Our village too …
These feelings intensified during the huge homecoming celebration for the veterans of Desert Storm and the national pride bestowed upon the men and women of that war. I remember feeling cheated and saddened that my comrades had never felt the admiration of the nation as did these veterans of the short conflict in the desert.
Several years later, in response to questions from my stepson, I articulated my position regarding why I thought we had been doing the right thing in Vietnam 30-plus years ago. I reasoned with him by asking some questions.
- Is it morally right to protect my family from harm by others by defending my home?
- If it is, then is it also morally right to defend my neighbors from harm by others by also defending their homes?
- If it is, then is it also morally right to defend my country from harm by others by defending our national borders, placing, if need be, my body between war’s desolation and those I love?
- If those things are moral, is it any less moral for me to come to the aid of someone else, in this case a country, who is unable to defend themselves from harm by defending their country?
- Was it then immoral for America to respond and try to defend South Vietnam from those who would do them harm, by trying to defend them from aggression?The questions, of course, presume a simple world devoid of political and economic agendas and that countries can behave morally. There is, then no clear cut answer to some of the questions, yet in my heart I knew that I had been doing the right and moral thing in Vietnam. I began to search out why I knew this to be true.I looked at a picture above my desk of Dum Dum, sitting on my lap as I took a break during the day, with his shy grin matching my camera induced smile. Lying beside me were the empty canisters from a new batch of grenades that I had been opened. Behind me, vertical on the tripod of barrel and bipod legs, was an M-60 with a belt of ammo draped through and down ready for use. My own M-16 leaned against the wall, within arm’s reach as always.
So there I was, surrounded by the implements of war, yet spending time with this young boy whose mother had reportedly been killed by the Viet Cong. At the moment of the picture, and captured forever, was a respite of happiness and normalcy in the midst of chaos.
I also have some slides of Roch Thornton trying to plant rice and in others more successfully building the new market place for the hamlet. This reminds me of the day we spent at the “Kitchen” laying a concrete floor to replace the dirt floor while we helped the family to rebuild after the typhoon had blown away part of the house. There was an incredibly old man who lived there, a teenaged daughter (who I thought was cute) that we figured was probably VC although we couldn’t catch her at anything. There were also some other children, as always, running and playing when not working with the family in the fields. After we had rebuilt the kitchen they fixed us food and we sat on the new concrete floor eating rice and fish with the family which contained at least three generations.
I thought about the old man I had labeled Methuselah whose leg had healed because I was there to care for it. This reminded me of the many children brought to me for care of a variety of ailments, most of which could be cured by penicillin and hygiene. The gratitude of the parents has never left me, and I often wonder why the parents of children I care for now are rarely so grateful. Maybe it’s because the villagers knew I would ask for no payment and was happy to provide care for ailments unrelated to the war’s destruction of their lives and homeland.
I thought about the gang of kids who followed us everywhere and who would do any job large or small for a c-ration meal and a cigarette. We often thought up jobs as an excuse to give them the food, which we knew would be sold to provide money for the family (we hoped). They were kids who grew up into an uncertain future. There was Co-Lin, Co-Tan, and the other young women of a village with few, if any young men, since they had all gone off to one or the other of the two sides to fight in the war either willingly, or perhaps not so willingly.
As I allowed my mind to wander through these memories, most of which were pleasant and had no direct link to combat other than proximity in places and time, I had the answer I had been looking for. I believe that as a member of a CAP, I felt as if I was doing what was right and moral because we were defending people we knew, lived with, ate with and shared both good and bad times. We were not going out each night for political or economic reasons, but to keep the village safe from those who would do harm. We were not concerned about the larger picture or the overall plan for the war and our part of the whole. We went out each night because it was our village too.
Posted on May 22, 2000
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