IN SEARCH OF A PEACE DIVIDEND 3

When the U.S. Civil War ended with the surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865, Ulysses Grant told his Union soldiers, “The rebels are our countrymen again.” He sent General Lee’s troops home with their horses and sidearms and said he hoped they would make it in time to plant new crops. The South would have good cause for resenting their postwar treatment under Reconstruction, but Grant’s gesture sent a pow¬erful message of reconciliation and forgiveness. North Vietnam couldn’t bring itself to do the same. To its leaders, the words “honorable” and “pa¬triotic” were misnomers if used to describe the supporters and combat¬ants of the South.
There are no more sharks: in the sea,
There are no more beasts on earth,
The sky is serene,
Time is now to build peacefor ten thousand years.
—fifteenth-century poem written after the Vietnamese drove the Ming invaders of China out of Vietnam
During the war, wc reporters spent 90 percent of our time—maybe more—covering the American aspects of the conflict, generally treating South Vietnam as something of a nonentity. When weekly casualty fig¬ures were released at the Five O’clock Follies on Thursday, well write 600 or so words wrapping up U.S. fatalities: The U.S. Command announced to¬day that 16 Americans died and 57 were wounded during the week in fighting that raged through. . . . The ARVN’s losses were mentioned almost in passing, often in a single paragraph tagged onto the end of the story: Meanwhile South Vietnamese officials put ARVN losses during the week at 95 dead and 160 wounded. Journalistically, I understood our bias. Our readers were Americans, and the only reason they cared about Vietnam was be¬cause of U.S. involvement. It was the only reason we were interested, too. If it had been a civil war between, say, the Wa and Shan in Burma, no one would have shown up to cover it. But morally our tilt was difficult to jus¬tify. We shortchanged a people who endured terrible hardship, often courageously, as did the Vietnamese of the North, and in doing so we failed to convey the true cost of the war and its impact on towns and cities whose names most Americans couldn’t pronounce.
One morning in the late 1960s I took the forty-five-minute drive from Saigon to Bien Hoa, the site of a huge U.S. airbase, to cover the burial of an ARVN soldier. The four-lane road, built by the Americans, was in tip¬top shape and packed with a steady stream of military traffic: jeeps, deuce-and-a-halvcs, flat-beds hauling tanks and munitions, trailer trucks whose cargo was covered with canvas. This cemetery, the South Vietnam equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery, was just off the highway in Bien Hoa and marked clearly with a sign. I don’t remember the soldier’s name, but I know he wasn’t anyone prominent. He was just part of a number, in our weekly meanwhile-South-Vietnamese-officials-put-ARVN- losses paragraph. In giving him a name and a face and a family, I hoped in some small way my story would personalize the suffering of the Viet¬namese. I pulled into the cemetery in the minimote—a sort of miniature, open-air jeep—I was driving, passed a huge stone memorial that was un¬der construction, and headed toward a half-dozen civilians gathered around an open grave.
More than thirty years later, a month after visiting the cemetery near Dong Ha, I made the same trip with an interpreter, hailing a taxi in Ho Chi Minh City and retracing my route to Bien Hoa on the same high¬way, now clogged with bicycles, motor scooters, three-wheeled tuk-tuks, and all manner of civilian trucks lugging food, steel, machinery, and elec¬tronics. There was no sign pointing to the cemetery any more, and we had to stop in several villages to ask directions. Most people didn’t know what we were talking about, but by following a series of rutted side roads we finally reached a large, gated expanse and, inside, a memorial that had never been completed.

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