Last week, I met a veteran of the Vietnam War. I interviewed him for nearly four hours about his experiences there, but really, I could have sat there much longer. Now, I have studied Vietnam in history classes, but it was really something to meet someone who had actually lived it and who talked openly about his experiences there. It made it seem more real, as real as that event will ever be to me because I never lived it.
What shocked me more were not even the stories he told of actually being in Vietnam itself – it was the story he told of his reception at home. People put animal feces into bags and threw it at returning soldiers, calling them “baby killers.”
I honestly don’t even know what to say to that. I’m not a big fan of war – I seriously doubt anyone is. And, while I am a big fan of freedom of speech (again, which is what even enables me to write these words) I do not think that throwing garbage at returning soldiers is an appropriate way to express your discontent. Write a letter. Paint a sign. Give a speech. All are, in my opinion, much more acceptable ways to protest something.
I guess what really worries me is the fact that somewhere along the line, those protesters forgot that the returning soldiers were real people. Not all of them even wanted to go to Vietnam – many were drafted. They had no internet or cell phones back then, and, this veteran said, they felt cutoff in very unsettling ways. So, I infer, they were probably ecstatic to be coming home, and thus I am just horrified at the way they were received.
The veteran that I interviewed told me that he sees a lot of parallels between the wars today and Vietnam, and while I don’t know many people in the military and I don’t know much about it, I hope that soldiers returning today never have to deal with the kind of public resentment faced by those returning from Vietnam. It just isn’t right.
This veteran got me thinking about the significance of my birthplace. I had thought about this before, but not quite on this scale. I read a book last semester on the Sudanese “Lost Boys.” I don’t remember who it is by or what it is called (I read it quickly for extra credit), but what stuck out to me was the author’s discontentment at being “rescued” and flown to America. He wrote that he discovered something along the lines of, “There is no place where you will have no problems – you may only have different kinds of problems.”
Talk about the grass not being greener on the other side. In a very roundabout way, I guess I have come to a conclusion I never intended to make. All throughout high school, I kept saying that college would be great, phenomenal, fantastic, wonderful – fill in pretty much any positive adjective. And it is. But there are also some things that aren’t quite so positive.
In short, different places, different problems, but still sadness, still suffering, still humans. War or peace, Vietnam or Afghanistan, America or Sudan, a dairy farm or a B1G campus.