While watching 'The Betrayal', the award winning documentary film by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath, I stumbled on the most concise explanation for the Vietnam War I had ever seen or read. It also showed me ghost-like images of my father I never knew existed. Ghost-like because he had passed just days prior on the other side of the Atlantic. I never made it to his funeral.*
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Gary Jules' rendition of 'Mad World', the single by 'Tears for Fears' has been used in an audio swap of the original soundtrack by Howard Shore. My apologies to the filmmakers and Mr. shore for bastardizing their work of art.
The clip in its original form can be seen here.
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In the process of piecing together my father's past, I realized how little I knew about the Vietnam War. Why it was fought. Why the United States was involved and just exactly how was my father caught up in all this?** Over the years, there were many stories told to me by family members both immediate and distant. Much of it was spoken to me in hushed tones. Was it a secret? There were rumors of his participation in aiding the CIA. Specifically aiding the CIA in the illegal, secret U.S. air-war in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict. I kept thinking, how could this be true? My dad was a diplomat, a politician, what good was he as an asset?
My research into answering all these questions for myself includes reading Robert McNamara's 'InRetrospect: the Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam', researching Air America***, watching countless documentaries, talking (or hoping to talk) to their author/directors and trying to make sense of it all. During the screening of The Betrayal, the 2008 award winning documentary, I was struck by how similar the real life protagonist's story mirrored my own — at least the part where he talks about his father during the first 10 minutes of the film. Imagine my surprise when the "b-roll" archival footage of the royal procession and Savang Vatthana, the last king of Laos, showed the familiar face of my father in the background. He can be seen at the 00:58 to 01:10 section of the footage. Imagine that someone you loved dearly passed and later that week you found that person present in the photographs of a stranger. Imagine that and you'll know how I felt at that moment. I had never seen this footage before and the fact that he had just passed from pancreatic cancer the week prior made it eerie.
I rabidly did a screen grab of the images in question and e-mailed them to my siblings living in France. I even posted the two minute clip on YouTube. I asked my sisters, my brothers and my half brothers,**** "Did you know this footage existed? Where did it come from? How come none of us knew it ever existed?" No one had any answers. We marveled at how young and driven he looked. He was so healthy and virile in the flickering images.
Unbeknownst to me, none of my siblings ever showed the footage to my mother. I believed they assumed that one of the other sisters or brothers would have shown my mother the footage, but no one confirmed this. She was here in the U.S. these past few weeks to attend to her brothers funeral.***** It was at this time that I showed her the clip for the first time.
When she watched the clip for the first time she was speechless. If you know my mother such a reaction is a near impossibility. She asked me rewind and play back the footage in slow motion, the fifth time she spoke. She was almost indignant, "This is not funny. Where did you get this footage!" she demanded. My mother believed I had compiled the footage and used my CGI contacts to pull a prank on her. I had to reassure her the footage was genuine, after which her tone became softer. Eventually, she asked me to purchase her a copy of the documentary DVD.
Laotian Chronicles: A Life Story [ an excerpt from the novel I may never write ]
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- More on why I never made it to my fathers funeral in future posts.
- Part of my fathers involvement is chronicled in The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia a major, nonfiction book on heroin trafficking published in 1972, by Alfred W. McCoy. Although well researched, the portion of the book that deals with my father's troubles only scratch the surface of the situation in Laos at that time. It would be unfair to judge my father on just this one account.
- Whenever I bring up this subject outside of my family, especially with people I have dated, I am often greeted with smiles as the person listening to my story always assumes I'm telling a big fat lie.
- My father was equal parts sinner and saint and in our family there are nine children, that I know of. Of the four girls and five boys, two are half brothers and one is a half sister. More on our motley crew in future posts.
- The Laotian people do not, in fact, try and die in clusters to make it easier on travelling relatives. 2009-2010 has just been a bad year in our family.