On Homeland, warfare is something that only happens in ancient history books. Some people even think it is a myth! It is true, however. There really was a time, very long ago, when rival nations settled their disputes by organizing men and women to kill each other; but that was before the Grand Duchy of Thorgelfayne even existed! In many ways, Melissa is right: the so-called “War of the Fayne” that led to the founding of Thorgelfayne was really just an automobile accident. There are no armies or armaments on Homeland, and there have not been for ages.
Although there were countless peace movements in ancient times, they all failed. There was no single event, crisis, or individual who abolished it all; it just passed away gradually like any other bad headache. One day, you might say, we woke up and found it was all gone. We just grew out of it.
So you can imagine that it is endlessly fascinating for me, as an anthropologist, to live on a planet where warfare is a present reality! The physical devastation that war can bring to the countryside and the infrastructure of a nation is very obvious, but the psychological effects it has upon people is much more important—but, of course, that could just be my professional bias.
All of this comes together with my new job at “Chau’s Pets” in the Prince George’s Plaza shopping center. I enjoy taking care of the animals, working with the customers; and I even like cleaning up at night. The most fascinating part of it is my boss: Mr. Trinh Chau. He is a refugee from the southern part of Vietnam, which had been embroiled in an extraordinarily savage war.
One day during the mid-morning slump, the topic of families arose. It was apparent that he was fiercely proud of his brother, so I steered the conversation in that direction.
“He was in the South Vietnamese Army,” he explained, “and worked for the American Embassy as a translator.”
“Weren’t there American translators?” I asked.
“A few, but not enough,” he answered.
“So what happened to your brother?” I pressed.
“I don’t know, that’s the problem,” he said calmly, wiping his furrowed brow with a handkerchief. “He may have escaped the Fall of Saigon, in which case it is entirely possible that we just have never been able to track each other down.” He stared into space for a moment, “He could have gone to France, you know.”
I didn’t know the significance of France in this, but I nodded.
“There are other possibilities,” he admitted quietly, folding his handkerchief.
“Like what?” I ventured carefully.
“He could have been captured by the North Vietnamese Army and they may have executed him.” He stuck the handkerchief back into his left hip pocket. “Or even worse!”
“What could possibly be worse?” I asked incredulously.
“He could have been politically rehabilitated,” he said with a shudder.
Quite frankly, I didn’t know what that meant, but I tried to make the right sympathetic noises.
“One thing I want to make very clear,” he said with sudden strength in his voice. “My brother was a good and honorable man! All he did was translate, and he did it for what he believed was a very good cause.”
I didn’t understand why Chau had become so defensive of his brother, and I said so.
“There has always been a lot of debate about the Vietnam War in this country,” Chau explained.
“I do understand that public opinion in this country never did reach a consensus on these issues,” I volunteered.
“That’s right.” Chau shook his head affirmatively as he said that. “People don’t discuss it as often anymore, but every time they do…” he quickly grabbed for his handkerchief as his voice broke unexpectedly, “it tears me up inside! It gets me all confused.” He raised his voice in emphasis, “I can’t bear the thought that my brother could have made all those sacrifices for something evil! I completely reject that!”
I stared awkwardly at my fingernails while Chau composed himself. What a hideous effect warfare has on people, even years after it’s over. Chau is basically an apolitical man for whom war is incomprehensible. He just wants to be left alone to live his life.
I’m new here; how could I be expected to have an opinion on this? I know that war is an awful thing, but sometimes even awful things are necessary or even good; so I am forced into an uncomfortable neutral detachment. However, one thing did seem clear to me. “I don’t think that the debate or its outcome is very important to you,” I said cautiously.
Chau had regained his composure, though his eyes were red. “How is that?” he asked.
“Even if the worst were true from your viewpoint, it changes nothing about your brother,” I explained. “The character of the war does not necessarily affect the character of your brother. There are heroes in tragedy, and villains in comedy.”
Chau looked at me with a mixture of puzzlement and hope.
“Even if there were no redeeming virtue in that war,” I pointed out, “It is always possible to play an honorable role in a dishonorable enterprise.”
Chau sat there for a moment, staring at me. “Of course,” he said quietly, “What you just said makes a lot of sense.” At that point, a customer entered the store and so it was back to work.
Chau still doesn’t like to talk about his brother very often, which I find only understandable; but at least now the topic is not so sensitive.