AN AMERICAN PRISONER IN VIETNAM

Chapter 7

After lunch, the guard brings James a stack of old US magazines. At first, James decides not to read them, for he doesn’t want to be bothered with anything in the world outside “…for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” However, his curiosity overcomes his early intention not to read the magazines. James picks up a copy, in which he finds the polemic between the pro-war and anti-war factions. They blame each other for the defeat in Vietnam, and do not spare any terms to revile their opponent. James turns pale when he looks at a review showing the war expenses, and the number of US servicemen killed, injured, captured in Vietnam. According to this review, Vietnam has given the US a complete list of POW’s, returned all of them, and what is left to be done now is the cooperation between the two sides to search for the remains of US soldiers, listed as MIA’s. James is shocked to read the interview of many former American GI’s who fought during the Vietnam War. The majority of them state that they feel deceived to join a war they were not allowed to win. They expressed their anger towards the anti-war demonstrators and their shame of being defeated. Some of them have lost their minds and become insane. Lots of them are sick or are addicted to drugs. The public looked down on those who returned from the war. A lot of the released POW’s cannot find jobs. Quite a few were abandoned by their wives. James’ heart aches when he reads the articles praising the victory of North Vietnam and reviling the armed forces of South Vietnam. None of these articles mention the plight of US servicemen still being held in Vietnam against their wills. “A new page of history has been turned,” President Ford has said something like that. People no longer want to turn back a page in history, especially a page that records the shameful defeat in Vietnam. The US press condemns the “dirty” war and blames their government for its consequences. The morale of the people is going down while the expenses for national defense increase. The new plane B1 is going to replace the B52. The corpses of US soldiers who died in Vietnam have been used as building blocks, paving the road for US financiers to enter the market in China!

James puts the magazine back on the stack. He sighs, and decides not to think about what he has read. He believes that if one cannot see anything in the future, one shouldn’t try to return to the past.

In the afternoon, Chi Mai calls for him. She is quite nice to him, giving him the usual warm treatment.

– “How are you doing, James?”

– “Thank you, I’m doing great.”

– “I’m very glad to hear that.”

The tape recorder is no longer on her desk. There are only his file, a packet of Winston, some matches, and a can of Coca-Cola. Chi Mai is sitting behind her desk, and James sits down on the other side, facing her.

– “Do you know that you are our special guest?”

Instead of replying, he asks,

– “Do you mean ‘your guest’ or the guest of the prison?”

She replies,

– “I mean both.”

He says,

– “I thought you meant ‘your’ guest.”

She explains,

– “I made the recommendation for you to be treated as a special guest and the prison board approved.”

He smiles.

– “Then I have to thank both you and the prison board.”

She stroke the lock of hair that falls over her forehead.

– “No prisoners are allowed to know anything that happens outside. You are the only one who knows everything. Have you ever wondered why you’re treated in this special way? I suggest that you stop asking yourself that question. There’s nothing behind it. I just want to show you my sincere intention to expedite your return to America. Do you agree that I’ve always done what I promise you?”

He nods.

– “I agree.”

– “You’ve seen the picture of your family, I guess. How do you feel? Are you homesick?”

– “Thank you. I’ve looked at the picture, and I miss my family tremendously.”

– “There has been an agreement of cooperation between the US and Vietnamese postal services. The world has grown smaller. We have been able to talk to people in America by phone. I want you to write letters to your family, but my superiors have recommended other means of communication, as the war leaders in your country have listed you as missing in action. For some inadvertent reason, we forgot to put your name in the POW’s list. I must admit our error. However, I’m amazed to find that The White House and The Pentagon have forgotten you, too. That’s quite unreasonable. Anyway, I have to apologize to you for our mistake.”

– “I believe in Providence.”

– “You have read the magazines. Whatever has happened is clearly written in them. I haven’t done anything to mislead or deceive you. It’s the people on your side who have abandoned you. For our part, we can do away with you whenever we feel like it. Because you are now an American soldier who isn’t accounted for.”

While James is feeling a cold wave run down his spine, Chi Mai grins.

– “You know, at any time, they could take you on a plane ride, kill you, and throw your body into the sea. As I’ve always said, you choose the day for your return to your country.”

James looks surprised.

– “I have a choice?”

She shrugs.

– “Who else? But let’s talk about that later.”

Chi Mai looks straight into his eyes.

– “Your government is negotiating to buy back the bones of US servicemen who were killed during the war.”

James is silent. Chi Mai continues,

– “A famous senator, who used to be a ‘dove’ just came to Hanoi with two Boeing’s. One was used to transport to the USA the skeletons of two American soldiers, together with their serial numbers, date of death, reason of death, and their dog tags. The other plane was left behind as a gift.”

She smacks her lips.

– “American bones are really valuable. Two skeletons for a Boeing!”

She looks at him and smiles.

– “You need to live, not because you are more valuable than a skeleton, but because we want to show the world that the Vietnamese government respects human beings. While your government has forgotten you, we have done everything possible to accommodate you with the American standard of living. We Vietnamese consider national honor something very sacred. Those countries that condemn us of human rights violations will have to shut up and be ashamed of themselves when they see how you’ve been treated.”

James is feeling confused by what Chi Mai has told him. He has the feeling of someone floating between the two regions of truth and falsehood. When he joined the services, James received no rudimentary training about communism. James is a real soldier; however, the people here have not treated him as a prisoner of war. They want to make him a political prisoner. Perhaps many Americans are as naive as James is. Perhaps the US media is naive, too. Poor James Fisher, the soldier who has been turned into a victim, a tool in the hands of those who are experts in the art of deceit!

– “James!”

– “I’m listening.”

– “You have wondered why we kept you in solitary confinement for eight years, haven’t you?”

– “Yes, I have.”

– “You have complained that we don’t honor the Geneva regulation regarding prisoners of war, haven’t you?”

– “That’s right.”

– “Do you have any idea what kind of war we are having today?”

– “No, I don’t.”

– “It’s a war between two ideologies. Your government never declared war against my country; yet your forces invaded our land. During World War II your leaders condemned the Japanese as cowards because they attacked Pearl Harbor without declaring war. Your people aren’t any different from the Japanese. The reaction of our people towards the invaders is unpredictable. In order to protect you from harm, we have to keep you away from our people. One cannot predict what they would do to you out of anger.”

– “Just that?”

– “Yes, it’s that simple. Right now, you have two enemies: the proletariats who still resent the imperialists; and the warmongers who would rather buy bones than rescue their MIA’s. You might remember that incident when some people attempted to stone you after your capture. They may still be waiting for you. The warmongers are afraid that if you come back alive, you may denounce them for having abandoned you. That’s why you have been kept separately. Do you understand now, James?”

– “I’m trying to understand.”

– “You can choose the day of return, I repeat.”

She rings the bell. The guard opens the door.

– “James, think about it.”

James nods goodbye to her and follows the guard to his room. He begins to wonder who she is, and what purpose she is here for.

—> 8

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