5.15.2008

Memorial Day

As Memorial Day approaches, I think of family members that have served our country.

My father is one of eight, many of which served their country.

My husband served in Vietnam.

What I have observed in them:

1) They have life long friends, forged in times that we cannot imagine.

2) They take politics very seriously, especially ones involving wars, conflicts ie.. whatever we are calling them at the moment.

3) They are slow to anger, tender at heart, and take things seriously.

4) They had to grow up fast, saw newly made friends suffer and die.

5) Few words are said among them about what passed, but just a look between them says volumes.

May we think of them this Memorial Day and send them love and healing, especially those still in service.

vietnam_napalm_girl     Running Children

                                                           

Then 21 years old, Ut was working as a photographer for Associated Press in Saigon when he heard that the South Vietnamese Air Force was napalming a village called Trang Bang. By the time he arrived, the village was engulfed in black smoke and the road leading to it was on fire.

Out of the smoke came a group of children, running towards him. First was a little boy in shorts, his face locked in a rictus of shock. Behind him was a naked nine-year-old girl.

She had torn her clothes off because they were burning her and was screaming, Nong qua! Nong qua! - 'Too hot! Too hot!' As the girl came closer, Ut saw that what he had assumed were strips of clothing hanging from her shoulders were actually strips of skin.

This photograph, too, went around the world. It won Ut a Pulitzer Prize and became one of the key images of the Vietnam War, creating such shock and revulsion that it was widely credited with hastening the American withdrawal from South-east Asia.

Burning Monk

 monkonfire

On the evening of June 10, 1963 Malcolm Browne, a 30-year-old photographer from New York who had been sent to Vietnam by his employer Associated Press to cover the war, received a call telling him to be at a particular intersection in Saigon the next morning as something important was going to happen.

He was there waiting the following morning, along with David Halberstam, a reporter from The New York Times, when a car pulled up and three or four monks got out. One, Thich Quang Duc, sat on the ground in the lotus position with a box of matches in his hand while the others proceeded to pour gasoline over him from jerry cans.

Thich Quang Duc then struck a match and instantly made himself and Malcolm Browne world famous. In contrast to the wailing of the people watching, as he burned he never made a sound nor moved a muscle, such was his self-discipline.

The Buddhist monk had discussed his intentions with his superiors at the Linh-Mu Pagoda in Hue and with members of the Buddhist community. His protest was designed to draw attention to the harsh treatment that Buddhists were receiving from the US-backed Catholic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem.

The United States had helped put Diem into the position of ruler of South Vietnam in the belief that he would be the most likely candidate to prevent it from falling under communist control.

However, Diem was a Catholic and when he took control he ignored the advice of the US and made many decision that upset the predominantly Buddhist population.

Thich Quang Duc had written to Diem asking him to end the repression of Buddhism, to stop detaining monks and give them the right to practice and spread their religion and to lift the ban on them flying their traditional Buddhist flag, but had not received a reply. This final act followed several weeks of deep meditation.

The New York Times didn't publish the photograph the following morning but the next day when it was seen by US President Kennedy it is believed that the president made the decision that Diem should go.

In the following months five other Buddhist monks followed Thich Quang Duc�s example and killed themselves and although they were religious statements they were also seen as political acts committed to draw attention to the injustices being perpetrated by a puppet government of the American imperialists against the South Vietnamese people.

By December of that year Diem�s regime had been overthrown and he had been replaced by Nguyen Van Thieu, Kennedy had been assassinated and American public opinion had swung against the war.

Malcolm Browne's decision not to intervene and prevent Thich Quang Duc�s self-immolation haunted him for many years. He felt that in those seconds he could have saved the monk's life but he chose to take photographs instead.

Perhaps by doing so and helping to show the world what was happening in Vietnam Malcolm Browne, in his small way, hastened the end of the war thereby saving many other lives at the cost of Thich Quang Duc's.

Of course, Thich Quang Duc must be given far more credit for changing the world�s perception of the Vietnam War, after all, his was the ultimate sacrifice.

It is said that the only part of Thich Quang Duc's body that wasn't burnt was his heart, even after his body was subjected to ritual cremation, and it is kept at the Reserve Bank of Vietnam as a holy relic.

These photographs won Malcolm a Pulitzer Prize in 1964.

6 comments:

  1. I've seen these photos many times over the years. A quote comes to mind, "War is not healthy for children and other living beings." I think that's what it is.

    Very dramatic blog. Feel bad that we take Memorial Day so lightly - a day off!

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  2. Very well written and said. War and acts of war are disturbing yet wars sometimes are necessary to stop acts of aggression and violations of human rights - such as our Civil War and WWI. I agree with you about the men who have served our country - my father is one of them.

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  3. Powerful post! I wish more people would stop and think more about the repurcussions of war. I understand some wars are necessary, but so many are not.

    And great observations about the men. Seems to be true of the veterans I know also.

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  4. I remember seeing that photo of the running children at the time and being so horrified. You have written a very dramatic and powerful post. We pray for peace!

    Jana

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  5. Thank you for posting this. Being a veteran myself(Viet Nam era and Gulf War - aka Desert Storm)many thoughts and memories streamed through my brain. You are so correct when you write of the strong bonds that are formed in times of war. You may not know much about the man or woman you're with at war time but you know you would lay down your life for them and they for you. This is something that is NEVER forgotten or taken lightly.

    Wayne (I belong to the Knit Witch)

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  6. Great post! Thanks for participating.

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