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Sunday, November 1, 2009

It’s a ‘Nam Thing: The Story of a Poem and …

Yes. A poem. By me as well. In fact, you might have already seen it: on my poetry page at my Wordpress blog? No? No matter. I just felt a sudden urge to put it in a post here today. Let me tell you something, just a little something, about it. And me too I guess.

When you read the poem, you will realise that my father was a Vietnam veteran. An officer in the Australian Army, he went to Vietnam the first time in 1966. Originally he was a part of what they called the ‘Training Team’. A fairly innocuous name for a group of army regulars whose job it was to teach other people to kill. And all the arts associated with that wonderful skill.

My father was in Army Intelligence. He was into the anti- insurgency, psychological warfare, counter terrorism, side of things. Was he involved in ‘torture’ and other ‘interrogation’ activites? The simple answer would be, of course: he was an army officer at war, and in Intelligence. But to what extent, who knows? My guess has been that he saw and did what you might think he saw and did.

Anyway, before long he was running what they called the Civil Affairs Unit which had the job of ‘winning hearts and minds’. In other words, their role was to play nice guy to the local people: build schools, clinics, take kids of chopper rides to the zoo. All that kind of stuff. Looks good on the surface, but it wasn’t done with the best of motives. Unless you’re at war that is. The idea of course was to get the locals onside, get them talking, passing information, rejecting the ‘enemy’. The ‘enemy’ being the Vietnamese people fighting for their country against the invasion forces of the US, Australia, and heaps of other countries.

I was 12 when he went. My father. He was away that first time for just over a year. At the time I didn’t know any better, and being a loyal kind of kid (I’m now a loyal kind of adult; only difference is I’m now loyal to other things), I supported my Dad and what he was doing. Natural really.

It wasn’t really until he came back that I started to change my ideas. He was so screwed up, so angry, violent, sad and just weird, that how could he have been in a good place doing a good thing. Of course, over the next couple of years I really started to watch and listen more critically to the news, to other people, to what was going on. By 15, I was a committed pacifist and campaigner for peace. I’ve never wavered in either commitment. Mind you, I’m not perfect and I have been pretty screwed up by how I was treated within my family (and what happened to the other members of my family). I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is not as bad as it used to be. But, to cut a long story short, I have dealt out my own share of anger and violence. Not now though. I’m a lot better now, as I said.

Well, a few years ago, a poem emerged: It’s a ‘Nam Thing. It’s an angry piece, as you will see should you choose to read it. But someone once told me it was the most powerful anti-war poem they had ever read. I’m not sure I would agree with that, but I hope it does serve as some kind of contribution to the efforts for peace.

That’s all I will say (it’s quite enough I think!). Here is the poem. Comment if you like. I would appreciate that.

IT’S A ‘NAM THING

My father, many times he hit me.

But, hey, it’s a ‘Nam thing

My father hurt my sisters.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

My father, he beat my mother.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

My father had a shrink at 150 an hour.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.

My father tried to get sane.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.

My father, he kept his demons.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.

My father used to run for trains.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.

My father, one day thought he was late.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.

My father ran hard for his train.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

My father caught that train, of course.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.

My father, his heart attacked him.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing.

My father, on that train he died.

But, hey, it’s a ’Nam thing

Hobart Tasmania

19 February 2003

I offer this with love and in hopes of peace

Post originally appeared on my Wordpress blog, which is now kind of inactive. If you want to look, here it is.

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