—Did you see her?
—The lobby was full of people.
Police, security, barriers. I realized how ridiculous the situation was. I pictured myself jumping on an Indo-Chinese woman, yelling: “Mama!” So I thought a miracle had to happen. I hoped one of the women would shout: “Etienne, my son!” I waited. A long time. Nothing happened. So I left.
—You’re always joking.
—No. You’re my mother. What is it?
—I broke my heel.
The next day, July 21, 1954, the Geneva conference was over, ending fifteen years of turmoil, and inaugurating the division into two separate nations of what would henceforth be called Vietnam.
—So, bye-bye Jenny.
—They are sending me to Vietnam. It’s this whole other country.
They say you come to Vietnam and understand a lot in a few minutes. The rest has to be lived. They say whatever it was you were looking for, you will find it here. They say there is a ghost in every house, and if you can make peace with him, he will stay quiet.
—Enough theory; now a problem: Which one do you want?
—A war in Asia? Vietnam, then!
—Who are the actors?
—The Americans. The Americans who’ve dropped more bombs on a tiny country than during the Second World War and are wrong in their doctrine, Asia for the Americans. The Russians. The Russians are a bit cowardly as they go, “Do as I say, not as I do.” The Chinese. Oh yes… the Chinese… The Chinese who apply Mao’s ideas. Reactionaries are paper tigers. They appear ferocious. But they’re not really so powerful. At the Moscow conference of Communist workers on November 18, 1957: “Strategically we must scorn the enemy but tactically weigh him carefully.” Then there are the others, the onlookers, the indifferent, the lazy, people like… like the French… or the English.
—Isn’t Vietnam an actor?
But from the air, Vietnam didn’t seem real at all. For Dengler it was like a grid on a map. He suddenly found himself not only a pilot, but also a soldier caught up in a real war. But even though it was all very real, everything down there seemed to be so alien and so abstract. It all looked strange, like a distant, barbaric dream.
—Is your mother home?
—No? Is she working?
—What time will she be home?
—I see. Now, how long have you lived here?
—I don’t know.
—You don’t know?
—Could you tell me where you lived before you moved here?
—I see. Now, how many rooms do you have?
—No… yeah. Four.
—Four rooms. Do you have a TV set?
—Do you have a stereo?
—And how many brothers and sisters do you have?
—You’re an only child?
—And how old are you?
—Thirteen. Really? And do you go to church?
—That’s a good boy. Now, what is your father’s name?
—Does he live here at home with you?
—Could you tell me where I can find him?
Vietnam is perfect, everyone is for Vietnam. I know a place where they sell “Vietnam meals”: for 1,000 francs. You get a bowl of rice, the proceeds go to the Red Cross, like in 1914 with baguettes! / It’s like the stock exchange: the Vietnamese have the highest price, the Sudanese the lowest, and the Kurds are a bit weak. / But Vietnam is unanimity, it’s good conscience regained, it’s joy, rights, liberty. Because Vietnam is the Americans and the Americans are bad, they’re different from us, ignorant, tyrants, colonialists.
—If it hadn’t been for the Vietnam War, I never would’ve met you, Miss December!
—Who was the prime minister of England at the time of independence?
—Whose independence, sir?
—What would you regard as the most outstanding and significant event of the last decade?
—The war in Vietnam, sir.
—More significant than the moon landing?
—I think so, sir.
—Are you a Communist?
A woman can kill lots of people easily. Full breasts and soft thighs don’t mean she can’t kill everyone to remain free or protect herself. Just look at Cuba or Vietnam or Israel!
To whom do you attribute your knowledge of Vietnam? Who deduced that bombing North Vietnam brought about democratization and a new culture of resistance? Claire, a Parisian singer, who attempts to assassinate the ambassador? Or Judy who plants a bomb in an Idaho supermarket, to create several Vietnams there? Or Francesca, who killed three GIs with a hand grenade in an Ivrea nightclub? Your information more likely comes from the book Strategy for Survival, financed by the CIA, with a foreword by Henry Kissinger. In this war, the Vietnamese showed themselves in all their glory. And it is American science that figured this out.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my youth… here, Paris, drinking French wine, eating French food… even longing for a French woman. I must be old! The revolution claimed half my life. And now I’m old. My mind still lives in the colonial past. Vietnam has won her revolution. But I’ve lost mine… I know where to get the best French food in Danang. I’ll take you there sometime.
Listening to the commercials on my transistor, and thanks to E-S-S-O… I drive off without a care on the road to dreams. I forget Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Budapest… I forget Vietnam, the housing problem, the famine in India. I forget everything except that I’m back at zero… and have to start from there.
All conversations and images sourced from:
Forrest Gump (1994)
White Badge (1992)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The Quiet American (2002)
Sing a Song of Sex (1967)
La Chinoise (1967)
Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)
Medium Cool (1969)
Loin du Vietnam (1967)
Batman for U.S. Savings Bonds (1966)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Pierrot le Fou (1965)
Before Your Eyes: Vietnam (1982)
Boat People (1982)
2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967)