Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Other Side

As an infantry fighter in the jungles, mountains, and rice paddies in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1966, one might think I wouldn't read a book written by a former NVA enemy soldier. You might feel it would be upsetting or heighten Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to read about a past enemy's experiences of combat, death, and destruction while fighting Americans.

Bao Ninh, pictured below, was born in 1952 in North Vietnam. He deployed south with the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade to fight American and ARVN soldiers in 1969. The unit consisted of 500 hastily trained youths. Only 10 survived the war. Mr. Ninh was one of the ten survivors and was part of the Ho Chi Minh's forces that overran Saigon on April 29, 1975.

His book, The Sorrow of War, was a huge bestseller in Vietnam and was translated from Vietnamese to English by Phan Thanh Hao and edited by Frank Palmos. The English translation copyright was 1993 by Martin Secker & Warburg Limited in Great Britain. The copy I read was published by Riverhead Books in New York.

The novel's central character is a young fighter by the name of Kien. Tu was the name of a fellow fighter with Kien. "Tu was killed at Gate 5 of Saigon's Ton Son Nhat airport on the morning of April 30 only 3 hours before the war ended."

Kien described the deserted areas of Hanoi during the bombing raids and the troop-train movement of NVA soldiers south when U. S. President Lyndon Johnson ordered periods of ceased bombing.

Kien's life following the war is absorbed with memories of that jungle place in the Central Highlands where, in '69, his brigade was almost annihilated by helicopter gun-ships at tree-top height, artillery, napalm, and Phantom jets. That place is referred to as "Jungle of Screaming Souls".

Kien describes life after the war. Many times at night he lies in bed and is attacked by helicopters with the "whump-whump-whump sound of the rotor blades". In reality it's the ceiling fan in his bedroom."

Mr. Ninh writes in the novel of Kien saying, "I am watching a U. S. war movie with scenes of American soldiers yelling as they launch themselves into combat on the TV screen, and once again I'm ready to jump in and mix in the fiery scene of blood, mad killing, and brutality that warps soul and personality. The thirst for killing, the cruelty, the animal psychology, the evil desperation. I sit dizzied, shocked by the barbarous excitement of reliving close combat with bayonets and rifle butts. My heart beats rapidly as I stare at the dark corners of the room where ghost-soldiers emerge, shredded with gaping wounds."

Mr. Ninh fought, I fought, and comrades on both sides fought in Vietnam over ideology. The fight was not for land, natural resources, food, or water rights. It was about differing cultures and the desire to spread one over the other (the north and south).

But, if one is not willing to defend a way of life, then one should be prepared to accept change in his speech, language, style of dress, behavior, thinking, or even his religion if an outside force brings different ideology. Would you fight to defend a way of life?

Have a good week!



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