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I've been debating writing this. It's been 10 years since the "Second Gulf War", and it may be an anniversary better celebrated in the non-observance. The term "Second" itself says something. It evokes a historical connection to the First and Second World Wars, and popular history lumps them together as the second being the consequence of "unfinished business" of the first. Certainly a certain Austrian Lieutenant thought so and made sure the world understood that.

The Vietnam War was highly traumatic for the United States. I don't think that point is debatable. And deeply traumatic for America's allies. I grew up in its aftermath; during my brief sojourn in grade school in Colorado, my class was full of Viet, Lao and Cambodian refugees. My early career in NGOs was strongly linked to ethnic mutual aid organizations for those American allies (Hmong, Montagnard, etc.), and many of my first work compatriots worked the Thai-Cambodian border, processing people fleeing the Khmers Rouges.

So, please don't misunderstand me. I am deeply aware of the pain and suffering that twenty-year war caused Americans and American friends. And likewise the Second Gulf War. Some of you reading this were directly affected, most of you indirectly by either or both of them.

So, when I posted about a reconcilation of sorts, I mentioned that I'd have wanted to hear the story of the men who captured Pete Peterson. asakiyume did her usual thing and asked me why and I realized I had no conscious reason. So I've mulled and drawn it out of me, and here's what I've got:

Part of my job twelvish years ago was steeped in landmine and unexploded ordinance clearance issues from the policy viewpoint. I cannot in any way explain the amount of overwhelming ordinance that was dropped on Vietnam and Laos during that war, especially illegally during the Nixon years. It's a meaningless figure with a lot of zeros. I'm not going to even try. But keep in mind that explosives are highly toxic, become more unstable over time, and can detonate decades later, wiping out whole families who are simply trying to till the soil. This is still going on, especially in Laos.

Now, imagine if the war was still going on in the U.S. in this same way. That a vast amount of the midwest was untillable because some overwhelming force, say an alien fleet from outer space had filled it with booby-traps and slow-seeping toxins. So bad that from that aspect ALONE, 25% of Americans were forced to live in poverty because their land cannot sustain them.

That's the level of inequality that happened in that war. It's like aliens versus farmers.

How do you address it? How do you look yourself in the eye while aliens destroy your whole way of life, anonymously and from high above the ground? And what if an alien ship crashed and you had a chance to get your own back? What then?

That level of impotence engenders a kind of reckless revenge, a kind of madness of self-immolation. And yet, as the article shows, both the tortured American and the bombed Viet were able to make amends, in their small and personal way. That's why I want to hear the other side. I want to know how Nguyen Viet Chop and Nguyen Danh Xinh feel about the whole thing. I suspect they feel the same about the war. That it was a misfortune for everyone involved. But HOW do they feel about it, in their own words?

That theme of impotence against an unassailable enemy is one of the most important stories we can tell these days of extreme inequality worldwide. I have no doubt it was the motivating factor behind the actions of the 9/11 group that carried out the hijackings. And what was the result? America went to war in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attack, which was in fact the enemy of the fundamentalists and the extremists that carried out the attack.

But the U.S. military had learned from Vietnam three important lessons: 1. Avoid putting men in situations where they have to decide whether to attack or not by either training the hesitation to kill out of them or removing them from directly facing their enemy (smart munitions, drones). 2. Most of the war is won on propaganda, so don't count your enemies' losses, and don't let the media have an independent eye. 3. Destroy infrastructure and capability first before engaging the enemy in any theatre of combat.

So while the U.S. suffered casualties at the rate of 1:10 in Vietnam and lost the war in the Media and in the number of soldiers actually coming into physical contact with the enemy, the "Second Gulf War" was fought with cruise missiles, bunker-busters, antitank helicopters, etc. with a casualty rate more like 1:200 (depending on where in that first year you plant the "Mission Accomplished" flag.) It all seemed so un-traumatic. And the ensuing civil war was "their fault, not ours" in the majority of opinions voiced thereafter.

But Iraqi trauma? We don't get a lot of it, here under the U.S. media umbrella. But let me play a little game of math to show what kind of inequality was played out. Again, this is for demonstration purposes only, not to say that anyone's pain is more or less valid than another's.

Let's start with 9/11. Perhaps as many as 3,200 people of mixed nationality were killed on that day, victims of a Salafid/Wahabi "rage against the machine" style attack. On the other side, the most credible figure is about 162,000 Iraqis killed directly from the war. This is from nations of 230,000,000 and 23,000,000 people respectively. So, proportionally, it's as if 1,620,000 Americans were killed by aliens from outer space.

But distributed across the country, mind you. Which means about 500 9/11-sized events spread across the U.S. Let's say 1 for every major population centre, perhaps from the top 500 cities. That means, every single city in the U.S. from Burnsville, Minnesota (pop. 62,000 in 2000) has a 9/11-sized event at some point over the next decade.

[Aside: what makes me want to vomit is that in 2008, several Republican contenders for the White House believed that IRAQ should pay the U.S. oil-money bounty for their freedom.]

So, I wonder what stories are out there of people who have faced the Alien Invaders? Who put up with our unmanned flying killer robots? Who have had their lives irrevocably shattered by the "acceptable collateral margin of error". And what did they do with that grey creature that crashed in Roswell when they had a chance?

I some how don't think that there's as many people as open-hearted as Nguyen Viet Chop and Nguyen Danh Xinh. But then, we have stories like this that remind me just how resiliant people can be. And just how useless war is at solving anything.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 27th, 2013 02:59 pm (UTC)
Great post. I have twice tried to express the terrorist point of view in short stories, but couldn't make it work. I think it's because I'm not them.
Mar. 27th, 2013 05:02 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's a difficult one. Usually I see people projecting their own motivations, hence the subject of 72 virgins nearly always being worked into it somewhere.
Mar. 27th, 2013 05:29 pm (UTC)
Yes. It gets pathetic fast.
Mar. 27th, 2013 04:10 pm (UTC)
This is brilliant. Thank you. Thank you so much. Can I share it widely? (By that I mean on Facebook as well as LJ and Tumblr.)

I have a number of thoughts. First is, if you're not following chanphenglew, you should be--she works with a small NGO in Laos (she's based in Laos) working with UXO. She's been there a long time. Her journal is friends only, but if you left a comment on the front entry and she came back and saw this, I'm sure she'd let you in.

Second, what you say about stories, and hearing stories, resonates so, so strongly with something I feel, also more and more strongly these days, which is that the sharing of stories, and the hearing of stories, is one of the best, best things we can do, as humans, to get better. (And, of course, as I type this, I realize that even stories can be perverted: propaganda tales and lies and misrepresentations can be used to whip people up to hate--but okay, acknowledging that, still: sharing stories offers a road to reconciliation and salvation and understanding--dare I say enlightenment?)

Third, I am absolutely with you in terms of what the people must have felt like when that plane came down, and also on wanting to hear their story.

And fourth, oh fourth: the resilience and magnanimity of the human spirit can be staggering, can't they? Because in spite of suffering upon suffering, individual and collective, those men and Mr. Peterson were able to feel friendly feelings toward one another. People amaze me.
Mar. 27th, 2013 05:06 pm (UTC)
Um, I don't think I'm saying anything profound, but sure, share if you like it. I'll check out chanphenglew, though I'm not sure if I want to be re-steeped in that.

Coincidentally, of all the technologies we reviewed for landmine clearance, the most effective is manufactured about ten miles from here. A kind of aerosol plastic explosive that uses propane gas as the primer. It goes on like shaving cream, all light and airy, so it's not likely to set anything off.

Edited at 2013-03-27 09:08 pm (UTC)
Mar. 27th, 2013 05:12 pm (UTC)
Actually, I kind of misrepresented her: she is mainly involved with helping people who've been injured get rehabilitated, etc. And in her blog she mainly posts photos of daily life and such. ... But you can't check her out, because her blog is friends only. But you know, no real need to seek her out--I was carried away there for a moment. As I tend to get.

Edited at 2013-03-27 09:13 pm (UTC)
Mar. 27th, 2013 04:44 pm (UTC)
Also, this:

That level of impotence engenders a kind of reckless revenge, a kind of madness of self-immolation.

reminded me of this quote from A Tale of Two Cities--a book which, in its portrayal of revolution, is remarkably pertinent.

In seasons of pestilence, some of us will have a secret attraction to the disease—a terrible passing inclination to die of it. And all of us have like wonders hidden in our breasts, only needing circumstances to evoke them.
Mar. 27th, 2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
Ooo. Chilling!
Mar. 27th, 2013 06:10 pm (UTC)
Another good quote I was taken with.
Mar. 28th, 2013 08:16 pm (UTC)
I carried a draft card for six years of Vietnam, so kinda paid attention in a 3/4 way, and I agree with you a lot.

War promoters have lost the ability to say, "what if the same thing were happening over here?" The Nazis, if not all Germans, lost that perspective, and too many over here are without it at this point.

Joe Haldeman wrote the Forever War after serving in Vietnam (maybe he was a correspondent?).

Besides all of that, the Iraq War has been poor strategy.

If a person 1 blames someone (no. 2) for bloodying their nose, then if it's necessary, go bloody theirs. But if person 1 continues to jump up and down on person 2, then what choice has person 2 got but continue to fight? Which is exactly what has been happening in Ir-Af'stan.

All the recent administrations can go jump off the pier for all I care...
Mar. 28th, 2013 10:37 pm (UTC)
I'd be interested in hearing your opinion of this movie, that was a real eye-opener for me: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317910/
Mar. 30th, 2013 07:15 am (UTC)
Doonesbury, November 10th, 1978.

Phred: The museum! What happened to it? It's ... it's totally demolished!

Old guy with pitchfork, wispy goatee and conical straw hat: I know, boy, I know! I was the curator.

Phred: You wretched soul! Did this happen during the secret bombings?

Curator: Secret bombings? Boy, there wasn't any secret about them! Everyone here knew! I did, and my wife, she knew, too! She was with me, and I remarked on them!

Curator: I said, "Look, Martha, here come the bombs."

Wife: It's true, he did.

Edited at 2013-03-30 11:16 am (UTC)
Mar. 30th, 2013 08:37 am (UTC)

Edited at 2013-03-30 12:37 pm (UTC)
Apr. 1st, 2013 07:26 pm (UTC)
I think we can all learn from this post. So beautifully articulated.

Thank you.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )