Phaeacians were the mythic people who listened to the war veteran Odysseus on his way home from war. After 10 years of war and 10 years of thwarted homecoming it was the Phaeacians who finally helped Odysseus return home. This blog records notes from my ongoing study of modern day Phaeacians - civilians who make a point of listening deeply to the narratives of war veterans. It explores an old idea - that there is an important and necessary relationship between warriors and the communities of people that send them to war. The project asks, what happens or how are we changed (if at all) by listening to military and war veterans? It includes my observations and interviews with modern day Phaeacians and my own experience of listening to war veterans.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Acts of Service and Restitution

The destruction and suffering caused by a war that ended 40 years ago can still be seen all over Vietnam in the bomb craters, war cemeteries, deforested landscapes and agent orange birth defects. Soldier’s Heart, the organization sponsoring this trip, believes acts of restituion are important in healing the wounds of war between peoples and the wounds in the hearts of veterans. So far, we have engaged in several acts of restitution

In an impoverished area of the Mekong Delta we brought financial support and practical gifts of clothes, toys and school supplies to a small preschool and kindergarten. The school was built several years ago with finances provided by American veterans from Soldier’s Heart and each year American veterans continue to provide financial support. The school is the only opportunity many of the children have to begin an education. We visited the school, brought our financial support and gifts and played with the children – all in hopes that this generation of kids will grow old without knowing war.

The beautiful children of Vietnam

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a
real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” -Gandhi

Veterans playing with kids

American veteran unpacking gifts

School building built by veterans from Soldier's Heart

The Vietnam War destroyed the livelihood of countless rural farmers. Near Da Nang, the site of the busiest air operations of the war, veterans on this trip donated two cows and money to a poor widowed farm-woman. The woman and her mentally disabled son live in a dirt-floored hut and subsist on less than $300 per year from rice farming.

The cows (actually calves) will significantly increase the woman’s earning potential over a long period of time. While Vietnam is a communist country poor people, like this woman, receive little help from the government. According to our guide there is no broad welfare programs for the poor and no socialized medicine.

While the woman and her son live in a hut no larger than 12 feet square she invited us into her home and showed us how she lives. For the Vietnamese, a home is not just a house, it is also their main place of religious worship.

One of our group asked about cooking and the woman quickly demonstrated.

Through our translator the woman thanked us saying she was a woman without education and many words and did not know how to express herself. Her eyes and tears said it all.

As we visited with the woman neighbors showed up and crowded around her door to see what all the activity was about. One of the neighbors was carrying her agent orange deformed child and one of the American veterans took the child in his arms and held him. Being in the homes of those who have suffered and holding their children creates an inescapable connection. As we walked the narrow path along the woman's rice paddy back to our bus one of the veterans comment, "You just can't do this and go home the same."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the photos. In 2005 our activities were somewhat different, but just as meaningful. Especially moving is the photo of the vet holding the child.