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I Lived a Lie - A Vietnam Vet Shares This Poem
This poem is a true story told in poetic form. Now that it has been 42 years since I returned from Vietnam, when I consider the conditions I met there and saw the aggression, destruction, death, suffering, despair and loneliness of wartime life, the most haunting memories that often still bring me emotional reactions - and even tears - are the ones where I caused people to suffer by burning their hooches and destroying their hard-earned crops.
We were told that when “Charlie” (the name given to the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army who came south to fight both the U.S. and the South Vietnam Regular Army) invaded South Vietnam, their main tactic for survival was to raid the food storage of the South Vietnamese farmers. Therefore, one of our main missions was to destroy anything we thought was surplus, or that the Viet Cong could use. The result was invariably extreme poverty among the people we were supposed to be helping, and great suffering, both in watching their precious commodities disappear, and struggling through the bleak aftermath of our invasions.
Here are my feelings, still burning strong in my heart after all these years:
I served my country, I went to fight.
In Vietnam some time I gave.
The uniform I proudly wore
Trying to stop the communism wave.
But soon drooped my shoulders
While seeing the people’s misery.
My pride was replaced by the burden
That their suffering came partly from me.
But no blood I shed; no man I hated;
Aren’t I therefore free from guilt?
Yet what have I done, that conscience stirs:
Something worse than when blood was spilt?
Relentless, the echoes of my victims
Chant their hollow cry:
“Under guise of would-be deliverer,
You really lived a lie.”
Who did work more evil: He who killed
And sent them on to Heaven, free of pain,
Or I, who let them live, but destroyed their dreams,
Burned their homes and stole their grain?
Oh, how a certain woman did plead with me,
As if for her life! as I took the sack,
The heavy sack of grain, upon my shoulder!
And, ignoring her, turned my back!
I did not understand her words,
But I knew for what she was pleading:
For, when heart talks to heart,
There is no misunderstanding.
I moved away as she followed.
She clasped her hands, as if praying.
So earnest! yet to one so deaf!—
What faith so tragic’ly wasting!
The orders I glumly carried out,
And emptied the grain ‘til all was gone,
That our enemy, soon after we’d leave,
Might not take and eat and grow strong!
Oh, the sorrow of her desperate cry!
Broken-hearted, her pleas unheard!
Mourning her loss like a child,
Poorest of the poor, her prayer unanswered.
~~~O Time, reverse thy course,
~~~That I might right the wrong!
~~~And though from barred windows I might gaze,
~~~Or in front of executioners, stand erect,
~~~I would promote the cause of the oppressed,
~~~The one with no power to fight.
And if, indeed, my action were fatal,
Life would not have been in vain:
Two people might have slept in peace,
Rather than both living in pain.