Making Peace With Vietnam (USA)

Locally-made film explores lingering consequences of war


A philosophy professor at Virginia Wesleyan College with no budget, no experience as a film-maker, and a skeletal crew of four has written, directed, and in large part shot and edited a powerful, feature-length documentary which examines the "lingering consequences" of the Vietnam War-on Vietnamese and Americans alike-more than 30 years after the U.S. withdrawal.

Dr. Steve Emmanuel's Making Peace with Vietnam premiered last month at VWC and, in association with the Naro Cinema, will be shown again Wed., Oct. 22, at Norfolk's Studio for the Healing Arts (1611-D Colley Ave.) at 7 p.m. Emmanuel will host the evening, which includes a post-screening discussion. Admission is $5.

The film is thoughtful, informative, non-judgmental, compassionate, and, frankly, hard to watch in its unflinching examination of the continuing suffering from the war, especially among Vietnamese children but also among American veterans haunted by acts they participated in.

Taken as a whole, it adds up to a moral indictment of warfare, though Emmanuel, who also narrates, avoids uttering a single anti-war syllable. The facts, combined with the testimony of people interviewed, speak for themselves.

Thus, we learn, the U.S. dropped eight million tons of bombs on Vietnam-more than all the bombs combined in World War II. We sprayed nineteen million gallons of herbicide on the countryside, spread twelve million tons of Agent Orange (containing the highly toxic chemical

dioxin), and unleashed 400,000 tons of napalm. Unexploded land mines and cluster bombs have killed 35,000 Vietnamese and wounded 65,000 since the war ended in 1975, while an estimated several hundred thousand tons of ordnance remain unaccounted for.

As the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. attests, 58,195 Americans were killed in the conflict. But, as is nowhere memorialized, more than two million Vietnamese died.

"We spend a lot of time preparing for war and waging war," says Emmanuel, but very little "for the consequences of war," including help for our own traumatized veterans.

Those consequences may include abnormally high incidents of cancer and birth defects, including Downs Syndrome and congenital heart disease among Vietnamese children, as a result of dioxin pollution from Agent Orange. The U.S. has never acknowledged such a link, and scientific evidence for it is only "suggestive," says Dr. Nguyen Viet Nhan, director of the Office for Genetic Counselling and Disabled Children in Hue Province in central Vietnam. But fierce fighting there during the 1968 Tet Offensive left high concentrations of dioxin pollution behind.

Emmanuel interviews Nhan extensively in the film, a meeting facilitated through Allen Sandler, Norfolk founder of the Mindfulness Community of Hampton Roads, one of several non-profit organizations supporting Nhan's work, which, among other health services, performs corrective heart surgery for children.

Other charitable interventions are also active in Vietnam, including some initiated by veterans like Ken Herrmann, whose organization provides services to a Vietnamese leper colony, which Emmanuel visits.

As Sandler notes in the film, outside of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam remains a deeply impoverished country, in no small part because of the war.

Yet oddly, perhaps, Emmanuel could find no resentment against Americans during his four visits there, beginning in 2006. The Vietnamese, he found, have moved on. But have we?

Not according to Buddhist teacher and Vietnamese native Thich Nhat Hanh, who Emmanuel interviewed during the monk's first return home to Hue since his exile for pacifist activities during the war.

"If you don't understand your own suffering," says Hanh, "you will continue to produce suffering for yourself and others. While you still follow the old pattern with another partner-like Iraq, like Iran-you have not learned anything from Vietnam."

Von: 21.10.2008, by D. D. Delaney,

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