15 November 2009

Saigon musings: war n peace

the video shows black and white footage of 1968,-
"Hero level of american killer, because he killed 16 american soliders, and
destroy 3 tanks".
a ripple runs  through  the English speaking audience around me.
the video goes on to  describe the battles and deaths, and victories over
"the enemy"
 and how the people of Chu-chi, living in the tunnels resisted toxic gas,
crazy dogs, bulldozers, and SWAT teams to go on fighting in a war that cost
1,000,000 vietnamese and 58,000 US lives.

why did it strike  me as odd - just for a split second - to hear a hero's
title awarded for killing americans ?
ah yes, of course, ....

the chu-chi tunnels were a 200km long network that formed a key resistance
point in the Vietnam war. The tunnel fighters were never defeated.

now 33 years after the war....
the ideology that caused all those deaths has grown mellow, for all
practical purposes, business and trade and commercialism has taken hold of
there are 25m motorbikes in Vietnam, 1000 new ones every day.

Backpacker places and pubs with names like Apocalypse NOw and B52 attract
western travellers.

our guide, fought in the war, he spent 6 months in the tunnels.
I went down and  through a 20m section of a slightly widened tunnel
(otherwise western big people would get stuck).
In the middle of the tunnel I was squatting and shuffling along, people in
front of me and people behind me. the Mexican girl in front felt
claustrophobic. I started to wonder 'what if I die down here, just earth,
can't even move, or stretch out or stand up, or ....- ooops better just keep
going. - stop those thoughts.
We made it out. After all, it was just a tourist experience, it wasn't real
life was it ?

Our guide never goes down into the tunnels anymore.
When he speaks  on the bus intercom he describes history, that he lived
through. he remembers shooting people.
as he rambles on he grows philosophical and tries to make sense of his life,
of all the changes he has seen.
some of his friends are now BIG people, bishops in Hanoi and such. he is a
tour guide who cannot shake the memories...."when you are on the
battlefield, someone  comes to kill you, if you don't kill them,  they will
kill you...."he tells us. But mixed these memories he chuckles and
philosophizes, .... "time goes so fast, and you look back and you wonder
what have I accomplished ?
be happy, if you not happy, you did nothing at all, "
I wish I'd taped some of his speach... it was strangely touching...

I remembered my childhood school lessons in germany: my teachers told me how
it works: first  an enemy is painted as bad, and horrible, then he is
dehumanized and made to be evil.
then  its ok to kill him. he is no longer human after all. He is something
abstract in a mental philosphy and we are just correcting the
philosophy.....the principles....

I grew up thinking that after WW2 we had learnt our lessons.
germany was rebuilding itself, vowing to not make that mistake again, -
I thought after Hiroshima we had learnt.
I thought after Vietnam we had learnt.
I thought after Iraqu.... actually no, I didn't anymore....
at that point I realized something else.

Every time  I hate someone, wish them to no longer to exist, want to solve
the problem by just getting 'rid'of them, I am in effect doing what war does
on a larger scale....
how would I cope with someone wishing me dead ? would I retaliate ?
I don't know, there are no really simple answers  for me anymore, I'd have
to deal  with each situation as  it comes.
But  I hope all possible alternatives for peace are tried first.

so i hope  for the future....
and remember to be happy NOW, because NOW is all anyone ever has.

if this has been a bit philosophical... perhaps I caught it from the
tourguide today... the old man who reflects on his life in a bus... full of
young backpackers on the  way to the Chu-chi tunnels..... .
the old man who fought in a bitter war, survived  and  wonders what it was
all about....
the old  man who is trying to make sense of it all.....

making money and getting a car or a new motorbike or fancy degree, do not
grab him anymore....
a mellow strange humour and a self mocking laugh follows his soliloquies...
he turns off the mike and we do most of the trip in silence.....


Aswan, Egypt, Tombs of the Nobles