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Letter: Touch not North Korea
Published on August 23, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

The Vietnamese film industry did not forget the US-Vietnam war of the 1960s and 1970s. For one generation after the US soldiers fled this war in 1975, the Vietnamese writers and film-makers have created a plethora of beautiful, poignant, graphic stories, showing how ordinary victims managed and suffered in this tragic and ill-conceived war. This war killed two million citizens and one and one-third million indigenous soldiers. Seven million tons of bombs were dropped in the Vietnam War, three and a half times the tonnage of World War II.

One film shows a beautiful woman soldier who, after the war, becomes a sleepwalker. Why is she sleepwalking through life? She sleepwalks because she had fallen in love with so many young soldiers on the battlefield. And all of them walked off to meet their deaths. When she collects their kit, knapsacks, takes them to a cave, all lined up, rows upon rows, she sees in their diaries how many men loved her; they loved her without her knowing it, and said nothing. So much love she had to give; but nobody left to give it to. Working now, in an asylum, she pours out her love, holding the hands of patients, giving fruit, singing; but she cannot hold out anymore; she changes her nurse’s uniform to become a patient; she loves but is unable to fall in love; for too often her love amounted to nothing but ashes and corpses.

Another chronicles the life of four recruits. Untouched, full of innocence and youthful vigour they enter war. Their first mission is to guard the citadel, a national heritage site. The site sits alongside a river. To get to the site they have to undress, put their kit into water-proof bags, hold high their rifles, and swim. Wave after wave of young men swim. The US B-52 bombers unload on them. Constantly, throughout the night, they are strafed with F14 Tomcat fighters. Corpses make mountains under their swimming bodies. Skulls, bones, torsos. The film tells of the mothers, girlfriends, fathers, friends who wait. And ends with life in modern Vietnam, the grievers in boats, filling the river with flowers, ceremonies of mourning.

Another tells of a deserter. He has deserted for a single night to spend with his young bride. His mother has ordered it. The writing is on the wall. She knows her son is unlikely to come back. So she wants a heir. The deserter is arrested by the authorities, but the villagers crowd in, protect him. The mother persists. She takes food, chickens, to the front, where her son has now returned to fight. The whole of Vietnam is a warfront. The bicycle and its handlebar, carrier, become a war machine. Peasant girls become professional soldiers. Bicycle tubes become materiel to make slippers, the standard war-boot. Millions of peasants are use wooden shovels to dig thousands of miles of tunnels, caves, to house personnel, war materiel, against permanent bombing. Ingenious professional tactics are devised to take out the B-52’s, Apache helicopters, crash the US air bombardments. The story ends with a baby. Whose? When, where, how? The old mother ends up victorious, with fresh blood, a baby, to succeed her dead son.

These movies are all efficient. There is no verbosity, no clichéd lines. There is very little sentimentality. It seems as if the civilization has produced a lean and efficient temper, a modus operandi that led to victory in war, a method that mobilizes Vietnamese cinema. Spare, efficient, minimalist; with just a throwaway stroke of the brush to suggest a powerful idea or meaning. The landscape pervades everything: the mystical forests, the lush swamps, the brown deltas, the lurid mountains, the paddy-fields, the ugly trucks and sturdy buffaloes, the young women riding bikes with Kalashnikovs on their backs, witty and smart, girlish and teasing, just like any juvenile anywhere.

In this world there exists a nuclear arms apartheid. The historical imperialists, the rich and powerful, want all the nuclear weapons, rights. Any war that is hatched and executed by Washington against North Korea, its beautiful people, will drive a permanent dagger into the heart of the US and its beautiful peoples.

Wayne Kublalsingh
Reads: 1807

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