Children of Vietnam

by Mark Chmiel

On Betty Lifton and Tom Fox, Children of Vietnam, 1972

The writer of children’s stories and a former IVS volunteer and journalist had to do something.  So they compiled this Mev Puleo-ish book of stories and photos of a few Vietnamese children who represent city/rural, rich/poor, living at home/refugees, imprisoned/bui doi, orphans/My Lai survivors, Amerasian black boys/Saigon hippies, and Montagnard/NLF girls.  The hope being that these images and stories would touch Americans who could be (re)motivated to work to end the war, which predictably wreaked havoc on the most innocent, the children (Dianne Lee’s voice ringing in my ears).

In their introduction, they write about the 27 years of war: First as a struggle against the colonial French; and now as a civil war in which America has intervened militarily to bolster a series of unstable [sic] governments in the South against the nationalistically inspired Communist government of the late Ho Chi Minh in the North (what about the indigenous NLF?).  I’m suspicious about the following in their epilogue: “However, as this book is finished, in a response to a recent North Vietnamese offensive, America is renewing massive air strikes over both the North and the South.” [111]  And Betty Lifton saying: “There seemed no words to convey the misery of it all, the scope of this tragedy that my country had so unwittingly bungled into in the name of anti-Communism, and now clung to so ferociously.”  The latter italicized expression makes it sound like a mistake.

The authors cited a quotation from an American Army Major  in the Binh Dinh province, “To take a leaf from Mao Tse-Tung’s Red Book, we’ve got to deprive the fish of the sea to swim in…. We’re going to dig Vietnam up by the rice roots and replant it, if necessary, until their infrastructure is totally destroyed. Remove the people from the guerrillas, turn the area into a free-fire zone and shoot anything that moves.”

The U.S. knew what it was doing. Independence in the South–anything outside of U.S. control–was unacceptable.   So, massive destruction was justified.

No bungling.

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