Blog

“Vietnam Generation: I am the Generation of Witness and Fire”

1. Shroud of War: Invocation

I am the Vietnam generation.
I am the generation
of witness and fire.

I was a hospital corpsman during the Vietnam War
and, though far from combat,
the war haunts
me and my generation.

This war of decades ago,
and unending wars
of the American war machine
shrouds my waking hours.

2. Vietnam: Fire. Redemption. Love.

I am the Vietnam Generation.
I hold the memory of two million
Vietnamese children, men, and women
killed during the War of Liberation.

I hold the memory
of 58,229 American
and 55,000 French soldiers killed.
Not killed for patriotism.
Not killed to save a nation.
Sacrificed for the Industrial War Machine.

How do we care for the
millions of wounded soldiers and children
maimed with bombs and Agent Orange?
How do we make contrition for the
400,000 Vietnamese killed by Agent Orange?

Can we restore
this land destroyed by bombs
and Agent Orange?

How many generations
will it take to heal this country?

Is there a salve that can
soothe the scars of napalm bombs?
Is there a salve that will heal
the skin of those burned with phosphorous?

When will we Americans
care for the thousands of
children deformed born today?

When will there be contrition?
When will we atone for
My Lai and the unknown massacres?

While Dow Chemical’s napalm
incinerated Vietnam
and burned people alive

the chairman of Dow Chemical
Carl A. Gerstacker
played golf on immaculate green lawns.

While Monsanto gained fortunes for
its stockholders with Agent Orange.

The war profiteers made their
poisons and guns to destroy Vietnam
and proclaimed the greatness of democracy.

While Nixon scuttled a peace deal in 1968
so he could get elected.
While McNamara formulated the calculus of war.
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Kissinger, and all the architects of monumental hubris
stoked the furnace of war.

While those safe in draft deferments,
protested the war
the poor and working-class young men
were sucked into the vortex of conscription.

How do we care for the thousands
of homeless veterans
now huddled on the streets?

I don’t want to be known as
the Woodstock generation
with its ephemera of peace and love.
I want us to hold in our bones
the imperative of peace and contrition.

Do we have the courage to bend
down on our knees in
supplication?

How do we heal the
the evil of war?

3. Noble Saints of Peace

You are the warriors of the higher conscience,
who refused to march off to war.

You are the noble saints of peace
who came to Vietnam and cared for the children.
You are the soldiers who returned and are now
working for justice in Vietnam.

You are the four students at Kent State shot dead by
soldiers while they protested against the war.

The courageous monks, driven mad with pain,
burned themselves alive to stop the war.

To those who chose prison over war
you are the noble saints of peace.

Your acts of resistance and love
shines with fearless courage.

4. Witness: Cambodia

I journeyed to Cambodia,
where the genocide and killing fields
were created by the American war machine.

Twenty-five percent of
Cambodians killed.
The soul of a nation
destroyed by genocide.

Children born after
the Americans went safely home
are still maimed and killed by landmines.
Children in wheel-chairs begging.
Eyes famished for hope and asked us,
“Please, help.”

Where is our mercy and justice?
How is their forgiveness?
Where is our contrition?

The killing fields and landmines
are underfoot as I walk through the Mekong.

Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam
are strewn with landmines and Agent Orange.

Landmines dropped by B-52s
in a rain of evil, blacker than evil itself.

Where is the shame
that should burn in our soul?
Where is our repentance?

Where is our courage to end all war?

5. Laos

Beautiful innocent Laos. Nestled
in the mountains, ancient Buddhist land,
still infested with landmines that
destroy and maim children decades after the war.

Today, I walk through the rice paddies,
our guides point us to the right path,
but there are no signs, no guideposts
to the landmines.

I met the children at the hospital
with their legs blown off by landmines, and
other children without hands and arms
maimed by cluster bombs.

Are we shamed by our deeds?
When will we bend to our knees
to beg for forgiveness?

When will we heal the sins of war?

6. The Industrial War Machine

Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Iraq, Yemen,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and all our wars

is the necklace of our war machine
made from the skulls of children.

We have raped and ravaged
countries around the globe.

Our trillion dollar platinum plated
war machine is lacquered with
the blood and bones of its victims.

When will we oppose war and
invest this treasure in ending poverty?

When we will
end our desire for the false profits of war?

We, the Woodstock generation,
born in the shadows and fire of war.
We saw the nightly news
with the daily tallies of death,
while our brothers and kin
we’re killed for a war of lies.

What of the greater love?

Humility?
Contrition?
Atonement?

I am the Vietnam generation.
I am the generation of witness and fire.

7. Tune in!

My soul is no longer on ice.
I burn with the shame
Of our wars!
Our shame should burn as bright
as the phosphorous bombs
that we dropped in Vietnam

I burn with rage!
I don’t want our generation to be
known for the delusions
of pot and drugs, turn on,
tune in, drop out, the fog
of forgetting.

I need us to be the
the generation of remembrance.

We were born in the fire of
Nagasaki and Hiroshima, in the ashes of
the Korean War and the inextricable
nightmare of Vietnam.

8. The path to contrition

How will our actions of
atonement and justice
lead to healing?

How will we become the generation of contrition?
We are the Vietnam generation.
We are the generation
of witness and fire.

Namaya
May 2021

Bio: Namaya is a poet and artist, and a Vietnam era veteran who creates art and performances on peacebuilding www.namayaproductions.com. He has been working with peace building projects in Vietnam and undertook a two month art and writing residency in 2020 on the “The Journey of Forgiveness.” In 2021 he will create a sculpture project called “Agent Orange: Do Not forget Me” at the War Remnants Museum in HCMC/ Saigon.