Sunday, April 15, 2012

War And Peace

When US forces pulled out of Vietnam in 1975 I think many Americans breathed a sigh of relief and looked forward to what they assumed would be peace. The story of the Vietnam War that we see on TV and in movies gives the impression that the people of Vietnam were living happy carefree lives then America intervened, messed things up and when we left everyone was happy again. The reality is that after America pulled out of Vietnam in 1975, life was anything but peaceful for the Vietnamese people. Ho Chi Minh ruled with an iron fist. People worried about being reported to the secret police and being sent to "re-education" camps where they were starved and tortured. (An incredibly inspiring account of one man's ability to rise above such an experience can be found in the book When Faith Endures by The Van Nguyen. It's a short read and well worth it.) When American forces rushed to evacuate Saigon as Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong advanced on the city, the people of Saigon weren't standing by happily waiting, they were thronging the embassy begging for the Americans to take them or their children away. Thousands of people headed for the docks trying to take any boat they could to get away. That's not peace.

Today, we face a similar story with Iraq. Michael Moore (who has yet to present any accurate information to the American public) spins a story of happy Iraqi people whose lives were horribly interrupted when American forces came in and deposed their benign leader. When I was in college, an Iraqi speaker came and described what life was like in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and it was nothing like the picture Michael Moore painted. This man described atrocities so violent and despicable I'm not going to detail them here. I watched an Oprah episode where she brought in Iraqi citizens who had escaped and they told more stories of unspeakable atrocities. There are a few Iraqi refugees living here in Utah. The local paper did an article on them and they described more unspeakable atrocities. A little known fact to most Americans is that Saddam Hussein also had a genocide policy in place to rid Iraq of an ethnic group called the Kurds. Yet, it's more comforting to believe that that kind of evil couldn't possible exist, and someone like Michael Moore can make millions off of telling that story.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge reigned in Cambodia during 1975-1979, that "peaceful" era when America wasn't involved in any major wars. But life for the people of Cambodia at this time was anything but peaceful. These four years were a massacre the likes of which rivaled the Holocaust. The Khmer Rouge was deposed without any real help from Americans, but this begs the question, should a million (or more) Cambodians have had to die during those four years when other countries like the US could have committed forces and deposed the oppressive regime? What about Rwanda? In 1994, an estimated 80,000 people were killed in the most gruesome ways imaginable over a period of three months and the international community did nothing. Then there was Uganda under Idi Amin. The list could go on.

On the other hand, America has gotten involved in international politics and made things worse, as when President Carter refused to help the Shah of Iran (an ally) during the Iranian revolution of 1979. Things were really bad under the Shah, but no one could have imagined how much worse things would get under the Ayatollah Khomeini. (For a great introduction to post-revolution Iran, I recommend watching the movie Persepolis. How a movie about life in post-revolution Iran can make you both laugh and cry, I don't know. But this one does.) The Carter, Reagan, and first Bush administrations all sent billions of dollars in foreign aid to the government of El Salvador to fight Salvadorean revolutionaries. Unfortunately, the Salvadorean government was committing unspeakable crimes against its people.

This is really heavy stuff. I don't want to just go around depressing everyone and saying that "Look what the world has come to!" Evil has always existed. And for every story of evil, there are stories of good and courageous people. Parents who walked from El Salvador to the United States or Canada to protect their children, people who battled against the odds to depose violent regimes, and also US soldiers who get their family and friends back home to organize toy and school supply drives for Afghani families. I guess the point of all this is that I think that we as Americans need to be aware and educated about how our efforts can impact people other nations- for good or bad. And when we ask for peace, we need to know what we're asking for.

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