I have returned to my blog, fellow readers, after a long break from it where my AP Language teacher had kept a postponing streak going on for several weeks! Anywho, just before my teacher began such streak, I had found an interesting drawing from my distracted Internet surfing. The deal here is that I ended up on this page that provided mid-Cold War drawings, specifically the Vietnam War. I was fascinated by their ascetic simplicity, drawn on the spur of the moment, yet still managing to successfully capture much of what was going on during that specific period of time. (I’m so going to reuse that quote).
But as I read the captions of each drawing, I noticed a name, that I had not read or heard of in the history books or classes, frequently appear. While I examined each piece and read its description, I noticed that this name represented a crucial force for the American Special Forces in Vietnam. I was curious and looked it up. I came upon an article, the one which I shall be discussing today (I’ll save the drawings for next time) that subtly celebrates what this name symbolized back then, laments for what those covered by this name endured, and describes what it means to us now.
The Snake Eaters and the Yards by Rebecca Onion, author of Innocent Experiments, begins with the quote “Assume that during our own Civil War the north had asked a friendly foreign power to mobilize, train, and arm hostile American Indian tribes and lead them into battle against the South, they [a couple columnists] wrote.” During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union fought over the title of leading superpower status, one advocating democracy, the other communism. Wherever communism would spread, the US would be quick to stamp out the incipient philosophy. But in Vietnam, a country brazen with poverty, there existed a communist group who called themselves the Viet Cong and began to take over the land. It began civil war, one side being a nationalistic, yet more popular sovereignty leaning government, while the other government was the communist government of Vietnam. The US did not want the Soviet Union to gain influence over such country, and so entered into the Vietnam War, a bloody battle that took in vain the lives of many.
Rebecca Onion describes how the US Special Forces were sent to fight the communists who specialized in guerrilla warfare. The American soldiers needed a knowledge of the mountainous and tropical terrain of the country, and therefore needed a sturdy people who knew the area like the back of their hands. They were the indigenous, mountain people, who lived an almost autonomic lifestyle, detached from the bustling urban life of the Vietnamese. They were often depreciated, thought of as savage for their refusal to modernize and their unusual ways. Onion mentions that one soldier asked a Vietnamese woman what she thought of the mountain people, and the woman “in all seriousness” had said that they had tails. These mountain people were not only downcast by the people, but disregarded by the Vietnamese government. There were already tensions before the US arrived, and when they did “South Vietnam’s President Ngô Đình Diệm had begun to settle refugees from North Vietnam in the highlands. His government neglected education and health care in the Montagnard areas, assigning inexperienced and ineffective bureaucrats to handle their needs.”
Before I continue, you may have noticed Montagnard. Those clever enough have already associated this word. But those who are perhaps leading a dozy day or are just plain ignorant, the Montagnard are those mountain people. Tossed aside as insignificants in their world, sacked from their homes, derogated into images of savagery, the Montagnards already suffered much. But Onion is about to take us deep into one of the solemnest testimonies of these people, one that can represent the testimonies of many others around the world.
Perhaps the Vietnamese found little use for these tribal peoples of East Asia, but for the Green Berets, they were exactly what they were looking for. Most of the Special Forces placed the Montagnards in a positive light, describing them as easygoing and extremely loyal. And loyal most of them were. Some sided with the Viet Cong due to their promises of untouched land and tribal autonomy. Others revolted against the southern Vietnamese for the increasing number of refugees and the government’s failure to respect the home of these people. But those who were with the Green Berets, were loyal individuals, able to brighten the days of several soldiers.
Unfortunately, the conclusion of their story was like several other disappointing moments in history. They were Used, then Thrown Away. Thrown Away. What is something thrown away? Something that the owner cannot or will not use anymore, has no further interest in, and won’t bother to fix whatever may have been wrong. Tensions were intense between the government and the tribal people after the Americans left, and the Vietnamese continuously infringed upon the tribal people’s lands and rights. Special Forces sympathizers went back to try and settle down the differences, but little by little the tribal peoples disappeared from Vietnam, fleeing west to the US. And from then on, like several other immigrants, they persevere to have a new life here in the US.
The unfortunate reality. Rebecca Onion creates an image of the Yards (nickname for Montagnard) as people who only wanted to preserve the land that was, I repeat was, their home. People who fought and sacrificed their lives to give a better life for others like them. People who defied the governments of then for equality and independence. People. Not savages. People.