Pat Conrad (Prince of Tides, the Great Santini) writes about one of his classmates a true hero, and then questions his own choice to oppose the war in Viet Nam

But in the 25 years that have passed since South Vietnam fell, I have immersed myself in the study of totalitarianism during the unspeakable century we just left behind. I have questioned survivors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, talked to Italians who told me tales of the Nazi occupation, French partisans who had counted German tanks in the forests of Normandy, and officers who survived the Bataan Death March. I quiz journalists returning from wars in Bosnia, the Sudan, the Congo, Angola, Indonesia, Guatemala, San Salvador, Chile, Northern Ireland, Algeria.

As I lay sleepless, I realized I’d done all this research to better understand my country. I now revere words like democracy, freedom, the right to vote, and the grandeur of the extraordinary vision of the founding fathers. Do I see America’s flaws? Of course. But I now can honor her basic, incorruptible virtues,.

Ah, I am happy to hear that Mr. Conroy has finally grown up.

But perhaps if he had actually worked in some of these countries, or some of the countries where I have worked, he would appreciate that living in a corrupt oligarchy like the Philippines used to be, or as Viet Nam was in the 1960’s, or even a moderate tyranny like South Africa under apartheid is not the worst thing in the world.

The worst thing is when an egomaniac takes the country over, and decides to remake that country into a paradise based on a utopian dream, whether that dream be the socialist utopia of Viet Nam, Cambodia, Mozambique, or Zimbabwe,or the theocracies of the Taliban.

Indeed, I am wondering if Conroy might question his youthful actions more if he had treated the boat people who fled from Viet Nam, and heard some of their stories. I treated patients who had fled VietNam knowing that what awaited them were “reeducation campes” because of their belief in God. I have treated vague symptoms in women who had been gang raped by pirates when their boats fleeing from VietNam were attacked; and they tell of family members tortured and killed in front of their eyes so that the pirates could find where their money was hidden. I treated Cambodians who were the only ones who remained of their large extended families, who told stories of treks to Thai refugee camps before finding haven in the United States. And how many people are aware that many of the boat people were not supporters of the previous government, or even Christian believers, but merely Chinese who, along with other “minority groups” were the victims of ethnics cleansing–one of several reasons for the short Sino Vietnamese war of 1979 that few Americans even know occured.
And perhaps, since he was in University at a time when students were lauding colonialist oppressors and the new states in Africa, he might wonder at the naivity of students who thought a country like the Congo with only a couple dozen college graduates could run itself.

I have worked in Africa and seen “liberators”beloved of the left in American Universities promptly turn into tyrants. Essentially, the people in these countries got rid of a moderate colonialist tyranny only to make their country a death camp of horrors.

But never mind…few Americans even cared about the African Marxist wars; they were too busy hyperventillating about South Africa’s moderate evil to see that there are things worse than apartheid…or corrupt governments…or moderate tyrannies.

People complain that a dozen casualties a day in Iraq mean it is a civil war.
In Zimbabwe, the number dying of starvation and preventable disease is much much higher.

People complain that 100 000 Sunnis have fled to Syria because after two years of suicide bombings the Shia deaths squads are hitting back.

In Zimbabwe, two million have fled the country as economic refugees. Indeed, 250 000 people were made homeless in a few weeks time last year in “operation clean up”, where entire neighborhoods were destroyed in the name of slum clearance, but in reality because too many of these areas had voted against Mugabe in the last election.

Yet even the horrors of Zimbabwe pale against the atrocities of the civil wars of Liberia and Sierra Leone, just like the horrors of communist Viet Nam’s reeducation camps and boat people pales in comparison to the killing fields of Cambodia.
So those of us who live in free countries appreciate our freedom.
Yes, the Philippines has problems–another politician was killed yesterday, for example. Yet today we passed a moderate (several thousand) demonstration by labour unions that was peaceful, and yesterday there was a larger “prayer ralley” against the president’s proposal to change the constitution.

No, you won’t see such demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City. That is the part of your legacy that you seem to have ignored, Mr. Conroy.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician who lives in the rural Philippines with her large extended family. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. She sometimes writes about human rights in Africa at MugabeMakaipaBlog.

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