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My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later (Part Two)

Memory, Writing and Politics

I’m not as naïve as I was 50 years ago on that mountaintop overlooking the Cambodian border in Vietnam. I know the rise of a seasonal wave of Social Darwinism when I see it. We’re probably closer to civil war in this country than at any time in modern memory. As is the nature of our times, this civil war may break out in "acts of terror” by “losers,” as Donald Trump would say. In an unprecedented fashion, President Trump is playing hard to his core constituency, the people who mobbed to his speeches, people he’d stroke like a giant cat by hollering, “Punch him in the face!” when a heckler disrupted his words. He’s abandoning sensible Republicans on things like the Paris Accords. He sucks up to Saudi Arabia and Israel, as he intentionally insults Germany, France and Europe. Established coalitions are being thrown into topsy-turvy confusion. Political factions, including the fragmented left, begin to wonder what strange bedfellow they should bunk up with. Corruption and war have crawled into our entertainment industry and found a lucrative home. We are becoming addicted to the i-phones we carry with us everywhere and becoming more and more lost in the world of the internet, which is becoming a major crime scene and cold-war zone.

As a kid sitting atop that huge mountain in the midst of the most beautiful terrain imaginable, the Se San River winding its way through it like a golden snake, I could never have imagined the leadership of America that had sent me there to help kill Vietnamese would eventually lead us to the cataclysmic condition we're now living through. And let’s not delude ourselves: While not letting others off the hook, American leadership is implicated profoundly in the current disastrous state of the world. The slow-motion train wreck we read about on a daily basis makes me nostalgic for that simple meeting west of Hanoi, fueled by terrible, home-brewed beer, with a former enemy who years earlier would have wanted to kill me, and vice versa, because, in that case, my leaders could not find the humility to sit down and work out their problems with his leaders.

A Vietnam vet friend of mine tells me I should apply for PTSD status. Maybe it’s because of my brother and so many friends who served in the infantry that I feel it would be wrong. I really don’t feel I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I feel that the spirit of social Darwinism and war has become so intense that everybody in our culture suffers from war stress. What I have is Survival Guilt and POCS: Pissed-Off-Citizen-Syndrome. Bill McKibben, the environmentalist leader who founded, said it best in a Times op-ed following President Trump’s abandonment of the Paris Accords. He cited the “dysfunctional American political process” as the cause of our problem. That problem, he wrote, isn’t “because [Trump] didn’t take climate change seriously, but also because he didn’t take civilization seriously.”

We're being dragged into a Hobbesian world of war in which everybody is being pitted against everybody else. We’re no longer imperially hunting the Vietnamese in far-away forests. Leaders like Trump are now fighting for themselves first and planning to search out and destroy those weaker and poorer than they are. The Resistance is growing and reaching into the mainstream. Maybe it’s not too late to learn something from the Vietnamese about resilience and how to resist and survive the crushing of the cooperative spirit.

Finally, from The Tale of Kieu:

story | by Dr. Radut