Communalism vs. Rugged Individualism


I saw a picture again today on Facebook that really bugs me. It’s a picture of an American soldier crawling through a Vietnamese tunnel in search of people to kill. He’s holding a flashlight in one hand an a pistol in the other. The picture was meant to inspire Americans about bravery of our troops who would crawl through such little spaces at such great risk.

Having visited Vietnam multiple times now that I’m just a few hundred miles away from the country, the picture seems more absurd than ever. Why were we crawling around in their tunnels looking for people to kill? They didn’t come to our country to do the same. When I posted that on Facebook, somebody responded “he’s looking for enemy combatants.” I thought about saying “you mean he’s looking for people who are willing to die to rid their land of invaders.”

I’ve been living here in Thailand for six years now. Today I just got my seventh retirement visa, that will last for another year. If they hadn’t given me one, I probably would have moved to Vietnam to see if they wanted me. The Southeast Asias I’ve met share some similarities. They don’t seem to mind being crowded together. They’re natural instinct is to converge, not to spread out. If I’m the only person swimming laps at the swimming pool and a group of people arrives, they come over and swim right next to me, something in my lane, which bothers me, because this is a large, olympic-sized pool. But I don’t say anything. I simply find another lane farther away until they drift towards me again.

It occurs to me that Communism fits their emotional makeup more than it does ours. Einstein commented that the Chinese seemed “herd-like” to him. Indeed, from what I’ve seen of Chinese tourists in Thailand, they do tend to clump together as they move about the city. The lonely cowboy who just wants to find his own way or the pioneer who moves on as soon as he sees the smoke of a neighbor’s chimney aren’t Asian prototypes.

So why did we assume it was OK to bomb Laos and Vietnam for a decade until they accepted “democracy?” I suppose we really wanted them to assure us of “access to free markets.” Most people I met in Vietnam and Laos were sweet to me, but I wouldn’t have blamed them for slitting my throat as I slept. The legacy of Agent Orange and unexploded ordinance is still very real in those countries.

Today is the fourth of July in America. On Facebook I commented that celebrating the birth of our nation now with all that’s going on in the Trump administration feels like having a birthday party for a child who’s been kidnapped. Other people liked and shared my post. Instead of making me happy, that just made me sad.


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