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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

An interesting reunion - war and peace

I'm involved in an event in Nelson, BC Canada in 2006 that will bring together people who left America during the Vietnam war years and moved to Canada... and those who helped them. Most of these people came as war resisters - some as draft evaders, some as deserters and surprisingly, the majority were women who emigrated to live in a more peaceful country. (Some of this immigration is happening today too.)

This event will feature prominent speakers (including Naomi Klein, Tom Hayden and Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) and a concert for peace. The Vietnam Veterans of Canada are holding a separate national event in Nelson at the same time. Rather than being in conflict, we are working with them to co-host the concert and to hold workshops that will give war resisters and vets a chance to meet and learn from each other's stories. They have more in common than you might first imagine...

Some feel that too much has already been written, said, felt, argued and fought over around the Vietnam War. I believe that for my generation (boomers), it's just under the surface of our collective experience - especially with the current political climate.

It fascinates me that the Vietnamese, who lost up to 2 million people and still suffer the effects of agent orange and unexploded ordinance, seem to have come to peace with their conflict. So have some US soldiers - the Friendship Village Project for example. Maybe it's time for those on this side of the Pacific to look back together and honour the men and women and the horrible choices many had to make.

I'll keep you posted on this event.

(Note: I was actively opposed to the Vietnam War and oppose the US war in Iraq today. That said, I'm capable of trying to work for peace without choosing sides and lobbing hate back and forth. Give peace a chance...)

My dad served 2 tours in Vietnam as a Marine. He is the son of 2 first generation Americans who came to the US from Italy, and for my dad, the military gave him many opportunities. Unfortunately, it also made him fight in a war that he said he fought to make companies like Michelin Tires rich b/c they wanted to protect their rubber tree interests. I've investigated that angle-- and my Pops may be onto something.
But he is vehemently against the war in Iraq and he NEVER talks about his experiences in Vietnam, which tells me that it must have be absolutely horrific for him as a 19 yr old young man. His older brother, who passed away last spring at 61 young years, also served in Vietnam in the Air Force. He had life long complications that were clearly text book Agent Orange related, but of course, the VA denied any connection. I know that both of them served their country honorably, but at what price to their youth and their souls?
Maybe that is why my dad hates this war so much... he only knows too well what a war that is fought thru guerrilla warfare requires of the men (and now women)who fight it, and what happens to the civilians caught in the middle. I have asked my mom if he has ever really talked to her about his wartime experiences and she has said that he has confessed the horrors to her only once (just after the birth of their firstborn) and that he has never spoken of it since, and they have been married now for 39 yrs. That just breaks my heart to think of the burden that he carries b/c of his nation's bad choices. He has just recently said that he would like to take a trip with my mom to Vietnam, perhaps for their anniversary. I really hope that they do go. I think it would be cathartic for him. Maybe he could let go of some of his demons, so to speak, and see some of the restored beauty of Vietnam that was hidden from him during the war (not that I ever hear him speak ill of the Vietnamese, in fact he has always expressed sympathy towards them as being caught in a bad situation) but it would be good for him to see it as a nation that has tried to heal her wounds after such horrors.
Thank you for sharing your family story this way. My heart is with your dad, his comrades and those they battled with. It really must become the very last option (until it's done away with).

My dad was a fighter pilot in WWII. He died at 76 a few years ago and in his later years talked to me quite a bit about his experience (not before). One thing he told me was that people sometimes think vets won't talk because of what happened to them (or those buddies they lost) - he said for him it was much more about what he himself did to others.

You might check out the Friendship Village link in my post. If your dad does take a trip, it could be part of his visit.
Thanks for the Friendship Village info. I will pass it onto my mom. She is really hoping that my dad does make the trip. She wants to see Vietnam (of course, who wouldn't want to visit a foreign land?) but also b/c I think she wants my dad to have peace of some kind. I think you may be right about what your dad said about vets and their wartime experiences.
When the Swift Boat Vets for LIES were swiftboating John Kerry last year, my dad was FURIOUS. He was beside himself that they would call into question any vet's number of "kills" and any vet's wounds. He said: "Nobody can ever really know how many people we killed or wounded. If you do know that you killed someone for sure it is probably because you did it up close and how dare they make John Kerry re-hash that event for their sick pleasure?" He also said this: "The only difference between a flesh wound, a deadly injury and death is a helluva lotta luck." I couldn't agree more. My dad was injured at least 5 times (2 of which were fairly serious) and he has plenty of ugly scars to prove it, and plenty of recurring pain that the VA hopes he would ignore, too. My dad is a tough guy, but this illegal Iraq war happening at a time when he has grandchildren growing up is killing him. Maybe that, more than anything, is why he is considering a trip to Vietnam. Maybe he needs to go back to the place where he suffered as he watches other young soldiers and Marines suffer, too.
Here's a poem by the US vet who founded Friendship Village in Vietnam.

An Important Lesson
You, my parents, taught me that it was wrong to kill . . . except in war.

You, my church, taught me that it was wrong to kill . . . except in war.

You, my teachers, taught me that it was wrong to kill . . . except in war.

You, my government, taught me that it was wrong to kill . . . except in war.

Then you sent me to war
And when I had no choice . . . except to kill,
Then you told me I was wrong!

And now I will tell you . . . my parents.
. . . my church.
. . . my teachers.
. . . my government.
It is not wrong to kill . . . except in war.

It is wrong to kill period!

And this you have to learn . . .
Just as I had to!

--by George Mizo

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