I’ve been asked why did I write about Vietnam. I had suppressed those dark memories and was happy to keep them suppressed. I was against the war but forced to join the military or go to jail. So much for personal freedom in the Land of the Free.
When I went on active duty, the army did their best to get us to hate the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. We had to go over there and kill them for Christ. I wouldn’t mention this deplorable sentence if I hadn’t heard it personally — from a chaplain no less. We had to hate them to justify our belief in the domino theory and our paranoia of communism.
My problem was that I didn’t hate the Vietnamese. I liked them. I admired Ho Chi Minh for his struggle to gain independence for his country. And today in 2014, we are friends with Vietnam, and they even like us despite the years of conflict. I saw the same hate scenario in this century. The Bush II administration exhibited their righteousness when they attacked people who disagreed with them. So I thought, what would it take to change a mindset from war to peace?
As a contrarian, I look to other points of view. The movie, “Dances with Wolves” showed the Lakota Indians’ side. The same idea came to me regarding Vietnam. I don’t recall the exact time that the thought popped into my head, but I couldn’t shake the possibility of pursuing peace during that conflict.
Since I studied Vietnam in college and read about the mistakes the United States government made since 1945, I felt I had the background and perspective to tell the tale. The story also gave me an opportunity to honor three fallen friends.
Having an idea is one thing; writing it is another. The words didn’t come effortlessly, but the structure of the story did. I had to develop the characters, their strengths and weaknesses, and what each had to overcome. Then weaving it all together provided challenges even after receiving guidance from my sister, Hilary, and Michael Levin, my story guru. These two put me on the right track.
Writing the novel and bringing up distant issues did provide a healing. I dealt with shunned memories and accepted them. The main benefit was reconnecting with friends and other vets and hear their stories. While I disagreed with the war and its direction, I can appreciate the heroic efforts of those in the field who faced ordeals and hardships.
So after all these years, it turns out that all those hippies whom middle America denounced as heretics were right, and the government leaders who wore the mantle of righteousness along with a lapel pin of the American flag were wrong. Too bad these truths couldn’t be evident back then.