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The 'Yes, And' of Afghanistan

This article was written by Van Lai-DuMone and published in The San Diego Tribune

Over the past days, the news of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has led to comparisons to the evacuation of US citizens and Vietnamese civilians during the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Some people are taking this time to make statements like, ‘we should have never been there’, and ‘what a waste of lives and resources’ – as politicians and pundits argue and point fingers.

As a Vietnamese refugee whose family fled on April 29, 1975 with the aid of American forces, yes, I see similarities. The similarities I am focused on are the experiences of the people involved: The Afghans, who over the past 20 years were free of Taliban oppression due to the presence of US armed forces, the Afghans who now have the opportunity to come to the United States and live under our democracy, and those tragically left behind.

I also see the similarities in the men and women in uniform who took action; some sacrificed their lives, and some bear the burden and blessing of surviving. The men and women of our military raised their hand in service of our country and in service of democracy. They believed in doing the right thing – and could not sit idly by while human beings were being persecuted, tortured, and murdered. And they served honorably.

Yes, war is tragic. And, so is doing nothing in the face of injustice and evil.

Leaving politics and politicians aside – our armed forces succeeded in their mission to serve, protect, and save many lives in Afghanistan.

Yes, seeing the images and footage coming out of Afghanistan of civilians desperately scrambling to escape is suggestive of the scenes from Vietnam. As is seeing US troops doing everything in their power to extract Afghan civilians. It’s exactly what the US military did for my family and countless other Vietnamese families during the Fall of Saigon. I know that thousands of Afghan civilians will have stories to tell of how the US military’s involvement in their country – offered them hope, solace, and in some cases, a new life.

Yes.Today the Taliban has taken control. There are so many atrocities to come because of that. We are rightfully heart broken and angry.

And, at the same time, we can honor and respect those Americans who are feeling this the most. Those who served there, who lost friends in pursuit of freedom for others, and who came to know and care for the men, women, and children of Afghanistan.

Yes, my heart is heavy. Because I see the footage of Afghan families running for their lives, leaving everything they know behind for a chance at a better life. My family shares that experience. My heart is heavy because my grandfather, a General in the South Vietnamese Army suffered 10 years in a brutal prison, and those left behind will suffer similar and worse punishment. And my heart is heavy for the men and women who served. The many I know say their regret is not that they went, but a wish that they could have done more. And today they may be feeling that more intensely.

And I am hopeful. For the people who are being evacuated. If they arrive in the US, they will possibly be greeted by a Marine, as we were at Camp Pendleton, who will say to them ‘Welcome to your new country. I hope you feel safe here.’

I am hopeful that they will become productive citizens; that in time, they will be able to send money and resources back to help their families, and maybe one day sponsor their immigration, as my mom was able to do for her 8 siblings. I am hopeful that they will be of service and give back to their communities and their new country.

We cannot control everything. What we can control are our words & perspectives. And we can choose words and perspectives that offer gratitude, hope, and are in service of others.

Yes, some may consider this a simplistic view to a complicated issue. I agree.

And, I’m a simple person, who simply believes that even when we do not agree with our country’s politics and foreign policy, our troops deserve our support. And there is always hope in despair. To all those who served and serve, thank you. You have made and do make a difference.

This refugee will always be grateful.

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