So tell me, who would you punish?

Posted: April 9, 2018 in Uncategorized
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Many biographies of the Vietnam era have been written. However enlightening they are most have been written by Americans. One of distinctive exceptions is When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (Doubleday, 1989) written by Le Ly Hayslip, a Vietnamese woman. Le Ly lived through the unimaginable life of a peasant caught in the worst animosities of war, the most recent incursion of foreign powers into her country (what the Vietnamese called “The American War”).

After a long absence she returned to find her father at their ancestral home where he decided to stay when others left. What she found was a broken man barely clinging to life. But the conversation between this father and his struggling and traumatized daughter brought clarity and wisdom that would help her go on with her life.

My father stopped eating and looked at me intently. “Bay Ly, you were born to be a wife and mother, not a killer… You and me — we weren’t born to make enemies. Don’t make vengeance your god, because such gods are satisfied only by human sacrifice.”

“But there has been s much suffering — so much destruction!” I replied, again on the verge of tears, “Shouldn’t someone be punished?”

“Are you so smart that you truly know who’s to blame? If you ask the Viet Cong, they’ll blame the Americans. If you ask the Americans, they’ll blame the North. If you ask the North, they’ll blame the South. If you ask the South, they’ll blame the Vietcong. If you ask the monks, they’ll blame the Catholics, or tell you our ancestors did something terrible and so brought the endless suffering on our heads. So tell me, who would you punish? The common soldier on both sides who’s only doing his duty? Would you ask the French or Americans to repay our Vietnamese debt?”

“But generals and politicians give orders — orders to kill and destroy. And our own people cheat each other as if there’s nothing to it. I know — I’ve seen it! And nobody has the right to destroy Mother Earth!”

“Well then, Bay Ly, go out and do the same, eh? Kill the killers and cheat the cheaters. That will certainly stop the war, won’t it? Listen little peach blossom … Don’t wonder about right and wrong. Those are weapons as deadly as bombs and bullets. Right is the goodness you carry in your heart — love for your ancestors and your baby and your family and for everything that lives. Wrong is anything that comes between you and that love…that is the battle you were born to fight. That is the victory you must win.”

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Comments
  1. Audrey Spieler says:

    What great wisdom that is ageless and delivered so beautifully!

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