April is a time of memories in Indochina. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge wrested power from the USA-supported government of Lon Nol in Cambodia and began a genocide that lasted for more than three years resulting in some two million deaths. On April 30 of the same year, USA forces departed from Vietnam allowing the National Liberation Front (NLF) of the South and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) to occupy the entire country.
For many people living in Vietnam, these are very positive memories of the end of the long conflict and the termination of foreign domination in the region. For others, the memories are ones of fear, uncertainty and harrowing flights to neighboring countries for refugee with final resettlement in new homes far away.
For much of the rest of the world, the memories of these chaotic times have faded away, only recalled briefly by the occasional Hollywood movie or a rare photo exhibition. In some cases attempts have been made to rewrite that history to avoid the need for repentance or responsibility. Many history text books in the United States either avoid this history or perhaps tend to rewrite it.
However, for others who were deeply affected by these wars, the memories do not fade. They may erupt to the surface when there is a sudden loud noise or when recurring, fear-provoking nightmares prevent a restful night. To these people, history remains alive in their dreams – a history that needs to be acknowledged and resolved.
In Cambodia, virtually every family was damaged by the war. One out of every four Cambodians lost their lives during the Pol Pot years. Even today, almost forty years later, people continue to search for family members, unsure if they died in the genocide, or if somehow they may have survived and escaped to a safe country. With the help of several local organizations, reunions occasionally do happen, but the pain still runs deep.
In Vietnam the deadly poison Agent Orange, which the US military sprayed in heavy doses over the countryside, continues to reside in the food chain and in the bodies of those who were unfortunate enough to be living in affected areas of the country. The result has been an extremely high rate of children born with serious physical and mental disabilities. This problem is not going away as the great grandchildren of those directly affected by Agent Orange during the war continue to be born with these disabilities, often leaving them completely unable to care for themselves.
Of the three-million Americans that served in the military during the war, a large number also came in contact with Agent Orange. Veterans returning from the war started to report psychological symptoms, birth defects in their offspring, skin rashes, cancer and a wide swathe of other health problems. Their memories of a war many did not understand or want to be involved in are not only psychological, but also physical. (http://www.mintpressnews.com/vietnam-veterans-denied-benefits-for-agent-orange-exposure/180065/)
Forty years after the war in Vietnam came to an end, the Pentagon is organizing publicity at the national level to tell the story of the war that so divided America. In response, many war veterans have mobilized to tell a different story. According to their website, they propose “To mount a national campaign to present to the American people an accurate history of the Viet Nam war. We do this for the sake of historical accuracy, to take into account the impact of the war on the Vietnamese and American people – including the service men and women and their families – and most importantly, to prevent future unnecessary, brutal acts of intervention.” (http://vietnamfulldisclosure.org/index.php/our-proposal/). They feel they cannot be silent as this important history is whitewashed by the Pentagon in such a way that the important lessons that need to be learned are safely hidden away in in secret places.
In Ezekiel 13, the prophet says, 10 “This will happen because these evil prophets deceive my people by saying, ‘All is peaceful’ when there is no peace at all! It’s as if the people have built a flimsy wall, and these prophets are trying to reinforce it by covering it with whitewash! 11 Tell these whitewashers that their wall will soon fall down. A heavy rainstorm will undermine it; great hailstones and mighty winds will knock it down. 12 And when the wall falls, the people will cry out, ‘What happened to your whitewash?’”
We should not be so afraid of history that we want to whitewash it or rewrite it. History is there to help us improve the future. The memories of all those who were affected by the war in Vietnam, whether Vietnamese, MCC volunteers or US soldiers must be respect and heard. If not, the whitewashed wall will come crashing down and we will cry out, “Why is there yet no peace.”