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For the past couple months, as you’ve probably noticed, I posted a series of excerpts from books on the Vietnam War that had an unstated, but clear, purpose (Notes from a Disintegrating Nation and It Was Never About Freedom). I’m more than happy to admit that I can come off as polemic and bit too scholarly for many people’s tastes. But, something must be said for a person who refuses to buy all the bullshit information that society chooses for you to eat your whole life.
No one enjoys being lied to, especially about one’s beginnings in this world. Growing up, it was generally expected that I accept the white baby scrapbook, the photos of little old me arriving at the airport in 1974 and my parents’ awkward silence on the country in which I was born and the unintended consequences of a war from which they tried to shield me. The looking glass into my past was wrapped in plastic and secured deep in reinforced concrete because I was never meant to step out of the amusement theme park that my life had become. For all the relative affluence my parents and this country handed down to me, I was expected to trade in my conscience and critical thought processes that had been hard-wired into me at birth.
The Vietnam War was recorded extensively, both officially and unofficially, and it has been imagined and re-imagined over and over to “teach” us lessons about life and death. In the American mass media marketplace, the war is usually recounted from one vantage point and with one singular goal in mind: To make the United States and Americans look good.
Ever since I can remember, the people of the United States and South Vietnam have been cast as the victims in the war and the twin beacons of freedom who fought for a noble cause. This kind of rhetoric is still used on us older Vietnamese adoptees to help explain how we were exiled from Vietnam and resettled in foreign countries. No one wants to acknowledge, however, the unpleasant paradox inherent in how we ended up in the very same country whose government and citizenry readily accepted waging a war against the very people who conceived us.
As a result of this rhetoric, compliant gratitude was slowly being fostered in me, leaving me temporarily with no defense against emotional manipulation and open to the planting of disinformation. However, no matter how unpleasant the topic of war was, I chose not to escape the devastation caused by other people’s decisions and actions. I wanted to rush back in time and witness for myself the events that likely contributed to my own adoption from Vietnam. Someone had to answer for the reason for my being here, I thought.
The more historical memory is contested with inconvenient facts and the more political propaganda is debunked and then dissolved through critical analysis, the more life seems to have purpose. And, if I can pique even just one person’s curiosity and get him to take a second look at conventional wisdom, then I feel I’ve served my purpose.