“The gift of bombs”: Wandering thoughts of a Hanoi sojourner

Mar 2, 2023
Hanoi Skyline

I sit in Hanoi, Vietnam, a friend’s 10th floor unit, from which the lights of the city gyrate before me. My mind wanders, ponders many things, my formative years having been enmeshed with the events of this country.

Amid this booming, bustling city, the capital of a country whose economy is growing at a phenomenal rate, I am cast back just on 50 years, Christmas Day 1972, ‘a fine Christian nation’ as sign of the sharing the Christmas spirit, raining down the gift of bombs, (part of the largest bombing raids since WWII), upon this city. ‘The American War,’ as it is known here, was already lost but in one last wild fit of vengeful pique, the beaten invaders decided to vent their furious rage, a gift from the ‘Prince of Peace.’ 20,000 tons delivered on that sacred day, and a few either side.

The Australian contribution to that war, one of our regular instalments to service our, dared not be questioned alliance, is hardly known here, but certainly is well remembered by me, part of a generation growing up with those ‘strange’ names of Vietnam forever across our evening news. A strange rite of passage.

Another such rite I celebrated just prior to coming here, the 50th anniversary of leaving Secondary School. Some of us had not seen each other since those days, just prior to the Hanoi holocaust. Now slightly ungainly 68 year olds, including those who aspired to sporting greatness but never quite made it, we then were those waiting, the next batch to be fed into that callous lottery called, ‘conscription.’ We would have gone of course. How few at 18 understand the duplicity of the state? A few. Those strange kids that went to Moratorium Marches and had no interest in the footy.

Now my mind returning to now, hears echoes of the sanctimonious prattle of those inheritors of the empire, their intoning of ‘the rules-based order’ and their sanctioning of those who refuse obedience to its self-serving dictates. I grow nauseous hearing their so righteous demand for the one they image in feinted disgust as Satan incarnate, the man from Moscow, to stand trial as a war criminal. For we would not do such evil things. To bomb cities, to reduce them to the rubble that only the earth, in earthquake fury is able to match. ‘Rolling Thunder.’

Being in Hanoi my thoughts could reach back 50 years, but there is no need to stretch the memory so far. 20 will suffice. The image of Fallujah rushes to mind, but shall the triumvirate from the cabals of Washington, London and Canberra, busy on the speaker’s tour, stand trial? Until they do let Vladimir wait his turn.

Ah, Carl Jung! The projection of our shadow side to ‘the other.’ The ‘gooks’ and ‘slope heads,’ ‘the towel heads’ and ‘Abos” (yes, we used, still do mouth, such foul words, sorry for the offence). Objectify, dehumanise and then anything is possible (probable?). In the ‘them’ resides all evil, the battle against such, our valiant task, white-hatted and white skinned.

Now of course evil has precise location, Beijing and Moscow prime, but also having acolytes. China yet again, ’the yellow peril.’ Lambing Flat. And the Russians? Well they have been enemy forever, back to the guns mounted on Fort Denison.

But in service of ‘the Empire’ doubt and question must find no place. Black and white, no subtle tonal mixing of colours. Duty to be done for platitudes received. ‘Our good friends from down-under.’ ’All the way with LBJ,’ ‘friends forever.’

Well, ‘Masters of Empire’, from Hanoi, those lights still before me, I can declare, with confidence, ’you lost! (decisively)’ Indeed, I almost fail to remember one you won. Grenada 1983 comes to mind. But $858 billion this year on your military. That just has to improve performance!

Sad though the ‘collateral’ caused, Iran to Guatemala, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the many more we forget.

But, ’we had to destroy the village in order to save it.’ ‘We had to save the people from themselves.’

The lights of Hanoi before me, brighter, more brilliant, each time I return. Lights of commerce, of industry, of cars threading (and believe me in Vietnam they thread) their way along busy roads. Lights of ordinary Vietnamese enjoying the nightlife. Why, they even have a Jazz Club (great Jazz too)!

How different now, those lights of Hanoi, singing of life and living, from those, the city fiercely igniting, Christmas 1972.

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