AN AMERICAN PRISONER IN VIETNAM

Chapter 6

James is feeling really weary. He has met Chi Mai four times. These meetings have made him think. They started just like a wonderful morning that ended with rain, thunder and a storm. They could also be compared to a cozy afternoon that gradually changed into gloomy twilight and a cold, desolate evening. Chi Mai hasn’t oppressed his thinking. She just guides him along the way in search of the truth. She has told him that she doesn’t lie to him. She never intends to make him agonize by the discovery. James has been suffering because of his love for the truth. Chi Mai understands his thinking. Although feeling pain inside, James cannot blame her for showing him the truth. The truth has been revealed to James. However, it doesn’t have the power to set him free. Neither can it open the door for him to step into the land of hope and trust. The truth cannot pull him out of this abyss of doubt. Instead, it has inflicted a deep cut in his soul. The cut is infected and causes him pain every moment. James thinks America has been wounded too. The injury that he and his country have suffered is very hard to heal. Maybe it will never heal, unless there is another Deluge. The same questions come back to James’ mind: “Who are the warmongers? Who have brought about pain and division among his people?

Chi Mai has told him over and over again that the Vietnam war criminals are those in the White House, the Pentagon, and the “Hawks” in Congress. Wall Street has controlled all of them. The capitalists on Wall Street are the actual brains of the Vietnam War. Chi Mai arouses in his heart the anger of a soldier against the injustice that the oppressed underdogs have been suffering. James’ thinking has become unsteady now. Chi Mai always reminds him to think. And he has been thinking.

James was growing up when Kennedy became president. He was inspired by the President’s New Frontier calling. John Kennedy wanted the young people of his country to spread freedom and democracy all over the world, especially to underdeveloped nations. He wanted America to step out of isolationism. According to him, America had been richly blessed by God; therefore, it shouldn’t sleep on its glory and enjoy prosperity by itself, but should go out into the world and share its blessings with the less fortunate third-world countries.

The youth at that time rallied to his cause. There was no longer the “lost generation” which existed after the Second World War. The victory of any war is meaningless if it cannot bring about happiness to the people. As America has received much grace from God, it has the duty to carry out His will by shouldering the new cross, willing to accept all bitter misunderstandings in an effort to help people all over the world to stand up for freedom and democracy, move towards civilization, and share the wealth of the earth. Kennedy thought nations should approach one another for love and understanding. There should be no more slavery, frontier, or race division. Poverty, hate, prisons, and torture must end. Human beings should disregard trivial differences. The world must begin a glorious era in which brotherhood would be the language of every nation.

James Fisher loved that ideal. He wanted to see the sun shine on everybody. The sun should be shining not only over America but also everywhere on this earth. He wanted to see flowers blooming on mountain slopes, and trees yielding fruits in the desert. James was excited with President Kennedy’s call for duty. He can still see Kennedy’s face, although the President is dead. Kennedy is dead, and he has been resurrected. His glorious ideal still lives in people like James. He always thinks that Kennedy is part of the soul of America, as much as Washington and Lincoln are parts of it , as much as all those who have died for his country. According to James, his country doesn’t consist only of Congress, the White House, or Wall Street. It is everywhere. It is seen in the leaves of the wild forests, in each blade of grass at the park, in every mountain, river and stream. It is in the graves of the dead and in the houses of the living. It is in his people’s teardrops and laughter, in their passionate kisses and heart-felt words. And finally, it is in the hearts of all its citizens.

His country called him to go and fight for democracy and freedom of mankind. James answered the call. He loved his country and wanted to serve it. He was ready to die for his country. He only knew that he had a duty to his country. He didn’t oppose his country. He will never be against it. A country never betrays its citizens; so the latter should never think of betraying their country. James went to war. It was just that simple. He didn’t know, nor did he care to know, of any schemes or ambitions behind that war.

Chi Mai wants him to take a stand against those who conducted this war. James did not become a soldier because he was incited by anyone. He joined the air force to fulfill his duty towards his country. No, he cannot take a stand against his country.

James has undergone a lot of suffering, both physical and mental, during his eight years in solitary confinement. He didn’t know that America had been defeated for the first time in its history. He had no knowledge of any change in his country or the world. Maybe it is God’s will that he has to remain here. Nobody can abandon him, and no one can save him, if God doesn’t want it to happen. Who knows if God doesn’t have a purpose for him to stay here to do His will, or to bring salvation to someone? James tries to find comfort in God, putting his trust in Him.

Gradually, he has the feeling of someone who is flying. James recites to himself the verses from the Old and New Testaments he had learned during Sunday school. The thought that God may be using him to bring salvation to someone has filled him with ecstasy. Suddenly, James has found a guiding light in darkness. He is startled with this discovery. He has left the narrow way and taken the large road instead. “The large road will lead to destruction.” Didn’t he memorize that verse a long time ago? No, James hasn’t chosen the large road yet. Only Chi Mai has opened the door leading to that road. During almost eight years of torture, hunger, and humiliation, James was never so depressed and exhausted that he had to weep. But only after less than a month being served with Coca Cola, Winston cigarettes, meat, fruits, coffee, and alcohol, James found himself on the way leading to destruction. His soul was in turmoil and his beliefs tainted with doubts. James thinks it may be better if they put him back to solitary confinement where, in his dark and cold cell, the suffering he’ll undergo will be used by God as a guiding light to show him the right way. James feels he has found an inner peace. God is still looking after him. God has not abandoned him.

At the time he is feeling most peaceful, a guard opens the door and gives him a sealed envelope. James hastily opens it. There is a picture of his family. Trying to hold back his tears, James looks at the picture. His hands are trembling. The picture was taken during his childhood. James was standing with his parents, a broad smile on his face. Next to him were his two younger sisters. Tears are rolling down his cheeks. Holding the picture to his face, James kisses his parents and sisters. Memories are coming back to him like iridescent bubbles. As the bubbles are popping, one by one, his heart is broken into pieces. The peace he has just found seems to be shaking. James suddenly loves the free life outside and misses his family tremendously. He visualizes the desperate hope of his parents and the sad longing of his poor two sisters. James mutters, “Why am I still here?” War and imprisonment have consumed his youth. Before being captured, James had planned what he would do after completing his service. He would marry Susan McCareen. They would have two sons. James would get a job and live near his parents. Susan and he would work hard, save money for their trips to Europe every two years. They would visit Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and London. He had always dreamed of going to Paris.

All his dreams and plans are gone now, just like the iridescent bubbles that pop through the shroud of his tears. James has found that even simple dreams like those are impossible for him to realize. He puts the picture back into the envelope and places it under his pillow. The lyric of a song slips through his mind. James begins to sing: “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera. What will be, will be.” As James keeps on singing the chorus of this song, he gradually regains his inner peace. Nobody can predict or plan their future, even if they live in the free world outside; much less here in this hopeless place. He suddenly remembers a Bible verse he memorized many years ago in Sunday school. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” James believes he should follow what the Lord has taught; for as human beings, it’s impossible to have control over what happens tomorrow. He feels confident now. James begins to think of what to do to prepare for his struggle in the days ahead so that he won’t become corrupt on the broad road they may lure him in.

—> 7

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