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By Dan New
"I bet you still hate Jane Fonda, don't you?" For just a moment, I thought about my friend's question. Then, I said, "That was 45 years ago. I was just a kid and so was she." I sensed his need for a snarl of agreement, the expected veteran's response, the stereotype. He turned back to the conversation with my other friends about the PBS documentary, "The Vietnam War." My apprehension heightened. Images in my psyche become a little less frozen and the reels of remembrances begin to roll forward when prompted by the trailers for the film.
It's been hard work over the years to come to terms with the war, with the ideologies, the ravages, my service and my memories. What remains till this day are the flashbacks, the sleepless nights, the survivor's guilt and my love of this country. I've accepted that all of it is in my DNA.
When I returned to Vietnam on a reconciliation journey in 2015, we walked not only through the battle sights but through the temples and pagodas of worship. I recall the Buddhist monks' chanting on Lady Black Mountain after a fellow veteran had purged his pain from the battles there in 1968. We practiced the tools that cope with combat related stress as part of daily life, meditation, prayer, mindfulness, breathing, the list goes on.
A few weeks from now, we'll live through it all again. Our collective emotions will be stirred when viewing the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary, "The Vietnam War," including myself and others who served, protesters, draft resisters, ex-patriots, the Vietnamese (north and south), the Viet Cong, the bearers of Agent Orange-caused diseases, the Gold Star mothers, the siblings, and the children of those who lost their lives both during and after the war. It's a long list, a tragic list, but a common one to all wars.
I know that some of the program will trigger responses in me. But I'm sure that I will not be alone. Countless others across our nation will find themselves reacting to the images and events from 50 years ago. I say that because I can experience a flashback when I walk a street and smell diesel fumes or hear the approach of a helicopter's rotating blades or cringe during the fireworks on July 4th. A few new generations will have their first viewing of the war that folks at home viewed on our televisions in the 60s and 70s. We will need to answer their questions from who we are now, all these years later.
In my mind, Mr. Burns and Ms. Novick offer us an opportunity to respond in a kinder way than was the case back then. There will be Monday morning discussions, dinner table chats, and friends joining in conversation as the war is rolled out on our flat screens. We have the chance to relive it, and from a perspective that speaks from wisdom, grace and understanding.
We live in difficult times now. There is little room for hate. Jane Fonda has lived her life, moved on and lives with her regrets as we all need to try to do. In a Vanity Fair article from January 2015 by Joanna Robinson, Ms. Fonda stated, "Whenever possible I try to sit down with vets and talk with them... it makes me sad... it will to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake..."
My regret is the self-imposed silence that I endure when I permit others to imply a clichéover my truth without objection. It started when I returned, when few would listen.
Dan New is a Vietnam Veteran who served in the US Army 1967-68.