So far on this trip I have had yet to meet many Americans, especially in the backpacker’s districts of Khao San, or in the laid-back eco-tourism of Laos.
But in Vietnam, the American backpackers are proliferating in every city, hostel and “couchsurf”. In the dorm room I’m in, there are six beds, and each one is taken by an American traveling alone. I thought the way I traveled was unique and a bit haphazard, but every American backpacker I meet seems like an urban traveler, searching for the same thing I am–whatever that is.
On the bus I met two lone Americans, and for the first time, traveling with people wasn’t a burden. They actually wanted to do the exact same things I did–walk around aimlessly, every now and then hitting a cafe to read our pocketed books, taking all the side streets, walking through the schools and backyards, hitting the museums and art galleries, going to bars that had Locals, not just foreigners.
Apparently I’m not an urban traveler at all. Or an “ascetic” traveler, or a “localist” traveler, or a “hardcore” traveler. Just an American traveler.
Why Vietnam? The War, of course. The Americans I stay with are concerned with the similarities of the Iraq War with the Vietnam “police action”. Fact-checking, changing our perspectives and seeing ominous similarities everywhere, and discovering the hard kernels about what the American schools taught us. The hard-fact is this: There was no “Communist Threat” to America, they didn’t give a damn about us, unless we tried to get involved. The Gulf of Tonkin was a fabrication, and if we had let the Vietnamese deal with their own issues of Independence, they would have ended up Capitalist anyways–just a Capitalism “in the name of the people.”
Countries gaining Independence, historically, are susceptible to Communist Ideology, being a new country concerned primarily “with the people,” in fear of the petty Bourgeois that comes in capitalist third-worlds in Africa. But Communism is an irrational economic system, something that doesn’t take too long to figure out. The War was a meaningless atrocity. It was never about economics to the Vietnamese, it was about being a unified, independant nation, owned “by the people” (as in, by their own state). Americans should have known, from our own revolution, that such a war was impossible to win.
I need not go into great detail about the misinformation of American education with Vietnam. Vietnam has a capitalist economy, a destructive totalitarian government, and a people so nice, energetic and enthused that when they find seven Americans together, instead of berating us for the war, they barrage us with questions about America, while we do the same to them about Vietnam.
So the museums have been emotional. American dog-tags from soldiers KIA, letters from American POWs, stolen American armory, portrayals of the “solidarity” protests in America during the war…the prison where McCain and many others were kept during the war.
It’s difficult coming to a country like this after living in Korea. The Korean war was a conflict so similar to Vietnam and Iraq, except that it was very short, and now considered successful. The difference is had to explain. It may have to do with the fact that the Americans wanted to get out of Korea asap. Unlike Iraq and Vietnam we let the Koreans do almost all of their own fighting, and we were urgent to end the war at the DMZ, letting the Korean government take over almost immediately afterwards. I don’t know what the difference was, the situation was almost identical. One was a vast success, the other an infamous error.
Also, in Korea, there was no “Gulf on Tonkin” or “Sept. 11” that turned soldiers into overzealous killing machines. We had come to assist, then leave–not for vengeance, racism or economic gain.
So many Americans, the ones concerned with the Iraq War, do what the Bush regime wouldn’t–they come to Vietnam, and try to figure out what went wrong, and how to avoid it. Personally, I’m amazed at how intelligent these Americans are, and how dedicated they are to knowing the hard truth beyond the “authorotative texts”. The journey so far has been emotional, and extremely depressing–not because the Vietnam War was so hazardous, but because it’s so clear now that all the mistakes from Vietnam have already been made in Iraq, as if we started caring five years too late.
For now, more Museums, more exploration, more unanswered questions. They call our war the “Anti-American War of Vietnamese Liberation.” I suppose it’s only fair. I don’t remember calling it anything as I was growing up but “the F*ck up.”
One last part about McCain–I trust that nobody is fooled by his VP pick. He intends to steal the Hillary supporters by choosing a female, playing identity politics, selecting an unknown female to represent all women, as if such a thing is possible. She doesn’t represent “all women” any more than Obama represents “all blacks.” These candidates should be judged on their own merits, not their race or gender. Pick accordingly.