Life Under an Air War


IT HAS BEEN SAID at home and abroad during the last month that we are the Germans now. What can this be understood to mean? More than likely. It is not an equation of levels of terror, tons of bombs at thousands of civilians killed on German and American battlefields: instead, it is a comparison of the attitudes of mind that kept Germans under Hitler and American under Nixon mute before the crimes of their governments.

Apathetic responses to terror bombing probably begin with a failure of imagination if we as citizens of a country that has never been bombed are unable to country that has never been bombed are unable to conceive what the waves of bombers overhead would sound like the way that our legs would fell weak and trembling as we ran for cover: the pride and gratitude we would share for our sharp-eyed anti aircraft gunners. If in sum, we cannot hear the cries of the maimed children in the aftermath of an American carpet bombing--then it is doubtful that we will protest such bombings with much conviction emotion of anger. And this lack of emotion is what makes us Germans.

As peace crawls closer on the wings of a snail, we can ask ourselves how we can stop being Germans and become Americans again. It won't be easy. This year's election campaign in the German Federal Republic is the first since World War Two in which a candidate for Chancellor appealed to national pride and honor. The candidate--Willy Brandt--felt he could make such an appeal only because he had fled the Nazi regime and worked on behalf of the anti-Nazi regime and worked on behalf of the anti-Nazi resistance. Only a handful of Americans have made a commitment against their government killing equivalent to that which Brandt made. The rest of us can only try to make a beginning.

To begin, we must locate Indochina--not an a map, but in our minds. We can do this only by engaging our atrophied imaginations, allowing ourselves finally, now that the war is simmering, to comprehend with our senses what the years of American terror have been like for the people of Indochina.

The following selections are from Voices from the Plain of Jars. Life under an Air War,a collection of first hand accounts by Laotian peasants of American bombing raids near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The book has been compiled by an American journalist. Fred Branfman and was published last year by Harper and Row. Perhaps it can help us to hear the American bombers overhead.

"I AM THIRTY-NINE years old. My home is in Sene Noi Canton, Hhun District, Xieng Khouang Province. I have been a farmer ever since I was able to do the work--for twenty-three years now.

"Four planes of the jet-type dropped their bombs together to destroy my Village and returned to shoot twice in the same day. They dropped eight napalm bombs, the fire from which burned all my things, sixteen buildings along with our possessions inside, as well as maiming our animals. Some people who didn't reach the jungle in time were struck and fell. Dying most pitifully. By the time the fire died down it was dark. Everyone came out of hiding to look at the ashes of their houses...

"We were all heavy hearted and mournful almost to the point of losing our minds. The other villagers and I got together to consider this thing. We hadn't done anything, nor harmed anyone. We had raised our crops, celebrated the festivals and maintained our homes for many years. Why did the planes drop bombs on us, impoverishing us in this way?"

"I WILL TELL about my past life in Xieng Khouang, an area with high mountains and scattered open plains. It is naturally beautiful because the climate is cool and misty. In the mornings, log shrouds the mountain. In the evening, the rays of the sun silhouette the mountain in a most charming seehe. And turning you can see the water cascading from the top of a high mountain. I am only sixteen years old, and still a student. I helped my parents with the field work as much as I could I helped with the progress of my household, as should be the case with a child who is loved...

"In 1964 a strange and different thing disrupted the tranquil life I have described. T.28's and jets began to fly over my village everyday, making a terrible racket, constantly startling me and making one afraid. I had never known anything like this in all my life. But my father was a person who was not afraid and he went about working the fields and gardens as he pleased. After that the planes came all the time, making life very difficult. Whatever you looked the planes bombed, destroying fences, fields, gardens--storage bins, and houses Life became very difficult for evasion. You couldn't light a fire to cook food because a plane would see the smoke and bomb it.

At night they dropped flares search of a place to bomb if they saw people they would fire at them. Under these conditions. I was afraid of becoming sick because my heart was so very sad. The place where I used to play on the mountain and the place where I used to bring the cattle and buffalo in the evening to shit them up had become so many bomb craters. And I couldn't anymore because they had been sown with antipersonnel bombs some hadn't vet exploited. Sometimes an animal would kick one and it would blow up... But my father felt for his animals. He slept in the village and tried to plow early in the morning. He was afraid we would all die of starvation in the coming year at he didn't farm. When the sun came up he would retire a hole.

"But one day my lather was ploughing when unexpectedly, the fog shrouding the mountain all disappeared suddenly. My lather stood in the field with the buffalo watching for the plane to pass so he could unhitch the buffalo. But suddenly four planes of the F-4H type flew over and immediately released their bombs. The bombs destroyed my village. All six houses burnt and a bomb fell about fifteen meters from where my father was ploughing, causing the blown up earth and the shrapnel to kill my father and the buffalo instantly... My sister and I ran over to him, but I saw that my father was already dead. I wept and then I carried him out of the field."

"I AM A WOMAN, My mane is Nang--, Xieng Khouang has been my families' home since the time of my ancestors... There was danger as the war came closer, like the sound of bombs or shells or the airplanes which constantly made a terrible noise in the sky and led me to be terribly, terribly afraid of dying. AT that time, our lives became like those of animals desperately trying to escape their hunters...

"To kill one another like this! Human beings whose parents brought them into the world and carefully raised them with overflowing love despite so many difficulties, these human beings would die from a single blast as explosions burst, lying still without moving again at all. And who then thinks of the blood, flesh, sweat, and strength of their parents and who will have pity for them? And then what about the splitting up of families to different parts of the country which was caused by the war? Who will pity them? In reality, whatever happens, it is only the innocent who suffer. And as for the others, do they know all the unimaginable things happening in this war? Do they?"

THE SADNESS AND DEATH which these peasants describe has been inflicted entirely by a government acting in the name of the American people. The peasants of Xieng Khouang, whether we like it or not, tell us that everyone of us long ago became involved in the lives of the people of Indochina Since we are already involved, the only decisions that remain to us are who we will support--the victims or the criminals.

If we feel that our sympathies lie with the people of Indochina rather than the people of the White House and the Pentagon, then we must do whatever we can to see that the peace settlement that is reached meets with their needs and wishes. rather than the lusts and vanities of President Nixon or President Thieu.

The debt we owe the people of Indochina is so enormous that such actions as attending demonstrations are only a beginning. But since the peace that is made in the next weeks will be stamped on Indochina. Perhaps for generations, we must call on our Congress to insist upon a peace settlement that does not set a precedent for terror bombing as a legitimate and successful negotiating lactic: and we call upon the nations of the world--who today exert more influence on the United States government than its own citizens--to deny victory to the new Germans.