From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Seeking Quan Am: A Dual Memoir of War and Vietnam

By Steve Krug (reviewer)

Seeking Quan Am: A Dual Memoir of War and Vietnam
by Susan Dixon and Mark Smith
(Ariadne's Thread, Inc., 2020)

The book presents two perspectives on the war, one from a soldier, one from an anti-war activist.

The book starts out at high school graduation and follows the authors' lives as they go their separate ways, one to war, one to travel/college and the anti-war movement. While high school graduation is used as the point of departure of their narratives, there is some info that their paths diverged long before that.

Mark enlisted and volunteered for Vietnam. His journals tell, in detail, his remembrances of his missions and reasons for volunteering for a second tour:

"The war was all mine now. From surviving it, I began to thrive in it. I was, to put it bluntly, good at it—I was a pro." His second tour, again told in great detail, is a combination of combat angst and group pride, a building awareness of the terrible things of war and his participation in it, the mind numbing, soul crushing, yet exhilarating life of being a "Pro." Upon his return to the States he went to U-NC and joined VVAW.

Susan went on to travel and college, but seems, like some, to have had social justice issues and the war overshadow the courses she took: "I thought Americans cared. I thought Americans saw something wrong and tried to correct it. In Vietnam things were going wrong, we were making it worse, and I wanted it stopped." She marched and helped organize lobbying trips to Washington, but later, as she put it "I wanted to know how not to oppose, but how to heal." In 2011, her trip to Vietnam seems to cement this idea and shortly after the trip she sees Mark in a documentary and she seeks him out.

The last part of the book is what the first two parts promise, a meeting of the two, their shared trip to Vietnam and the seeking of Quan Am (from the book: "..the Bodhisattva of compassion, the best known of enlightened beings who give of themselves to help humanity. In Vietnam this being is understood to be female and is called Quan Am"). While their two paths led them to a similar conclusion about the war, the paths themselves were so very different, and greatly influenced the end of this story. There are no Hollywood endings here following the perfect arc. There is the earnest seeking of some kind of closure and understanding.

What separates this book from the many written about the war is the personal nature of it. While large geo-political forces caused the war, and the two authors lived through that war, the book concerns itself with the duality of the experience from these two people. Well worth the read.

Steve Krug is an equally proud VVAW member and a conscientious objector.

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