Vietnam Full Disclosure

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I remember sitting in front of the black and white television, probably around 1969, watching the caskets of men killed in Vietnam come off the planes, and hearing the body count listing. From my quiet corner of Maine, my child’s brain couldn’t understand the deaths. Nearly fifty years later, my adult brain is still trying to make sense of Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan– the “conflicts” (at least the ones we know about) where our nation puts people at risk in the name of “democracy”—when likely it is more about economics and corporate greed.

I was lucky, the Vietnam War never directly touched my family; my brothers were somehow spared from the draft. But none of us are ever free of the suffering when others are hurting. I witnessed the destruction as friends of my brothers returned from the war, with wild and wounded expressions. Most of them are gone now, the scars they carried home from Vietnam eventually killed them, decades later.

I am a museum curator, and I’ve spent much of the last year with veterans as I’ve prepared an exhibit called “Veterans Voices”. I’ve sat with men in their sixties and seventies, as they recounted events that happened when they were teenagers and early twenties. Some of them were put in leadership roles, seen as the “old man” at the age of 22 or 23, given the weight of directing 18-year-old kids into deadly situations. Digging up the memories is emotional, painful, and enlightening, and many participants were surprised to find themselves crying in my office.

It’s been difficult to amass these stories, to print them, to archive them. But as a nation—as humans—we need a resource that documents what happens when politicians make decisions to go to war for reasons that usually have nothing to do with democracy, freedom, or justice.

I’ve learned so much from the generous veterans who have shared their experiences. I learned that thanking you for your service isn’t really giving a respectful compliment. I have learned to listen and facilitate conversations, to open a space for conversation, and most importantly, I learned that there is a path forward to healing and reconciliation.

Welcome Home.

Respectfully,

Tilly Laskey

Brunswick, Maine

 


THIS EASTER

The world

Seems to be falling apart

Babies are born

But there’s no food

To keep them alive

Men use cosmic energies

Discovering new ways

To starve and drown

Each other,

To torture,

To incinerate,

To kill

We elders

Shuffle, stumble

Through little rituals

As if they made a difference

But Easter

Is about new life!

How can that be?

To begin with,

Suffering must be acknowledged.

Christians recall

How Jesus was rejected and despised,

A man of sorrows

And acquainted with grief,

Nailed to a cross

From which vantage point

He forgave his murderers

My mother liked to quote the poem

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Which says that morning

“From the brown brink eastward springs.”

My father, when we were hiking,

Would put his hand

On the smooth trunk of a big tree, saying

“This old fellow

Will be here when we are gone.”

Easter is about

Scraping together

Seeds of hope,

Finding small ways

To begin again,

Calling from peak to peak

The sacred songs

Easter is when

We give forgiveness

One to the next,

When we pass courage

All around the circle,

Exchanging promises

To persist

                   — Staughton Lynd

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