Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Travel in Vietnam “Rendition”

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On my first night back from Vietnam, my gracious Norwegian host and I took a stroll down to the DVD pirate shack.  Tellingly, ironically perhaps, we failed to find a comedy and chose to drop the $0.75usd on “Rendition,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal.  Now, bare with me, as I work through my thoughts on my two weeks in Vietnam in reverse order.

“Rendition” is a quasi-true type film based on the use of “extraordinary rendition” by the United States government since 9/11.  This term refers to the US government kidnapping a suspected enemy combatant and relocating them to an allied country where interrogations can take place outside the laws (Geneva Convention) of the US.  You may remember when this story had a millisecond of press a few years back.  The press referred to it, then, as secret prisons.  It was widely brushed off by the State Department and Pentagon as a necessary ploy to detract the enemy from finding out where their comrades were being held.  Feel free to sprinkle fishy quotation marks around all of the words so derelict of definition in that paragraph.

“Rendition” vividly depicts a man being completely dehumanized, brutalized, beaten, electrified, and waterboarded (suffocated by drowning).  You know, tortured.  That big “T” word that so many US politicians have refused to renounce unequivocally, except the one man who happened to fight in the Vietnam War, Mr. McCain.

They don’t call it the Vietnam War in Vietnam, as one might expect.  It is the American War.  And justifiably so.  Less than 24 hours before I watched “Rendition,” I had spent two weeks traveling through the country we Americans literally tried to “bomb back into the Stone Age.”  I visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where their godlike revolutionary figurehead is entombed.  I walked streets of Hanoi that had been nothing but puddles and shards of scrap less than 35 years ago.  I hiked trails outside the Cham ruins of My Son where the VC had fled to hide during US bombings of their improvised base camp.  I was horrified by the images and machinery of war at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon.

At the same time, I saw the most beautiful women I have seen in Asia.  I was cordially welcomed at gates of military bases.  Roads were being built.  Cities are teeming with young kids running wild with nouveau money from parents, buying toy trinkets and street-side snacks.  It was a mind-boggling land of paradox, both inspiring and insidious.

I was welcomed there.  As an American.  It was rather unsettling, the forgiveness.  Was it forgiveness?  Or was it a blind eye being turned toward a promising future?  Was it wrong to forget the past?  Could I?

Vietnam is at a crossroads many nations face at many points.  It defied all odds and won a war with gritty determination and selfless wit, defeating two imperialist attempts.  It reconciled, though rather savagely, a divided nation.  And after all of that, brighter days lie ahead.  The mood is calm, positive, entrepenurial.

How will I remember Vietnam?  As a mistake.  Not to travel to, but to invade so many years ago.  I was reminded yet again of the monstrosity of war.  A year ago, I was in Cambodia just a generation after the Khmer Rouge.  And now, this.  Napalm.  Chemical defoliation agents.  Carpet bombing.  Birth deformities generations later.  It was just, just… wrong.  I used to believe war was inevitable in a realist world order, that at times it was “a continuation of politics by other means,” as Clausewitz said.  And I was wrong.

How is it that empire governments and human beings at the helm fail to realize generosity breeds fewer enemies than revenge?  That feeding people rice rather than bullets wins friends?  That a helping hand works better than cutting them off?  A determined, united people facing the most extreme odds can and will survive and succeed.

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Written by Miles

February 15, 2008 at 3:37 pm

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