Saturday, November 01, 2008

Safe and Full, a Hero, etc.

So many things spin around in my head every day regarding what I want to write about that I just can't keep up with it all. But I have a bit of time before Thuy comes to pick me up, so I will get some of those swirling things written down on this rainy Sunday afternoon.

Last week I told you I would fill you in on why Linh, the articulate woman I met at the Lady Saigon gym, says that many people in Saigon love America and Americans. It's a very complicated topic, so I will emphasize that this is just one person's perspective, and she seems to come from some money, which is probably a very significant factor.

According to Linh, anyone who was around Saigon for the twenty or so years prior to 1975 (when the communists gained control of the south), remembers a time of relative peace. She says that the people of Vietnam only want to have enough food and to be safe, and the American influence during those twenty years brought exactly that. People who worked hard were rewarded, but people did not go hungry. Under the "community" government now (what she calls it), people are not rewarded for hard work. Therefore, those who remember those "good" years consider the American influence as the good days.

What she says mirrors a dialogue I read recently in Graham Greene's The Quiet American. This novel is set in Saigon between 1951 and 1954. The narrator, Thomas Fowler, is a British journalist covering the French colonial war. Another character, Alden Pyle, is is an idealistic, naive American who comes to Vietnam with the U.S. Economic Aid Mission. Here is a dialogue between the two of them that reminds me of what Linh said:

Fowler: "You and your like are trying to make a war with the help of people who just aren't interested."

Pyle: "They don't want Communism."
Fowler: "They want enough rice," I said. "They don't want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another.They don't want our white skins around telling them what they want....I'd bet my future harp against your golden crown that in five hundred years there may be no New York or London, but they'll be growing paddy in these fields, they'll be carrying their produce to market on long poles wearing their pointed hats. The small boys will be sitting on the buffaloes..."

Pyle: "They will be forced to believe what they are told, they won't be allowed to think for themselves."

Fowler: "Thought is a luxury. Do you think the peasant sits and thinks of God and Democracy when he gets inside his mud hut at night?"

Not so different than what we hear about the people in Iraq, it seems. People just want to be safe and full, it's as simple as that. Democracy? Will democracy make us safe and full? Then OK.

As far as what Linh says about Ho Chi Minh: He is a great man who sacrificed a lot for his country and for politics. "Freedom at all costs" though, one of the ideas expressed to his people...How? Linh asks. She feels he was light on the specifics. He never married. There are rumors regarding his personal life. He has been deified too much, she says.

Soon I will read Tarn's book called Understanding Vietnam, which is my idealistic "Alden Pyle Plan" to gain understand of this country. Understand this country? Is it possible? Hopefully, I will be able to shed more light for you and I won't have to write in such a halting, awkward manner. But there you go for now.

Speaking of "safe" and "full"- perhaps some of you remember my post back in 2007 when Eugene Morgan of the USS Indianapolis disaster came to speak to my class (Chris, Tina, Kathy, you got to meet him, didn't you?):
...well, Dennis just sent me an article about his ashes being scattered at sea.

In my post, I wrote, "He also told us that when he dies, he wants his cremated remains to be scattered over the waters between Guam and Leyte, so that he can rest with his good buddies and his ship."

I have thought of Eugene often since his visit, and knew that his health was poor. I have chills reading that his final wish was granted.

And, finally, to lighten up the politics and the melancholy, here are a few pictures from our Halloween castle party, starring The Beaver made by a Vietnamese Seamstress:

1 comment:

Brian Bowker said...

Awesome. What's the "F" stand for?

And where's the picture of you in your uniform?