Saturday, February 01, 2014

And Now For The Hard Stuff

Angkor Wat Temple at surnise reflected in the lake

No country, no reporter, no individual is capable of experiencing, interpreting, or reporting anything from a position of unbiased objectivity. We experience, interpret, and report based on our personal and cultural history, experience, education, health, and woundedness.

And so I came to Vietnam in January, 2014 having lived through the Vietnam/American War safe and sound in the US as a college student, a relatively newly married woman (1969) to Kirk, a then 22 year old Army Lieutenant also safely stationed state-side, but often responsible for helping parents plan the funerals for their sons killed in Viet Nam. He had no pastoral training at the time, it was just one of his "other duties as assigned" at the Springfield, Massachusetts Armed Forces Examining And Entrance Station, aka, AFEES.

Saigon fell in April, 1975. I was reading the news as reported in the Chicago Tribune while commuting on the CTA, and it was the only day in my 40 years of commuting I missed my stop.

I came to Vietnam in hope of better understanding how, as a people, they, the Vietnamese, have made peace with their losses, are so genuinely welcoming to Americans, and are so enthusiastically advancing themselves economically both as individuals and in the global economy.

The Vietnam/American War has always been a personal metaphor for me having grown up in a family under the rule of a well educated, unconscious, benevolent tyrant for a father and a well educated, passive, dependent, mother who never, ever found her voice.

My sense has been that the Vietnamese's resilience in reconciliation has come easier than my own. I have long wondered what might have contributed to their ease in healing while I had found the same so labor intensive?

Several factors for both make sense to me, but who knows if I'm anywhere close to a rightful understanding.

Patience is one of the Vietnamese key virtues and weapons. It's how they outlasted the French, the Americans, how they played the Chinese against the Soviet Union. I was but a powerless child, with no older siblings, no extended family infrastructure, isolated from peers and no available extracurricular activities giving me exposure to a bigger world and visions of choices that could be mine.

"How long do you Americans want to fight?" Pham Van Dong, a founder of the Viet Minh and one of Ho Chi Minh's closest allies, asked an American reporter in 1966. " One year? Five years? Twenty years? We can accommodate you."

Ho Chi Minh, while a Communist, was best known among the Vietnamese people for his  Nationalism. For Viet Nam he was the equivalent of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King all rolled into one. If those little stretchy bracelets had existed back in the '60's there would have been one that read: "WWHCMD", What Would Ho Chi Minh Do?

I had no super heroes, alive or imagined and no stretchy plastic bracelet.

I lived in isolation in my own personal Cu Chi tunnel for 22 years with no vision of what I was fighting for or how I would know when I could emerge. And, I knew for a fact I didn't have the social skills to cope with the world if I were to ever come out of my tunnel.

The Mi Lai Massacre (March, 1965) and the Tet Offensive (January, 1965) totally turned the tide of the war in the US. Until then the war was more of a political and military offensive that didn't impose much on the daily lives of the ordinary US citizen be they young, idealistic, staid, or weary with the wars that had preceded this Vietnamese/American war. But Mi Lai and the Tet Offensive stirred nearly all Americans into action of some sort.

What the Vietnamese people took from all the protests of the US general populous was our people's support of their effort to be free and to chart their own destiny. The Vietnamese were able to make a clear distinction between us the American people and the American Government/American military. And so, even today, they welcome us, we the American people. They even welcome returning US Veterans because they seem to understand that the soldiers, themselves, had little choice but to follow the orders of their superiors.

Yes, US military, committed atrocities, but so did the VC, ARVN, Kmher Rouge. The same can be said for every country that has ever been at war since the beginning of time.

Part of what it means to be human is to have the choice to be hurtful or helpful, hateful or loving; It is

our choice to make daily. It is our responsibility to self-inventory at the end of each day: "How did I do today?"

Because Nationalism is Vietnamese's overarching driving force, they have been able to reunite their families torn asunder by fighting brother against brother on either side of the DMZ. They have been growing their market  economy into a global presence, e.g. leading exporter of over 300 kinds of rice and the number 2 exporter of coffee world-wide.

I attribute my personal resilience and reconciliation with past wounds to  Kirk's love and patience, to my children's acceptance of my imperfect self, to my faith community that has been unwavering, and to the 12-Step principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. While not officially a member of the AA Fellowship, it was at the core of all the addiction treatment programs I worked in for 40 years. AA understands that you can't begin to heal until you recognize there is a problem. It recognizes that none of us can heal fully in isolation; forgiveness of self and others and reconciliation can only fully happen in the context of community, be that at the level of a nation, e.g. Vietnam, a family wounded by domestic abuse, or an individual who has made choices along the way that have been devastatingly painful to self or others.

I was sick virtually my entire time in Asia: GI and respiratory. Maybe it was food allergies, maybe it was air pollution, maybe it was just the radical change in the flora and fauna that entered my system. But maybe, just maybe, it was a body cry I shared with the Vietnamese people. Maybe, just maybe, all this outpouring of toxins from my body is part of my own healing?

One of my little sayings, most of the time said just to myself is: "In time, more will be revealed."

I think that says it best for now, more will be reveled and I will know when I know.

2 comments:

Neil West said...

Susan, Great to get your comments. Carol and I were in Hanoi in 2001. Having been in Vietnam during the 1967-68 era it was a very interesting interaction. Many lessons of life and accommodation to live by NRW

Neil West said...

Great to hear form you Susan. Looking forward to conversations in person! NRW