Cold sunny day, I’m having a sandwich on our south deck, sitting next to the clothes drying on the line, the sun brilliantly illuminating my inside-out black T-shirt and Marcia’ inside-out black blouse. And I notice that both pieces of clothing have labels that say Made In Vietnam. Out of curiosity, I take off one of my shoes bought from REI and the label says Made In Vietnam.
I am struck hard by the realization that from 1963, when I was thirteen and went on my first anti-war march, until I published my first novel in 1978, a novel narrated by a disabled Vietnam veteran, that the Vietnam War and the countless repercussions of that terrible conflict had a greater influence on my life than almost anything else.
The American military killed millions of Vietnamese people in an invasion and occupation that lasted more than a decade. Sixty thousand American soldiers died during that senseless war. Several hundred thousand more American soldiers were physically and emotionally disabled by the war, and hundreds of thousands of those soldiers committed suicide in the years following their return to America.
Our culture and politics were entirely transformed by the ways in which we, as individuals and a society, reacted to that ongoing tragedy.
Today, forty-five years after the last American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, many of the clothes and shoes Americans wear are made in Vietnam, and Vietnam is now a popular tourist destination for people from all over the world, including many Americans.