Purposeful Forgetting


Phong Nha Park


When you’re an American expat and you want to move freely in the world, you have to deliberately not remember a lot in order to experience a sense of ease and comfort. Freedom from guilt means purposeful forgetting. You can’t very well vacation in a country that we bombed repeatedly for years because we disapproved of their self-governance.

The problem for Americans is that caveat rules out most of the developing world. Central America, South America, Indochina, the Middle East, Southern Europe…all have felt the lash of our enormous and deadly whip. If you’ve got enough in the bank you could confine your wandering to Switzerland or Scandanavia without having to flip into denial mode.

True, we didn’t bomb Argentina and Chile, we just sent Kissinger there to tell them they could take care of their Communist problem without worrying about interference from us. OK, in our role as Global Robocop we didn’t kill as many foreign people as Stalin or Mao did of their own, but that doesn’t exactly render us white as snow. We trained the assassins from Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador and we gave money directly to the Contras in Nicaragua.

In a few weeks I will be venturing to Dong Hoi,Vietnam. We’ll be taking advantage of a super cheap fare from our home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The city of Dong Hoi is new, because we completely destroyed the old city in 1971. Back then we left the shell of one building and a palm tree standing. Dong Hoi had the misfortune to be the first city of any size north of the DMZ, and planes taking off from Danang airport found it convenient to drop their load there.

If my prior visit to Dong Hoi will serve as any indication, I expect to be treated cordially by the people I meet. The family members who run the hotel I booked were very nice to me last time. I rented a motorcycle from them and drove to Phong Na park, a lush forest preserve that hosts some of the most attractive limestone caves in the world. Fifty years ago there wasn’t much there to bomb, but we did drop tons of Agent Orange on the vast canopy of trees, because we called it the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” and saw their vegetation as an affront to our security.

There is also a lot of unexploded ordinance there, so I won’t do a whole lot of hiking off the trails. The United Nations has done their best to help Laos and Vietnam clean up the cluster bomb mess we made, but they haven’t made much progress yet. We may have to pitch in.

In my search for a place to live out my golden years I’ve traveled to many former hot spots in Central and South America.

When I was in Argentina they were making efforts to remember and honor the victims of the military killing orgy that went on after Kissinger promised them a free hand. In Chile, our puppet Pinochet had his troops bomb the Presidential Palace while Salvador Allende, former President of the University of Chile and the first democratically elected Communist ruler of any country was inside.

The first time I visited Hanoi, I was staying in a hotel in an old part of the city and reading a book on the history of our war with that country. It turns out that Kissinger and Nixon hatched a plan to make the Vietnamese think Nixon was insane, and thus drive them to hurry to the negotiating table and sign a truce. On Christmas day we bombed Hanoi. Unlike our efforts at the end of World War II in Japan and Germany, and our police action in North Korea, we had reverted to the genteel notion of obeying the Geneva Conventions and not directly targeting civilians. Before the Chrtistmas Bombing (Operation Linebacker) most of our bombing in Vietnam was restricted to military targets. In Laos, because there were few military targets, we bombed anything that moved and kept that up for ten years. But anyway, on Christmas day, 1972 a bomb dropped from a B-52 pierced the roof of the hospital next door to the hotel in which I was now staying and exploded in the operating room killing everyone. I put down the book and stared at the wall that separated my hotel from the hospital. Why had the desk clerk smiled at me when I checked in? Why wasn’t there an angry mob outside demanding my head?

As the ugliness of global economic disparity continues to grow, there will be more refugees. Countries like Nigeria send thousands of young men north to Libya, where they climb into rafts and hope to make it to Greece or Sicily. Some of them do, and then they find their way to Calais, where nobody is glad to see them. They don’t know what else to do. The bottom billion people on this planet are sliding backwards. Their countries are not just falling behind, they’re falling apart.

Of course, it’s only matter of time before we bring them democracy, one bomb at a time.



the author reading this essay:  http://chirb.it/Mkxhp3



One thought on “Purposeful Forgetting

  1. I was also amazed by the graciousness of the Vietnamese on both my trips to Vietnam. But I had difficulty forgetting what my country had done to Vietnam and was haunted by my culpability as an American. Why did I go to Vietnam? As a kid, the war in Vietnam was on the US nightly news for years and years. As an American adult living in SE Asia, how could I not return to the scene of the crime?


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