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Ukraine, Hypocrisy, and That Thing With Feathers

Unexploded American Bomb at the Village of Dong Loc, Vietnam

Because of my angry response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I have been accused of hypocrisy. How can I criticize Russia, I am asked, after all the damage my own country has caused in the world? Thence I am given a list of all the bad behavior the US has exhibited since World War II. I can only say that, as a Vietnam veteran, I am not naïve about my country’s actions. I hated the Vietnam War I served and was wounded in, and I hated all subsequent wars and meddling in other countries, particularly the Middle East. When I came home from Vietnam in 1968, joining the anti-war movement was as natural as breathing. I had plenty of reasons for hating the war. At the same time, I became aware of the bad treatment of Vietnam veterans. We were all characterized as baby killers and as guilty of atrocities as Lt. Calley’s platoon at My Lai. People did not differentiate, and the well-heeled liberals who attacked us showed an embarrassing amount of classism; they were not self-aware enough to be embarrassed. This attitude prevailed even years later when I began to teach college. Nevertheless, I joined the moratoriums and marches, was tear gassed and attacked by police along with everyone else.

In the fifty-four years since my time in Vietnam I have written, performed, and photographed about the war. I am a member of the Joiner Institute for the Study of War and its Social Consequences, and have been back to Vietnam twice since the war. I have made friends with many of my former enemies, in particular those who became writers and poets; the novelist Bao Ninh, the poets Thu Bon, Pham Tien Duat, Lam Thi My Da (may they rest in peace), Nguyen Duc Mau, Ngan Vinh, Nguyen Duy , Hu’u Thinh, Nguyen Quang Thieu, Nguyen Phan Que Mai, and many others. I have been invited into some of their homes, have shared stories of fighting and killing each other, and our considerable grief.

So, when I am outraged at the Russian invasion of Ukraine I am seeing the air and artillery strikes, the napalm, the white phosphorous, and God knows what newer and uglier weapons have been invented since the Vietnam War. I’m seeing the bodies of my fellow marines and the civilians caught in the crossfire.

When President Biden withdrew our troops from Afghanistan I hoped, perhaps against hope, that we would never again invade and occupy another country, that we would leave other countries to solve their own problems. I presently hope that alternate energy sources will preclude any more wars motivated by oil. I hope that at least by degree the world will become a saner place. I also hope that the opinions people so easily let fly on social media will become grounded in the wisdom of their body’s vulnerability to violence and not just be the glib excesses invited by electronic platforms. I hope that real journalism will return to the networks and that the present provocations and manipulations by corporate interests will fade into ignominy.

So, when I deplore the invasion of Ukraine by Russia I am not a hypocrite. I’ve paid for my opinions. My body carries the memory. And yes, I agree with those who say that we have given more attention and support to Ukraine than similar wars in non-white countries. The awfulness of these realities does not lessen the suffering in Ukraine.

Chúc anh an lành, thành công và hạnh phúc. I wish you peace and happiness.

School Children at the Village of Dong Loc, February, 2019

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