Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why I Changed My Mind About the Vietnam War

It seemed that all that I've heard has lead me to believe that the Vietnam War was a big mistake and a waste of lives.  This was reinforced by a memory of a Vietnam Vet I would see often near where I worked.  He would walk up and down the sidewalk and spontaneously burst out yelling incoherent words.  It only made sense that such a mistake as the Vietnam War would result in mental distress for its participants.

Then someone joined our carpool.  A young Vietnamese engineer.  I was very impressed with him.  Masters Degree in Engineering, respected professional, savvy investor, well read, etc.  As I got to know him better, and respect him, I decided to ask his opinion of the Vietnam War.  His reply shocked me.  "I think it is great that the United States got involved".  Why?  His father was one of the Boat People that were refugees after the U.S. left Vietnam and the communists took over.  I remember hearing about the Boat People on the news at the time, but I never connected with their plight on an emotional level.  My friend's grandfather was a political prisoner and died in prison.  I didn't ask any more questions.  I assumed he was glad that the U.S. involvement opened the opportunity for him to come to America.

Recently I asked again about his father.  He told me to search "Boat People Archives" on the internet, where many people had recorded their stories.  I did and couldn't make it past the first YouTube video.  I found out that 1.5 million people fled Vietnam after the U.S. left, and that 500,000 perished.  There are makeshift graves all over south eastern Asia.  It had a similar impact that I experienced when I went through the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The feeling was an overwhelming sense of tragedy.  Why haven't we heard more about this?

Today, I asked my friend another question "Were the Boat People fleeing a known fear or unknown fear".  Here in the United States, it seems like most of our fears are unknown.  We feared the Affordable Care Act before we experienced the consequences.  We fear the wrong candidate being elected.  We fear Global Warming.  My question was really "Did the people flee because of what the communists might do, or was it because of something they already did?"  He said most all of them fled because of what happened: their property was seized and everything was taken from them.  He then told me a little more of his families story.  His grandparents and parents were wealthy.  His father was drafted in the war and fought for the south.  He is very proud of his service fighting against the communists.  After the war, he returned home and the communists gradually infiltrated the South, confiscating property and arresting enemies.  My friend's grandfather was sent to prison where he died.  The grandparent's home and parent's home were next to each other, so whenever the troops would do midnight searches for "traitors", his father would sneak over the wall back to his parents house.  Only his mother and aunts lived there.  Finally, his father fled the country on a boat and eventually was able to bring his family over.  After hearing this, I said "You have an amazing family heritage".  And I decided to write this post.

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