One of the best books I’ve ever read is by Gloria Emerson, Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses and Ruins from a Long War. A major themes in the book is how the Vietnam War affected Americans (or how it didn’t). Here’s a sample of passages:
Each year that it lasted Americans who took opposite sides on the war seemed to hate each other more than the Vietnamese who opposed us. 37
In 1976 she was given a large black-and-white poster of Ho Chi Minh, sent from Bangkok, which she put up over her desk. The face of the dead Vietnamese so upset one of the older women that it had to be taken down. 53
“What have any of us done to be tired?” 58
The Department of Defense does not give a breakdown of the serious injuries, so no one knows how many blind, how many burned, how many paralyzed, how many amputees they were. 59
Many Americans cannot pronounce the name of the race. Read the rest of this entry »
What I saw then was this fairly obvious faculty of art: that it goes on, it lasts a bit longer that our frail human lives—it offers comfort. The vision is more enduring than our persons—it uplifts us past the vicissitudes of time, uplifts till it, too, is done or forgotten: ten years, five hundred years. It is the working of our loving hearts, burrowing out of us into the light of day. Like Bodhisattvas we bring this liberation, this space to each other when we are simply ambitious: working for fame, as Keats once thought he was doing. Working for money or glory. What we are left with is finally what we leave: this reaching out to touch, to comfort others. To make the world bearable, possible at all.
–Diane di Prima, Recollections of My Life as a Woman
I ask you faithful people who listen to me with love and devotion
to pardon me for saying this,
but it gives me more pleasure that my enemies listen to me.
I know that the reason they listen to me
is that I bear a message of love.
I don’t hate them.
I don’t want revenge.
I wish them no harm.
I beg them to be converted,
to come to be happy with the happiness that you have.
Like the son in the parable who was always with his father,
you possess the joy of your faith.
–Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love (Sermons)
Dear Dr. C,
This is a long time coming, but I’ve put off writing this because I want to say it right. Then again, if I’ve learned anything from you and Natalie Goldberg, it’s that I must write and not care how it comes out. So here it goes:
This winter break was the third time I’ve picked up and read The Book of Mev. My first year at SLU right after we had met, Nebu and I would read random passages out loud with our friend Michelle in an abandoned dorm room. The book was a real life love story—something more accessible and affirming than the fairytales of youth. The second time I actually read it cover to cover. I was working for the Appalachian Service Project, and finally finished it the semester I returned to SLU (after that summer). It was a rough year, but diving into The Book of Mev was eye-opening. Mev gave me hope that the things I was thinking and feeling didn’t make me crazy or unrealistic or ignorant. That time I was re-reading the book in paperback form. It is interesting the flip through those pages and look at what I underlined or commented on—it is every telling to where I was. But this winter I wanted to come to The Book of Mev fresh. I wanted to have a new experience with it. So, I read from the hard cover copy that you and sent to me my second summer working for the Appalachian Service Project. Coming to it with new eyes was amazing. I experienced a whole new level to it that I didn’t before. I have so many thoughts about The Book of Mev, so forgive me of the following don’t flow from one experience/thought of it to the next. Read the rest of this entry »
Two years later, when I went to the United States to explain the suffering of the Vietnamese people and to plead for peace in Vietnam, I saw a woman on television carrying a wounded baby covered with blood, and suddenly, I understood how the American people could continue to support the fighting and bombing. The scene of the television was quite different from the reality of having a bleeding baby in my arms. My despair was intense, but the scene on the television looked like a performance. I realized that there was no connection between experiencing the actual event and watching it on the TV screen while sitting at home in peace and safety. People could watch such horrible scenes on TV and still go about their daily business — eating, dancing, playing with children, having conversations. After an encounter with such suffering, desperation filled my every cell. These people were human beings like me; why did they have to suffer so? Questions like these burned inside me, and, at the same time, inspired me to continue my work with serene determination. Realizing how fortunate I was compared to those living under the bombs helped dissolve any anger or suffering in me, and I was committed to keep doing my best to help them without fear.
Cao Ngoc Phuong, Vietnamese Buddhist and activist
I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what’s going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury….I think about the fact that no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing, and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it—and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown.
Rachel Corrie, American activist