Sometimes to love the simplest things in this life, people have to experience blood, death and desperation, two US writers said in a talk with VietNamNet.
Writer Nguyen Quang Thieu: 35 years have passed since the Vietnam War ended. American’s questions about the Vietnam War may be different now?
Bruce Weigl: Yes, the questions about the Vietnam War that I received several years after it ended and at present are a lot different.
The questions for me when I returned from the war were very simple: how long were you there, how many Viet Cong did you kill, etc. But now when relations between our two countries are normalized and literary and cultural exchange between the two sides has boosted, America’s interest in Vietnam has changed a lot. Americans are eager to know much more about the country, the people, art and culture and history of Vietnam.
Larry Heineman: Students often raised specific questions to me, especially those who wish to become army officers. They asked me about the difference between the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afganishtan. I told them that for a soldier all battlefields are the same. I advised them to try to learn about the country and the people of the country where they are going.
Nguyen Quang Thieu: That is the interest of the people. How about the interest of writers? What are the differences between a book about the Vietnam War which was written in 1970-1975 and a book of the same topic that was written in 2010?
Bruce Weigl: There are clear changes in the perception and writing style of American writers since the war ended. There is more understanding and sympathy in their works.
For me, this began in around 1990 when I returned to Vietnam for the first time to see poet Nguyen Quang Thieu and other famous writers in Vietnam.
We had outspoken exchanges and through these talks, we have had mutual-sympathy and it has made positive changes in my works.
For that reason, I have tried to return to Vietnam as many times as I can. I return to Vietnam as if it is my second home.
Nguyen Quang Thieu: You have met many Vietnamese writers and read their works. What are the most impressive things that you see in Vietnamese writers and their books?
Bruce Weigl: The first thing that impresses me is Vietnamese people in general and Vietnamese writers in particular work very hard, much more hard-working than American.
I’ve been writing for 30 years but the six months I worked with translator Nguyen Phan Que Mai to publish the book “After the Rain Stopped Pounding” in English and Vietnamese was the hardest time in my life.
At that time, I used to finish my work at 7 pm but translator Nguyen Phan Que Mai didn’t stop working until she finished her work perfectly. That is not the working style of Americans. Americans both work and relax while Vietnamese always work very hard. I think this character originates from Vietnam’s history, with many wars.
Nguyen Quang Thieu: After the brutal war, there was a longstanding embargo against Vietnam. The relations between Vietnam and the US was normalized and it is now the best ever. Do Americans come to Vietnam to seek diplomatic ties, politic interests, business profit or cultural values?
Bruce Weigl: I think the most important thing at present, which we have discussed a lot, is that the US government has to make clear commitments about its responsibility to the aftermath of war caused by the US army and helps Vietnamese people to deal with it. With its current ability, it may take Vietnam 200-300 years to solve the consequences of Agent Orange.
The second responsibility, which was recorded by documents when former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated with Vietnam about war compensation. However, the US Government has not practiced that promise. I think that the US government needs to take this responsibility and performed it immediately.
The last thing that I would like to emphasize is educational cooperation between the two countries. The US must assist Vietnam to improve the quality of education so Vietnamese children and Vietnamese children in the US will have better education conditions.
Writer Larry Heineman: I emphasize the necessity of cultural and literary exchange between the two countries. Many Vietnamese writers and artists have come to the US to talk and introduce their works to American. In turn, American writers and artists need more chances to go to Vietnam to talk and show their works to Vietnamese.
I’m especially interested in Vietnam’s folk literature. I think that the true characters of a country are shown through its tales. To deeply understand a country, let’s see their folk literature which has been preserved through many generations. That is the foundation for any understanding or cultural exchange to take off and reach real values.
Nguyen Quang Thieu: When did you begin to read Vietnamese tales and what about them impresses you the most?
Larry Heineman: I started paying attention to Vietnamese folk literature and tales in 2002-2003 when I worked for six months at the Hue University. Many people told me about Vietnamese tales, which I liked very much and I wanted to learn more about them.
There are legends about national heroes in wars of resistance against foreign invaders and there are also stories about ordinary people.
The most interesting point in Vietnamese tales is the beautiful and strong image of Vietnamese women, which is not shown much in American folk literature. Women in Vietnamese tales are very beautiful and great.
Nguyen Quang Thieu: From blood and hatred of war, have the two peoples have chosen which way to come to each other? Or is it through diplomacy or the beauty of literature in particular and culture in general?
Bruce Weigl: For me, it is sympathy and mutual understanding. I met and talked with writer Bao Ninh several times and we shared common interests. We didn’t care about specific things like politics, literature, education but we shared the world outlook and outlook on life. We realized that we can become “brothers”. We went out from war and we are always truthful about our feelings. We try to have good life and that’s what we can share.
Larry Heineman: In English, the word “brother” shows people who have the same parents. In Vietnam, “brother” has deeper meaning. In Vietnam, we have seen friends who are writers, poets, businessmen, veterans. They came to me and said “We are brothers”. It is very meaningful to me. When they call me “brother”, I’ve become a member of their families and for me, it is a valuable gift.
Nguyen Quang Thieu: I think that our story can never end but today we have shared a lot with VietNamNet’s readers about the war, about losses of man, about man’s foolishness and also about love and simple but good things.
The message we would like to deliver today is: man’s love can reject cruelty, injustice and insensitivity. We would like to thank our guests who have come here to share wonderful thoughts and experiences of life, of literature and art. Thank you very much!
Tuan Viet Nam