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My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later (Part Two)

Memory, Writing and Politics

As we drove our motorbikes westward out of Hanoi, we really had no idea where we were going, but we trusted the Vietnamese. We ended up in a village talking with a man our age who had been an NVA soldier along the DMZ between North and South Vietnam. In his little store he had a crude tin tank about eight feet high full of fermenting beer that he dispensed from a garden-style faucet sticking out of the bottom of the tank. It was probably the worst beer I’ve ever tasted, but that didn’t seem to matter. It had been a long, hot day and we were all delighted with each other’s company. As we drank his beer and began to get a buzz on, we told stories through our translator about our relative roles in the war. We all agreed that was then; this is now -- and now is different. There were no recriminations either way; just a mutual respect and joy in telling stories and laughing together. In the back of our minds, we all knew that, in years past, we would have had to think about killing each other. My friend and I made it clear we were disgusted with our government and its policies, during the war and now. We then learned that this man felt the same way about his government, then and now. We toasted each other and cursed all governments, drank more bad beer and laughed. I forget the details, but he had been disgusted with some policies the government of the North had initiated along the DMZ. I concluded it was the North Vietnamese version of what is known in our military as “chicken shit.” The NVA soldiers we were fighting back in the 60s were just as trapped as many of us were; they had their own version of FUBAR: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. What our World War Two fathers called SNAFU: Situation Normal, All Fucked Up. When we left the man’s shop, it was amazing we could stay up on our motorbikes. I recall it as a wonderful moment of human solidarity that transcended the self-perpetuating crimes of militarism and patriotism.

story | by Dr. Radut