On Veteran's Day, 2008, I posed the question, "How and when did the United States become involved in the Vietnam War?" That led to my unfolding research for this book, Vietnam Docupoem, which I dedicate to all who suffer because of war~ especially veterans and their families.
Few of us are left personally unaffected in times of war. Some carry it with them all their lives.
The fundamental human angst, both personal and collective, is the age-old fear of loss and rejection, with reinforcement of our own worst fears about ourselves. It's the kind of fear especially associated with neurosis and narcissistic personality disorder, opposite reactions to the same fear of inadequacy and of being exposed as inadequate. These fears are commonly expressed by reactive anger.
Reactive fear is what starts grudges between neighbors, resentment between friends, arguments among family members and violence between strangers. The aggressive expression of fear based on a specific misperception of reality leads to over-reaction which then escalates back and forth to more and more horrific outcome. Domestic battles begin and grow in the same way as wars between nations by this same destructive dynamic.
Alienation and breakdown of any kind of relationship often begin in the same way. The replacement of cooperation and trust by resentment and revenge is a form of torture for those involved. Rational interventions time after time are ineffective and increase frustration to the point of despair.
The mind can sour, and sheer ill will replaces conviction, refusing to give up the original driving sense of umbrage. Malice generates its own energy and becomes addictive. In this state, the mind is not interested in being reasonable, or even right~ only in winning. Reason has no bridge to anger addiction, and aggression is as hard to harness and contain as physical addiction to methamphetamine or heroine.
Other than blood, the main thing extracted during torture is a story that will stop the pain, and seldom is it factual. A desperate and effective lie confirms what the torturer expects, making the practice seem justified, and what follows is more aggression and destruction based on that initial reactive, naive and ego-driven misperception.
The primary principle of Chaos Theory is that everything depends on sensitivity to initial conditions.
"Extraordinary rendition," the practice of war against individuals by relocation to secret detention houses designated for torture, is new to civilians in the curriculum of war tactics. Waterboarding became a standard household word in association with espionage only in the past decade.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torture for a sense of perspective on this subject.
One can't write a book about historical process, from memoir to an essay about an event or circumstance, and ever be able to say, It's Finished. It continues daily, which is why we have newspapers and broadcasts as daily sequels to a book having to do with current events or even the past. I don't anticipate publishing more editions of Vietnam Docupoem, but one never knows. How can I know that I'm done with writing about something? Perhaps as long as I live, I'll never be done. But one must move on to new projects because, after all, there is so much more to experience, discover, read, study and write about, and only one tired brain and two sore hands for any one of us to do it. In humility and realistically then, I can only say I'm done for now.
This is the original announcement of the book on August 17, with excerpts from a few poems:
This book emerged slowly with many revisions and checks for accuracy between Veterans’ Day 2008 and Independence Day with “The Poem Hats of Vietnam” added on August 6, Feast of the Transfiguration, 2012. It began with the question, “How and when did Americans get into a war in Vietnam?” I was surprised to learn what I learned in pursuit of information.
What followed was a chronology lifted from two military history websites provided by the veterans themselves [cited at poem’s end], with my own chronology and references to other things happening in America woven in for perspective from time to time, ending with the other side of war~ the compassionate response that sometimes miraculously comes forth in the face of overwhelming suffering.
It became clear that the roots of the Vietnam War went back to the end of World War I when Ho Chi Minh first begged Western nations to help the people of his country to achieve independence and democracy. The branches of this war extend into the present, illustrated by the witness for economic justice made by Vietnam veteran and former Episcopal Suffragan Bishop to the Armed Forces George Packard through his leadership in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and by our continued aggressions in the Middle East with incidents echoing Vietnam.
Vietnam Docupoem~ A Veterans’ Day Commemorative Perspective takes the telescopic view of a Hundred Years War. The optimism of that is the implication that we are near the end of it . . . for now. Human history is a tragedy that can be described as one long war with occasional outbreaks of cease fire here and there. In those periods of relative peace, seeds of redemption are planted and grow. They sprout sometimes in the midst of the wounds of war in wonderful ways, and help both innocent victims and wounding and wounded warriors keep or get back their souls.
While all around bodies are being killed and souls murdered, saving Grace can arise, and it can show itself many years afterward. The book tells the story of one such instance, manifested by friendships extending over two continents~ as it honors and demands respect for the veterans themselves, and celebrates human beings, women and men, whose lives are constant songs of justice, mercy and peace: activists such as the McDonald Sisters of St. Joseph, priest poets Dan Berrigan and Thomas Merton, and especially the hero of Myanmar and democracy, Dr. Aung San Suu Kyi. Their strength and courage are blessings for us all. May we learn of them and be heartened again.
Excerpts from three poems in this book, copyrighted by the author, all rights reserved:
From “The Veteran”~
“. . . No one else can go into a veteran’s dreams
but another veteran who has lived the same nightmare
and shared the same quirky joys.
“Remember a little of this when you look into a veteran’s eyes,
and before you speak, and do not ask any questions unless you are
truly willing and able to listen, and for as long as it takes,
without judgment or fatigue.
“If you look inside yourself you will find the willingness and the ability
when you discover the cowering hero that lives in us all,
the ashamed, frightened and vulnerable soldier who may hide but gives all
to serve the greatest good for the greatest number, or for just one child.”
From “The Spirit of Sojourner Truth”~
“. . . Let their sons dream dreams and their daughters
have visions, and let them work effectively and sing
harmoniously together, in strength and respect,
to restore conscience, truth and hope,
to transform all the bound and broken world. . . .”
From “The Poem Hats of Vietnam”~
“. . . For a thousand years human beings have sustained their spirits
on just one poem well-felt, thought and spoken, and by this secret gift—
in contrast to the sufferings, horrors and hardships of war— by this gift
of poems ancient and new, more priceless than pearls, equal in pleasure to
rice wine and mangoes from one’s own tree by the window, tenderly planted
by an ancestor, people have endured long chronic wars and kept hope alive.
“By these poems, the souls of weary soldiers are healed and revived.
Poems do not deflect true stories and feelings of anguish, but simultaneously
direct the mind to pear and orange blossoms, the scents of all the beautiful
lands and waters of Earth, our shared island home, from which our souls
take succor as our bodies enjoy sweet grains, star fruit and tea at our tables.
“In this way, we require beauty and meaning to be safe-kept
as a permanent medicine for the psychoses of ongoing war,
so that we will remember the whole reality,
without letting painful memories blot out the rest
of our lives~ memories of laughter, the essence of childhood
in peacetime, or what it is to bathe in a pristine river
on a perfect spring morning.
“As necessary as medicine and food, sweet wine and a fresh garden,
the poem is ever-near, sung out and honored.
“People in the fields around a town or working in the city
refresh themselves by lifting their protective cone poem hats
up to the sun, and poems woven and inlaid onto the fabric
reveal themselves, illuminated and transparent by sunlight. . . .
“In like spirit, these words come to you, speaking of Vietnam and America,
speaking of people from several lands across the Pacific waters, a poem
that calls to people with eyes wide open to the sorrow of shared histories,
hearts wide open to weaving peace together, to teaching mutual respect
between people, and to passing on the gift to our children, to be for them
a cover of inspiration, like the protective poem hats that people have worn
for a thousand years of yearning, through war and peace in Vietnam.”
Alla Renée Bozarth, Ph.D.
In lieu of a Preview, see book’s content here: