[First published October 18, 2005] I had a hard time sleeping last night. I had just finished Le Ly Hayslip’s, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, the autobiography of a Vietnamese peasant girl who grew up during the Vietnam War. Many times, she was threatened with death by both sides in the war, raped, tortured, prostituted herself, was deceived and abused by her lovers, and barely survived. Eventually, she married an American contractor and, even with all her hardship, reluctantly left her family and the Vietnam she loved, to come with her husband to the United States. Here, she made marvelous use of her new freedom to help the poor and repressed in Vietnam through her East meets West Foundation (here) and the Global Village Foundation (here). That’s her photo in the upper right.
Her book is centered on her village and her family. It was split up by the war, some family members going North to fight with the communists, some joining the South’s army or government. This story is played as point, counterpoint against her eventual risky return to Vietnam in 1986 (the Vietcong had sentenced her to death), and reunion with what was left of her family and a former lover, and meeting with communist officials, one of whom also was family.
It is truly a moving and educational story of a Vietnamese family’s love, courage, intelligence, and will, especially that of Le Ly and her mother.
Now, Le Ly was also a Vietcong. Keep this in mind as you see what I have written about Vietnam:
Perhaps of all countries, democide in Vietnam and by Vietnamese is most difficult to unravel and assess. It is mixed in with six wars spanning 43 years (the Indochina War, Vietnam War, Cambodian War, subsequent guerrilla war in Cambodia, guerrilla war in Laos, and Sino-Vietnamese War), one of them involving the United States; a near twenty-one year formal division of the country into two sovereign North and South parts; the full communization of the North; occupation of neighboring countries by both North and South; defeat, absorption, and communization of the South; and the massive flight by sea of Vietnamese. As best as I can determine, through all this close to 3,800,000 Vietnamese lost their lives from political violence, or near one out of every ten men, women, and children.1 Of these, about 1,250,000, or near a third of those killed, were murdered. And that 3,800,000 figure of course does not include the 3,000,000 in Cambodia.
To understand this, you could do no better than to read this book.
It personalizes these abstractions, helps to understand why poor peasants could become Vietcong, and how ordinary people suffered in this war.
I stand behind no one in my hatred of what the communists, and secondarily the South, did in Vietnam, and yet I have nothing but sympathy for this former Vietcong and her family and for the poor peasants, who were lied to, deceived, misinformed, and threatened by both sides. Always, in wars by dictators, the people have no choice. And even if they enthusiastically participate in the dictator’s game, it is because they have been brainwashed (a useful and unfortunately discarded term). If I had lived in Le Ly’s village, was largely uneducated as villagers are, experienced the degradation of French rule as they all did, then seeing the Americans as new colonialists, and then convinced by the North that the Vietcong were fighting for freedom and independence, I would have joined them also.
Le Ly’s story itself got to me, but what did me in last night was the many sad and happy memories of my near three years in Japan during the Korean War. I arrived there as a soldier in 1950, my mind still stuffed with WWII propaganda about the Japanese. They were inscrutable, buck-toothed, savage, and fanatical, bloody monkeys. Instead, I found in Japan people who could cry, laugh, and love, who appreciated beauty, music, and ideas, who could be sympathetic and understanding. That is, I found human beings. What we had fought in WWII, was not the Japanese people; it was their fascist military rulers.
Always remember. It is not the people democracies fight in wars with dictators. It is against the thugs who rule, enslave them, and brainwash them This is why the democratic peace works. In democracies, it is the people that have ultimate power, people like Le Ly and her family.
Links of Note
” A welcome surprise: war waning globally “ The Christian Science Monitor
On the Human Security Center’s report I discussed yesterday (here), the CSM says:
Why the vast improvement? The report credits an “explosion of efforts” in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The number of UN “preventive diplomacy” missions and government-based “contact groups” aimed at resolving conflicts has risen sharply in the last decade. Other specialists note that the number of democracies in the world is growing. And democracies, recent history suggests, do not go to war against each other.
RJR: Cheers. The media is getting it.
“Study says conflicts, genocide in decline” The Boston Globe
RJR: Not all media is getting it. Here, there is no mention of democracy.
“Cold War makes way for world peace “
RJR: And here is an Australian Newspaper that not only misstates the findings, but also goes out of its way to avoid mentioning democracy.
Links I Must Share
Iraqi election officials are conducting random ballot recounts from Saturday’s constitutional referendum because there were particularly high numbers of “yes” or “no” votes in most of Iraq’s 18 provinces.
RJR: That this will be done is almost as positive at the outcome of the referendum. Although the government wants to have the constitution pass, they are CHECKING ON ELECTION FRAUD. In the United States, not even Cook County (for those of you from Molokai, that’s where Chicago is) does that.
The “mainstream” media today, in a stunning display of left-wing bias, engaged in a coordinated anti-war propaganda campaign designed to overshadow an attempt by President Bush on Thursday to rally America’s troops. The effort was so gratuitously spiteful, partisan, and transparent that Joseph Goebbels himself would have applauded it.
RJR: See for empirical substantiation, see in the article the day’s round up of stories on Bush’s videoconference with the troops.
Among 400 Republicans who said they are likely to attend the 2008 caucuses, Rice received the backing of 30.3 percent. U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was second in the survey with 16 percent, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani received support from 15.3 percent. Roughly 20 percent were undecided.