Returning to Vietnam
Vet joins others in helping to undo the damage of war
by Suel Jones
July 26 - August 1, 2001 / Vol. 10, Ed. 30
In 1968 I went to Vietnam as a proud, young Marine who trusted his country
to tell the truth and believed Americans had the duty as free men to help
others fight for freedom. Yet upon return from the war, I started
questioning my involvement.
After thirty years of research and soul searching, I now know that my only
fault was in trusting my country, which placed my fellow warriors and me in
grave danger and ordered the killing of more than three million people.
Now I find I want to complete what I started, and that is to help the
Vietnamese people. I have returned to Vietnam for the past three years
through my involvement in the Vietnam Friendship Village Project. This is
an organization of vets working with vets to cultivate peace and
One of our major goals is to improve the lives of children and Vietnamese
veterans affected by Agent Orange.
I plan on returning to Vietnam this fall to live for a year. But first I
have things to do here. Most importantly,
informing people of the facts that led up to the Vietnam War.
On June 18, 1919 as World War I ended, Ho Chi Minh petitioned the U.S.
asking for help in its efforts for
self-determination. Their petition was ignored, leaving them under the
control of France.
Again, this time after World War II, Ho Chi Minh petitioned for U.S. help
in keeping the French from returning to Vietnam, thus allowing Vietnamese
self-rule for the first time since 1850. Rather than heeding the call for
help, the U.S. supplied the French with six surplus troop ships and weapons
while footing 80 percent of the cost, again allowing the French to return
to power in Vietnam. They remained in control through brute force and
intimidation until 1954, when they were defeated at Dien Bien Phu.
The U.S. then signed the July 21, 1954 Geneva Conference Final Declaration
which permitted "Vietnam,
Cambodia and Laos henceforth to play their part, in full independence and
sovereignty, in the peaceful community of nations."
But after John F. Kennedy came into office in January 1961, Major General
Lansdale reported from Vietnam that the Diem regime was about to fail.
Kennedy increased the number of U.S. advisors in violation of the 1954
Ignoring the fact the U.S. had no support in Vietnam was the fatal flaw in
our plan to free the people. Free them from whom? Themselves? Without the
people's support, the Viet Cong, and later, the North Vietnamese Army could
have never defeated the U.S. war machine. In order to isolate the Viet Cong
we had to turn our bombs, napalm and eventually our own men against the
very people we were fighting to free.
The famous saying "We had to destroy the village to save it," is exactly
what happened in Vietnam. We dropped more tonnage of bombs on a country
about the size of California than were used by all sides in WWII; one
thousand pounds of high explosives for every man, woman and child.
We sprayed some twenty million gallons of defoliant, more than fifteen
million gallons being the highly toxic Agent Orange, on their forest and
crops leaving a legacy of birth defects that still cripples thousands today.
Richard M. Nixon made a written pledge of $5.75 billion in aid to Vietnam
as part of the Agreement on Ending
the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, signed in Paris Jan. 27, 1973.
The U.S. agreed that, "the Government of the United States of America will
contribute to postwar reconstruction in North Vietnam without political
Not one penny has ever been paid.
The U.S. government denied this paper even existed until May 19, 1977 when
it was declassified then released to Congress and the media under the
threat of subpoena of former President Nixon.
Every person who supported the war is guilty of these senseless killings.
Every president from Truman to Nixon to W. Bush, every Congressman and
Senator is guilty. Every preacher who stood on the pulpit and supported the
war is guilty. Every mother and father who sent their sons are guilty. This
is a terrible truth, but until we accept it we will never put Vietnam
behind us. Rather, we continue having wars to prove that "Vietnam is behind
The U.S. spends millions annually searching for the remains of U.S. service
men, but we have not spent one cent in helping the Vietnamese find their
300,000 missing service men. It is well past time we recognize the
Vietnamese as people and not as an enemy, then open our hearts and
pocketbooks to them.
The Vietnam War, known in Vietnam as the American War, will never be behind
us until we as a nation accept our responsibility for every act. A moral
country does not walk away leaving a people destitute and suffering.
We must help them search for their 300,000 MIAs, remove landmines and clean
toxic hot spots we left behind.
And we must do this with no political agenda, simply helping because it's
the right thing to do.
Fundraiser for the victims of Agent Orange
Side Street Espresso presents a benefit concert Thursday, July 26 for in
support of the Vietnam Friendship
Village, a project helping those who suffer from the effects of Agent Orange.
Tom Begich and Friends will be playing with help from Terry Kelly, Michael
Barber and Chris Watkins.
Complimentary refreshments will be served from 6-7 p.m., with music
following. There will also be a silent auction of clothing and artifacts
made by the hill people of Vietnam.
Project coordinator Suel Jones says he hopes to raise $50,000 through
various fundraising events before departing for a year in Vietnam later
Donations will be accepted at the door. For more information call 258-9055
or 745-8864. Side Street Espresso
is located at 412 G street.
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