Same same, but different.

[Inventory check: USA, Indonesia, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam. With Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and India on the near horizon to complete the Asian theater.]

“Same same, but different”, seems to be a “thing” all over Asia. I think it derives from the huge amount of knockoff and counterfeit products sold here, but who knows.  Say, “Same same, but different”, and people smile. Always.

For 58 years, and certainly whilst living in France, visiting Normandy Beaches and studying the U.S. role as savior of the free world, I was proudly comforted knowing who was right and wrong. But a large part of our recent journey has been punctuated by an apology tour. When one digs only slightly into the decrepit logic used to inform pre-war, and in-war decisions, it is earth-shatteringly embarrassing. [To be clear, I will NEVER denigrate the enormous sacrifices of our young men and women who have either willfully or been co-opted, but all bravely served our country, providing the comfort and freedom we Americans enjoy.]

It is gravely obvious that we Americans have sometimes been some bad hombres in faraway lands. And the impact is both prominent, and lasting. From how nuclear targets were selected in Japan, to how early in the conflict U.S. presidents knew Vietnam was a rudderless pointless endeavor. Early on in the Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War, of which we still struggle through portions each day, JFK stated,”if I withdraw now I won’t get reelected.” In 1963. Still before 57,000 young U.S. men and women died there.

Nearly a million lives, American and foreign, military and civilian, were wantonly sacrificed. For nothing. 

(Ironicaly, a Vietnamese boy plays ‘tank’ with a U.S. flag atop his toy on a warm Hanoi Sunday morning)

America as the invader is a title that is extremely difficult to swallow. But to read the victors tales here in Vietnam is exactly like reading the words we were taught of the American revolution in U.S. history texts as children. Exactly.

Lamenting the lives ruined, both here and with our returning servicemen and women, is tragic. The damage to the populations in these countries is criminal. And yet, in a just few short generations, we and they are back in business. Remind me again for what we were fighting? Oh yeah, the spread of Communism…

Whew. Glad that worked.

(An excerpt of a story from the Hanoi War Museum of a North Vietnamese mother who lost 3 of her 4 boys in one month. The 4th boy was maimed)

Now, as Nicholas aptly points out, one cannot know the result had unfettered Communism been permitted to proliferate back then throughout this region. But spread it has. Communist. Socialist. Capitalist. All rolled up in one. Hell, in my book, after a short time here, Vietnam might win awards for its industrious people and its high degree of Capitalism. And who are we to intercede in the wishes of freedom as defined by other sovereign nations?

Here’s the crazy part. Regardless of “political system”, everywhere we go people ask the same questions, about us, and about the U.S.  About how we see things here and broadly in our travels. And oddly, they seem to still have a very clear vision of what America stands for, EVEN AFTER HAVING INVADED, TREATED THEM AS INHUMAN SAVAGES AND INDISCRIMINATELY BOMBED THEIR COUNTRIES INTO THE STONE AGE. And strangely enough, in many cases their vision of America is clearer than that of our fellow Americans today, without having ever left their own shores.

Here’s what we’ve experienced:

People all over seem to like interacting with Americans… a lot.

They are curious, they love to learn, and they do not want to be afraid.

People still believe America generally stands for freedom, a greater good, and righteous ideals. (At least the youth. Elders are more skeptical and angry.)

People don’t hate. Amorphous constructs, like governments, ideologies and politicians breed hate.

We have yet to meet a single person who we even dislike, let alone hate.

People all over the world… Same same, but different.

(Bombs: Brought to you by the U.S. military industrial complex. Cleanup: Brought to you by Australia)

War is often just politicians trading the blood of our children in exchange for their own power.

“War, good god y’all…What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again.”