1. If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.
2. It was my view then, and still is, that you don’t make war without knowing why. Knowledge of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can’t fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can’t make them undead.
3. I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy’s life with a story.
4. He ran as he’d never run before, with neither hope nor despair. He ran because the world was divided into opposites and his side had already been chosen for him, his only choice being whether or not to play his part with heart and courage. He ran because fate had placed him in a position of responsibility and he had accepted the burden. He ran because his self-respect required it. He ran because he loved his friends and this was the only thing he could do to end the madness that was killing and maiming them.
5. You be America, alien invaders, and we’ll be Vietnam. And the Others go, Yeah, okay, right.
6. As I come to understand Vietnam and what it implies about the human condition, I also realize that few humans will permit themselves such an understanding.
7. As a Nobel Peace laureate, I, like most people, agonize over the use of force. But when it comes to rescuing an innocent people from tyranny or genocide, I’ve never questioned the justification for resorting to force. That’s why I supported Vietnam’s 1978 invasion of Cambodia, which ended Pol Pot’s regime, and Tanzania’s invasion of Uganda in 1979, to oust Idi Amin. In both cases, those countries acted without U.N. or international approval—and in both cases they were right to do so.
8. Nobody gives way to anybody. Everyone just angles, points, dives directly toward his destination, pretending it is an all-or-nothing gamble. People glare at one another and fight for maneuvering space. All parties are equally determined to get the right-of-way–insist on it. They swerve away at the last possible moment, giving scant inches to spare. The victor goes forwards, no time for a victory grin, already engaging in another contest of will. Saigon traffic is Vietnamese life, a continuous charade of posturing, bluffing, fast moves, tenacity and surrenders.
9. This country has not seen and probably will never know the true level of sacrifice of our veterans. As a civilian I owe an unpayable debt to all our military. Going forward let’s not send our servicemen and women off to war or conflict zones unless it is overwhelmingly justifiable and on moral high ground. The men of WWII were the greatest generation, perhaps Korea the forgotten, Vietnam the trampled, Cold War unsung and Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan vets underestimated. Every generation has proved itself to be worthy to stand up to the precedent of the greatest generation. Going back to the Revolution American soldiers have been the best in the world. Let’s all take a remembrance for all veterans who served or are serving, peace time or wartime and gone or still with us. 11/11/16 May God Bless America and All Veterans.
10. for years now there had been no country here but the war.
11. In the emergency of growing up, we all need heroes. But the father I grew up with was no hero to me, not then. He was too wounded in the head, too endlessly and terribly sad. Too funny, too explosive, too confusing. Heroes are uncomplicated. *This* makes them do *that*… But the war does not make sense. War senselessly wounds everyone right down the line. A body bag fits more than just its intended corpse. Take the 58,000 American soldiers lost in Vietnam and multiply by four, five, six—and only then does one begin to realize the damage this war has done… War when necessary, is unspeakable. When unnecessary, it is unforgivable. It is not an occasion for heroism. It is an occasion only for survival and death. To regard war in any other way only guarantees its inevitable reappearance.
12. If one morning in the Spring, a stranger came and said to me, Your mother, father, brother, sister, uncle, lover, friend, is dead. From a b-52, napalm bombing, search and destroy mission, air attack, Tet offensive, My Lai massacre, failed escape, I would not scream but make of my body a net, a tarp, stretched taut across the sky, the sea, over every village and hamlet. Prepared to catch everything from the sky, shade everything on the ground, rain water and receive you, war, with arms outstretched.
13. Maybe the Americans should have brought baseballs instead of bombs.
14. We took space back quickly, expensively, with total panic and close to maximum brutality. Our machine was devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop.
15. I spent half my childhood trying to be like my dad. True for most boys, I think. It turns with adolescence. The last thing I wanted was to be like my dad. It took becoming a man to realize how lucky I’d been. It took a few hard knocks in life to make me realize the only thing my dad had ever wanted or worked for was to give me a chance at being better than him.
16. If they didn’t want to know, they shouldn’t have asked.
17. So many of the professional foreign policy establishment, and so many of their hangers-on among the lumpen academics and journalists, had become worried by the frenzy and paranoia of the Nixonian Vietnam policy that consensus itself was threatened. Ordinary intra-mural and extra-mural leaking, to such duly constituted bodies as Congress, was getting out of hand. It was Kissinger who inaugurated the second front or home front of the war; illegally wiretapping the telephones even of his own staff and of his journalistic clientele. (I still love to picture the face of Henry Brandon when he found out what his hero had done to his telephone.) This war against the enemy within was the genesis of Watergate; a nexus of high crime and misdemeanour for which Kissinger himself, as Isaacson wittily points out, largely evaded blame by taking to his ‘shuttle’ and staying airborne. Incredibly, he contrived to argue in public with some success that if it were not for democratic distempers like the impeachment process his own selfless, necessary statesmanship would have been easier to carry out. This is true, but not in the way that he got newspapers like Rees-Mogg’s Times to accept.
18. Too young for Korea, too old for Vietnam.
19. Senator Kerry carries shrapnel in his thigh, as distinct from President Bush, who carries two fillings in his teeth from his service in the Alabama National Guard, which seems to be his only time that he showed up.
20. We are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary, for the ungrateful.
21. For example, grown men who sneer at the idea of unicorns will tearfully testify to the existence of an even rarer, more mythical species. Found only in remote ports of call and the darkest, deepest reaches of the most insalubrious taverns, this is the prostitute in whose chest beats the proverbial heart of gold. Let me assure you, if there is one part of a prostitute that is made of gold, it is not her heart.
22. This – not any particular piece of Vietnamese culture – is my inheritance: the inexplicable need ad extraordinary ability to run when the shit hits the fan. My refugee reflex.
23. I don’t have anything to give you, except to show you a way to better yourself.
24. Our lives are a story shaped by circumstance, twisted by Fate, and ultimately judged by how we reacted.
25. Monsters,’ she said., ‘of course my brain has them.’ As long as they stayed in there, everything would be all right. Wouldn’t it?
26. The merits of rival causes are never absolute. Even in the Second World War, the Western allied struggle against fascism was compromised by its reliance upon the tyranny of Stalin to pay most of the blood price for destroying the tyranny of Hitler. Only simpletons of the political Right and Left dare to suggest that in Vietnam either side possessed a monopoly of virtue.
27. It is amazing that the refugees stay sane. First the bombs, perhaps the “battle” around them, their casualties, their naked helplessness; then the flight, leaving behind everything they have worked for all their lives; then the semi-starvation and ugly hardship of the camps or the slums; and as a final cruelty, the killing diseases which only strike at them.
28. It is not easy to be the citizen of a Superpower, nor is it getting easier. I would feel isolated with my shame if I were not sure that I belong, among millions of Americans, to a perennial minority of the nation. The obstinate bleeding hearts who will never agree that might makes right and know if the end justifies the means, the end is worthless. Power corrupts, an old truism but why does it also make the powerful so stupid? Their power schemes become unstuck in time, at cruel cost to other; then the powerful put their stupid important heads together and invent the next similar schemes [written 1987].
29. Someday our children, whom we love, may blame us for dishonoring America because we did not care enough about children 10,000 miles away [written, 1967].
30. In our society, there are only two respectable types of people: the proletariat—the avant-garde of our society, the beacon of the revoluation—and the peasantry, faithful ally of the proletariat in its struggle for the construction of socialism. The rest is nothing. The merchants, the petty tradespeople, they’re only exploiters.
31. Dean Rusk never beat his wife. He was a decent man. He was a liberal. He was head of the Ford Foundation. And as Secretary of State during the Vietnam war, he killed over a hundred thousand people in a useless, wasteful, unnecessary, stupid war. We would all be better off if he had found a better way to express his anger. His time is passing with the turn of the century.
32. And I saw the roof of the shack in Hanoi where my mother lived. Sheet metal patched together with tar paper. On rainy days, the roof leaked. In the heat of summer, the acrid smell of tar was overpowering, nauseating. All around, the gutters, gurgling under slabs of cement, flowed from one house to the next. Children played in this filthy black water, sailing their little white paper boats. The few mangy patches of grass were at the foot of the wall where men drunk on too much beer came to relieve themselves. The place reeked of urine. This was my street. I had grown up here.
33. The shouts of the villagers masked their own terror. Their screams were both a release and a sordid way of asking for grace, a baseness difficult to avoid in those troubled times.
34. The fear syndrome [a species of propaganda], by exaggerating Vietcong power for destruction, misplaces the real pain of the real war, and is immensely dangerous. It leads to hysteria, to hawk-demands for a bigger war; it pushes us nearer and nearer to World War Three. The fear syndrome in no way serves the American cause; it can only jeopardize more American lives, with the ultimate risk of jeopardizing all life.
35. The air echoed with the sounds of fury: Drums beat, bugles sounded the charge, mobs shrieked, and guerrilla patroles crisscrossed the roads, bayonets glinting at the tips of their rifles. The guerrillas kept their weapons cocked, threatening, ready to do battle. Their bayonets reflected in the gleam of their eyes as they glared suspiciously at every passerby. NO LANDLORAD WILL SLIP THROUGH OUR NET. That was the new slogan, scrawed in lurid colors across the roads. Whomever they stopped shuddred under the violence of their gaze, this blind hatred that needed no basis, no justification.
36. I suddenly understood why, when I brought out the gifts, she had shot me the anxious look of a shoplifter. This was the way they lived here, viligant, spying on each other, each keeping watch over his neighbor. One mouthful too many, and the others might turn you in as a potential threat to the collective
37. By entering into the arena of argument and counter-argument, of technical feasibility and tactics, of footnotes and citations, by accepting the presumption of legitimacy of debate on certain issues, one has already lost one’s humanity. This is the feeling I find almost impossible to repress when going through the motions of building a case against the American war in Vietnam. Anyone who puts a fraction of his mind to the task can construct a case that is overwhelming: surely this is now obvious. In a way, by doing so he degrades himself, and insults beyond measure the victims of our violence and our moral blindness. There may have been a time when American policy in Vietnam was a debatable matter. This time is long past. It is no more debatable than the Italian war in Abyssinia or the Russian suppression of Hungarian freedom. The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us, who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction – all of us who would have remained silent had stability and order been secured. It is not pleasant to use such words, but candour permits no less.
38. We were at the home base of the holy man who encouraged presidents to drop bombs on poor Cockroaches in far-off villages in Vietnam
39. Grit and tenacity will take you far in life, but love and forgiveness will carry you to the finish line.
40. As a nonwhite person, the General, like myself, knew he must be patient with white people, who were easily scared by the nonwhite. Even with liberal white people, one could go only so far, and with average white people one could barely go anywhere. The General was deeply familiar with the nature, nuances and internal differences of white people, as was every nonwhite person who had lived here a good number of years. We ate their food, we watched their movies, we observed their lives and psyche via television and in everyday contact, we learned their language, we absorbed their subtle cues, we laughed at their jokes, even when made at our expense, we humbly accepted their condescension, we eavesdropped on their conversations in supermarkets and the dentist’s office, and we protected them by not speaking our own language in their presence, which unnerved them. We were the greatest anthropologists ever of the American people, which the American people never knew because our field notes were written in our own language in letters and postcards dispatched to our countries of origin, where our relatives read our reports with hilarity, confusion, and awe. Although the Congressman was joking,we probably did know white people better than they knew themselves, and we certainly knew white people better than they ever knew us.
41. The Eichmann trial taught the world the banality of evil. Nixon is teaching the world the evil of banality.
42. The incident plaguing him on this very night, did not have any relation to the jungles, the killing fields, the faces of villagers and the Vietcong, nor the hours of trekking through the mud, to destinations never revealed over the radios.
43. The gray guilt had grown heavy, refusing to pause its relentless infusion into her joints and marrow. After all, it was her fault her brother was taken.
44. The multiple niche markets in Vietnam’s global sex industry offer insight into some of the larger macroeconomic shifts that reframe our understanding of the coproduction of gender and global capital.
45. But while women were able to capitalize on Vietnam’s rapid development, it is important to situate their mobility as constrained within structures of patriarchy.
46. We who have seen war will never stop seeing it.
47. We who have seen war, will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night, we will always hear the screams. So this is our story, for we were soldiers once, and young
48. During the Vietnam War, every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.
49. There were stories that the tunnels went for miles. There were monsters down there, blind reptiles and insects that had never seen the light, there were hospitals and brothels, and horrible things, piles of the offal from VC atrocities, dead babies, assassinated priests.
50. The American soldiers were brave, but courage is not enough. David did not kill Goliath just because he was brave. He looked up at Goliath and realized that if he fought Goliath’s way with a sword, Goliath would kill him. But if he picked up a rock and put it in his sling, he could hit Goliath in the head and knock Goliath down and kill him. David used his mind when he fought Goliath. So did we Vietnamese when we had to fight the Americans.
51. As a child, I thought that war and peace were opposites. Yet I lived in peace when Vietnam was in flames and I didn’t experience war until Vietnam had laid down its weapons. I believe that war and peace are actually friends, who mock us.
52. They used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness. Greased they’d say. Offed, lit up, zapped while zipping. It wasn’t cruelty, just stage presence. They were actors. When someone died, it wasn’t quite dying, because in a curious way it seemed scripted, and because they had their lives mostly memorized, irony mixed with tragedy, and because they called it by other names, as if to encyst and destroy the reality of death itself.
53. I hated him for making me stop hating him
54. I think we are, by our own closed-door admissions, a fractious untrusting tribe unified only because we are besieged by larger forces.
55. Lying half-asleep in his embrace, I looked up and saw on his face the same expression I saw on countless lonely faces every day. It was the homesick look of the children who were lost in the chaos of warfare, witnessing death and disaster, longing for a meaningful touch.
56. Never had I beheld such despair.
57. Hit me again, and I’ll report you to the authorities. Follow me to my bed one more time, and I swear to the gods, I’ll search for the most painful way to murder you.
58. I didn’t hurt anymore, didn’t feel like hiding anymore, wasn’t scared anymore. Because I wasn’t anything anymore. Not anything I love or know or care about. Because thou shalt not kill, Kade. Thou shalt not kill. With all my heart I believed this. And I killed. So what am I now? And why should I live? How am I even alive? Because if this is what our lives are – if doing this to others before they do it unto us is all our lives are – we’re already dead.
59. The old refrain is that there are no atheists in foxholes. That’s nonsense. They are there by the millions. There is little in combat that will lead one to look upon the Creator with favor. What can’t be there, instead, is the individualist, the selfish, the self-consumed, the self-centered, the aloof loner. Such a man cannot long survive. The terror of combat cannot be described by fear of death. There are worse things. The world can suddenly become a very cold place…He needs warmth, a fire, to survive: His discipline, his training, his duty, honor and country, his family, and ultimately the very oak of his manhood are thrown into the blaze, but they are not enough to save him. At the end, he needs the warmth of his comrades. Otherwise, all he will have with which to face the cold dark will be his own spent soul.
60. When I crawled down the rabbit hole into the pivotal event of my life–indeed the pivotal event of my generation–to write “Escape from Saigon – a Novel” I never expected it to be such an emotional journey into a life I left four decades ago.