When I was a kid, I used to be keen to explore the attic of my house. The attic was filled with some kind of faint ancient, damp musty smell, which made it like an ancient treasure trove. Among piles of boxes, old papers, bowls, dishes, sedge mats, punky wood items, and tons of other miscellaneous material, sometimes I found rare, out-of-print One or Ten Vietnam Dong notes from late 80s early 90s. Some other times I picked up several Soviet literature books and old newspapers in brownish paper.
One day I saw a notebook, having no idea what it was about or to whom it belonged. It was thin and had thick covers with yellowish paper inside. I opened the cover: it was a journal. The handwriting was clear and neat. I read on.
I can’t remember exactly the content, but it was about a young man going on an adventure with a team and seeing life with a pure, enthusiastic heart. The story triggered my curiosity. I kept turning pages but was surprised that only several first pages were filled. The rest were blank. I was upset: Why didn’t the author continue writing? I wanted to know what happened next, what he did, how he felt and so on. I came to Dad to ask.
– Whose journal is this, Dad?
– This notebook? It’s the journal of my younger brother, I mean, your uncle. He sacrified his life fighting in the 1979 border war with China. His diary was sent back to the family afterwards.
– What was that war? I never heard of it.
To know that the journal of a young man wasn’t continued – not because he lost interest but because he lost his life – really dismayed me. He was less than 20 years old when he died. I could feel the spirit and innocence of youth filled in every single word that my uncle wrote. He was too young. He could have had the whole future ahead, but he lay down there forever somewhere in the border between Vietnam and China.
From then on I always remember that my uncle and lots of other soldiers traded their life for peace of the country and protection of the national land – in a war that lots of Vietnamese are still not aware of. A war which was almost never mentioned with details on TV and radio as well as in my history classes at school.
By chance, I’ve read people’s opinions about the wars in Vietnam in general on Quora. There are lots of answers and comments about those wars, the context, the motives, the strategies and tactics, the statistics about how many people of each side died, which sides were really the winner, etc. But to me all of that are just shit. People die in wars. Whichever sides participating in wars are losers. Wars are meaningless. So is the 1979 border war.
For all of this and what I’ve studied about the subject of history, I’m personally holding grudge against China. Many other Vietnamese share the same feeling.
But should we keep going on like this? I think we should rather forgive and move on. Because hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
* This day 37 years ago, the 1979 border war between Vietnam and China began. (17/2/1979 – 17/2/2016). More information can be found via Google with the key word terms ‘Sino-Vietnamese war’ and ‘1979 border war’.