Went out and shot a bunch of pictures the other day and have been thinking about the process of “framing” Vietnam, of putting my experiences here into various sorts of contexts and relationships, especially with my life as someone from outside the culture. This concern is particularly important because I’m about to return home and teach students who have never been here about the place. How I frame the country for them will influence the ways in which they frame it for themselves, or shift the makeshift frames they have picked up from American popular culture.
I’ll be adding to this Flickr set over the next couple of weeks. With luck, I’ll figure out how to get some good shots with the new D90.
Lt. William Calley stood before a Kiwanis Club meeting the other day and apologized for the My Lai massacre [also: 1, 2]. Reading the article, I take it as a sincere apology and a real expression of regret, though I understand how the prosecutor who tried Calley felt, too:
William George Eckhardt, the chief prosecutor in the My Lai cases, said Friday he was unaware of Calley ever apologizing before. Eckhardt said that when he first heard the news, “I just sort of cringed.” ”It’s hard to apologize for murdering so many people,” said Eckhardt, now a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “But at least there’s an acknowledgment of responsibility.”
And while I would have liked to hear a more unequivocal statement from Calley, I have to say I appreciate his long silence and the modest setting for his first public discussion (since his trial) of his actions at My Lai. He should no go back to being quiet, as silence from him is the only adequate response. Two things: In order to live with myself, I have to believe in the possibility of redemption, of turning away from evil, in others; also, he was in fact a scapegoat: Colin Powell, Captain Ernest Medina, and others were equally responsible for the murders of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. This second point does not lessen Lt. Calley’s responsibility, but it puts it in context. So, I accept his apology, at least provisionally. The effects of his actions continue to ripple outward through the histories of both Vietnam and the US and, paradoxically, out of evil some understanding can emerge.
But what I really wonder about is that “standing ovation” the Kiwanis gave the aging William Calley. What was that about? When I was in high school, before the My Lai massacre, some of us graduating seniors were given dinner by the local Kiwanis and then lectured by a congressman about our duty to be “patriotic,” which was framed in terms of supporting the Vietnam war. I got up and left. (I didn’t wait for the standing ovation.) Were the Kiwanis who listened to Calley applauding his courage for admitting he committed murder in their service? That seems unlikely to me. Were they subtly applauding the murder, excusing it? Perhaps that is too harsh a judgement. I suspect they were applauding their own sense of relief: Well, that’s finally behind us. Maybe William Calley believes he can put it behind him and in a sense he can, by keeping quiet and doing good. To the Kiwanis, I’d say: Don’t let yourselves off the hook so easily. Lt. Calley served in your army — in our army — and he acted in our names; so, while, yes, the event is behind us, it is still there. The murdered are still murdered. Going forward, that is what we bear.
The first Canada geese came back about ten days ago and more have now established themselves on the island in the river near the bridge. A couple of days ago the red wing blackbirds came back en masse, filling the still-bare maple trees and setting up a huge racket. Just now, I watched a bald eagle circle several times out over the water, then turn and fly over our house toward the woods.
I found Carruth’s For You & From Snow and Rock, From Chaos in a used book store in Seattle in 1974 & read & reread it while sitting in the projection booth of the Apple Theater on Boren Street showing dirty movies to the down & out. I had recognized his name because I head the anthology he had edited, The Voice that is Great Within Us, but no one had ever talked about him in any poetry class I’d ever taken & I’d taken a few. In many ways, Carruth’s work educated me as a poet. It remains central & indispensable to me.
Hutchinson says much of what I would say about Carruth. I was surprised to see that we had both come from Blake’s poems to our modern master. Also, it has been Carruth’s existentialism that hs kept me coming back to him. People look at you funny — I know — if you tell them you’re an existentialist, but that’s what I am. Carruth’s humanity & that his poetry emerged fiercely from love have struck me all over again as I have read through the volume of longer poems over the last few months.