Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Old men make war, young men die in them.

I am standing on a land. A timeless piece of land that has been occupied for a few thousand years. A land that has known peace and war and war and peace. That seems to follow a repeating cycle of two ages. An age of war and an age of peace. War and Peace are like two different worlds that somehow are intertwined in the reality of what we call life.

In this long history of the land, Unk Dicko a mere mortal, is standing on just one page of this storybook. And this page tells of wars in the past and peace in the present. Only the living like us try to make sense of the meaning and purpose of it all...the wars. The dead cry out for answers from where they lie in war cemeteries, mausoleums, unmarked graves or as wandering souls in marshes, swamps and the humid jungle of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

A peace loving man surrounded by weapons of war.
[ The War Museum, Saigon ]

Was the War on Vietnam a huge mistake by America?
What do you think?
In hindsight it's always easier to say " we were wrong"

Do you know how many people died during the Vietnam War?
If we take the period from 1963 to April 1975 as generally accepted, the number of war
dead from all parties is estimated at between 5 million to perhaps 7 million people.
No one can really tell.
Many of those missing are unaccounted for till today.

Between 3- 4 million Vietnamese ( both North and South ) died.
About 1 million dead for Laos and Cambodia combined.
Americans dead over 58,000 - mainly soldiers.
Australians dead reportedly 521 - mainly troops.
Smaller numbers for other allied forces.
Were there Singaporeans who were killed in this 11 year war?
If yes, who were they? How and why were they killed?
[ Detailed answers in my next blogpost ]

After studying the external exhibits, I went into the War Museum proper.
There were much on display that drew me closer.
As I walked through the main concourse I ended near the entrance again.
There, I saw a young man dressed in similar NVA green fatigues seated at
a desk by the main door.
Before him was an open visitors' book and a pen. I flipped through some of
the pages. People came from different corners of the world. Many different languages
were on the pages.
I asked the young man on duty, " Can I write something? "
This pleasant young man answered in the affirmative..." Yes, can " ( in English ).

As soon as I've penned my few lines, I asked my young friend

if he could capture the scene in above 2 photos with my camera.
He said, " ok. "....and helped me.
Suddenly, another 'NVA' chap almost similar in age rushed towards me
and blurted out in typical VC -like manner, " Cannot take picture!
Cannot take picture! "
It was a little ludicrous.
His colleague had helped me snapped 2 pics with my camera of
my very own message in an ordinary visitors' book. That's about it all.
It is not as though I was snapping some state secrets. I did not turn to
other pages. Just my own.

And so before the matter escalate and get out of hand...Unk Dicko must
act like I always did in all my travels ( Check my post Heaven and Hell about Medan )!
I asked this fierce 'NVA'..if he understood English. " No" he said.
I held up my message for him to see and said I've pronounced a Blessing on
his country...and would he like to get someone else to read for him?
His reaction?
On hearing that I have wished Vietnam well...he was rather pleased.
And told me, " Ok...ok..no problem ."
He even thanked me for what I have written!


PChew said...

The War in Vietnam was in 2 phases. After Japan's defeat in 1945, the Viet Minh fought against the French Army. French army lost the war and Vietnam was divided into North and South. The war then continued in the South between the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese Army with US military support. The war ended with the defeat of the US army in 1975. So the war dead must include those in the North.

unk Dicko said...

The stats for the war dead in my post referred specifically ONLY to the casualty figures for the later VIETNAM WAR period( 1963-1975)as stated in my writing.
I did not include any "specs" from the earlier French Indo-China war. That post 1945 war against the French legions which ended in a French defeat and withdrawal from Indo China and later continued as a civil war between the North and the South...I have not touched on yet.