A Walk in the Garden of Heaven

A letter To Vietnam from veteran George Evans

George Evans

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During Vietnam, which we say because the name signifies more than a place—it is an epoch, a paradigm, a memory, a mistake—during Vietnam, things were the same as they are now for those who are young and poor. We were standing around. There was no work, it was the beginning of our times as men, we were looking to prove ourselves, or looking for a way out. Some were patriots, and many were the sons of men who had gone to another war and come back admired. I don’t remember any mercenaries. We were crossing thresholds, starting to lie to ourselves about things, and because we were there and ambitious or desperate, when they passed out weapons, we took them. We didn’t understand the disordered nature of the universe, so disordered humans must try to arrange it, and if they get you young enough, you will help.

I’m grieved but not guilty. Sad but not ashamed.

That does not mean I lack compassion. It does not mean I sleep at night, or don’t sweat at night. It does not mean it is easy to live.

In parts of my country, I’m considered insane.

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Thinking of it in terms of your country, I could say I was the son of peasants. We earned or made everything we had. I learned to honor people for what they do, not for their positions. I’ve never been able to escape the rightness of that. To explain it in terms of my country, it means: if I didn’t have enemies here, I would choose to live in exile.

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We want the bones. We want all the bones. You will hear this. Good people will say it. They are all good people. They say it. They say: We want the bones. And they mean it, they mean what they say. They carry it into sleep, into their children, into the voting booth. We want the bones. That’s what we want. We don’t want the ghosts. You keep the ghosts. We don’t want them. Just the bones.

Your ghosts are driving us out of our minds.

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In my country we shift blame. After the war, those who went became pariahs. Not the ones who started it, not the ones who carried it. And because not everyone can overlook rejection or memory, more who went have died by their own hand than by your mines or bullets. There are more suicides among us now than names on our monument in the capital, our broken dash against the landscape, scar that would span the city if it listed the actual dead, black river that would surge across the country if it listed everyone ruined on every side.

I want this remembering to end, yet cannot let it. It’s like drinking the ocean, but someone must remember, someone refuse to be tethered.

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