Thursday, April 30, 2015

Collateral Damage

Dear Friends and Followers:

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the end of what you call the “Vietnam War.” I have studied this event in your history and have tried my best to explain it to the Falloonian Elders.

I failed.

One of the best quotes I came across explaining your country's involvement, although it doesn’t explain it fully, was from a book called Tree of Smoke by a man named Denis Johnson:

“The Americans won't win. They're not fighting for their homeland. They just want to be good. In order to be good, they just have to fight awhile and then leave.”

Another, longer quote, is an excerpt from a short story by our own Jimmie, and today, in honor of the anniversary, I won’t call him Big Dope. This is scene based on his experience in which a young American sailor, on his first day “in-country” is sent to help escort a Vietnamese woman and her baby to medical facilities on an American base at Da Nang. It is part of a collection of stories he hopes to publish in a few weeks and deals with what you Americans, rather blithely in my opinion, call “collateral damage.” Enjoy

 Zimmerman placed the woman between him and Hinson and the three started back along the main street toward the heart of the base. As they walked, Hinson noticed that Zimmerman had ceased talking. Hinson looked at the woman, who was staring straight ahead and still held the baby tight against her body, as if every tree and every building wanted nothing more than to snatch it from her.

“The baby sick?” he asked.

Zimmerman shook his head and walked on a few steps. “Blown up,” he said.

“Blown up?”

“A stray rocket hit her house in the village and blew the baby into a fire pit.”

“A stray rocket? Was it VC?”

“Nobody knows. What difference does it make?”

Hinson turned to the woman who appeared to him to be past the age of having an infant. “Is it her baby?”

“Yeah, it’s hers,” Zimmerman said, pointing with a thumb. Before he could say any more, the woman realized that they were talking about her. She showed concern and turned toward Zimmerman. He wouldn’t look at her so she turned to Hinson. He made the mistake of showing interest.

The woman, in order, it appeared, to justify being on the base, relaxed her grip on the baby and lowered it, supporting it with one arm near her stomach. As Hinson watched, she gently unwrapped the cloth that covered the child and motioned for Hinson to look.

The child’s face consisted of a continuous red scab except for a large blister that still covered one cheek. Stitches began near one ear and continued beneath its clothing. Both hands extended from the body and were wrapped tightly. It was apparent that one was shorter than the other. A patch of white gauze, lifted away from the face by cotton swabs covered one eye while the other stared ahead without moving, almost accusingly. Scabs covered the lower lip. Blood stains showed through most of the bandages. The woman shook her head and smiled at Hinson eagerly, so he would understand that she belonged here.

Breakfast bacon rebelled and roiled in Hinson’s stomach. He stifled a retch, then another. He looked at Zimmerman who had never looked around. “Jesus, god,” Hinson said quietly. The woman covered the child once more in the soft clothing and pulled it tight against her breast. The three walked together each struck silent by emotions beating against the morning heat like wild birds fighting the bars of a cage. They were silent until they reached Sick Bay.

Let’s hope your country doesn’t forget and allow this to happen again.
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