Spending over a week in Vietnam made me realize how very little I know about the Vietnam War, locally known as the Resistance War Against America which I believe is a more fitting name, and America’s unfortunate history in Southeast Asia.
Sadly, most people who have gone to primary and secondary school in the States are not aware that the American education system is selective about what it chooses to include in the curriculum and what details it chooses to exclude. (Just another reason why it’s so important to travel and educate yourself.)
I can spend hours running a play by play of World War II, from each concentration camp in Poland to the Nazis who escaped to Argentina.
But when it comes to the Vietnam War, which was more recent and therefore should be taught, I could only tell you Nixon was trying to stop the commies so we went to Saigon, and then the hippie movement started. The Tet Offensive, napalm, Forrest Gump, and the Pentagon Papers fit somewhere in that chapter, too, but that’s the best I can do.
Sure we learned about the Vietnam War. It was a chapter somewhere towards the end of the school year, when teachers and students alike were anxious for summer. It was glazed over, and even looking back I realized that some parts were outright omitted.
I don’t recall being taught about Agent Orange. I don’t recall being told that the Unites States government dropped 44 million liters of poisonous gas on the people of Vietnam that to this day has caused death, severe deformities, and health complication in over 4 million people.
No, I think I would have remembered that.
What about the My Lai massacre? American troops raided a village, killing over 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians, most of them women and children.
I think that deserves more than a paragraph in my textbook.
Napalm? Dioxin? These are war crimes, genocide. Yet, in school they only teach us about the war crimes of the Nazis during World War II.
Look up agent orange victims and explain to me how we, as a generation and a nation, have just ignored our actions, when people in Vietnam are still being born with defects caused by the poisons dropped on them by the Americans almost fifty years ago.
I try my best to stay away from polarizing topics, but after some of the things I’ve seen in Vietnam I cannot stand by and be ambivalent. I have a lot more to learn, but I urge you as well to learn more about American involvement in Vietnam, victims of Agent Orange, and in general to seek information outside of what we are taught.
Remember that knowledge is power, and that the best way to learn about something is to go see it for yourself.