Thursday, November 24, 2016

Hanoi Quill Pig

Greetings from Hanoi! I’m here on a tour that dropped into my lap on short notice, and as soon as it landed, I knew I had to come. So here I am, unable to sleep in the middle of the night because of jet lag, in the hotel café listening to Paul McCartney performing “Got to Get You into My Life” on Spotify and communicating with my vast readership of a handful or two.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
— T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
I don’t know what Jane Fonda’s motivations were for coming here during the unpleasantness.

But I think I know what motivated some people I admired at the time to not come:

Well, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun.
And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
In a word, it was self-preservation.
Compare this to someone who actually suffered for acting on what he at least said he believed.

Click image for video.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me.”
My tour has involved bringing with me things that I thought might raise eyebrows at the customs table, so I spent much of the flight here trying to come up with a truthful answer for Mr. Customs Man if he didn’t “Don’t touch my bags, if you please.”
Well, surprise! On the plane they gave us no long form that takes fifteen minutes to fill out, as they do on descent into the Land of the Free. There was no inquisition at the immigration stand, and it was a straight shot from there to the taxi stand. There was a notice on the wall of what qualified as “nothing to declare,” but beyond that it was the honor system.
My taxi was what I imagine Uber to be: $25 for a straight-shot 45-minute ride in a spacious, clean Toyota Camry, bottled water for the taking, soft music on a top-class audio system. My driver didn’t speak English, but good service with a smile speaks volumes.
The road between the airport and the city were wide and straight and middle-of-the-night empty. The city is clean. The hotel staff bends over backwards to make us feel at home. I’d been told that Vietnamese are standoffish, but I’ve got two pieces of evidence that that’s not quite true, taken during a recent trip to Old Hanoi in the lobby of the hotel.
One of these people is the manager of the hotel.
One of these people hadn't moved since the previous picture was taken.
While I don’t see a sign advertising a private school on every block, as I did in Kathmandu, private schools operate openly (even if they need to be licensed). Home schooling is illegal, but that’s no worse than Germany and Singapore.
I jumped at the chance to come here because part of me wants to be a champion of those who have suffered injustice, but I’ve been disabused of any idea that such is even needed anymore. Hanoi is full of Americans who are here simply to have a good time, and they spend much more money than I will by any standard. Very few people I’ve seen are old enough to remember the war. I may be the only person in the city who hasn’t moved on from it yet.
But the vestiges remain. The first I saw was at Hanoi Bible College, which has been run by the Christian and Missionary Alliance. They have recently celebrated their centenary.

“During the years 1965-1972, the US bombed the north of Vietnam, and God’s people in the church had to evacuate. The number of believers was very small. At that time there were only 5-7 believers. After that the number of believers who came to worship was 20-30 old people, including about 15 children, and 5-6 Chinese-Vietnamese people. The situation of 20-30 believers gathering lasted a long time, until the 1980s.”

In a window overlooking a street that is turned into an extension of a lake park on weekends is a commemoration of seventy years since Ho Chi Minh issued the call for his countrymen to fight for independence. In the fine print, he says, “No! / We would rather sacrifice all / but definitely not / suffer the loss of our country / and definitely / not suffer being slaves.” Patrick Henry, anyone?
The closest I ever came to coming to Viet Nam (the name means “Viet people,” not to be confused with the other ethnic groups found within the borders of the current nation-state) during the war was a dream I had in maybe 1971 that I was in combat here. I was terrified and oh, so grateful to wake up. A couple of real-life events I have run away from full speed have convinced me that I do not have the courage to be a soldier.
So I need to take my hat off to anyone who came here believing he was serving his country and the cause of good. But I believe those they fought needed even more courage, fighting as they were with fewer and less-powerful weapons.
But courage, as important as it is, isn’t everything. You have to be courageous in a just cause. I can understand Ho’s bravery and that of his troops as he attempted to throw off the yoke of French imperialism. But he wanted to replace French imperialism with the very communism that had claimed tens of millions of innocent victims in the USSR.
Fortunately for everyone, though the American military failed to achieve the “peace with honor” that Nixon was aiming for, its retreat did achieve peace in the long term. After an understandable, if not justifiable, bloody purge of those who had collaborated (or were suspected of collaborating—more innocent victims of communism) with those who had bombed, shot, burned, maimed, killed, and orphaned hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people, destroyed property, and polluted the land and water with chemicals that are causing birth defects to this day, Viet Nam is at a tolerable level of peace.
The French, the communists, the American invaders, and today’s government share the fundamental assumption that keeps Viet Nam from being truly great: the idea that people and their property are up for grabs by the political class. They have forgotten, if they ever cared, that God said, “Do not steal.” He didn’t make an exception for people in uniforms or representatives at the United Nations. The evangelicals who shared in the bombing of the Hanoi Bible College seem to have considered themselves exceptions to that rule.
Only when Christians en masse claim the birthright that they have to their bodies and property and, even before that, their responsibility to honor others’ rights to their lives and their property, will we see the peoples of the world come to Christ: let me suggest that when we see that justice rolls down like waters, righteousness in Christ will be as abundant as an ever-flowing stream.

1 comment:

  1. Both humorous and profound! I love your analysis of the past and present situation. And I'm with you and "Country Joe:" I'm so glad I didn't have to go (or face such a choice). We have a new neighbor, a widow whose husband recently passed away from agent-orange-related cancer. Wars scar both sides, even if fought far away. Lord bless you, Henry!