A niece of a former president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dihn Diem, went to my college, and we often argued in a polite way. I often listened to her talk about her uncle. She talked about how her uncle fought communist. Logic over there was simple, if you were against Diem you were Communist; you either were or you weren’t. But it was more difficult than that in 1964 and 1965 when Monks and nuns were against Diem. When he cracked down, he arrested thousands. “Thousands,” I said, “instead of focusing on the real enemy, real communists, communists from the north.” It just made her angry.
Unlike David, who knew firsthand, I came to conclusions without really knowing what I was talking about, and I knew just enough to make someone like Diem’s niece angry. This made me appear interested … interested and educated … you’d expect an educated person to know a little bit about Vietnam … to know enough not to mix Diem up with someone else. Though I never cared enough to take a stand, I still felt sorry for Dien’s niece when the former president was assassinated. I considered myself sensitive and gave her my sympathy when Dien was assassinated. I remembered how dejected she seemed, and how she mourned and wore black. I felt then that we needed to stop communist and support anyone who fought them. It was hard though because they weren’t always good people, and sometimes it didn’t make us many friends. This was true of Diem, but I didn’t dare say that to his niece. Besides it didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t well informed enough … or cared enough … for it to matter.
But everyone was entitled to his or her opinion. Of course Diem’s niece was biased. If we weren’t biased, we wouldn’t be human. It was true for everyone, and it made it all right for me to disagree with David’s decision to go to Vietnam. I respected him for it, but I disagreed with him. For him it was a personal decision, but it also meant that someone else wouldn’t have to go, and why couldn’t that someone be me? Except, since he was killed, I felt lousy about it. Still I liked to think he took my place.
I thought of David every time I saw GIs wandering along Mabini Street. I liked to wander along Mabini Street and people watch, and window shop when I wasn’t looking at people. I thought of David every time I saw GIs on Mabini Street, with or without the companionship of pretty Filipinas. I thought of David and felt lucky. I was alive and felt lucky and never envied the GIs I saw wandering along Mabini Street. I never envied GIs I saw on R&R … the ones I saw with or without pretty Filipinas. I considered myself to be extremely lucky. And it was also quite clear to me that it was no longer possible to divide South East Asia into two neat camps or spheres of interest … communist or free (American or Soviet) … which I believed you could until I met Nick. Thanks to Nick. Yes, thanks to Nick. Thanks to Nick my opposition to the war intensified. Thanks to Nick it represented everything I hated. But it didn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate what David did for me.
I found Nick in his room; and the only thing that had changed since I last saw him was that he had become more involved in the demonstrations. And as he served me tea, we began planning our trips.
“Easter break is around the corner,” Nick said, “but we could wait until summer when I’ll have more time.”
“I’d rather not wait,” I said. “We could take two trips, but I have more time than you do. What do you think?”
“Since I’ve never been to the Sulus,” he began, slowly, as if he were thinking out loud, “I think I’d like to go there first.”
“So then let’s plan to go to the Sulus during Easter break,” I said.
“The idea of traveling through a Muslim area during Easter intrigues me,” Nick said. ”With Christians as administrators, educators, police, soldiers, etc., you know that there’s likely to be trouble.”
“Good? Oh, I see. You’re right. It will be a perfect time for Moro bandits to be on the move. In Jolo, the cathedral will be ready, the police and the military will be on alert, but it won’t assure a peaceful week.”
“Perfect. Yes, perfect.”
“But let’s not overly alarm Susan.”
“No, we shouldn’t alarm Susan. “
Nick offered me more tea and poured himself more. As we sipped from our cups, he asked, “Would you like hear about my life as a HUK? I think I can trust you.”
I said I would, especially since we were planning to also go to Central Luzon. “Well, this is off the record. The HUKs,” he went on, “maintained camps away from towns and villages and it meant fighters were separated from their families for long periods of time. You can imagine the difficulties this posed. And since my father loved my mother, he became convinced that the only solution was to take all of us … mother, my older brothers, and me … with him, which meant bringing us into the movement. When I feel passionate about the communist revolution, it comes from this source; or when I’m so revolted by American imperialism, how can I forget what was drilled into my head. In camps, I … like my young comrades (other children) … we shared responsibilities with our elders, my parents and other fighters. Our family was inseparable from each other and from the movement. Private interests became public. Personal issues became everybody’s business, and we had to follow orders and were subjected to the discipline of the movement. Nothing was more important than the movement. As children, we were called upon to join the struggle for the Philippines and were taught to shoot and tough it out. I’m referring to mental toughness as well as physical; much like pounding your head into a wall, depravation was sometimes used. Mother tried to balance home life and revolutionary life as best she could,” Nick continued. “She resisted communal life, communal pressures, and remained faithful to my father. She never compromised, even when the movement demanded it. When they pushed for equality between men and women, it didn’t change how my mother related to my father, her role remained the same, she still bore and suckled his babies, and so forth. But it meant that she suffered abuse. There were a whole series of conflicts, problems, some I was aware of and some I didn’t know about. My father finally reached the conclusion that his family meant more to him than the revolution, but it wasn’t easy for him…well, I’m not sure what transpired, what led to our leaving. This wasn’t supposed to happen, which didn’t mean I respected my father any less…but I was at an impressionable age. And as you would expect, those early years in a HUK camp stayed with me, and I’ve gone back. I’ve often wondered what would’ve happened to me if we’d stayed in the camp.”
Because I didn’t see a problem with this story being told, I said, “As a journalist, I think that you’ve just given me a gem.”