Tag Archives: war

Family History – Vietnam at the End

In 1975 my brother was in Vietnam. A few days ago I found one of my mom’s old photo albums. It is full of pictures of my brother’s family–Tomoko, George, Mari and mom. At the back of the album was a typewritten letter she received from John after he had been evacuated from Saigon. I do not know if she received the letter before or after we knew he was safe:

Sunday 20 [April 20, 1975]

Hi Mom,

It looks as though this will be my last letter from Vietnam. Things are about as tight as they can get and we have orders to pull the plug. Am sure the full-scale evacuation will be under way before this letter reaches you. RVA and VC forces have Saigon surrounded and have been sighted no less than 8 miles from Tan Son Nhut. They have 130mm cannons and artillery pieces which are American made and very accurate up to 17 miles and this is what we are most afraid of besides their SA-7 missiles.

There are however a tremendous contingent of American forces spread throughout the Pacific and SouthEast Asia for our support. Four Aircraft Carriers alone are waiting off Vung Tau. Think Congress would faint if they knew the extent of this military support.

However, our real enemy seems to be the ARVNs. They are trying to keep the mass evacuation as quiet as possible in order to stop panic and to prevent another Da Nang. Intelligence reported 2 weeks ago that the Vietnamese would try and stop and shoot down departing American Planes! The part where most people will have trouble is getting to the pick-up points when the evacuation occurs. Sure would hate to be on the streets then. Don’t have to worry though as will move into Comm Center here on Tan Son Nhut Tomorrow. We will be picked up by helicopter as soon as alll the equipment is destroyed. Expect this to be Wed or so.

Sent my duffle bag full of cloths to Joyce’s yesterday so all I have is my briefcase and flight bag to carry if I can.

Thats about it for awhile mom. Please don’t write any more and will get in touch as soon as I can.

Love John

–Spelling and punctuation copied from John’s original pre-spell/grammar check letter–

He was safely evacuated to a waiting US aircraft carrier on April 25, 1975. As he told the story, on the last helicopter from Tan Son Nhut and as a VC rocket blew up the building as he left it for the helicopter.

Just a Quick Thought

I just did my morning Facebook check before launching into my CWPs and math puzzles.

A friend of mine posted a LIKE to a photo from the “Peaceful Warrior.”

I believe that this is a reflection of why we have so much trouble with violence and war, and why we cannot seem to stop hurting and killing each other.

For Example:

  • Peaceful Warrior
  • Love is the weapon . . .
  • Holy War
  • Love is a Battlefield
  • Onward Christian Soldiers – from followers of a man who preached love and turning the other cheek

Human beings have extensive skills with regard to pattern recognition. We see pictures in clouds and ink blots. We connect dot-to-dot puzzles. We see oases in deserts far from any source of water, and we see bears and crabs wandering the night skies.

I wonder, is the pattern I see in our brains that is reflected in our words real or is it just another mirage?

. . . just a thought . . .

 

A View of History from a Science Fiction Perspective

History

We call the time before the invention of writing pre-historic—history it seems comes from writing.

Writing was first invented around six millennia ago. It appeared in China, India, Egypt and western Asia. People wrote on (in) clay, wax, wooden slats, parchment, papyrus and, eventually, paper and carved in stone. It spread across the civilized world because it was too convenient, important, to not use. Those who could read and write, or commanded those who could, controlled society.

The ability to count, record, plan and allocate allowed (mandated?) the creation of water empires in the valleys of the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus and Yellow rivers. No longer was a person’s memory and good will a limiting factor in the matter of logistics.

A great deal of our knowledge, or what we believe, of these early civilizations comes from the writings they left behind. However, this knowledge is skewed. It is knowledge dominated by religion, government and the wealthy. Little is really known about the lives of the ordinary people—ninety plus percent of the populations of these societies. And a lot of what we know of the lives of ordinary people is conjecture based on ruins and what was written about them by the upper classes, who seem to quite often despise those who were neither educated nor wealthy—although their societies would have collapsed without the labor of these “lower” classes.

What would our view of these societies be if we had a written record for them as we have for ourselves over the last two centuries?

History Unwritten

Three of history’s seminal figures: Buddha, Socrates and Jesus left no writings behind. What we know of them, or think we know of them, is based on the writings of others. Everything we “know” about these men was filtered at the very start by views, beliefs, biases and experiences of those who wrote the books. We must also take into account what these men hoped to accomplish with their writings.

Assuming that the followers of Buddha, Socrates and Jesus were good people, interested in accuracy, what were their agendas?

Is the Socrates of Plato accurate? Is the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John accurate? Did he really exist, at least as the person shown in our current Bible? Remember, there are early books which, for one reason or another, have not been included in the Bible.

Would what we “know” of these men be different if they wrote about themselves and their beliefs? If there were contemporaneous accounts of Jesus and Buddha would they paint a picture of these men different from that portrayed by their followers—written long after their deaths?

History Destroyed

Libraries, and other storehouses of knowledge (and history), have been destroyed by flood, earthquake, fire and war. The Library of Alexandria, housing tens of thousands books, or scrolls, is one such example. Fire from the Roman civil war, from which Caesar emerged as sole ruler of Rome, destroyed parts if not all of it. Aurelian’s taking of the city while suppressing Queen Zenobia of Palmyra may have damaged it. Following the banning of paganism by Theodosius in 391, more damage and destruction. The Muslim conquest in 642 may have been the end.

However much truth there is in these accounts of the Library’s destruction, it no longer exists. What might our view of the ancient world be today if the treasures it housed were available to us?

Science Fiction and Fantasy History

Much of what happens in science-fiction and fantasy occurs in the future. In each of these stories the author has to breath some life into his (or her) world/universe. Asimov’s Foundation Series, Smith’s Lensmen, Herbert’s Dune, Weber’s Honorverse are just a few examples of created worlds whose history is us. It is after our time when these worlds diverge.

If you are interested in alternate history—our history to a certain point and them bam—there is plenty out there. Change one event, use historical trends and characters and see how the world would have turned out. America loses the Revolutionary War, the South defeats the North, aliens invade during World War II. These and many others are out there waiting to be read (and written). They all demand some type of history.

Even if you create your own universe/world from scratch you still have to give it some history to flesh it out. Very few of us can write a story that has no context.

Which brings me to Jack McDevitt. Many of his stories deal with a humanity that has spread to the stars and been there for millennia. His protagonist is Alex Benedict, an antiquarian. As an individual who deals in old and rare artifacts, Alex must deal with history.

Alex Benedict, and his “sidekick,” Chase Kolpath, hunt down various antiques and sell them for large amounts of money, generating a healthy income. There is danger, of course, as they deal in valuables and secrets. There is murder and attempted murder, but there is none of the large-scale violence and wars associated with much of science fiction. These stories are mysteries.

Alex has a copy of Churchhill’s Their Finest Hour and other valuables. Most of what happens involves history that happened after the twenty-first century. In these instances McDevitt must invent the history, the people, the events and the artifacts. But all of this future history must follow logically from our own history or else the reader will lose his ability to suspend his disbelief.

McDevitt’s ability to weave history and today and its trends into a coherent whole along with non-superhuman characters is half the charm of the stories. The other, of course, is a richly detailed future universe with interesting characters faced with a mystery or two and, occasionally, a crisis.

Today as History

In his newest book, Coming Home, Chapter Twenty-Six (Spoiler Alert), McDevitt gives us a glimpse of what Benedict’s universe has of ours and what they make of it.

  • Most poetry has disappeared but Shelly remains,
  • James Thurber’s name remains, but none of his writings,
  • Only six of Shakespeare’s plays are known, among them The Merry Wives of Windsor,
  • Only seven Hollywood films survive, among them Casablanca and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein,
  • Dracula was apparently a physician,
  • Superman and Batman got their start in the twenty-fourth century.

If this, or something like it is what survives of our society, what will people make of us? How accurate will their perceptions be?

Is this kind of sampling what we have of our ancient world? Is it as accurate?

Did Ramesses defeat the Hittites at Kadesh or was he forced into retreat? Do we just believe Egyptian propaganda or are the claims of Ramesses accurate?

Were the Egyptian pyramids built by thousands of slaves or by thousands of Egyptian farmers during the seasons their land was flooded by the Nile?

Does Plato tell us of the real Socrates or just a Platonic version of him?

What of the stories of Jesus?

Do we believe that Nero and Caligula were monomanically evil because they were or are they victims of bad publicity, books written by political enemies?

 Family History

For most of my forty years of teaching in junior high I taught History. I told my students that it was the most important subject because it was the only one that told them about their family.

Where are we without our families? We are adrift in the world without an anchor. We are orphans among six billion strangers.

History teaches you about your family—the human race. You are related to everyone else whether you realize it or not. Every stranger you meet is a cousin, maybe a cousin a hundred times, or a thousand times removed, but a cousin nonetheless.

Only by realizing this, and acting on it, will we be able secure our future. No new collapse of society, no new Dark Age, no future interpretations of our lives and civilization without sufficient evidence to either praise or damn us.

As Rodgers and Edwards wrote for Sister Sledge: We Are Family. Let us treat each other as family.

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Veterans Day

Veterans Day

Today is the day we put aside to honor those who serve, and have served, in our armed forces—those who have put their lives on the line to protect us and ours. While I have never served in those armed forces, quite a number of my relatives have done so.

During the Second World War, my father’s three brothers served in the US Army: Andrew, William and Charles AuBuchon. All three survived. My father wanted to enlist but the military would not take him. His first wife had died prior to Pearl Harbor and he was raising a young daughter (my half-sister Joyce) alone. He never talked about it; the story comes from others in the family.

My mother, Gladys, served in the Navy and was stationed at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Although she never met him, a gentleman I later taught with was also stationed there while my mother was there.

One of my mother’s cousins, Clayton Roberts, perished in the Pacific as his submarine was sunk by the Japanese.

My wife’s father, FFH Charlton, served in the RAF. He was, of course, British, but flew an American B-24 Liberator.

My brother and I were in high school and college during the Viet Nam War. I still remember reporting to the Selective Service Office when I turned 18, and I still remember my eight-digit draft number. I went directly from high school graduation to college and had a 2-S – Student Deferment. At about this time they introduced lottery numbers and the one I drew (my birthday number, that is) was 342. They weren’t drafting people with numbers higher than the 100s so I dropped my deferment and was later placed in a 1-H holding category—no more worries about being drafted for me.

My best friend in college wasn’t so lucky. His number was low, and he decided to enlist in the army. He ended up being stationed at Fort Hunter Liggett, Jolon, California.

My little brother, John, had an even higher lottery number than mine—347. He, however, decided to enlist in the Air Force following a year in college. Part of the time he was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Lompoc, California. He spent time in Viet Nam and was evacuated from Tan Son Nhut Air Base by helicopter at the end of April, 1975. Although he was not an official causality of that war, he did pick up the habit of smoking while in Viet Nam and died of lung cancer in 1991, leaving behind a widow and two young children.

Uncle Charlie, Uncle Billy, Uncle Andy, Cousin Clayton, Ferrier, Preach, Bill, John, Mom and all of the rest of you who have served—Thank You

Obama and Syria – more Violence and another War?

President Obama wishes to use the armed forces of the United States to punish Syria and its president, Bashar Assad, for using poison gas on its own people. Once again America’s leader(s) are preparing to use military force against another sovereign nation far away from our own borders.

I would guess that this is not too surprising as this nation was born during a world war – the Second Hundred Years’ War, which lasted from about 1689 to 1815. It was fought on land and sea and spanned the oceans of the world. During this war we became independent, invaded Canada, fought naval battles in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean and landed forces in North Africa. During the next century, we fought wars to span the American continent, annexed a third of Mexico and, in emulation of France, Great Britain and Germany violently established an “American Empire” with holdings in the far Pacific, Central America and the Caribbean. We also put down an internal rebellion at the cost of 600,000 dead.

During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we have fought two major world wars, several “limited” proxy wars with the USSR and China and been involved in many other conflicts. Some of these conflicts have been justified because others have attacked us (Pearl Harbor and 9/11) and others (Grenada and Tonkin Gulf), maybe not. Reasons and perceptions vary, but in every case, violence and death were the result.

Ancient Assyria and Persia, Alexander and Trajan, Gustavus Adolphus and Wellington, all would recognize our actions, reasons and rationalizations as those of an imperial power working to safeguard itself and to extend its influence. We are, and have been since our inception, an imperial power. We do not, however, acknowledge that we are such. We acknowledge it neither to others nor to ourselves and our children. We are the good guys. We defend the underdog. We are not Assyria or Rome; our leaders are not like Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III or Caesar and Nero.

Really? How many people have died as a result of our actions? How much good have we really done? How many places have we fought to establish “Truth, Justice and the American Way” only to have them turn to ashes?

Perhaps it is time to pull back from the brink and re-think about what we are doing,

Perhaps it is time to practice what we preach to ourselves and our children.

Perhaps we should not attempt to be the world’s policeman and moral guardian.

Perhaps Imperium is not for us.

Perhaps Mr. Obama is having second thoughts and hopes Congress will stop him from crying “Havoc,” and letting slip the dogs of war once again.

Perhaps we should support our troops by bringing them home.

Perhaps. Perhaps. And, then again, perhaps.