Monday, September 22, 2014

The Vietnam War Remembered

Rest well, my child of the yellow race
I'll rock you gently
and heal your gun wounds
You went to war at the age of 20 years
Never returning home
Sleep, my child, sharing my yellow skin
I'll lull you and coax you
I'll do it twice
This body
which used to be so small
that I carried in my womb
that I held in my arms
Why do you rest at the age of 20 years?

"Lullaby" (Ngu Di Con) by Vietnamese Lyricist and Composer Trinh Cong Son (1939 - 2001), about a mother grieving her son who has gone off to war, became a hit in Japan in 1972. When he died at the age 62, he was dubbed the Bob Dylan of Vietnam by American singer Joan Baez. He gained fame in the 1960s for his love ballads and anti-war anthems, and has just been posthumously awarded a 2004 World Peace Music Award (WPMA), alongside other well-known names such as Harry Belafonte, Country Joe McDonald, Peter, Paul & Mary and well, Baez and Dylan.

Da Nang in Central Vietnam was my next stop after visiting Hochimin. The distance between Hochimin and Da Nang is about 1000 km. I found Da Nang Airport as unboundedly open and shining, contrary to my preconceptions from the stained image of the Vietnam War. Yes, a modern city with good roads and bridges. I was met by a taxi driver sent from my Hoi An hotel at the airport exit and sped south after clearing city traffic along the beach with luxury hotels and condos and golf courses. The scene looked familiar. This is Southern California!

I've read that the US Marine Corps Battalion Landing Team, wearing full battle gear and carrying M-14s, met Vietnamese girls with leis, South Vietnamese officers, sightseers, carrying a large sign "Welcome, Gallant Marines", and General Westmoreland was appalled. I was similarly baffled with the "Southern Cal scene” in Da Nang, Vietnam.

I am glad that I dropped Hue, the old capital, from my itinerary. Heading north, you have to dash up Hai Van Pass and necessarily touch upon the 1968 Tet Offensive related Hue massacre. Hue is where Trinh Cong Son, the "Lullaby" composer, lived.

Reachable from Hue are many historical US versus NVA battlefields (Khe Sanh, Con Tien, etc) on the 17th Parallel DMZ where the US had tried to block NVA infiltration into the South through Ho Chimi Min Trails, as well as the Vin Moc Tunnel Complex, which was dug deeper than the US bombs could penetrate. More than 400 villagers survived the war and more than 40 new babies were born underground. However, they could have been victims of Agent Orange, the defoliants.

I was stationed, as a Japanese businessman, in the U.S. during the Vietnam War and saw nationwide upheaval, anti-draft hippies and anti-war student marches.

I remember David Halberstam, in Saigon, as a New York Times correspondent. He was among a small group of American reporters who began to question the official optimism about the growing war in Vietnam. The Communist government in the north enjoyed wide spread support in rural Vietnam. The US-backed Saigon Government was quite unpopular. Halberstam saw Vietnam as a moralistic tragedy, with America's pride bringing about the government’s downfall. Although he won a 1964 Pulitzer Prize for reporting, he was transferred to another bureau.

I safely chauffeured David Halberstam to Kearny Mesa when he flew into San Diego Airport. He visited my former employer's plant to interview the company’s founder Kazuo Inamori, who happened to be visiting San Diego at the time. Halberstam was preparing for his 12th book "The Next Century" and found Inamori's nickname Mr. AM quite intriguing.

Halberstam taught that the moment humans lose their modesty, it inevitably leads to hubris and arrogance resulting in the demise of everything. Kazuo Inamori, who later read "The Next Century", warned his employees to "avoid paved ashphalt roads” and not “be afraid to take dirt roads."

I wrote that I drove Halberstam "safely." In 2007, David Halberstam was killed in an unfortunate traffic accident in Menlo Park in a car driven by a Berkeley student.

Jack Langguth (unusual surname so I remember it well) succeeded David Halberstam at the Saigon NY Times Bureau. Jack was sympathetic to David. When I did a search on him, I was surprised to see his obituary a few days ago. It was Sept l, the day I came home from my Vietnam trip. He was 81. We are of the same generation. After retiring from the New York Times, Jack taught journalism at USC in Los Angeles. He not only wrote books about Vietnam, but history and children books as well.

I wish to dedicate this blog entry to all those who perished during the Vietnam War and to David Halberstam, Jack Langguth, and Vietnam pacifist composer Trinh Cong Son.

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