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Sunday, 5 September 2010

Memories of Vietnam: parts 37 & 38: Relations with the Vietnamese: The War


Relations with the Vietnamese

In our work with Decca we had little or nothing to do officially or unofficially with the Vietnamese. If we had limited ourselves uniquely to doing our job and living mostly on base we could have spent a year or eighteen months making a lot of money and then gone home knowing little or nothing of the country. I do know of a few cases like that but they were fairly exceptional. I would say the Americans were far wilder than the British. I was with the Americans and we were under yearly contracts. The British under the London office worked for Decca and one imagines had a future with the company.

As we were mostly, if not all, bachelors the majority had local girlfriends, many got married. It is either one of the pitfalls or pleasures of sending single men to exotic corners of the world.

Also it was very difficult to live in Vietnam if one did not have a maid to take care of one's day to day needs. Then one needed someone to take care of the maid etc.

I always believed Vietnam to be one country in a state of civil war. This was in contradiction to the official US view. They had always been one people throughout history and eventually would be so again.

There was a distinct difference in character though between the north and the south. In the south they were much more easy going, in fact had an easier life, the war apart. They were very quick to anger and the fury of their women was something to be avoided. This anger though would last an hour or a day, no grudge would be held, and everything would then return to a state of loving normality. Generally they were absolutely faithful.
The North Vietnamese had a much harder life and had never accepted French domination. They were generally very slow to anger. It was said that they would wait ten or twenty years if necessary before exacting their revenge. Easier to get on with, more practical, but one was never certain of what they actually thought.


The War

I have talked little about the war. I had the BBC World Service, The US Armed Forces Radio. I had The Stars and Stripes and various English language local newspapers. These latter were most amusing but I will deal with them later. I can't say I was ill informed. The war jogged on slowly and I was really only concerned with my little corner of Vietnam.

My own personal relationships were far more important to me than the fate of the country. That might seem selfish but I certainly had never gone to Vietnam with any missionary zeal to save the people from communism. I certainly didn't like communism. At times I feared it. But then I've never liked nor believed in politicians or generals. I have never voted in my life. Partly because I've never lived in a country where I've been allowed to vote, but mostly an utter contempt for those I would have to vote for. The US military I was associated with were of the old beer drinking long service types who had a job to do and got on with it.

The people of the country had lived with war so long it was a part of their life. However with programs to clear large areas of the countryside of its population and the creation of shanty towns. With the disparity in living conditions between most of the people and a minority of well-off Vietnamese. With the poorest staying in the army until they were killed or invalided out. With the sons of the rich going off to study abroad and not returning. With the corruption of the régime. With the money available to the US military and foreigners. With all this and more there was a growing discontentment.

There was also a certain contempt I felt on the part of certain of the military for the value of life. The use of the so called body count! The free fire zones! The use of agent orange! The use of napalm! The massive use of B52's! I certainly was no pacifist. I would not have been there if I were. One did wonder though over a period of time who exactly the enemy was and what was the friendly régime one was defending. It seemed one was supporting a very corrupt dictatorship in the name of what?

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