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Saturday, 12 April 2008

Save the old South Vietnamese Military Cemetery. Memories of Vietnam

The sad state of the old South Vietnamese Military Cemetery near Saigon.

In 1967 I visited the South Vietnamese War Memorial and cemetery north east of Saigon. I was driving a young Vietnamese woman, PB, who was originally from North Vietnam. Her husband, a young officer had been killed by a booby-trap whilst turning over the body of a dead Viet Cong. I was stationed at Van Kiep, Phuoc Thuy province at that time.

She is the study of 'young woman on steps' in two of my photos in this blog. I have a very good view of the monument in another. It was perhaps still new and in pristine condition. My photo of the statue of the ARVN soldier has always for me represented all the sadness of the war.

I have just come across a song sung by Ho Ngoc Ha accompanied by Lam Nhat Tien and Dang The Luan, called 'Em con nho mua xuan'. Looking at the video of this song and then the photo of this statue and other memories brings up all the bitter sweet sadness of that war.

The video by Frank Ford of the present state of this statue shows the utter contempt that is displayed to the memory of the dead. My own feeling is also that many of the young of Vietnam do not know about nor wish to know about the war. The dead of all sides in a conflict should be respected. The only mitigating factor for me is that once I saw on TV in Vietnam, in about 1970, a clip of the U.S. army blowing up a Viet Cong war memorial they had come across.

The final straw for me is the amount of money that is being spent on economic development, tourism, the destruction and exploitation of the forests etc. whilst showing such utter contempt for the dead of one side in what was after all a civil war. That the statue had been destroyed during the final battles of 1975 one can understand, if even sadly; at least if it was undertaken by troops in the field and not ordered from the high command.

Is it part of communist policy to despise the dead of the opponent? I have never read Karl Marx and know little of their beliefs. I sometimes wonder if capitalism and the accompanying ecological destruction that accompanies it do not do as much damage as war itself. I am referring here to the destruction of the countryside by the timber industry, by the building of highways and tourist resorts. Also perhaps to the loss of a way of life.

In any case it has always been part of Vietnamese culture to respect one’s elders. To respect the dead. There can be no hope of a final peace in a country that was wrought by more than thirty years of war, against the Japanese, the French, the Americans and finally throughout that conflict against each other, until such time as both sides can salute the other’s dead.

I think it is high time an effort was made to restore all military cemeteries throughout Vietnam. Why not put a dollar tax on every tourist to this effect? And perhaps a thousand dollars annual tax on all foreign multi-nationals?

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