Remembering Vietnam

by Ralph E. Stone on May 16, 2017

Author Stone is wearing  the red shirt
Author Stone is wearing the red shirt

Anh Lê’s article about Vietnam brought back memories of Vietnam for me.  I was a U.S. Army Transportation officer stationed in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

War is a spectacular show when watched from afar, but not so much up close. I remember the B-52 carpet bombing that shook the earth.  From a rooftop, I watched our helicopter gunships strafing the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. I could hear explosions throughout Saigon as the Viet Cong attacked police stations and other government buildings. The U.S. military used Korean and Australian civilian workers who were housed in unprotected housing throughout Saigon. Many were killed by the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive.

In 2006, I visited Vietnam with my wife. Our itinerary took us to Ho Chi Minh City, My Tho, Tay Ninh, Vinh Trang, Minh City, Hue, Hoi An, Halong Bay, and Hanoi. During the war, I did not appreciate what a beautiful country Vietnam is with its 2,000 mile coastline, jungles, beaches, and mountains and hills.

While we were in Vietnam, an Agent Orange Conference was taking place. The U.S. military dumped 80 million litres of agent orange/dioxins in Vietnam. At least 2.1 million were victims of the toxins while another 4.8 million were indirectly affected. We saw photos of some of the victims in the War Remnants Museum in Saigon.

A group of French veterans of the Vietnam War — remember France’s defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 — after learning that I too was a Vietnam veteran insisted on a group photo. There is an irony there someplace.

While in Vietnam, we picked up an English translation of a book called The Sorrows of War by Bao Ninh, a veteran of North Vietnam’s Youth Brigade. Of the five hundred who went to war with the brigade in 1969, he is one of ten who survived. It has been compared to Erich Remarque’s All Quiet On the Western Front. A compelling read.  I also recommend The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which tells the story of the anonymous narrator, a mole in the South Vietnamese army, who stays embedded in a South Vietnamese community in exile in the United States.

Did we learn anything from the Vietnam War? Apparently not, given our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. As George Hegel observed, “The one thing history undoubtedly teaches us is that people have never learned anything from History.”

Filed under: National Politics