Friday, January 15, 2010


On the night that Huyen's Great Grandmother died, I had tea with a 68-year-old man wearing a green jacket and a traditional Vietnamese bamboo army helmet. The man shook my hand many times and then began to tell everyone who would listen a story. The man started to talk about the war with America and how he had served in the war. With great pride he told about how he had given two American P.O.W.'s sandals because they had no shoes.

Two days later, at the funeral, Huyen mentioned to me for the first time that her Great Grandmother had just two children. One of her children was Huyen's Grandmother who I have spent lots of time with. Her other child was a son who was killed in the war with America. Like Huyen's Uncle who died fighting America, his body was never found. When I learned this, it was a kick to the gut. Huyen's Great Grandmother was always so good to me -- she would hold my hand as we drank tea every time I would visit her -- despite the fact that my country killed her only son. In Vietnam, having a son is of the utmost importance. A son is the person who will take care of his parents when they get old. America changed Huyen's Great Grandmother's life for the worse and she held no bitterness towards me.

At the funeral, Huyen's Grandfather and some other relatives took me over to the cemetery where many members of their family are buried. They pointed out who people were and lit incense on their graves. As we started to leave, I saw that one headstone was missing the ceramic box that contains the deceased person's bones. I asked why the box was missing and Huyen's Grandfather's brother told me that the person had died from the effects of Agent Orange. The government had recognized those who died from Agent Orange as deserving to be buried in a military cemetery and had thus moved the box. If you're counting, including Huyen's uncle, that's at least three relatives of Huyen's who died because of America.

One thing that I learned in Japan is that the Japanese have a great shame about War World II. One time over lunch with my Professor friend, talk of War World II came up. Basically the conversation went from me living in Vietnam, to the Vietnam War, to me saying something like, "Many countries including Japan have a history in Vietnam" (referring to the Japanese occupation of Vietnam during WWII). The Professor looked at me and with great sadness in his eyes said, "Japan has a great shame."

It occurred to me at the funeral that the majority of Americans don't feel a sense of shame about the Vietnam War. When Americans talk about the war we often say how it was a tragedy that nearly 60,000 Americans died and hundreds of thousands were injured for an unnecessary war. The media usually references the Vietnam war as what the American military shouldn't do again. i.e. Get in a war we can not win. Rarely do the majority of Americans or the media talk about the millions of Vietnamese we killed and frankly, the countless war crimes we committed like the use of chemical defoliants that have poisoned the ground here for decades. America has a great shame when it comes to the Vietnam War and shamefully most Americans don't feel it.

In America we have a saying, "Proud to be American." Frankly, there have been many times while living in Vietnam that I have not been proud to be American. I have a great shame about what my country did to the people of this country.