Vietnam is a country, not a war. Our people have survived foreign invasions for thousands of years. With all these charges and counter charges on the Swift Boat Race, let’s have some understanding for the Vietnamese who gave so much for their independence and reunification. To lance our wounds, we have to examine and reconcile with the past, so all sides can participate in a healing that has only just BEGUN.
John F. Kerry earned my deep gratitude when he demonstrated such compassion for both Vietnamese and Americans in his courageous stand against the injustices of the war 30 years ago. It is a sad reflection on the American political process that he should be torn away from important current issues and forced to defend his record. Why is the media extending full blown coverage to an unprecedented dispute over war medals precipitated by the dirty politics of Karl Rove and company?
It is tragic that to this day, most American soldiers did not know why they were sent halfway across the world on missions to kill for 10,000 days. Americans should care how survivors on BOTH sides are still coping with the damage. Like in the media coverage of the war, the voices and experiences of my native Vietnamese continue to be not heard.
Kerry's critics are selectively using their Vietnam experiences today as they did then, to justify a brutal war that most Americans turned against and prefer to forget. Their false charges are being widely debunked. But who is remembering the millions of Vietnamese non-combatants who died in that conflict? They have become non-persons once again in this debate. Their families live in Apocalypse Forever, and the reasons why remains in America an argument without end.
Viet Nam’s TV war memories are etched in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. Just go to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington and witness a daily parade of the bereaved. The same is true in Vietnam where I have met and cried with Vietnamese veterans on all sides of the conflict. This includes American vets who returned to Vietnam to help rebuild what their government forced them to destroy.
John Kerry was one of these pro-active vets who demonstrated humane concern for my people. I filmed him on three occasions in Viet Nam on trips that brought healing and reunification to both sides. One was on an emotional bicycle ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City with disabled Vietnamese and American vets. Senators Kerry, John McCain and Chuck Robb invited me to show my film at a Capitol Hill event they hosted for Vet Congressmen and Senators.
What many Americans don't know is that these two Johns (Kerry and McCain) who fought in Viet Nam, turned US-Vietnam relations around for the better. For example, both worked tirelessly to convince President Clinton to lift the trade embargo, thereby preventing future deaths of malnourished Vietnamese babies in need of antibiotics. It took a great deal of personal courage for these two United States Senators to debunk the myths of thousands of POW's and MIA's and take a stand for reconciliation. Well aware that the Vietnamese still have over one hundred thousand MIA’s, they presided over ceremonies bringing American bones back to their loved ones.
What has President Bush done? There is so much more yet to be addressed. Agent Orange research, for one, before it is too late. VN is the laboratory since we sprayed the toxic chemicals there. I have filmed Vietnamese postwar survivors living among the rubble in post war Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos with serious Agent Orange related illnesses. Innocent children still die every year from landmines – a persistent daily reminder of a war we want to simply forget.
Next April 30th marks the 30 year anniversary of the war’s official end. Here we have the opportunity to mark the past in a manner that positively affects future generations. The Swift Boat controversy has brought Viet Nam back to the front pages but for the wrong reasons. Yet, this critical juncture presents the opportunity to reclaim the skeletons so that we may learn from the past and take essential steps to separate reality from myth.
Look in the mirror, America, before you rewrite history again: Our ghosts are there alongside yours. We are not extras in “The Deer Hunter,” a Hollywood movie showing us in black PJ’s playing Russian roulette with your innocent young boys. Many of us are Americans now, and along with the 80 million Vietnamese in Viet Nam, we all share a common bond: we want the truth from our leaders.
Tiana (Thi Thanh Nga Transparent Moon) is filmmaker, actor and performer. She made the critically acclaimed award winning FROM HOLLYWOOD TO HANOI filmed all over Viet Nam (78 mns.) www.indochinafilms.org