A Reflection on Memorial Day

By Sidney Tran

The National Cemetery at Bien Hoa, Vietnam is the most hallowed, sacred ground for the South Vietnamese war dead. It was modeled after the U.S.’s Arlington National Cemetery as the final resting place for America’s fallen soldiers. A national cemetery is a sacred icon of a nation. It is a focal point for mourners to go to reflect on the life that was loss. It is also a monument to the price that the young sons paid for the defense of others. In present day Vietnam this eternal resting place has been erased from existence as if it was never there. Not only has it been erased, it has also been defaced and vandalized. Only a malevolent, depraved mind can tolerate the desecration of the resting place for the dead. But such is the reality of Communist Vietnam. 

      Within Vietnam there are Vietnamese who do not have a place to honor and to pay respect for their loved ones. For each grave at Bien Hoa, there exists a fellow human being who was a father, a son, a nephew, and an uncle to a mournful family. Plainly, this is an unmitigated crime! The present rulers of Vietnam can try to erase the memory of the fallen at Bien Hoa but their sacrifice will never be diminished. Regardless of the outcome of the conflict, the loss of the fallen endured by their loved ones is very real. Their grief should not be marginalized, criminalized or discounted. The mark of a civilized society is determined by the development of culture, art, knowledge, and tolerance of divergent views. In disrespecting the resting place of its foes, Communist Vietnam has chosen to follow the path of barbarism. Communists usually view morality as a weakness of the bourgeois class. Morality is a relative term to them. While civilized people view it as a necessity for a well ordered functioning society. In a society made up of moral, ethical citizens, the masses do not need to be garrisoned or controlled by the political, ruling class. Most people choose to behave correctly because they have an innate sense of right and wrong. And the society’s political leadership reflects this when the people are able to choose leaders who share their values. In the case of Communist ruled Vietnam, the rulers are amoral that has to control the moral masses. Herein is the paradox of modern Vietnam. A small group of elites rules by immoral means over the moral masses. Most people in Vietnam tend to be good. They became good through the teachings of their cultural and religious values that predate Communism. It was not Communism that made them good people. They continue to be good in spite of Communist interpreted morality. 

      It is simply unforgivable, after more than thirty-one years after the cessation of hostility that the final resting place for the South Vietnamese war dead should be vandalized and desecrated. The vandalism that took place in Communist Vietnam is a testament to the inhumane nature of the regime that continues to ignore the cultural norms of society. Barbaric societies like the Taliban ruled Afghanistan share common characteristics. These characteristics include the pathological acts of malice like the vandalism of cultural shrines and religious symbols. The Talibans chose to destroy the thousand-year Buddhist sculpture that managed to shock the world by its bold desecration of a cultural and religious icon. Vandalism is based on ignorance, vengeance, retribution and the baseness of human impulses. When human beings evolved into highly complex creatures, they developed human reasoning and rational thinking in order to suppress the dangerous impulses and tendencies of primitive man. Children sometime destroy things without knowing the consequences and repercussions of their actions. They tend to do this because their cognitive ability have not been fully developed and matured. Communist inspired vandalism is an indication of irrationality and a deficit of reasoning. In my view, the toleration of such vandalism is an indication of an underdeveloped mind. It is an act of unremitting malice and conceit. It illustrates the perpetrators lack of reasoning and moral judgment. 

      In contrast, in a civilized society the resting place for all combatants are honored regardless of what flag they fought for. In the U.S. the graves of both Union and Confederate are honored and protected, as they should be. Regardless of what side the soldiers represented in life, in death, all soldiers are deserving of respect from the living. It is an indication of civility and the inviolability of common decency conferred toward the fallen. The graves of Australian and New Zealander are honored in Turkey. Thousands mark the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing on Turkish soil now known as Anzac Day. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey gave a moving tribute to the Aussies and Kiwis who perished in Turkey because it was the right thing to do. It is an act worthy of the title, statesman. After World War II, General MacArthur pondered about the fate of Japan’s Yakusuni Shrine, the resting place for the Japanese war dead. It is a spiritual place laced with the mysticism of Buddhist Shintoism. Some believed it should be destroyed in order to de-mystify the role and symbolism of Shintoism in the belief that Japanese aggressive impulses could be tamed. He sought the advice of U.S. religious leaders to determine the fate of the Yakusuni Shrine. The religious leaders advised MacArthur to let the Shrine stand because if the U.S. chose to destroy that shrine, the dishonor and shame will fall on the U.S. military. Yakusuni Shrine still stands today as an honored, yet still controversial place, for all of Japan’s war dead. MacArhur’s decision to respect the resting place for Japan’s war dead not only reflected his own sense of chivalry but it also reflected the U.S. resolve to create a just peace in the spirit of reconciliation. It should be noted that when Ulysses S. Grant passed away, the pallbearers for his casket consisted of three Union generals on one side and three Confederate generals on the other side. The victors were magnanimous in victory toward their fellow combatants because they regarded them as human beings deserving of respect. Such an act is the embodiment of moral behavior. On this Memorial Day, I wonder if those who fought on behalf of communism in Vietnam can truly bury the hatchet of hatred and reclaim their humanity by respecting the dead in Vietnam who fought against communism as the right thing to do. 

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