The American Legacy of Violence in Afghanistan and Vietnam

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Photo: Wakil Kohsar / AFP via Getty Images

Another fleet of American planes abandon another shattered capital, and again, a familiar wound opens within me. It bleeds through time, staining my present with the past. I see my Vietnamese parents: my father watching his city burn on the horizon from an American warship. My mother huddling among bodies piled up on a boat that will take her to an island, to a camp, on a plane, and finally to a country that had dropped bombs on her since she could remember. Although separated from their war by decades far, a mother tongue I no longer speak and battles I never fought, I feel my parents’ pangs of pain, my invisible legacy, today, every day.

On television, the UN Secretary General says: “We cannot and must not abandon the Afghan people. A veteran holds back tears as she describes farewell notes from her abandoned Afghan friends. I watch men cling to the side of an Air Force transport, as if clinging to a deserter father, only to die immediately after take off. I’m back in a bunker on an American base, putting a pistol in my mouth and releasing security. My mother is back in Vietnam, picking up soft-shell crabs by a river as an American bomb nearly decapitates her. Dad sobs when he hears that his father died in a communist re-education camp. A civilian from Molakheyl cries his father, murdered by an American bullet.

Like an abusive father, the trauma of my adopted country has metastasized into denial, rage, repeated violence once again in the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, Afghanistan, and more battlegrounds than my heart alone can. hold on. We wage war under the banner of peace – call for the ravaging of our enemies with police actions, peacekeeping operations, international intervention – igniting gas in complicity. I shouldn’t have been surprised when America sent me to Afghanistan to to win Hearts and minds only to make me hurt the Afghans like the Americans hurt my family decades ago. I’ve seen our traumas follow us home, turn into cancers of police officers in body armor armed with assault rifles on our streets, recycled fascist rhetoric masquerading as political speech, and indifferent politicians. to the hundreds of thousands of people lost to illness for some time. pride of the president.

I draw lines between insane memories, how trauma is a chain around our necks. Saigon falls and Kabul falls. My friend is screaming because she doesn’t know if her family has fled Afghanistan and my grandfather is starving in a jungle camp. Vietnamese rush to embassy walls, and Tomahawk cruise missiles spray a wedding party. I watch my mother’s blank eyes gaze out the window the day America invades Iraq, and imagine she sees her cousin, returned from the fighting, punching holes in the walls of her childhood home. in his sleep. President Johnson adopts the Great Society reforms and President Obama orders the increase of Afghan troops. My father rapes me and I murder a man who is looking for a hand grenade. These memories are tangled in an epigenetic knot, passed from my parents to me, and the violence I have committed passes from me to someone who is now watching his country burn and his children will draw those same bleeding lines across their own. pass.

But I can’t survive here among these crazy memories. Living too long among them would kill me, as it is slowly killing my country. I have no choice but to end this vicious cycle. But I fear that as an aggressor America will take this pain only to turn it into a more heinous weapon. I fear that the dissonance of our defeats causes us to choose strength over compassion. I fear for you, my compatriots, but I can do nothing but invite you to carry this pain with me, to revive memories that nourish. Our sisters to the breasts of our mothers. Fathers teach us to swim in the ocean. Our first loves, the taste of their lips. Blackberries picked from trees in summer. Discover the warmth of foreigners whose language you do not share. Watch the moon take the place of the sun over the valley.

I can only invite you to feed the beauty in your memory, to let the selfish myth of a heroic America fade away. I can only ask you to break these chains, the ones you brandish against us, the ones that bind you to power.


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