Day 10: Perfume River, Thien Mu Pagoda, Tomb of Minh Mang, Hai Van Pass, Cham Museum

I have been learning a lot about Vietnamese culture and Buddhism.

Let’s start with some history:

The Chang Pa Empire ruled the southern half of Vietnam from the second century until the 18th century.

There was a civil war in Vietnam for 300 years until the first king of the Hue Dynasty in 1802. The second king of the Hue Dynasty, Min Mang, seems to have been the most powerful and ruled from 1820-1841. The French invaded during the reign of Ju Duc (1847-1883) and a period of colonialism began. Ho Chi Minh was born on May 19, 1890. He led the Viet Minh from 1941 and was solidified as a hero in 1954 with the defeat of the French in Dien Bien Phu.

There is evidence that he supported communism from very early—even before he attempted to meet with Woodrow Wilson in Versailles in 1919.

Americans from 1955 forward needed an anti-communist to back. Diem was a clear choice, though he lacked the pedigree in Vietnam to legitimize his power.

The North used tried-and-tested communist means to win over the hearts and minds of the people urging them to liberate the South from American occupiers. Youth volunteer corps, volunteer soldiers, workers, and farmers all rose to the call. They were often starving, living on cassava which turned their skin pale, but still, they were indomitable—united in a single cause.

The South, however, relied on money. They offered benefits but no purpose. They lacked dedication to a cause, they lacked a leader and a purpose.

Therefore, corruption became the norm. Weapons were sold on the black market to the VC. When you fight for money, you can be bought off.

Not only did the Americans fail to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese, but they failed to win the hearts and minds of their own people. America was not unified, the South was not unified, and therefore we couldn’t win.

Many people think this was a war of attrition, but like any war, it was a war of belief—and the North heard more esprit de corps.

America was right to be in Vietnam. We were right to fight communism. Ho Chi Minh turned his beloved country into a battleground because his beliefs were radical. America’s mistake was not intervention, it was that we relied on money and not persuasion. We tried to buy victory instead of rallying the people. We needed to use the money to leverage control over Diem—mold him into a leader the people could follow—keep a tighter leash on him. Then we needed to rally our country—not hide the war like a dirty secret. Flaunt it. Tell the people who their enemy is. Instill rage, indignation, and a sense of unity. Then, and only then, could we win.

Or we could find a diplomatic solution. Label the Viet Minh as international terrorists.

This is so confusing. I want to write that we should have looked for peace. That the death and suffering were pointless. But communism is terrifying. It causes suffering for generations. It sucks humanity from those who are vulnerable.

Capitalism is not perfect. And I hope someday we will find a more perfect solution. But it is superior to the current alternatives. From what I have seen around the world, I strongly believe this.

So, when examining the cost of war, one must take into account the potential suffering of the people now and generations to come if we do not fight now. The Green Berets were there to “liberate the oppressed.” We as a nation failed. We failed to see beyond the immediate suffering. We focused on the short term. We failed to unify in defense of freedom. We failed to uphold our core values.

Vietnam was a failure. But not because we were there. Because we failed to determine what we were fighting for. Was this liberation? Anticommunism? A proxy war with Russia and China?

We failed to answer these questions. And without a clear understanding of why we fight we can never win.

I learned a lot of things about religion here that may apply to my book:

  • Incense is used to call souls to communicate with them.

  • The land is the mother and water is her milk. It is an integral part of Vietnamese society.

  • You can do good works in the first days of a soul’s new life in the underworld to help balance karma.

  • Souls belong to the night. They must hide from the sun—a representation of Nirvana.

There are many sacred numbers in Buddhism.

1 = focus

2 = happiness-contentment

3 = holy, undefeatable

4 = well done