vietnam

Hindsight is a curious thing. As you age there comes a need to make sense of where you have been in life, and to put things in perspective. Quite often this becomes an exercise is self-deception and flattery, a kind of personal revision of history, hence the wide disdain for such reflections. While making every allowance for this tendency, and seeking as best as I am able to avoid it, I recognize that some will see this post in that light regardless.

But we are going to Vietnam, Pam to minister, I to visit, and some reflection is unavoidable. After all, for my generation there are few countries that more resonate with our personal histories than this one. So many deaths, including four innocent students on the campus of Kent State, so many horrific images – the naked girl fleeing in terror from her napalmed village, the Buddhist monk in saffron flames – so much deception and corruption, finally ending in the resignation of America’s most hated president, Richard Milhous Nixon. To finally visit the country that generated much of this angst is cause enough for reflection.

My part in the protest movement of the 60s was minimal: some marches, some arrests for public disorder, some police surveillance. Nothing out of the ordinary for an average Canadian growing up in those days. Canada was a haven for those who protested the war, and we were relatively safe in our mild protestations. America was the real battlefield, and although I spent some time there and took part in the social activism of the day, my passport ensured that I paid a moderate price for my view on events in South-East Asia.

But Vietnam was never far from my thoughts, and there was no question that what America did to that country and the neighbouring countries of Cambodia and Laos was seen by many of us as criminal. While fifty thousand American soldiers lost their lives in that war, ten times that number of Vietnamese died, the overwhelming majority of those being innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Cambodia and Laos still haven’t recovered, Vietnam, with its far greater population and national resiliance, has.

I am looking forward to seeing a country that has been in my thoughts since I began to think about my global responsibility. I think it is going to be a worthwhile experience, and one that for me is long overdue.

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