Monday, August 23, 2004

Little Saigon Spring

When my oldest son was about 7 he asked permission to go to a classmate’s birthday party. Not knowing the birthday boy or his family and being a conscientious mother, I started to go into what my son calls my police mode but before I could get into full who, where, time etc. he stopped me dead in my tracks by saying, it is okay if I say no, "H would understand." That opened up an entirely different track in my interrogation. Why would H understand? Number 1 son says, "Most people who know H’s family will not let their children go." Now I am thinking, drunks, drug addicts, criminal activity but the truth turned out to be far different than what I imagined and meeting H’s father had a profound impact on my life and changed my outlook on so many things.

Mr. Nguyen was originally a peasant from North Vietnam. He was not part of the original boat exodus but the opportunity to escape came ten years later. It all started when the North Vietnamese army came to his village looking for soldiers for their army. In the course of his recruitment his father was killed and his mother and sister were raped and beaten. Mr. Nguyen and his brother paid for the life of their mother and sister by joining the army. Mr. Nguyen was just 14 the day Ho Chi Minh’s army came a calling. The entire time of his service, he was starved, beaten, and threatened. Like soldiers all over the world he did as he was told, but he prayed that the Americans would win. The worse day of his life was not the day that he lost both calves and feet to a mine, but the day he learned the Americans quit Vietnam for good.

I spent the afternoon listening to Mr. Nguyen’s story and sipping tea. What he told me challenged everything I had learned in school, everything I had read in the newspapers or watched on television about the Vietnam War. It defied the Hollywood images of the Vietnam War. I could not reconcile Mr. Nguyen’s story with almost 25 years of educational/media indoctrination to the contrary. Thus began for me, the first step on a journey that has yet to end. I think of Mr. Nguyen’s story often, especially when I see the Jane Fonda’s and the John Kerry’s cross my television screen or I read of their exploits in the papers and I think to myself, do they have no sense of shame? How can they posture and pontificate to the rest of us when their version of morality allows them to take no responsibility for the blood bath that they helped to wrought in Vietnam and Cambodia?

I am still on the road and I do not pretend to have all the answers but what I have learned about the Vietnam War was not what I thought I knew from being young in those days and I have learned never to let allow anyone else do my thinking for me. Though the lesson that runs deepest is; that all too often journalistic objectivity gets trumped by bias.

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