological, cultural or artistic sensibilities. The people of Vietnam are resilient, optimistic, artistic, capitalistic, and resourceful.
My husband was somewhat concerned that the inaugural episode failed to address the insights and perspective of the original French colonizers. I did not feel the same sense of perplexing frustration. Instead I decided that this series is, after all, the story of Vietnam,its people, and the experience of those Americans who were affected by the Vietnam conflict and the American government’s misguided decision to intervene in the politics of a sovereign country that did not, in fact, request assistance. It is the story of America’s misguided attempts to detour the spread of communism, interfere in the machinations of an independent state, and exert influence beyond its borders. In my humble opinion this is not our right or duty. Instead, it is my belief that we have a responsibility to support whatever form of government that an independent country celebrates. We have no right to interfere. And by doing so, the US government launched a political rebellion and mistrust of government that has not abated after 40 years.
It is time to retire the ghosts of Vietnam to history, move forward, accept the mistakes that were made, apologize to those who were vilified for fulfilling a duty required, and to accept that what happened, happened and that we cannot change the past. This is the only path to healing.