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36-Love Letters from Vietnam - Tim's Still in Love/Katy Discusses Nation-Building Forty Years Later

Updated on November 1, 2016

Read About Kate's Surprisng Connection in This Video

Follow Tim and Kate's Story from the Beginning:

Click here for Index to all letters from Tim to Kate and Kate to Tim from beginning to this point.

See sociogram to view names and relationships of friends. Many more letters to follow. Will Tim and Kate break up before he comes home on Christmas leave? Will they continue their relationship in spite of the angst they're experiencing? What is the solution? What wiill happen If Tim is sent to Vietnam? Will Kate continue her personal resistence against the war while Tim is in the Army? Find out as letters become posted

30 October, 1969

Dearest Kate,

Hello my love. I hope this letter finds you happy and well. I know at this very moment you must be happy because I can feel joy within me which must be a reflection of your happiness. With our souls coupled together as they are, the sorrow and joy we once knew is doubled. My heart feels comfortable and at home with yours. O, Kate, how I need you so.

How have things been going for you, Kate? Or more exactly how has Linda's temperament been lately? (Editor's note: Readers will remember that Linda is one of the children in Kate's small classroom who is profoundly deaf and had been shifted around from foster home to foster home resulting in psychological problems that compounded the hearing loss.)

Are you starting to get any more out of the night course you're taking? Or have you been too busy trying to find out who makes the hardest doughnuts in town? (editor's note: a reference I can't remember. I'm thinking either I might have had to bring doughnuts to school for the teachers' lounge and they ended up hard or I send Tim doughnuts in one of my "care" packages to him and they were hard by the time they got there.) You know what? I hope I'm ducking doughnuts a long time.

I bet you're happy to see the teachers' convention come. It will give you a chance to regroup your forces, but most of all to get the mental rest that teachers deserve. With Ellen coming down** though, that may be the only kind of rest you do get. Say "hello" to her for me.

As for things here...well, they've been the same. We've finished the ARC102 this week and start the ARC44 Monday. Only two more radios and I'll be finished with the course - just in time too. They're all getting to look the same now. Just six weeks and I'll be with you again. But when you're in love as much as I am, six weeks is a long time.

I'd better close now; it's getting late. Take care of yourself, Kate, and God bless you.



PSS I need you, Kate, I need you as my wife.

**(note: "down" refers to the trip from Wausau where Ellen taught to Milwaukee, WI where Kate was teaching.)

Forty Years Later - What Patreaus Learned From Vietnam

It is decision of Generals that create love letters from war zones and what their content holds. Yesterday as I posted Tim's letter, I was listening to Terry Gross of NPR as she interviewed Greg Jaffe who, along with David Cloud, authored the newly released book (2009), The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army. And while listening to that interview, I was struck with the references to the war in Vietnam.

It's so easy to think that politics has nothing to do with our personal lives, but it has everything to do with them. We live or we die on political decisions from the decisions of local governments whose officials enact laws of the road to the decisions made by the national government whose representatives enact laws pertaining to war and deployment to war. That's just the truth. Political decisions about war, informed correctly or incorrectly by military experts and evaluated by Congress and the President send soldiers off to the battlefield or bring them home. (It's only when the outrage of the people is loud enough as it was during the Vietnam "Conflict" that those decisions are re-evaluated.) And perhaps, for once and for all, we need a new paradigm for that whole militaristic pattern of decision-making.

The Connection to the "Walk Down the Aisle Video"

Just last week, an old friend came to visit us from Minnesota. She brought the photo album of pictures she had taken at her son's wedding. Recently, Christopher returned from his work with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and had met and fell in love with another young Peace Corps worker also working in the Dominican Republic. Christopher's assignment was to help to bring water down the hillside to spigots adjacent to the houses in the town where he worked. Having running water, if only in an outside spigot does a lot for a town, and I imagine that Christopher did more than help with that project alone. He's an open-hearted young man and open-minded. He understands cultures and the need to understand culture in order to understand a people. It's no accident that he developed this proclivity for service and his world view. His father, after serving with the Peace Corps in Southeast Asia in the 60's, upon returning home, was drafted to serve in Vietnam. The incongruity of carrying a rifle in that part of the world and putting himself in a position to perhaps shoot civilians like the villagers with whom he had just worked side by side was staggering to him. So Dave applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam era and was sent back to Laos. The Army, whose disposition forty years ago, was different than their understanding of "nation building" today, expressed to him, with contempt, that he "would probably die in Laos anyway." The Army, even today, assumes that it is the fear of death that causes people to oppose war when it's actually the repulsion to killing a fellow human being that drives their objection.

Nation Building with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan

More of this equals less of that (i.e. war) or so one would hope
More of this equals less of that (i.e. war) or so one would hope

Nation Building with the Army Corps in Afghanistan

PBS Frontline:  "Obama's War"
PBS Frontline: "Obama's War"

But there's more to this story of my friend's visit. As I looked through through the pictures of Chris' wedding, I noticed a young couple who looked familiar to me. I asked if perhaps I had known them from the time we had lived in MInnesota. My friend said, "No, but maybe you saw the video of their wedding, you know the dancing down-the-aisle-video on Youtube.

I was stunned. "Of course I know that video," I told my friend. "I used it in one of my Vietnam Hubs."

"Well," she continued, Christopher shot that clip. Most of the people in that group are his Peace Corps friends." I was struck by the fact that I used precisely that video to make a point in one of the letters posted by Tim, never realizing any connection to my friend and her son.

And there it is.

Inadvertently, I chose a video of Peace Corps workers in posting my letters from Vietnam. I don't know if all of these young people are connected through that government agency, but I do know Chris and his wife are. I thought of the goodwill Chris and his wife must have brought to the country where they served. It converged with an idea that had struck me the week before my friend had even come to visit. I had watched a small segment of the PBS Frontline production of Obama's War, the segment where the soldiers are questioning the townspeople, and I was disturbed. While these young and brave American soldiers tried desperately to display an affect of patience and control, it seemed clear to me that there was an underlying resentment of the culture they were dealing with. And why wouldn't there be? At the heart of the communication problem they were experiencing is the fact that every word had to be translated through an interpreter, and at the heart of their underlying resentment is the fact that these young people's lives are at risk every single moment of every single day.

Watching the soldiers attempt to communicate with the townspeople, reminded me of my experience in deaf education throughout my career. I have watched as occasionally a teacher who knows nothing of sign language and doesn't have a clue that there even is such a thing as deaf culture, is hired as substitute teacher for a day or perhaps even for a whole semester. An interpreter is assigned to be with her side by side all day. It usually turns out to be a very enlightening learning experience (for whom?) for the substitute teacher. It's like trying to re-inventing the wheel. If however, you hire an experienced teacher of the deaf, one who has worked among deaf adults, one who knows all modes of communication used by deaf students, one who understands the psycho-social aspects, it is this teacher who is has the most potential for making an impact. It's not to say that the excellent teacher who has never worked a deaf child in her life can't bring new and fresh perspectives, but someone who understands the language and culture of the people with whom they are working is in a much more influential position to create change than someone whose training has had a different focus. You simply can't hammer a nail well using the handle of a butter knife. (I've tried).

As I viewed that segment of the program on Frontline, it occurred to me that "nation-building" is not the task of a military operation. It is the task of people trained in sociology, psychology, culture, and language. It is the task of people who are interested in life-time careers that are focused on these areas. Perhaps it is the task of young people, like Christopher, who have a desire to serve in this way.

And so we have, on one hand, the story of young people who are "nation-building" in a peaceful way, and the story of "nation-building" the military way. (By "nation-building" I'm not referring to imperialism, but to our desire to help promote the dignity and rights of individuals throughout the world.) But is it reasonable to beef up the Peace Corps and send volunteers to places like Afghanistan instead of the military? That would be nothing but naive. The train seems to have left that station in terms of Afghanistan and Iraq. But maybe the emphasis in the future has to change! Given the philosophical focus of the Obama Administration perhaps it can change. As a nation we need to shift our view of patriotism so that we let the military do military tasks, but at the same time build up our commitment to the nation-builders like the Peace Corps to do nation building or to just plain be of service in a larger way. It begs the question whether or not that should always have been the paradigm. From the Eisenhower Administration to today, it has been the military complex making decisions. Now the military is attempting to see it's role in a different way as discussed in Jaffe and Cook's recent book. Maybe that's the only way Americans will accept peace-making. But a soldier with an AK47 helping bring water to the spigot of a house and who can't speak the language or understand the culture of the people, to me is like hammering the nail with the handle of a butter-knife.

Listen to Podcast of Interview

Partial Text of Interview:

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Greg Jaffe. He's the Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post and the author of the new book "The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army."

We've talked a little bit about General Abizaid and why he was really skeptical that the war in Iraq would work because he knew so much about the Middle East and the ethnic and religious divisions there. Let's jump ahead and look at General Petraeus, who becomes the leader of the forces in Iraq, and he believes that counterinsurgency can work.

Again, he becomes a career Army person in the '70s, after Vietnam. What did he take away from Vietnam that made him think counterinsurgency's going to work in Iraq?

Mr. JAFFE: You know, it's interesting. It's less what he took away and where he came from. I mean, the Army, we think of it as this sort of big, green monolith, but it's actually a collection of sort of tribes and sub-tribes, and Petraeus is from this really interesting sub-tribe called the SOSH Department. It's essentially professors, officers who are chosen as professors, sent to the best graduate schools and then teach for a couple years at West Point before they go back out into the service. They teach cadets economics, political science, international relations.

And Petraeus grows up in the SOSH Department, and when he's there, it's an interesting time in the mid-'80s. The SOSH Department is taking very different lessons about the Vietnam War than the rest of the Army. The rest of the Army kind of looks at Vietnam, as I said, and says oh, gosh, we never want to do that again, and we can vote not to do it.

The SOSH Department argues that the mistake the Army made was not fighting a guerrilla war, but fighting a guerrilla war badly, and that wars were more than just about destroying the enemy and firepower and that if you really wanted to fight a counterinsurgency, you had to focus on protecting the population on economics, on politics.

Military officers had to be masters of sort of all of these domains, and this is the environment in which Petraeus sort of spends a lot of his time as an impressionable major, and I think that's where he kind of thinks to himself hey, we can do this. Counterinsurgency is something we can sort of master.


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