Friday, February 22, 2013

Vietnam War Propaganda & America The Beautiful

 O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain! –America The Beautiful


NORTH VIETNAM, OUTSIDE HANOI: Dec 26th, 2012:
The art is unmistakable.  Like a driving beat it just marches on.  Communist murals, fighting songs, rousing the people, saluting the flag.  War is always good for business, except... when it's not.
 O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!  –America The Beautiful


You never really feel danger in Vietnam.  Oh sure, crossing the street can be daunting but they tell you to just stand still, the scooters will go around you.
 O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!  –America The Beautiful


But you see it.  It's there.  This underlying mistrust, like when I couldn't understand the waitress and she slammed the menu on the table and walked off or when the old men in the park who stoop on low chairs, stopped mumbling when I passed and glared. 
 O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!  –America The Beautiful


I get it.  I'm not denying it.  That's part of the deal when you're an American abroad.
 O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!   –America The Beautiful


Funny how it's sold back to you though.  Wandering through North Vietnam, we head into this little propaganda art gallery and the woman sneers through her teeth as I ask about a Ho Chi Min print, sneering again when Xian asks why the woman painted yellow is shouldering a machine gun.
 O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man's avail
Men lavished precious life!  –America The Beautiful


So we go outside for some lemon tea and crisp cakes.  There's no tension in food.
 O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!   –America The Beautiful


That night in the hotel is quite strange.  I write this basically to remember, but it's the most harrowing night of sleep in years.  We are on the 30th floor and the bed is directly adjacent to a giant bay window.  Just inches from my pillowed head there is a shere drop straight down to the street below.  Tossing and turning in the night, I awoke many times to a feeling I was falling. Really falling!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!  –America The Beautiful


So we left the Vietnamese propaganda art galleries and walked along the river.  I found myself whistling this old American Hymn.  Signing does come in handy, doesn't it?  Even though, it often helps or hinders no one but yourself.

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