Sunday, March 16, 2008

The day was beautiful and sunny, with no humidity or other distracting annoyances so I was completely focused as the driver pulled into a beautiful complex with a lovely simple building. I got out of the car in tears and with a horribly wrenched up stomach and quietly went into the building and climbed the marble stairway up into the principle monument that is now My Lai. At the top of the stairs, the exquisite, extraordinary art work began. I stopped dead in my tracks and was fascinated, delighted, dumbfounded and soothed; I immediately relaxed and thought, this is going to be just fine. This I can do. Who knew there would be ART at My Lai? The exquisitely rendered depictions of the horrors of My Lai somehow calmed me and oddly, gave me courage to absorb what lay just around the corner. And so I was deeply grateful for the first time that day.

Public places and monuments in Vietnam remain a principle place for the Communist Party to sustain and uphold manifesto through propaganda and My Lai is certainly no exception; however, the propaganda is quite easy to isolate and set aside and so it was with me that day. Once in the exhibit hall of the monument, I focused on the maps, the pictures and the transcripts from from the US Army court martial proceedings. My worst fears were not confirmed; my worst fears did not come close to the atrocity and malevolence that were in fact visited upon the heads of the children, women and men of the village of My Lai at the hands of the soldiers under Lieutenant Calley's command. They were mostly black and latino, these men of the US Army who slaughtered family after family in a manner that would have made a butcher flinch. What no one bargained for of course, was the Japanese photojournalist who got it all on film and who backed the howls of outrage from the American helicopter pilot who ultimately became the hero of the Vietnamese people. Hugh Thompson is the thing that this country is really about; and he was a baby. Twenty four years old he was, when he stood up for, all the way to the very top, what is really right and what is really brave. He is an extraordinary man who did an extraordinary thing and all he had in his pocket were his values and convictions. Really think one guy can't make a difference? And so I was unexpectedly grateful for the second time that day, so deeply grateful for Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, United States Army, protector of freedom, guardian of the precepts upon which the United States of America was founded. It's the Hugh Thompsons of the American war efforts that keep our country safe.

I wandered through the garden of My Lai, ashamed and humiliated, indescribably sad and troubled, but finally beginning to understand, having glimpsed demons with whom Tim and Butch and Dick and Marc went mano a mano, nearly 40 years ago. I didn't linger.

I climbed on my bike and began to ride through the exquisitely beautiful Vietnamese countryside. So much about war and its horrific mystery had begun to crystallize for me. As I pedaled through the buffer zone that now cradles the former village of My Lai, where the monuments sits, I became ever more troubled and angry as I thought about the United States of America and this irreactable, despicable, horrific, unforgivable war we wage in Iraq. God, will we ever, ever get it right?

And what we did to these people in this little tiny town in of My Lai shamed me in a way I have never been shamed before. I pedaled on, in solitude.

The 'Kan EWA

1 comment:

Inland Empire Girl said...

Very thoughtful post. I am beginning to believe we are having a hard time getting it right. Very troubling.
On a much lighter note... I am eager to see your primroses around your house soon. I just remembered how beautiful the picture was last year. I did go find some beauties today. Sigh... perhaps spring is finally here.