A Culpable Innocence

Chapter 11: The Vung Tau Trip (pg. 160)


Linh’s words made Regis speechless while the thoughts they triggered unraveled his earlier mindset. The perspective presented by Linh forced new associations where accepted logic had previously woven a tight fabric of whole cloth. Regis remembered Sharon’s antiwar bias and how he had labeled it an outcome of her distrust for government, specifically for any authority dominated by Caucasians. Maybe the problem was with his labeling. It had allowed him to discredit her words, to avoid looking more deeply.

Suddenly he felt naked before Linh. This man had convictions and the courage to act upon them without regard for the incumbent risks. Regis was like a child whose only real concern in life had been building a career and finding a suitable partner. Linh’s words forced him to reevaluate where he stood in his life—at this very moment in Linh’s dining room, in Vietnam, alone in his ignorance, and somehow estranged from the actual flow of history. He recalled Linh’s original question: why was he sent here?

“Do you think my government should not have become involved in Southeast Asian politics?”

“That is not easy question to answer, but the right one to ask. After World War II you Americans emerged as the great world power. As such, you could not simply recede into isolationism. You had the power and the will to reform the world into your image. Therein lays the danger that any great power faces. Do you think there has ever been an empire in history any less tempted? Napoleon used his military to change the face of Europe and inculcate French culture. Hitler wanted to establish the reign of a superior Aryan race. Americans, perhaps a bit more humanistic, want to save the world from tyranny; but your ideals are tainted with self-interest, just as your democracy is tainted with capitalism.” Linh, agitated by his own words, rose from his chair. “Does not unbridled capitalism assure inequality?” Ling began to pace back and forth. “Your government knows it must regulate your businesses at home. And yet you want the world to caw taw to free markets and a global economy dominated by these same American businesses. Regardless of your intentions, like all great powers, the arrogance is the same.” Michelle, still standing behind Linh’s chair, bristled. Linh, ignoring her, seemed to be building a head of steam. He continued, “Both Ho Chi Minh and Ngo Dinh Diem invited you into our struggle against colonialism, knowing too well your brand of economic hegemony. Ho Chi Minh wanted to use the great victor of World War II as a wedge against Chinese hegemony. You rejected him because of his communism and drove him to seek arms and aid from his communist allies. Diem hated the Vietminh communists, but also feared their drift towards the Chinese. After thousands of years of fighting Chinese aggression, do you really believe any Vietnamese would willingly invite the Chinese into Indochina? You Americans seem so ignorant of history. Instead, you supported Diem’s seizure of power and his corrupt and brutal government as a hedge against the communists, when in fact it strengthened and legitimatized their cause.” Overwhelmed with his own emotions, Linh paused, seemingly to reconsider the questions put before him. “Given your position in the world, could you have ignored your apparent responsibility to intervene? I think not. Your mistake is the type of intervention you chose to pursue.” Linh had been gesticulating with his arms to punctuate his theme. Now, with his passion spent, he sighed deeply and with an air of a defeated soldier sank back into his chair. “But hindsight, as you Americans say, is always 20/20.”

Gripping the back of Linh’s chair, Michelle’s knuckles had turned white. Linh’s emotional outburst had made everybody uncomfortable. But it had opened Regis’ mind to a difficult but related thought, “Do you think we should just leave Vietnam to the Vietnamese?”

 “Your second question is much more difficult because it presumes to see through a present circumstance that is foreshadowed by an unknown future. That America must abandon its military assault on innocent villages and a civilian population that merely wants to live in peace is without question. However, if you were to withdraw your forces precipitously, the puppet government you have installed would fall as a result of its own corruption; and our country would be torn apart by civic strife. It is this reality that compels me to attempt to draw the potentially warring factions together before you leave.” Linh noticed Regis flinch at his expectation of America leaving the battle field. “Yes, my friend, you Americans will abandon us after you have unwittingly stirred the boiling pot of unrest. There is nothing here for you to win. Churchill was right. Eventually you will learn that you cannot fight ideologies with weapons and that you can only promote democracy in the world by supporting democratic institutions and the right of people to find their own path to freedom. Was this not the discovery of your own founding fathers? Your path was certainly different than the French, was it not—‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ versus liberté, égalité, fraternité? And our path will follow from our own traditions, rooted as they are in Confucianism. This truth, I hope, will at least be a lesson that will inform your history as a great nation so that you will not live to see this grievous error repeated.”

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