Vietnam: If Your Not Into History You Might Want to Steer Clear
As I try to collect my thoughts on my time in Vietnam I am having a hard time processing everything I was able to experience in the week we have been here. Our time has been filled with history lessons, wonderful (I am talking friendliest in the world) people, amazing (and thankfully less spicy) food, and breathtaking views.
What really got me interested in traveling to Vietnam from the beginning was learning about the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective. Because of this we decided to spend our week in Hanoi, Vietnam, which is filled with Museums, historical lessons, and many people who are willing to talk about their countries history.
I have had the opportunity to study the Vietnam War from differing perspectives throughout my lifetime. I first became informed on the war from the perspective of people who fought communism in the jungles of Southeast Asia for the Americans. Learning about The Hmong involvement in the Vietnam War was eye opening to me. This is a group of people who risked their lives, families, and land for the defeat of communism, yet are hardly ever credited for their fight in the war. This perspective of the war was heartbreaking, and very hard for me to come to terms with. However it was a truth that needed to be recognized and understood, so I did my best to learn as much as I could about their involvement in the war.
After this I was assigned the Vietnam War for a project in my class on the History of American Families. With this assignment I got to know an American soldier and his family a little too well. This soldier was from Colby, Wisconsin, and with the help of the Historical Archives of UWEC I read every single letter his family, loved ones, and friends wrote him, and I read every letter he was able to send them before his death in the war. This was one of the hardest assignments of my schooling because it was so emotionally hard to process these letters. In the letters the soldier described feeling like he was in the deepest parts of hell. He described his longing for home and his loved ones. Experiencing this families thoughts, and going through this families most difficult time through these letters was horribly sad. I wanted nothing more than to go back in time to prevent this war from occurring. Experiencing how this one death in the war affected everyone the soldier knew for generations to come was a feeling that I cannot describe. 20 years after this soldiers’ death, the soldier’s friend in the army wrote the family to describe the circumstances the soldier was killed under. Reading the letter from the soldier’s friend displayed how hard this war was for people even to today. The friend described how for the past 20 years he had wanted to write this family the letter, but could not bring himself to do it until now.
My other perspective of the Vietnam War comes from my family. When my mom was a child, her cousin went to fight in the war. Michael P Burns was a soldier that risked his life for his country. While in Laos he became a Prisoner of War, and has been missing since.
With these perspectives on the war there is really no question as to why I became a full supporter of the peace movement that evolved during this time period. I totally would have been a hippy.
David agreed with this, he insisted on singing the song by Edwin Starr that goes like: War what is it good for? absolutely nothing…and he really did sing in all the time. (if you don’t know the song I posted it below)
He even took pictures to illustrate the song…..
What is it good for?
Enough of these pictures…back to the story…
From my time spent in Vietnam I learned a very different side of the war. A side of war that often gets forgotten or perhaps ignored by dominating countries of the world. Vietnam had been controlled by China, then Japan, and France had been in control of the country until the 1950s. The Vietnamese and Vietnam as a country had been exploited and killed by previous colonizers, so when they regained freedom in the 1950s it was an incredible win for them.
During the time leading up the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Mihn did his best to reunify the country. He wanted peace and prosperity more than anyone and worked to achieve this goal. Western nations wanted to stop the spread of communism that they feared would take over, and in order to stop communism, entered Vietnam in the 1970s. So I don’t bore you to death I will skip the details of the war and instead talk about effects of the war on the people of Vietnam; a side of war that is often looked over by history books.
Ho Chi Mihn was a very profound ruler, in that he wanted to understand the country that colonized his own, and he wanted to gain allies for his country throughout the world. He started traveling the world from a young age to gain understanding on French traditions, culture and language to better understand France. The Vietnamese people look up to their previous leader Ho Chi Mihn in the most respectful of ways. His death from heart failure during the war is a tragedy no Vietnamese individual will ever forget.
While in Vietnam, I quickly picked up on the fact that what Westerners refer to as the Vietnam War, is known as the American War in Vietnam. This might be an indication of how they felt about our involvement in the war.
After learning about the struggles faced by this country and its people to gain independence from colonizing countries I began to see the war in a much different light. However the hardest thing for me to hear was how this war continued to affect the people of this beautiful country to this day. As I talked to the students who offered to show us around their home city I began to grasp just how much of an impact this war has on the country as whole to this day. My teary eyed friend described the day she learned a family friend had lost all of their children to a bomb that had been lying dormant in the middle of the country since the war. The children had been playing in a field together just a little too close to an area that remained unsafe since the war. The suffering this family endured because of their location is something I cannot begin to fathom. However the more I learn about this war the more this story seems to repeat itself. This happens not just in Vietnam but in surrounding countries like Laos as well. It breaks my heart to hear stories such as this and to be from America added a different kind of sorrow for me. My country of course had reasons to enter this war, and to enter all of the wars that it has been in. However I think upon ending a war the majority of us are often able to go back to a safe home and a loving family, so we often forget how this war can not only impact, but also kill for generations to come.
To this day, veterans and their offspring can be affected by the herbicide called Agent Orange that was used by the Americans in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Agent Orange was sprayed over the jungles to destroy corps and vegetation to make navigating through the jungle easier. After this chemical had been used to destroy huge areas of forest, Agent Orange was discovered to also have horrendous effects on the human body. Veterans from the war began to report rashes, cancer, psychological symptoms, and most notably birth defects in their children. However Veterans were not the only ones affected by this chemical.
The Vietnamese were literally living in areas that had been affected by this chemical. Today millions of Vietnamese are still affected by the herbicide. This puts a huge weight on the Vietnamese government as these individuals need care and medical facilities to survive. To this day children are being born with defects and disabilities attributed to Agent Orange; however the county lacks the financial support to take care of these individuals. My guides told me the Vietnamese government has attempted to ask America for financial support to help care for these individuals but they have been continuously denied. After hearing these stories, I began to wonder how they felt about Americans, Japanese, French and other countries that took control of their home. Instead of hatred and blaming, they come with an attitude of forgiveness and understanding. They described how they are never upset at other countries for being involved in the war, or for colonizing their country. Instead they just wish for everyone to understand the struggles their country faces and they wish to help educate people on the lasting effects of war. I believe them to be some of the most incredible people I have met during my travels. Their passion for educating people about their country’s history is unmatched and I will forever remember my friends in Vietnam.