A Desk from Vietnam Sent in Peace

Fifty years ago, I was in Vietnam for a few months sent on a mission by President John F. Kennedy. My assignment, and that of all of the other young men in Vietnam in 1963, was to stop the spread of communism and protect democracy. Somewhere just outside my range of vision lurked the Vietcong, those agents of evil sent by Ho Chi Men to destroy democracy and create a pure communist state. In their minds they had to protect Vietnam from the colonial invaders and save the world from American aggression. We could each accomplish our mission only by killing the other. And before it was over, many did die. But I survived as did many of the Vietnamese I was there to fight.

The world in 1963 was polarized and divided by ideology. The terms in use defined the battle lines; it was communism versus democracy, colonialism versus nationalism and foreign aggression versus national defense. The words one chose depended on one’s ideology and life and death battles were fought over them. But they were just ideas, not given truths; there were no absolute wrongs nor any absolute rights. Fortunately, that was a long time ago and much has changed since then.

The Soviet Union has disappeared. Communist China now has the world’s second largest capitalist economy. And except for poor isolated Cuba, the communist state has pretty much faded from the world map. Equally, all of the former colonies have gained independence and self-government. Vietnam is united, independent and without foreign soldiers on its land. Today, it has a thriving tourist economy, including casinos. Rice production has recovered and Vietnam does its share of exporting manufactured goods to other countries, including the United States.

Those goods reach even the hinterlands, like Reno. Recently, I purchased a new desk and bookcase from World Market. I made my choice from the items on display, but the store does not sell assembled furniture. World Market sells desks and bookcases in boxes; buyers must assemble the purchases themselves. Assembly is not my strong suit, but it is one of my grandson’s strengths. He can assemble anything, which may be why he is an engineering student at UNR. Monday he came over to take the desk and bookcase out of the boxes and assemble them for me. While watching him work, I noticed the country of origin on the boxes – they were made in Vietnam. I did not know the country of origin when I bought them.

Now fully assembled and functioning, my new desk and bookcase illustrate that the world is no longer divided by ideology as it was in 1963. The warriors that fought the wars of ideology are gone and in their place is a new generation. One that is very different from its grandparents. They do not care about the ideology that divided their grandparents.. On this side of that old divide, my grandson removes from the box and assembles a desk constructed and put into a box by the grandchildren of those on the other side of the divide.

That box and my desk demonstrate a worldwide economy in action, but more importantly they demonstrate worldwide peace in action. There are still places in the world where political or religious ideology leads to violence and war – but overall the world is more peaceful than it was fifty years ago. My grandson and his peers everywhere around the world can concentrate on engineering and assembling desks instead of on war and disassembling human beings. And now, I have a new desk and bookcase sent to me and my grandson as a gesture of peace from Vietnam.




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June 2014
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