13 January 2009

A War Welcome

For Christmas, James and I gave ourselves a New Year Eve’s weekend celebration in Hanoi, Vietnam . Hanoi is an attention-grabbing, delicious city full of action, architecture, coffee, and cha ca.

The city is almost in conflict with itself. Architectural forces clash – stately French colonial buildings next to narrow Vietnamese tube houses next to austere Soviet structures next to ancient pagodas. Motorbikes rule the roads, easily outnumbering automobiles 50 to 1. They battle each other, cars, and trucks for riding space. Vendors, makeshift cafes, and parked motorbikes on the sidewalks force pedestrians into the right-of-way fray in the streets. The traffic is honking and beeping and moving through directionless, unmarked avenues and through it all, tourists, pedestrians four wheels and two wheels, walk these Vietnamese women wearing pointed, cone-shaped hats and carrying baskets on a long pole balanced over their shoulders. Whether on the sidewalk or in the streets, all movement seems to pause for these women carrying on with tradition.

We rang in the New Year at the grand Metropole Hotel where Charlie Chaplin honeymooned with Paulette Goddard. It is also where Jane Fonda gave her protest speech during the Vietnam War - only blocks from the infamous Maison Centrale prison, a.k.a. Hanoi Hilton where John McCain spent his years as a POW.

I think it would be difficult for any American to visit Hanoi without thinking of war. Even though the city has historic treasures, including the Opera House, Quan Su Pagoda, and the Temple of Literature, the War Museum fascinated us the most.

Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors,” so we wanted to know American’s place in Vietnam’s history. At the War Museum, it came to no surprise that America was Goliath to Vietnam’s David, but it was provocative nonetheless. Tanks, aircraft, and bombs were on display along side American servicemen’s uniforms and kit like trophies in a high school hall of honor. James felt it was an interactive museum, which not only allowed visitors to see and read about the war, but to participate in its victory. A group of young Vietnamese boys in military uniform did just that. They jumped on top the American tanks and planes smiling, shouting, and posing while taking each other’s pictures. It was jaw dropping to witness these boys celebrating their nation’s pride and freedom while I was mourning our nation’s death and destruction.

More important than being on the winning side of history is the lessons learned from war. And what lessons do we learn from war? Statistics. Both sides die in war. Both sides keep score. While you read some counts of the Vietnam War, click on the link below and listen to a number by Paul Hardcastle, “19”


9, 087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the war (5 August 1964 – 28 March 1973)
2, 594, personnel served within the boarders of South Vietnam (1 January 1965 – 28 March 1973)
Of the 2 .6 million, between 1 to 1.6 million either fought in combat, provided combat support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack.
Peak troop strength in VN was 543, 482 on 30 Apr. 69
Hostile Deaths: 47,359
Non-hostile deaths: 10, 797
Wounded in action: 303,704
Severely disabled: 75,000
Missing in Action: 2,338
Prisoner Of War: 766, 114 died in captivity

From 1965 – 1972, America released 5,382,000 tons of bombs, inflicting 200,000 casualties (80,000 deaths) and 70,000 orphans.
From 1965 – 1970, America spread 76 million liters of dioxin into 607,500 hectares of forest and 89, 500 hectares of cultivated land of South Vietnam.
Serious consequences have resulted from the war in Vietnam: about 2,000,000 disabled, 2,000, 000 dioxin-affected, 500,000 children deformed, and more than 300,000 missing.

In America, we view war differently. We have official statistics, but we don’t have an official War Museum. We honor soldiers of a particular war, rather than pay tribute to war. Like other nations, though, we have not learned to keep from entering war and it doesn’t look like war will end anytime soon. South Korea exported $1 billion worth of arms in 2008 and hopes to sell $3 billion worth by 2012. South Korea’s main customers are Middle Eastern states and the US. The US has a free trade pact with S. Korea pending legislation. China & Russia just installed a military hotline so the two armies can chat freely.

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