Vietnam & Cambodia 2013

“The Vietnam War was a decade of agony that took the lives of more than 58,000 Americans. Not since the Civil War have we as a country been so torn apart. There wasn’t an American alive who wasn’t affected in some way. More than 40 years after it ended, we can’t forget Vietnam, and we are still arguing about why it went wrong, who was to blame and whether it was all worth it.” – Ken Burns

My trepidation visiting Vietnam

I felt a bit of fear entering Vietnam for the first time, wondering if the Vietnamese carried anger or hatred towards Americans.  After all, two million Vietnamese died in the name of American freedom and democracy, and to counter the evil threat of a world dominated by Communism.  History proved that the American reading of the situation in Vietnam was wrong.  Although the U.S. thought the Vietnamese were simply an extension of Communism, we failed to see that they were fighting for their freedom from centuries of domination by the Chinese and French. 

Was the war pointless from the start, just a brutal historical episode that had nothing to do with survival or moral values?  In The Vietnam War,” a documentary series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, the American Undersecretary of Defense admits that the real reason for the U.S. ground invasion in March 1965 was “70 percent to avoid humiliation.”  In another interview, a Marine officer says straightforwardly, “You’re killing people in order to protect your male ego.” 

The Vietnam war has profoundly shaped the American psyche.  Without it, there would have been no ‘sixties.’  No draft, no draft dodgers, no protest, no protest music, no hippies – just a lot of people taking LSD and complaining about their parents.  In “The Vietnam War,” a North Vietnamese Army veteran says, “People sing about victory, about liberation.  They are wrong.  Who won the war and who lost is not the question.  In war, no one wins or loses.  There is only destruction.  Only those who have never fought like to argue about who won and who lost.” 

As an Israeli, these reflections make me wonder if war is Israel’s inescapable destiny, if we are doing enough to challenge this assumption, and if there are realistic alternatives.  I tend to be with the school of thought that says war is Israel’s destiny, and that other options are yet to come.  However, just like the Americans made mistakes about Vietnam, I am open and willing to be proven wrong.  I wish that Israelis and Palestinians will be as friendly to one another as the Vietnamese and Americans one day.

My book recommendations

Vietnam: A History, by Stanley Karnow

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, by Neil Sheehan

Cambodia, Report from a Stricken Land, by Henry Kamm

The Vietnam War, An Intimate History, by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns

Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, by Mark Bowden

Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, by Robert D. Kaplan

Down with Colonialism! by Ho Chi Minh and Walden Bello

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes

The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, by Barbara W. Tuchman

Up Country, by Nelson DeMille

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

The Sympathizer: A Novel, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden