02 August 2012

Butterfly Rose - another look at Vietnam war

The latest book Butterfly Rose by Dick Stanley opens another view of the Vietnam war or, to be more precise, several views. To start with, that of American soldiers - people who didn't ask to be in Vietnam, whose personal views, like these of any normal people, didn't extend to philosophical mulling on the Cold War and its global implications. They, like one of the main protagonists, first lieutenant Jesse Miles, counted the remaining days of their tour of duty, tried to cope in the best way they could with the intestinal diseases, with enemy ambushes, with soldiers they commanded and with their unreliable local and American partners... There simply wasn't much time or strength left to ponder on the wider meaning of the war or trying to understand the locals - be it the largely corrupt South Vietnam's army or the largely inscrutable for the American mind local population.

The other view is that of Thanh Kim, a Vietnamese old woman, part sorceress, part expert in folk remedies, carrying through years her love to a Vietnamese revolutionary, graceful in her ways and wise like her ancient nation. Caught between the two warring sides - can she survive and continue to carry her lonely vigil of talking with the spirits of her homeland?

And, to really transform the story into a polyphonic experience, the author succeeds to weave in a new thread and a yet another view - that of Neal Constance, an enlisted historian, whose ancestor fought in the same area with French Foreign Legion in 1860s. The three strands are carefully and lovingly woven by the author into a story that will not leave you indifferent, no matter what your opinion on the Vietnam war is now or was at the time (if you were of an age then).

Like the other book by Dick Stanley, Leaving the Alamo, this book is not about superheroes, but about regular people, like you and I, forced by the powers out of their control into situations they would vastly prefer to avoid. They tried to do their best to survive. And to understand.

It so happened that two or three years before reading the Butterfly Rose, I have visited Vietnam. As a youth being frequently recruited to participate in the obligatory "Hands off Vietnam" "spontaneous" demonstrations of Soviet citizens and bombarded by daily communiques about the heroic victories of Viet Cong, for a few years I became conditioned to the stories of American imperialists atrocities on one side and heroic resistance on the other.

With time I have learned differently, starting to see the Vietnam war as another tragic episode of the Cold War, the long and bloody history of which is less and less clear now and which slowly but surely becomes forgotten by most and even denied by some. Vietnamese people won their round in that war, but 40 years later I have witnessed the terrible price that the communist theology extracts from its people. The poverty for most, the lack of basic services, including medicine, the unemployment, all this sometimes artfully hidden - but not artfully enough, the pitiful existence of minorities, such as Hmong people: not much to boast about.

So, being generally receptive to all things anti-communist at this time, I have easily persuaded myself to view the US defeat in Vietnam as a lost battle in the generally victorious Cold War. Needless to say that by that time my heart was (still is) with the victors. They haven't fought and died in vain.

But this is not what Butterfly Rose is about. So just read it.


Dick Stanley said...

Thanks, Snoop. And it's only 99 cents on the Kindle. Come on you big spenders.

robin said...

thanks for sharing.